I know I literally just said I was going to be better at making these posts a weekly feature again and then missed a few weeks, so I apologize for that. My dad was back in the hospital for a bit and there was holiday business. I also filmed an episode of the Come Back podcast, which should be out this coming weekend. And I was actually doing a lot of work a few weeks ago on another project for FAIR that I am very excited about. I am starting a new, investigative podcast series with two other FAIR faces you may be familiar with, Jennifer Roach and Zachary Wright. It’s going to be a podcast composed of multiple miniseries on different controversial topics in Church history and culture.

I admire and adore both of my co-hosts, and we’re already having such a great time working together. We met up before Christmas and laughed and planned and ate and filmed a few trailers, which should be out soon. We’re doing a bunch of filming this weekend, in fact. Our first miniseries should launch in early-to-mid February, and will consist of six episodes. I’ll have more to say on this soon, but we’re all very excited. The entire crew working on this project is amazing, and I couldn’t ask for a better group of people to work with.

Anyway, in the last post, we successfully wrapped up section 1 of the Letter For My Wife! We’re now on section 2: The Book of Mormon. The first subsection in this portion is on DNA. I’m glad we get the chance to talk about this, because so many people misunderstand the field and the data we have, and more importantly, the data we should have. So, it’s great to have the chance to dive into this a little bit.

Now, I’m not a geneticist, and I doubt many of you are, either. But here’s the thing: neither is Thomas Faulk, and neither is Jeremy Runnells, John Dehlin, or any of the other critics using this as an attack against our church. When I come up against a topic I’m not trained in, I dive into the research, and I turn to people who are trained. So, I’ll be doing both of those things throughout this section.

As usual, though, Thomas Faulk begins this section with an intro and a bunch of quotes:

The Book of Mormon story begins with Lehi, an Israelite, who fled to the Promised Land with his family and landed somewhere in Mesoamerica. 

That should read “allegedly landed somewhere in Mesoamerica.” That’s just a theory at this point. It’s a good one with a lot of solid scholarship behind it, but the exact location of the Book of Mormon events is still unknown and opinions strongly differ on the topic. 

Lehi’s descendents [sic] grew into two large populations, the Lamanites and the Nephites. 

Again, there is a caveat on this. Those descendants intermarried and mixed with the local populations, and that’s how the groups grew so large. And remember, there were multiple smaller subdivisions under those larger banners. Jacob just lumped them all together for convenience, with those who were friendly to the people of Nephi being called Nephites and those who wanted to destroy the people of Nephi being called Lamanites.

So, there were not two large populations, but multiple smaller populations that were generally friendly to one of two camps, and those multiple populations were only partially descendants of Lehi. Most of the people were not his biological descendants. 

By AD 385 the Lamanites had destroyed the Nephites and then grew to populate the entire Americas. 

What? No. The entire geography of the Book of Mormon, including both the Land Northward and the Land Southward consisted of only a few hundred miles in any given direction. It was a tiny stretch of land. “All the face of the land” does not mean the entire Western Hemisphere. It just means all of the land that they inhabited, which, again, was only a few hundred miles long. 

This unique claim lends itself perfectly to genetic testing. 

It really doesn’t, because that’s not what the Book of Mormon claims. That’s just what Thomas Faulk claims. 

Studies have been performed on the genetic history of Native Americans and the resulting information reveals inconsistencies in The Book of Mormon narrative. 

No, they reveal inconsistencies in Thomas Faulk’s narrative. But his narrative and the Book of Mormon narrative are two very different things. 

Covered in this chapter: the Church’s original claim, statements by LDS scientists, genetic evidence, and the Church’s attempt to distance itself from the original position. 

We need to be careful about calling it “the Church’s original claim” and “the Church’s…original position.” That’s not entirely accurate, as we’ll go into in a minute.

The problem Faulk has in this section is the exact same problem certain outspoken members of our Church had: overstating the Church’s position and what the scriptures actually say. 

  • Original Claim 

Over the years, prophets, apostles, and the missionary department have preached an ancestral link between the ancient Hebrews and Native Americans. 

Yep, absolutely. And that’s not a position the Church has recanted. 

  • “It is a record of God’s dealings with the ancient inhabitants of the Americas and contains the fullness of the everlasting gospel. The record gives an account of two great civilizations. One came from Jerusalem in 600 B.C., and afterward separated into two nations, known as the Nephites and the Lamanites. The other came much earlier when the Lord confounded the tongues at the Tower of Babel. This group is known as the Jaredites. After thousands of years, all were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are the principal ancestors of the American Indians.” (Book of Mormon Introduction, 1981 edition) 

The introduction to the Book of Mormon is not and has never been scripture. It wasn’t on the plates or a part of the Book of Mormon for well over a century after it was written. It’s just a preface written in 1981 by Bruce R. McConkie about the same time he wrote the chapter headings. It was his opinion and his interpretation of what the text said, and it was a common interpretation.

It was a popular theory in the 19th Century that Native Americans may have descended from one of the Lost Ten Tribes of Israel. Right from the beginning, many Latter-day Saints also believed in a hemispheric model for the Book of Mormon and shared the assumption that the family of Lehi were the very first inhabitants of the Americas. These were popular beliefs shared by the majority of the Saints right from the start.

But those opinions were not shared by everyone, and until the Gospel Topics Essay on DNA and the Book of Mormon was issued, there was never an official statement from the Brethren on the topic.

Before my critics freak out, let me explain what I mean by that. I mean, we never had a First Presidency statement, a proclamation, or any kind of canonized declaration. As far as endorsed statements go, we just have this introduction by Elder McConkie that was approved by the anonymous people on the Scriptures Publications Committee—and according to Dan Peterson, it was not even unanimously approved by that Committee. Some on the Committee felt that McConkie was reading more into the text than what it actually said.

Elder McConkie had a forceful personality and very strong opinions, not all of which were accurate. Anyone who knows of the controversies surrounding the publication and content of Mormon Doctrine knows what I’m talking about. Being strong-willed is not necessarily a bad thing, but in this case, it does mean that he was able to push through a statement that was not universally approved and that later was shown to be inaccurate.

Way back during the April 1929 General Conference, President Anthony W. Ivins of the First Presidency warned against this very thing:

“So, I say, one by one criticisms which have been made regarding the Book of Mormon are falling by the way through the investigation of scientists who understand their business. I thank the Lord for them and that which they are undertaking to do. I have never had any fear that a thing would be discovered to disprove the truths contained in this book. 

“We must be careful in the conclusions that we reach. The Book of Mormon teaches the history of three distinct peoples, or two peoples and three different colonies of people, who came from the old word to this continent. It does not tell us that there was no one here before them. It does not tell us that people did not come after. And so if discoveries are made which suggest differences in race origins, it can verily easily be accounted for, and reasonably, for we do believe that other people came to this continent. A thousand years had elapsed from the time the Book of Mormon closed until the discovery of American, and we know that other people came to America during that time period.”

We also know that people came to the Americas before that time period, as he previously said. So, instead of passing around our assumptions as fact, we need to make sure that we’re repeating what the Book of Mormon actually says about the people described inside its pages.

Remember, the Book of Mormon is only a tiny fraction of the stories from the communities in question, and doesn’t account for any other community in the surrounding area. There are a whole lot of narratives we don’t have, so to assume that what we do have is the entirety of the story is being shortsighted.

  • “As I look into your faces, I think of Father Lehi, whose sons and daughters you are…. This is but the beginning of the work in Peru.” (Gordon B. Hinckley, God’s Holy Work in Peru, Ensign, February 1997, p.73) 

The citation on this quote is wrong. “God’s Holy Work in Peru” is a subheading. The actual article is titled “President Hinckley Visits South America, Florida, Washington, D.C.”

But yes, President Hinckley said that. We’ll probably address this in more detail next week, but we don’t know if this is an accurate statement or not. We don’t know where Lehi’s boat landed. We don’t know where the biological descendants of Lehi live. We don’t even know if President Hinckley was talking about biology and genetics. For all we know, he could have been speaking symbolically, like how we’re all adopted into the lineage of Abraham when we accept the Gospel.

As it says in the Church History Topic, “Lamanite Identity”:

While some early Latter-day Saints speculated about which specific groups were the descendants of Book of Mormon peoples, most considered the Native Americans broadly as heirs to Book of Mormon promises. … Just as the history of the northern ten tribes of Israel after their exile in Assyria is a matter of speculation rather than knowledge, the history of the Lamanites after the close of the Book of Mormon record is a matter of speculation. The Church asserts that all members are part of the covenant house of Israel either by descent or adoption but does not take a position on the specific geography of the Book of Mormon or claim complete knowledge about the origins of any specific modern group in the Americas or the Pacific. Whatever the historical particulars, the Church continues its efforts to help realize the hopes of Book of Mormon prophets that the covenants of the Lord might be extended to all the lost sheep of Israel.

Remember, President Hinckley grew up in a time when all indigenous peoples were sometimes referred to as “Lamanites.” He was almost certainly not prophesying about the literal descendants of Lehi. He was using the term more broadly than that.

In fact, there has been a wide variety of opinions expressed by Church leaders in the past over whether every Native was a descendant of Lehi. The identity of the Lamanite descendants today is still unknown. It’s not even known if anyone from that biological bloodline still lives today. 

  • “Central America, or Guat[e]mala, is situated north of the Isthmus of Darien and once embraced by several hundred miles of territory from north to south. The city of Zarahemla, burnt at the crucifixion of the Savior, and rebuilt afterwards, stood up on this land as will be seen from the following words from the Book of Alma: ‘And now it was only the distance of a day and a half’s journey for a Nephite, on the line Bountiful, and the land Desolation, from the east to the west sea; and thus the land of Nephi, and the land of Zarahemla was nearly surrounded by water: there being a small neck of land between the land northward and the land southward.’” (Joseph Smith, Times and Seasons, October 1, 1842, vol.3, no.23) 

That quote almost certainly wasn’t by Joseph Smith. He was the editor in name of the Times and Seasonsduring October 1842, but the paper was actually managed by John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff at the time. The article in question doesn’t have a name on it, which typically means it was written by the editor. In this case, it was almost certainly Taylor or Woodruff, rather than Joseph.

While he approved much of their work, it’s important to remember for most of October, 1842, Joseph was in hiding to avoid an extradition charge over the assassination attempt on Lilburn W. Boggs. He surely was not spending those days penning articles about Guatemala.

But even if he did, most of the Mesoamerican models for the Book of Mormon include parts of Guatemala, so that may well be accurate. At the very least, we can’t say for certain that it’s wrong. 

  • LDS Scientists 

It should probably be titled Formerly LDS Scientists. I don’t think any of them are still members of the Church. 

  • Simon G. Southerton, a senior molecular biologist with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization in Australia and former bishop. 

Southerton said genetic research allowed him to test his religious views against his professional training. He examined studies of DNA lineages among Polynesians and indigenous peoples in North, Central and South America. He mapped maternal DNA lines from 7,300 Native Americans from 175 tribes. Southerton found no trace of Middle Eastern DNA in the genetic strands of today’s American Indians and Pacific Islanders. In Losing a Lost Tribe, published in 2004, Southerton concluded that the LDS church, his faith for 30 years, needed to be reevaluated in the face of these facts. 

While I’m sorry he felt the need to make such a rash decision, his quote below shows exactly how incorrect his assumptions were going into the project.

Additionally, as a molecular biologist, he should be very familiar with the reality of genetic drift, but he appears to ignore that entirely. That’s a topic we’ll discuss in detail in a future installment, though. 

“The problem is that the Church cannot acknowledge any factual errors in the Book of Mormon because the prophet Joseph Smith proclaimed it the ‘most correct of any book on Earth.’ They can’t admit that it’s not historical. They would feel that there would be a loss of members and loss in confidence in Joseph Smith as a prophet.” (Simon G. Southerton, Bedrock of Faith is Jolted, Los Angeles Times, February 2006) 

Bluntly, this quote is asinine.

The Title Page of the Book of Mormon says right on it that there may be flaws and mistakes of men in the book. Isn’t that in fact the Church acknowledging that there are potential factual errors in the Book of Mormon?

Also, I’ve made this point repeatedly before, but “the most correct of any book on Earth” does not mean free from any errors whatsoever. Joseph Smith meant it was the most doctrinally correct book, not the most grammatically or factually correct book. He meant that the principles and doctrine taught inside was more correct than that of any other religious text. Which should be obvious from reading the full sentence in question:

I told the brethren 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. 

  • Thomas W. Murphy, Chair of the Dept of Anthropology at Edmonds College. 

“In March 2000 Scott Woodward, a professor of microbiology at Brigham Young University, launched a multi-million dollar study … The Molecular Genealogy Research Group (MGRG) compiled a database of DNA records that identified connections between past and present humans…. Some optimism was expressed by church members that such research would vindicate the Book of Mormon as an ancient document…. For those who held such an expectation, the data collected by MGRG and results of similar research projects have been disappointing. So far, DNA has lent no support to the traditional Mormon beliefs about the origins of the Native Americans. Instead, genetic data have confirmed that migrations from Asia are the primary source of American Indian origins.” 

“Now that quantitative scientific methods can indeed test for an Israelite genetic presence in ancient America, we learn instead that virtually all Native Americans can trace their lineages to the Asian migrations between 7,000 and 50,000 years ago. While molecular anthropologists have the technological capability to identify descendants of ancient Hebrews, no traces of such DNA markers have appeared in Central America or elsewhere among Native Americans” (Thomas W. Murphy, Lamanite Genesis, Genealogy, and Genetics, in American Apocrypha: Essays on the Book of Mormon, 2002) 

Again, the answer to this is genetic drift. To give a brief explanation of this concept, among other things, it says that a small population mixing with a much larger one would be quickly enveloped and would leave little-to-no genetic trace hundreds to thousands of years later.

As the Gospel Topics Essay explains:

The effect of drift is especially pronounced in small, isolated populations or in cases where a small group carrying a distinct genetic profile intermingles with a much larger population of a different lineage. … When a small population mixes with a large one, combinations of autosomal markers typical of the smaller group become rapidly overwhelmed or swamped by those of the larger. The smaller group’s markers soon become rare in the combined population and may go extinct due to the effects of genetic drift and bottlenecks as described above. Moreover, the shuffling and recombination of autosomal DNA from generation to generation produces new combinations of markers in which the predominant genetic signal comes from the larger original population. This can make the combinations of markers characteristic of the smaller group so diluted that they cannot be reliably identified.

Or, to quote non-LDS DNA scientist Daniel L. Hartl:

If a number of Semitic speaking people from the Middle East settled in North America about 2500 years ago, and the indigenous population was large, ‘the probability’ that the DNA markers of the Semitic speaking group would be lost ‘…is reasonably high.’

This is why you can’t find traces of Roman DNA among native Brits or Viking DNA among Native American populations from the Eastern US, despite known admixture between the groups. The much smaller population was encompassed by the much larger population and no traces of their DNA remain this many years later. 

  • In a collaboration, Thomas W. Murphy and Simon Southerton, wrote: 

“Investigation of mitochondrial DNA of more than 5,500 living Native Americans reveals that 99.4% can be traced back to Asia primarily via maternal lineages known as A, B, C, D and X. Only 0.6% came from Africa or Europe, most likely after 1492. Lineages A through D are only found in Asia. While the X lineage also is found in Europe and the Middle East, Asian and American lineages have distinctive markers that indicate an ancient separation long before the events described in the Book of Mormon. Similar results from nearly 1,000 paternal lineages substantiate a Northeast Asian origin of American Indians. Likewise, approximately 99% of the Polynesians surveyed to date can trace their maternal lineages back to Southeast Asia. The other 1% almost certainly came from Europe in the recent past… Folk biological claims of an Israelite ancestry, a curse with a dark skin, and a whitening of dark-skinned Native American and Polynesian Mormons fail to stand up to scrutiny among scientifically literate Latter-day Saints.” (Thomas W. Murphy and Simon Southerton, Genetic Research a ‘Galileo Event’ for Mormons, Anthropology News, February 2003)


Tell that to the multiple LDS scientists and academics who believe in the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon.

There are several solid responses to these claims. Population bottleneck is a particularly big one that we know occurred throughout the Americas after European contact, where traumatic events such as disease, famine, natural disasters, and war can cause genetic lines to go extinct. Genetic drift, as I’ve said, is another one.

The fact is, this is only an issue if the hemispheric model of the Book of Mormon is the only model possible. The problem goes away with a limited geography model, as Kevin Barney explains:

Murphy and Southerton appear to be nice guys. They are sincere, and they believe in what they are doing. Both seem to have had a similar experience. They apparently grew up with narrow, fundamentalist assumptions about the Book of Mormon, believing in and presumably knowing only of the hemispheric model. When they learned that the hemispheric model was scientifically untenable, each experienced unfulfilled (unrealistic) expectations and an ensuing crisis of faith, upon which each lost his belief in the antiquity and historicity of the Book of Mormon, and the Church with it. Now they desire to enlighten others under the banner of science.

The extant DNA evidence simply confirms what scientists already knew: that most Native Americans ultimately derive from Asia. This is inconsistent with the hemispheric model of the Book of Mormon. To that extent, Murphy and Southerton are not arguing against a straw man; many contemporary Latter-day Saints (to the extent that they have thought of the issue at all) continue to uncritically accept a hemispheric model of the Book of Mormon. To the extent that the kind of DNA research publicized by Murphy and Southerton causes these people to reexamine their assumptions about the nature of the text, I think the effect will be a salutary one.

The problem is that Murphy and Southerton go beyond that. They recognize, as they must, that the extant DNA evidence is not inconsistent with a limited geography model of the Book of Mormon. When they reject a limited geography model, they must do so on other grounds. At this point, their argument stops being a scientific one and becomes a theological one. … Murphy’s and Southerton’s theological argument imposes the scientifically naïve assumption that Lehi and his family were the sole ancestors of all American Indians on their readers and argues that Latter-day Saints are not free to accept a limited geography model given various statements of past Church leaders. They also point, as in the article under review, to the statement in the introduction to the Book of Mormon that Lehi was the “principal” ancestor of the American Indians. I for one reject the adjective “principal” from that introduction, which was only added as a part of the 1981 edition and is not a canonical part of the scripture. I am perfectly free to reject that adjective, as well as the other similar statements Murphy and Southerton point to. Their inability to do so themselves simply reflects the fundamentalist character of the one-time faith they held in the Church…

In conclusion, for Murphy and Southerton to insist on holding the Book of Mormon only to a lowest common denominator, populist, folkloric reading would be like one judging contemporary anthropology by the opinions that average readers of Margaret Mead took from her columns in Redbook magazine.

This is the same approach that Thomas Faulk takes in this letter, and it’s the same approach Jeremy Runnells takes in the CES Letter. If you insist on caricatures and overly rigid assumptions, you can make anything look ridiculous. That’s what these authors are banking on. But their tactics fall flat when you take a step back and look at things through another lens. Yeah, the hemispheric model for the Book of Mormon is bad and full of holes. But a limited geography model has considerably more room to fit the facts. 

Greater than 99% of the DNA lineages of Native Americans are only found among East Asians. The evidence suggests that they share a common ancestor and that American natives did not descend from Israeli lineage. 

The Book of Mormon doesn’t say otherwise. That some leaders and lay members assumed it did does mean that it does. I’ve linked to it a few times already in this post, but the presentation by Mike Ash at last summer’s FAIR Conference addresses this issue very handily. 

  • Jamie Hanis Handy, Brigham Young University, MS Biological Science and Genetics 

“DNA is definitive. DNA is trusted. DNA is a part of our lives now. There is nothing in which to be afraid. DNA is just information, lots of information…. In my experience, each generation trusts and relies on DNA more than the previous generation, and my children are growing up in a world where DNA just is and has always been a wellspring of reliable information. Anything, any group, or any organization that tries to discredit DNA as a legitimate data source will with each passing year lose credibility with the rising generations. And so I am very, very concerned about the faith that I call my spiritual home. The Church of Jesus-Christ of Latter Day Saints.”

This person is badly misunderstanding the Gospel Topics Essay if they think that the Church is trying to “discredit DNA as a legitimate data source.” They’re using DNA science to support the Book of Mormon narrative as it actually unfolds in the text, rather than the inaccurate assumptions people hold about the narrative. 

“This quote appears in the newest manual for seminary and institute students, “As an example, you may want to explain that one way modern enemies of the Church attempt to discredit the Book of Mormon is by using DNA evidence to try to discredit any link between Book of Mormon peoples and Native Americans.” 

That’s not discrediting DNA science. It’s saying that enemies of the Church will twist the DNA science to imply things it doesn’t actually say. Much like the way the author of this letter attempted to do. 

“DNA evidence has had a huge impact on the Mormon narrative. In my lifetime, a one-word change in the introduction to our holy scripture, The Book of Mormon, has had massive ripple effects while yet also remaining mostly undiscussed by the membership at large. Originally the introduction read, ‘The Lamanites, and they are the principal ancestors of the American Indians.’ The new introduction reads much the same, but says the Lamanites ‘are among the ancestors of the American Indians.’” 

How is that a “massive ripple effect”? Other than to prompt some members of the Church to read the Book of Mormon more closely and to think more critically than they had before? 

“How has this one word swap changed things? I was taught every week that the Native Americans were the descendents [sic] of the Lamanites. I was shown pictures of Mayan and Aztec ruins all the time as if those were evidence of the Book of Mormon civilizations. Once DNA evidence began to show clearly that today’s Native Americans did not descend from Middle Eastern Jews (as we originally claimed), everything changed.” 

Weird. That’s incredibly different from my experience at Church. I was definitely not taught every single week that all Native Americans were descendants of the Lamanites, and I’ve never been shown Aztec and Mayan ruins at Church. Other than the initial buzz when the introduction was changed, I haven’t noticed a very big shift at all in the way it’s been discussed at Church—because we don’t really focus on Lamanite ancestry at Church. That’s not a common topic of discussion there. It might come up in Sunday School occasionally during Book of Mormon years, but even then, it’s not markedly different from how it was discussed when I was young. 

“And yet, despite this drastic shift, we still insist on publishing something that says ‘modern enemies’ of the church use DNA evidence?” 

That’s not what it said. It said that modern enemies of the Church will use DNA evidence to try to discredit any link between Book of Mormon peoples and Native Americans. Using DNA evidence is fine. Using it untruthfully or manipulatively is not. When you only give one side of the argument and you use “a lowest common denominator, populist, folkloric reading” of the Book of Mormon to bolster your claims, and you ignore geography models and parts of DNA science you don’t like, that doesn’t make you the good guy. It makes you a troll. 

“… Our children will not see DNA that way. Instead they will see the church as afraid — afraid of the wonder and miracle that understanding DNA is. Afraid that truth cannot withstand study. Afraid that (for many of them) the very thing that brought them to this place, diagnosed their disease, treated their disorder, identified their parent, captured their rapist, freed their friend, gave them a healthy sibling, and that is trusted everywhere cannot be trusted at church?” (Jamie Hanis Handy, DNA and Mormonism, June 2015) 

Hyperbole much? I don’t see the Church as being afraid. I see it as addressing these concerns and questions head-on. I see them being transparent about the fact that some leaders, such as Elder McConkie, got a few things wrong and didn’t look beyond their assumptions to see other possible answers. I see it publishing essays explaining how genetic testing in large populations works over time and what we can and can’t expect to find when looking for Book of Mormon DNA. I see it standing up to manipulative bullies and reinforcing its position.

I don’t see it saying anything at all about DNA science being untrustworthy. Please, show me where that claim appears in a Church publication? Notice that the source this person is supposedly citing doesn’t say at all like what they claim it says. How is that being honest and trustworthy?

Please look at cited sources more critically than that. Please don’t let someone manipulate you into doubting your testimony, especially when the arguments are this bad.



Sarah Allen is a senior researcher with FAIR, and the 2022 recipient of the John Taylor: Defender of the Faith Award. By profession, she works in mortgage compliance and is a freelance copyeditor. An avid reader, she loves studying the Gospel and the history of the restored Church. After watching some of her friends lose their testimonies, she became interested in helping others through their faith crises. That’s when she began sharing what she’d learned through her studies. She is a co-moderator the LDS subreddit on Reddit and the author of a multi-part series rebutting the CES Letter. She will be co-hosting a podcast for FAIR later in 2024. She’s grateful to those at FAIR who have given her the opportunity to share her testimony with a wider audience.


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