The criticism of the Mormon Church is the following: DNA samples taken from modern American Indians show no connection to the DNA of the peoples of the Middle East. This must mean that Amerindians are not descended from Book of Mormon peoples, and the Book of Mormon is false. If the Book of Mormon is false, Joseph Smith was not a prophet.
Our response: No genetic studies have been designed and performed to test the hypothesis that Native Americans were of Lehite descent and that this inheritance is detectable today.
Geography issues: In 2002, anthropologist Thomas Murphy published an essay in which he argued that DNA evidence points to native Americans being related to Asians, and therefore this disproves the Book of Mormon. In 2004, plant biologist Simon Southerton published a book that made a similar argument. (Both were inactive Mormons who no longer believed the Book of Mormon was divinely revealed scripture.) They assumed that Mormons believe that the Book of Mormon peoples landed upon an entirely empty continent and then populated the entire hemisphere. This would mean that any Indians tested should manifest Middle Eastern DNA. But this is untrue. The Book of Mormon peoples probably were very limited in the geography they inhabited (even Joseph Smith taught this, and Mormon scholars have been proposing it for over 100 years). Various groups already inhabited the Americas when they arrived, and they could have counted for millions of people. Archaeological evidence shows that people inhabited the Americas many thousands of years before Lehi’s family arrived (around 600 B.C.). Over a period of 2600 years, any initial Lehite “signature” would be hopelessly ‘swamped’ by other peoples’ genetic markers. Also, 90% of America’s natives died of disease and war as Europeans settled the continent. (Read more.)
Amerindians as Lamanites:
Lehi’s family, as recorded in the Book of Mormon, arrived somewhere in the Americas from Jerusalem just before the Babylonian Captivity (around 600 B.C.) Two of Lehi’s sons rebelled against their father and brothers and continually made war against them. This rebellious group is called “Lamanites” in the Book of Mormon, and today’s Native Americans may include remnants from this group. According to non-Mormon writer Steve Olsen, an expert in population genetics, “Say you go back 120 generations, to about the year 1000 B.C. According to the results presented in our Nature paper, your ancestors then included everyone in the world who has descendants living today.” Conversely, the chance is infinitesimally small that the original ancestor’s DNA will show up today. Another non-LDS author discussed the difficulties associated with using genetic tests to determine ancestory even a few generations back: “…other people, including Greeks and Ashkenazi Jews, may have “Native American affinity,” according to the tests, even if they and their ancestors have never been to America” (John Hawks, “How African Are You? What genealogical testing can’t tell you,” slate.com [15 March 2006]).
The Church is not and has not been particularly worried about someone’s Lamanite genes, but rather about their eligibility for the promises made to the Lamanites as members of the covenant people. Thus, former LDS Prophet Spencer W. Kimball is quite happy to have all American Aborigines considered Lamanites, since he considers them all eligible for these promises—he is also quite pleased and proud to be considered a “Lamanite” not because of genes but because of covenant blessings.
Genetic attacks on the Book of Mormon focus on the fact that Amerindian DNA seems closest to Asian DNA, and not DNA from “the Middle East” or “Jewish” DNA. However, this attack ignores several key points. Lehi and his family are clearly not Jews. They belong to the tribe of Manasseh (Alma 10:3, 1 Nephi 5:14), and married into Ishmael’s family, the tribe of Ephraim. These tribes were carried away captive by the Assyrians, and did not contribute greatly to the current genetic mix of the Middle East. Furthermore, the Middle East is located at the crossroads of three continents, and has seen a great deal of immigration, mixing, and intermarriage. To use modern Middle Eastern DNA as the “standard” against which to measure what Manasseh and Ephraim DNA must have been like 2600 years ago is extraordinarily sloppy science.
Mitochondrial DNA is passed only from mothers to their children. It has been used in attacks on the Book of Mormon, and yet even known Jewish populations do not share mtDNA.”
As far as Y Chromosome DNA is concerned, despite claims that Y-chromosome data do not support Book of Mormon claims, there are some markers which should be considered in another light:
Douglas Forbes points out that Y-chromosome SNP biallelic marker Q-P36 (also known by the mutation marker M-242), postulated by geneticist Doron Behar and colleagues to be a founding lineage among Ashkenazi Jewish populations, is also found in Iranian and Iraqi Jews and is a founding lineage group present in 31 percent of self-identified Native Americans in the U.S. (Read more.)