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Simon Southerton's response to ....


Rollo Tomasi

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Some may find this of interest:

FARMS recently published a brief article by John Butler addressing questions about the BofM and DNA research. In that article, Dr. Butler wrote this:

An interesting study reported in the June 2003 issue of the American Journal of Human Genetics leads me to believe that it is possible for Book of Mormon peoples to be ancestors of modern Native Americans and yet not be easily detected using traditional Y-chromosome and mitochondrial DNA tests.  This study, conducted by a group of scientists from a company called deCODE Genetics, used the extensive genealogies of people from Iceland combined with probably the most massive population study ever performed.6 They traced the matrilineal and patrilineal ancestry of all 131,060 Icelanders born after 1972 back to two cohorts of ancestors, one born between 1848 and 1892 and the other between 1798 and 1742.

Examining the same Y-chromosome and mitochondrial DNA markers used in other genetic studies, these 131,060 Icelanders revealed highly skewed distributions of descendants to ancestors, with the vast majority of potential ancestors contributing one or no descendants and a minority of ancestors contributing large numbers of descendants.  In other words, the majority of people living today in Iceland had ancestors living only 150 years ago that could not be detected based on the Y-chromosome and mitochondrial DNA tests being performed yet the genealogical records exist showing that these people lived and were real ancestors. To the point at hand, if many documented ancestors of 150 years ago cannot be seen with Y-chromosome and mitochondrial DNA tests from modern Iceland, then the possibility can exist for people that are reported in the Book of Mormon to have migrated to the Americas over 2600 years ago and yet not have detectable genetic signatures today.

Simon Southerton has posted this response on RfM:

Hi Folks,

In a recent FARMS article defending the Book of Mormon, John Butler made reference to a research paper on the population of Iceland by Hagelson et al (2003).* Hagelson and his team found that the large majority of people living in Iceland 300 years ago have one or no living descendants. Butler used these findings to support apologist arguments that it is quite possible that Lamanite DNA disappeared but that American Indians are still descended from them.

The only detail the authors of this paper give about Iceland

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And so what exactly is Simon trying to say? I missed it somehow but then again, I am a little dense about this dna business. I can't see just how this all refutes Butler.

I think that point being: Nothing is etched on granite when it comes to dna and simon is now proving that point. By responding to Butler, simon shows that he needs to keep the 'faithful' exmos in line.

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It doesn't refute Butler because there are corallarys between the events he describes as occurring in Iceland and events which occurred in Mesoamerica. What percentage of the native population was wiped out after the Spaniards came to due to disease and conflict?

Moreover, Mesoamerica suffered some fairly severe volcanic eruptions also.

After the death of many natives there has for the past several hundered years been an influx of immigrants.

Seems to me that Simon is simply making Butler's case for him.

C.I.

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Does Simon give no weight to the vast decrease in Native Populations 500 years ago when Europeans arrived on the scene? Whole peoples were eradicated, others greatly decimated. Wouldn't this event have a similar impact on genetics that the Icelandic factors have had on that island?

edit: once again, Confidential Informant says it so much better than I. :P

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Is Southerton so ignorant of Meso-American history?

In the fourth century Meso-America experience massive warfare.

Starting in the ninth century, the Maya civilization went into dramtic decline devastating the highest populations in ancient times and leaving much of the area largely deserted in less than half a century.

Then we get to the European colonization of central America which brought diseases that decimated the native populations and extensive warfare that further reduced the native populations.

How is this so different than what happened in Iceland?

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I was going to mention this too about the native american population being practically eradicated but I thought that perhaps I missed something in simon's post and I did not want to sound like an idiot.

But it seems that I didn't miss anything in simon's post and so I can safely say that I am not an idiot after all. :P

Simon's post doesn't make a lot of sense in my opinion.

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Southerton, as we all know, does look for any and all ways to substantiate his leaving the church on a limited view of genetics. As more and more information is revealed, he has to reach to justify his initial knee-jerk reaction to something he didn't understand. This is one of those cases. Leaving over doctrinal issues of God and so such is one thing. This, though vaguely related, is man trying to comprehend a large battlefield through a very tiny peephole.

Taking his arguments, we do indeed see that it more than supports the Book of Mormon. We know of constant wars early on, many of the original settlers being killed off. Then of course is the disease and plagues that hit them pre-Columbus. Add in the decimation of the area during the Crucixion period, the migration of more and more settlers from the North and South pre-Columbus, post-Columbus disease adn warfare that wiped out larger swaths than Iceland could ever even dream of and you have a recipe for a disappearing genetic line.

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The issue for me in all of this is what the church teaches versus what science tells us. We used to teach (and in many places still do) that the Lehites, Jaredites, and Mulekites were the first people in the New World, and the Book of Mormon actually refers to the New World as beking kept hidden from other nations, strongly suggesting that God only allowed certain people into the New World. Moreover, the Book of Mormon (as well as Latter-Day prophetic declaration) leads us to understand that the Native Americans are direct descendants of Lehi, and that the purpose of the Book of Mormon was to bring them to a knowledge of their origins and the covenants of their fathers.

So to find ways of demonstrating how a small group of people can contribute very little to a given population, or how DNA can't always detect everything we'd like to know about a group of people, all seems to miss the primary thing that the DNA and other science does tell us: That whether Mormonism is true or not, we cannot escape the fact that many people in the church continue in the demonstrably false notion that the Jaredites, Lehites, and Mulekites were the first people in the New World, and that they are the sole progenitors of the Native Americans.

To me, there isn't much progress to be made with "a-ha" studies that try to demonstrate why there might not be any traces of Lehite DNA amongst the Native Americans today. It is completely beside the point. The point, to me, is that we Mormons were mistaken for 180 years about who the Native Americans really are. They are not the children of Lehi in any literal sense, but perhaps very, very distantly related.

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Simon Southerton has posted this response on RfM:
Hi Folks,

In a recent FARMS article defending the Book of Mormon, John Butler made reference to a research paper on the population of Iceland by Hagelson et al (2003).* Hagelson and his team found that the large majority of people living in Iceland 300 years ago have one or no living descendants. Butler used these findings to support apologist arguments that it is quite possible that Lamanite DNA disappeared but that American Indians are still descended from them.

The only detail the authors of this paper give about Iceland

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It doesn't refute Butler because there are corallarys between the events he describes as occurring in Iceland and events which occurred in Mesoamerica.  What percentage of the native population was wiped out after the Spaniards came to due to disease and conflict? 

Moreover, Mesoamerica suffered some fairly severe volcanic eruptions also.

After the death of many natives there has for the past several hundered years been an influx of immigrants.

Seems to me that Simon is simply making Butler's case for him.

C.I.

Edit - nevermind - this DNA stuff is way over my head.

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The only good argument I see him make is this: Why didn't the Lamanites have a resistence to the Old World diseases? If anything, they would have had increased immunity and been the survivors and not the victims.

I don't know enough about the development of disease to know the answer, but it seems like a good point. How long does it take for an ethnic group to lose such an ability to survive disease?

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Are you suggesting then that native and latin americans today are not descendants of the BOM?

Nope.

Just saying that genetically it can't be proven.

In fact, I am the direct descendant of a U.S. President. Nevertheless, because I came through the line of one of his daughters, you would be unable to find any evidence of him in my DNA. Moreover, because I came from the line of of one of his Grandsons, you would find no trace of his wife's DNA in me either.

Nevertheless, I am a direct descendant of both.

C.I.

P.S. Yes, I realize this is overly simplified.

ci

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Jarrod:

The issue for me in all of this is what the church teaches versus what science tells us.

Why? The official position of the church has been that there is ultimately no conflict between science and religion - even though some temporary understandings might be different. I sincerely doubt that anyone from 1830 would have an accurate understanding of genetics as they are understood today.

It should surprise no one that people who teach (regardless of their position in the church), do so with the best of their understanding at the time. Those things change. They always have and always will.

For a church that believes in continuing revelation, the idea that we might know something now that we didn't know at an earlier time is support for the underlying belief in continuing revelation - not a contradiction of it.

In the case of the Book of Mormon, it is much easier to make the case that from the beginning the church's understanding has been flexible and subject to change than it would be to demonstrate that it was dogmatic and inflexible.

It seems to me that your issue has more to do with a personal definition of theology than either the official church position or any reasonable history of the church's position.

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The only good argument I see him make is this: Why didn't the Lamanites have a resistence to the Old World diseases? If anything, they would have had increased immunity and been the survivors and not the victims.

I don't know enough about the development of disease to know the answer, but it seems like a good point. How long does it take for an ethnic group to lose such an ability to survive disease?

That presumes that many of the old world diseases were extant when the Lehites left Jerusalem and that they were carriers, doesn't it?

C.I.

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Katherine the great:

The only good argument I see him make is this: Why didn't the Lamanites have a resistence to the Old World diseases? If anything, they would have had increased immunity and been the survivors and not the victims.

It is still an argument that is predicated on exclusive descendents. If the Lehites/Mulekites/Jaredites were the only contributors to the genetic makeup of the New World, then their presumed immunity to some of the Old World diseases might have been expected to be passed on.

However, the problem is transferral of immunity must be even more complicated than the DNA inheritance. What happens to a conditioned immunity when there is no reinforcement of that need for a couple thousand years? I suspect we don't know much about that. When that issue is combined with the small contribution of Old World immunities to the larger community, it is quite questionable how well such an immunity would transfer when there is no adaptive advantage to it - there would be no selection process that would favor anyone with immunity over anyone without it.

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That presumes that many of the old world diseases were extant when the Lehites left Jerusalem and that they were carriers, doesn't it?

C.I.

Well there's no doubt that smallpox was alive and well in the Middle East at that time. The first recorded epidemic was during the Egyptian Hittite war in 1350 bc.

I'm not agreeing with the critics, but this is the first truly valid argument that I can't see a good answer for.

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The only good argument I see him make is this: Why didn't the Lamanites have a resistence to the Old World diseases? If anything, they would have had increased immunity and been the survivors and not the victims.

I don't know enough about the development of disease to know the answer, but it seems like a good point. How long does it take for an ethnic group to lose such an ability to survive disease?

A good point? Children aren't born with their parents' immunity to disease if that were the case then why vaccinate children if mom was vaccinated as a child?

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The only good argument I see him make is this:  Why didn't the Lamanites have a resistence to the Old World diseases?  If anything, they would have had increased immunity and been the survivors and not the victims.

I don't know enough about the development of disease to know the answer, but it seems like a good point.  How long does it take for an ethnic group to lose such an ability to survive disease?

A good point? Children aren't born with their parents' immunity to disease if that were the case then why vaccinate children if mom was vaccinated as a child?

I think the point is that the survivors have stronger immune systems capable of fighting off a particular plague, and that the children and grandchildren of the survivors are likelier to have similar immune systems.

This, of course, doesn't help our critical friends much, since, from a purely "survival of the fittest" perspective, that particular trait would not be selected for in further breeding, since the particular phage or bacterium, resistence to which was the sine qua non to survival in the Old World, is not present in the environment into which the Lehites were transplanted.

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What happens to a conditioned immunity when there is no reinforcement of that need for a couple thousand years? I suspect we don't know much about that. When that issue is combined with the small contribution of Old World immunities to the larger community, it is quite questionable how well such an immunity would transfer when there is no adaptive advantage to it - there would be no selection process that would favor anyone with immunity over anyone without it.

These are both thought provoking comments. Thanks.

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Jarrod:
The issue for me in all of this is what the church teaches versus what science tells us.

Why? The official position of the church has been that there is ultimately no conflict between science and religion - even though some temporary understandings might be different. I sincerely doubt that anyone from 1830 would have an accurate understanding of genetics as they are understood today.

It should surprise no one that people who teach (regardless of their position in the church), do so with the best of their understanding at the time. Those things change. They always have and always will.

For a church that believes in continuing revelation, the idea that we might know something now that we didn't know at an earlier time is support for the underlying belief in continuing revelation - not a contradiction of it.

In the case of the Book of Mormon, it is much easier to make the case that from the beginning the church's understanding has been flexible and subject to change than it would be to demonstrate that it was dogmatic and inflexible.

It seems to me that your issue has more to do with a personal definition of theology than either the official church position or any reasonable history of the church's position.

You took one line from my post and oversimplified it to the degree that you missed the point entirely.

My point was that whatever might have happened, we Mormons have followed the natural human tendency to speculate on certain ideas and teach them as fact. I am not speaking about a rift between science and religion; I am speaking about a rift between incorrect speculation and the need to update some of our ideas based on new information. I am not talking about revising doctrine or anything of the sort. Rather, I pointed out that lots of us had the notion that Israelites were the sole progenitors of the Native Americans, and we used scripture to back it up. But we were obviously wrong. That's all.

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A good point? Children aren't born with their parents' immunity to disease if that were the case then why vaccinate children if mom was vaccinated as a child?

You might need to do a little research about communicable disease... :P

Diseases mutate. That's what all the fuss is about with today's avian influenza. I understand the Spanish Influenza of 1918 might have been a type of avian influenza and yet I don't hear scientists saying, 'Relax, if your grandparents lived through it, then your mom and dad were immune to it, and now you're immune to it too.'

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