Last week The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints posted yet another undated, unsigned document on its official website, this one on the topic of “Book of Mormon and DNA Studies.” The essay addresses issues raised by the fact that there is little to no DNA evidence supporting the Mormon claim that the indigenous people of the Americas are the descendants of Hebrews who left Jerusalem around 600 BCE. This belief was so ingrained that for a very long time, Mormons referred to Native Americans as “Lamanites,” a name that also refers to a people in the Book of Mormon.
I’ve seen discussions arguing that it’s a tacit endorsement of evolution, and also, because it discusses events believed to have happened 10,000 years ago, a tacit repudiation of the Fall and the Flood and other events that supposedly occurred less than 10,000 years ago.
But let’s leave all that aside and instead talk about the nature and ramifications of evidence.
The Church begins by stating that “the primary purpose of the Book of Mormon is more spiritual than historical,” which is true of many religious texts. However, Joseph Smith and the church he founded have also always claimed that the Book of Mormon is a historical record of events that really, truly happened. One wonders why they would’ve insisted so strenuously on this point were it not somehow integral to the book’s importance and usefulness to its readers and authors.
It then asserts that “DNA studies cannot be used decisively to either affirm or reject the historical authenticity of the Book of Mormon.”
This statement is hard to argue with in and of itself. The same can be said of the many, many anachronisms in the Book of Mormon, such as its mentions of animals, plants, technologies that didn’t exist in the Americas before the arrival of Columbus; the unbelievable nature of many of its tales, such as the enormous battles described by Mormon and Moroni; or the lack of archeological evidence for any such battles. Individually, these things cannot be used decisively to reject the historical authenticity of the Book of Mormon.
But the problem isn’t one field of study, it’s a steady accumulation of evidence that undermines or contradicts the historical authenticity of the Book of Mormon—particularly given that Joseph Smith claimed, in a statement the church has made much use of, that “the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.”
The essay concludes with this paragraph: