I just came across a transcript of Ryan Parr's presentation at the recent FAIR conference. I hope many Mormons will read it. It is a rambling, direction-less, sad attempt to salvage Book of Mormon historicity in the light of DNA research. It must have been awful to sit through it, even for the apologists on his side. Parr had clearly not prepared to talk. Maybe he thought his audience would be so impressed with his pretty slides and his PhD, that they would be satisfied with the sound of his voice for half an hour.http://www.fairlds.org/FAIR_Conferences/2005_DNA_and_the_Book_of_Mormon.html
The talk is clearly an attempt to explain away the problem that DNA research has shown that American Indians do not have Israelite ancestors and the Book of Mormon demands that they do. It is amazing (and somewhat sad) to see the symptoms of cognitive dissonance so openly displayed in the transcript. Cutting and pasting a few lowlights does not convey the magnitude of the train wreck, but for those internet junkies with relatively short attention spans (or better things to do) here are a few. The Q&A section was a particular lowlight.
Here we go (gird up your loins, take a deep breath)
"But along with this comes other challenges as well and that is that there are DNA claims against the Book of Mormon and most of these are based on modern population data. Number one, the genetic evidence of Native American characterizations does not support an Ancient Near Eastern descent for Native Americans. Population genetics are consistent with Asian origins for aboriginal groups and I don't know if we should really be too concerned about this. It all lies in your expectation."
"I just want to say a couple of things about the Promised Land. We believe that they sailed over to Mesoamerica and landed somewhere in this area and this wonderful graphic is courtesy of Blake and Joseph Allen. Let's talk just a minute about the Book of Mormon and what it has as the Promised Land.
I know that we all believe that they went to a land where there never was before man. At least that's our traditional understanding of what that means but if you look really close at 2 Nephi, I mean I think it seems like sometimes we tend to get carried away. It's sort of written in covenant of Abraham language that says those brought out of the land of Jerusalem. It's a very specific group of people, they'll prosper, they'll be kept from all other nations, they'll possess this land unto themselves, but the conditions always are that the laws and statutes are respected and lived. So the Promised Land idea is really associated with the covenant of Abraham and does not cover some of God's other children that are living in this New World. In fact you can almost think of Lehi's group as a boat of missionaries. Why not? Bringing the covenant of Abraham to a new land.
And also if you want to think in terms of, like, the Saints that came into the Valley in 1847, they certainly didn't come to a Promised Land 'Retirement Area'. In fact it was just the opposite. There were things that they had to do that built character that let them become all that they were to become. In fact Elder Maxwell always makes the point that these trials and tribulations that we are given are very specific for each one of us so that we can tutor, we can learn, we can become all that's intended for us in the divine sense."
"Let's just sort of look at what John Sorensen calls Lehi's neighbors. I call this (I was going to call this shadows of the empire but it had already been used) shadows of existing people and when we read in the Book of Mormon—it was never intended as a population history—but if you read it as that, there are really interesting clues and nuances.
First of all, we find out—it's repeated over and over—this is only a hundredth part of the record so those things that we think are important today, the genetics and so on and so forth, weren't even an issue and if you've read the Book of Mormon you can understand why. I mean Mendel is still in the future; he's sort of the father of genetics. James Watson and Francis Crick, the discoverers of the double helix in 1953, aren't even a thought. In fact, the bacterial theory of disease isn't even a thought.
These people have other issues and the issues seem to be social and political. What's really fascinating I think is some of the language that's used. So the sibling rivalry becomes very dangerous, Lehi is told by revelation to leave. Well, he says, I'm going to take my relatives and then he says, and those who would go with me. Well who were these people? I mean there are so many people who came over on the boat and he should know everybody. Temple construction takes a lot of manpower so it's going to cause these people to be industrious. So the shadows continued.
What I tried to do is look early on in the Book of Mormon for these clues and these nuances. This is what Jacob says, and you can't- it just turns out that Lamanites and Nephites isn't even a genetic term and it's not anyway because they all share the same genetic background. Jacob says this, he says, "But I, Jacob, shall not hereafter distinguish them by these names, but I shall call them Lamanites that seek to destroy the people of Nephi, and those who are friendly to Nephi I shall call Nephites, or the people of Nephi." (Jacob 1:14)"
"So do Book of Mormon people have the same mitochondrial haplotypes as Native Americans? Yes. They were assimilated in but they were a small part that were participating in a specific geographical area and once again I think the really important, and sort of our- you know, science always thinks that it has all of the answers right now but we always live in an age of ignorance and that is, assuming that these current population data are adequate for this test, they're just simply not I think if you were to be intellectually honest with yourself it just isn't possible to really reconstruct these. What you'd have to do is you would have to find a cemetery where Nephi and everybody was buried and then do ancient DNA analysis on those individuals. But it looks like fairly quickly this population was eclipsed and this story wouldn't be different for any of us that would move into a large foreign population. I mean, pretty soon our kids start talking like so-and-so, start acting like so-and-so. There's only a certain number of people you can pick to be married to and if they did stay together then you have a lot of problems with recessive alleles starting to pair up and there is a lot of genetic problems with that.
And finally I like this particular quote from Elder Maxwell, he says, "Because the editing of the Book of Mormon, with its witnessing gospel of hope, occurred under divine direction, it has a focus which is essentially spiritual. Yet some still criticize the book for not being what it was never intended to be, as if one could justifiably criticize a phone directory for lack of a plot."2 And, for all intents and purposes, that's what we've been doing. (Laughter)
I guess from a personal note am I saying that we won't ever find Ancient Near Eastern genetics? No. I think there are some tantalizing papers now that suggest that there may be European input, I would say at this time, into these ancient populations; but I'm not that familiar with that information so that's a subject for future study. And overall, the genetic differences in the human family is pretty slight and so when we all say and speak of God's children we are all very, very closely related at a genetic level and here we're talking about very, very small nuances and differences when we talk about A, B, C, D and X.
I think that- well I mean we need to see in sacred scriptures its full intent and its possibilities and not really look for its limitations."
Q: In other words could I be a descendant of Lehi and yet have none of his DNA?
PARR: That's a very good question. I think we all have this same sort of problem when we do our genealogy and again on a DNA basis we're all very closely related; and I think we're making Mt Everests out of speed bumps—and I mean I didn't mean that in a rude way.
"... and yet have none of his DNA?" I don't think God cares about DNA. If, once again, you consider the covenant of Abraham, he says that all of the nations of the world will be blessed. How could that be genetic? If we're all created in His image and, if you look at DNA, it's this divine sculpted molecule that's incredible. We are His children. If you want to have to claim that you're from Lehi or so on and so forth, to me, from my perspective, that's not- I don't know. I mean, my ancestors could've fought at the Battle of Hastings in 1066; I would be very thrilled if they did. Well sheesh they would've had to have made it didn't they? They couldn't have got killed! (Laughter) But, I still probably have none of their DNA in me.
SCOTT GORDON (President of FAIR): So it's possible to have none of his DNA?
PARR: It's possible to have none of his DNA but you could have one of these lines coming down showing that you are a direct descendant. But remember you're related to all the other people in line as well.