Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Mormons, DNA and the Defeat at Austerlitz

Something discouragingly familiar has been happening in the Mormon Church in relation to the question of DNA and the Book of Mormon. The traditional Mormon claim is that today’s Native Americans are descendents of the people in the Book of Mormon, who were, in turn, descended from Israelites who migrated to American in 600BC.

When, in 2004, anthropologist Thomas Murphy and geneticist Simon Southerton, both men with Mormon backgrounds, made public their conclusion that there is no reliable scientific evidence supporting migrations from the Middle East to the New World Mormons, who had hoped the new discoveries in DNA would vindicate Mormon claims for the Book of Mormon, were dismayed. Christians who have for years made it their business to witness to Mormons, on the other hand, were encouraged and have wasted no time in making these findings widely known and encouraging discussion at all levels. Then something began to happen that might have been lifted straight out of Tolstoy’s War and Peace. The Mormon opinion makers began to explain their Austerlitz.

The Russian Defeat at Austerlitz

To understand this oblique reference you need to understand that the Battle of Austerlitz was one of Napoleon’s greatest victories as, in December 1805, he defeated the combined forces of Russia and Austria. Tolstoy, in his great novel, describes the impact this had on Russian society.

“At first Moscow had been quite bewildered by the tidings of the battle of Austerlitz. The Russians at that period were so used to victories that news of a defeat made some people simply incredulous, while others looked for exceptional circumstances of some kind to explain so strange an event. At the English Club, where everyone of note and importance, everyone who had trustworthy sources of information foregathered, when the news began to arrive in December not a word was said about the war or the last battle, as though all were in a conspiracy of silence.

The men who generally gave the lead in conversation…did not put in an appearance at the club but met privately together at each other’s houses, and that section of Moscow society which took its opinions from others…remained for a short time without leaders and without definite views in regard to the progress of the war. People in Moscow felt that something was wrong, and that it was difficult to know what to think of the bad news, and so better to be silent. But after a while, like jurymen emerging from the jury room, the bigwigs who guided opinion in the club reappeared, and a clear and definite formula was produced. Reasons were discovered to account for the incredible, unheard-of and impossible fact that the Russians had been beaten, all became plain and in every corner of Moscow one and the same story was current.

The defeat was due, so people told each other, to the treachery of the Austrians, to a defective commissariat, to perfidy on the part of the Pole Przhebyzhewski and the Frenchman Langeron, to Kutuzov’s inefficiency and (this is a whisper) to the youth and inexperience of the Sovereign, who had put faith in men of no character or ability. But the army, the Russian army, everyone declared, had been extraordinary and had performed miracles in valour. Soldiers, officers and generals were heroes to a man.”

There was no denying the defeat had occurred. And the shock to Russia was palpable. When the “jury” retired those who took their opinions from others looked worried but kept stoically silent, waiting with baited breathe. But a formula was arrived at, all was explained in terms of someone else being to blame, and the same story was circulated, repeated, embellished and found to be comforting as Moscow breathed a sigh of relief on finding their army’s reputation intact and their heroes inviolate.

Mormonism’s Austerlitz?

Just so Mormons have met with their own Austerlitz and responded in like fashion. Those who took their opinions from others waited while the jury, those who led opinion and made authoritative commentary in the church, retired. These eventually reappeared, and a clear and definite formula was produced. Reasons were discovered to account for the incredible, unheard-of and impossible fact that Native Americans, the “Indians”, the Lamanites as Mormons would have us call them, were not descended from Hebrew stock as the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith taught.

This development, it was decided, was due to the agenda of Murphy and Southerton, disaffected church members with questionable pedigrees. It was a new science and all the facts were not in yet. The sample tested was too small to be conclusive. Anyway, nobody said that the Lamanites were ever more than a fraction of the overall population and surely there were too few to show up in such a test. But the church was still true, Joseph Smith was still a prophet and the Book of Mormon still the word of God and their reputation remained inviolate. They were still the agents of God’s restoration.

Read here the latest in a long line of “explanations” for this unfortunate turn of events. Note especially the words of the author, “there is no evidence for a genetic link between modern Native Americans and Lamanites,” But that’s alright because he can explain that too.

Russia famously and dramatically recovered from the defeat at Austerlitz and went on to drive out Napoleon by an inspired strategy at Moscow. Will Mormonism, too, recover from this, their personal Austerlitz, and rise to victory? I fear there have been and continue to be too many such controversies for there to be any real hope of them ever driving the forces of truth from their territory. It may be cold in the Utah winter but, unlike Napoleon, the truth of God knows nothing of climate, borders, obstacles and terrain. It goes where God sends it and his word never returns fruitless, or void.


  1. Different narrative for you:

    The ex-Mormon critic world is thrilled at the news that Native Americans have primarily Asiatic sources for their genetic makeup - not middle eastern.

    Everyone acts like they've just discovered the secret plans to the Death Star.

    Mormon apologists then point out that Mormon scholars have been positing a limited geography for the Book of Mormon for over fifty years now - so the data is irrelevant to the truth claims of the actual text. Even Southerton himself actual ADMITS in writing that his critique is impotent if you believe in a limited geography for the Book of Mormon.

    The ex-Mormons - who unfortunately hung their hats on a continent-wide model for the Book of Mormon - completely fall apart. Completely outraged that their so-called "magic bullet" turned out to be a dud.

    The story closes with the ex-Mormons whimpering pitifully about how we've got Joseph Smith quotes that he believed in a continent-wide model.

    Mormon apologists simply shrug their shoulders and say "that's nice." And then go back to reading the actual text of the book they believe in.

    Grand hopes for this one. Unfortunately, it proved to be probably one of the biggest embarrassments for the ex-Mormon critic world I've ever seen. Everyone could hardly contain their glee at finally finding some definitive proof against this book. When it proved to be nothing of the sort, they really had nothing left except to whine about how Mormon scholarship isn't really mainstream.


  2. It is nice to see your still around Seth. You disappeared in the middle of our conversation on Atonement and the Cross when you asked me which was more important and I asked you why you distinguished between them. I regard this as the fundamental doctrine of the Christian Faith, as do all Christians. Clearly you didn’t feel it worth the effort. Did you get bored with the Cross Seth? Mormons do, I know.

    Your dry and hardly novel response here raises more questions than it answers and it really tells us nothing beyond the long understood fact that Mormons, who claim to follow prophets, do nothing of the sort. Their prophets have, for so long, been blind and mute (Is.29:10-12) that Mormons are thrown back on the speculations and disputes for which they once scorned the Christian Church.

    Let’s draw your scenario a little differently again. Joseph Smith, founding prophet of the Mormon Church, taught a continent-wide model and most Mormon prophets followed him in this. As recently as July 1971 12th Mormon prophet Spencer W Kimball wrote, “Most members of the Church know that the Lamanites, who consist of the Indians of all the Americas as well as the islanders of the Pacific, are a people with a special heritage.” (Ensign, July, 1971)

    In that same Ensign he wrote, “With pride I tell those who come to my office that a Lamanite is a descendant of one Lehi who left Jerusalem six hundred years before Christ and with his family crossed the mighty deep and landed in America. And Lehi and his family became the ancestors of all of the Indian and Mestizo tribes in North and South and Central America and in the islands of the sea, for in the middle of their history there were those who left America in ships of their making and went to the islands of the sea... Now the Lamanites number about sixty million; they are in all of the states of America from Tierra del Fuego all the way up to Point Barrows, and they are in nearly all the islands of the sea from Hawaii south to southern New Zealand... The term Lamanite includes all Indians and Indian mixtures, such as the Polynesians, the Guatemalans, the Peruvians, as well as the Sioux, the Apache, the Mohawk, the Navajo, and others. It is a large group of great people.”

    But, evidence for the BOM amounting to zero and evidence against mounting almost daily, "scholars" have taken over from prophets as the leading apologists and guides for Mormons and they posit, without a scrap of proof, the novel limited geography model. Endless councils and symposia are convened, attended by scholars and amateur enthusiasts alike, to speculate, conjecture and theorise in an attempt to untangle the riddle of the book.

    Where are the Lamanites? Those continent-wide peoples numbering some sixty million, all descendents of Lehi, according to the word of prophets, where could they have got to? Why can’t we find definitive DNA evidence from such a great crowd? Why, it is because thirteen prophets had it wrong, four subsequent prophets have nothing to offer by way of prophetic illumination, and so we are thrown back on our own wits. “We thank thee, O God, for BYU, FARMS and those nice people at FAIR.”

    But don’t tell the Christians! Back in the day we vilified them for their endless speculations and human wisdom, saying they taught for doctrine the commandments of men. If they find out what we have done, why, they will laugh us to ridicule.

    A pity you gave up on the Cross but revealing that you find this risible conjecture by Mormon scholars over a discredited book more interesting.

  3. Mike, as is normal for our interactions, you are addressing a version of Mormonism that I have little invested interest in defending. You can attack your preferred sample slice of Mormonism for as long as you wish - it has zero impact on me. For the simple reason that you are not addressing MY religion or MY faith.

    Incidentally, every last North and South American Native could have Lehi or Ishmael somewhere in their lineage and not have any traceable genetic evidence to show for it. So I see no reason to conclude that Native Americans do not have a bit of Lehi in there somewhere. But there is absolutely no way to test it. Just a fact of how genetics work.

    And what lost my interest in the "cross" discussion was not the subject matter, but rather your opportunistic use of the topic.

    Have fun attacking the Mormonism of your yesteryears. Just don't think it's even come close to refuting mine.

    Oh, and I saw your post about "zero evidence" for the Book of Mormon.

    I wonder what exactly you would consider evidence of the Book of Mormon to look like.

  4. Seth, as usual, you cut and run if you don't get it your own way. I am afraid, busy as I am, I am not able to refute the peculair Mormonism of every Mormon I meet and so am thrown back on dealing with officail Mormonism, which is peculiar enough and something to which you clearly don't subscribe. It seems to me you are confused about what Mormonism is supposed to be; or is it now of private interpretation?

    I don't see any opportunism in my discussion of the Cross and I think you are making it up to get out of discussing your rejection of it. Frankly, if our previous discussions are anything to go by I don't think you know what you believe. You certainly don't know what the Bible teaches and that is a real concern for anyone calling themselves Christian.

    As to evidence of the BOM it is not for me to insist on what would satisfy me but for Mormonism to produce anything approaching what reasonably satisfies Bible scholars when looking at the Bible. Again, you bait and switch to get me to take the initiative and answer your questions. If you want to discuss it you will have to join in at the appropriate place and come up with intelligent and challenging ideas instead of your usual game of Mormon dodgeball.

  5. If you haven't been doing a good job of refuting Mormonism - in its entirety - Mike, that's hardly my fault.

    Or perhaps you simply set yourself too ambitious of a goal and could do with some scaling back.

  6. Not a problem Seth. What do you believe?

  7. Believe?

    About Book of Mormon geography you mean?

  8. About anything Seth.

    After fourteen years teaching Mormonism: Gospel Essentials, Sunday School, Seminary and Institute, Priesthood classes, Missionary Discussions, Sunday sermons and Family Home Evenings, as well as listening to others do the same, then some twenty years as a Christian studying Mormonism further for apologetics purposes it seems I don't know a thing about it.

    Perhaps the thing to do is for us to go through key doctrines and have a three-way discussion, you, me, and the now apparently defunct Mormonism of my youth. Where would you like to start?

  9. Mike, if you have your own particular view of Mormonism, you're welcome to it. I don't even care if you want to claim it's a currently dominant view.

    Just don't act like you're refuting Mormonism itself. I feel like I've got some pretty solid reasons for the conclusions I've made about the religion.

  10. I haven't my own particular view of Mormonism except the view that it is a deceiving cult Seth. It is you who keep coming back and insisting that my refutation of mainstream, official Mormonism as taught by Mormon prophets and apostles is not your particular view. You are the one who is prevaricating, not me.

    That is why I asked you what you believe. Of course, if what you believe is tenuous and provisional I can quite understand your confusion but it makes a mockery of the claim of Mormonism to be led by prophets since you reject every prophet I quote and relegate them to that convenient "then" Mormons are fond of referencing. What I want to know is, if that was then, what is now? And at what point does this present "now" become conveniently "then"?

    By all means change your mind, it is every believer's prerogative to do so as they grow in their faith. I did and that is why I left the Mormon Church to become a Christian. But at least have the honesty to admit that once Mormonism taught and believed something, as led by prophets and apostles, but now believe something different.

    Of course, this does seriously call into question the reliability, even the honesty of Mormon prophets if Mormons reject what once was a church-wide held view on the strength of the teaching of prophets and adopt a different view on the strength of unispired acadaemia. But this is the price you pay for being in a cult. If your prophets are caught out you have nowhere to run except into the arms of obfuscation and denial.

    I am very clear on what Mormonism teaches. I have been studying it and teaching it, on both sides of the argument, for longer probably than you have been alive. It is you who need to come to terms with the implications of all the changes I have seen in all those years and that you now espouse as though no one ever promised a consistent message from reliable prophets.

    So what do you believe and why is it different from what I believed and was taught as a Mormon? And don't pretend my view is only my view. That won't wash and it insults my intelligence and demeans you to even suggest it. Have more respect for me and for yourself and face the issue squarely and I am prepared to discuss anything you wish to raise. Start with the BOM if you like.

  11. Too broad a topic Mike. We've had a back and forth for a long time. Usually when you have proof-texted to support a particular (usually highly distorted) view of Mormonism, I have countered with canonized Mormon scripture and quotations from other LDS prophets and authorities.

    And you call this "marginalizing the sources of authority?" No, I call it providing actual context - instead of relying on the conclusions of a bunch of biased textual hacks over at Mormonism Research Ministries.

    Many of the things you have tried to enshrine as core doctrine were actually nothing of the sort.

    But if you want to have this conversation, you're going to have to narrow it down to more than "what do you think of the Book of Mormon?"

    As far as geography - which is, after all, the topic of this original post - I think that Joseph Smith and early church leaders at one time believed in a North American model, at another time believed in a continental model, and at other times switched to speaking approvingly of a Mesoamerican model. If you want to read up on LDS statements about the geography you can start here:


    Read through all those and it's pretty clear that there was never any definitive opinion on the subject. So - if I wish to "follow the prophet" which one do I follow, and at what time? And which statements?

    But you, Mike, operating from a vested interest in placing Mormonism in a position of strategic weakness, deliberately cherry-pick a view that forces a continent-wide model of the Book of Mormon - even though such a view is plainly impossible under the TEXT of the book itself.

    Why is that, I wonder?

    But of course, the continental model would be the easiest model to attack. It would provide the most targets for those with an agenda of tearing down the Mormon faith. Anti-Mormons tend to be rather poor marksmen, so they prefer targets about the size of a barn wall.

    But when this target is reduced by Mormons scholars - with good solid reasons - they start crying about how we are changing the rules.

    We aren't changing the rules. We're just paying better attention to what LDS authorities have actually said.

    But yeah, I think you are retroactively re-writing the history to suit your present agenda here.

    The most authoritative LDS sources not only suggest a limited geographic model - they demand it.

    And it's almost laughable that you hold up being a Gospel Doctrine teacher like it's some sort of graduate degree in Mormonism.

    Most Gospel Doctrine classes in the LDS Church are taught on about a 6th grade level. They skim over TONS of material and provide only a very bare-bones approach to LDS sources. I've known highly intelligent and impressive Gospel Doctrine teachers, I've known some whose grasp of the Gospel was rudimentary at best. I've even heard of some who were apparently dumb as a bag of hammers. That's the problem with a lay ministry - you take what you can get.

    In short, I find the claim that "I was a Gospel Doctrine teacher" to be quite irrelevant to the discussion. It's nothing more than an appeal to authority - and pretty weak authority at that.

    So, basically, on my side we have a correct reading of the Book of Mormon TEXT, and a contexualizing of the various statements of LDS leadership - past and present on the topic.

    And on your side we have "I was a Gospel Doctrine teacher and lifelong member."

    OK then.

  12. Here comes the old ad hominem defense then Seth. I am relying on MRM, it seems, to do my thinking for me, my experience counts for nothing, my Mormon faith was founded on a whole load of erroneous ideas, probably the product of my own fevered imagination, you have reduced my extensive teaching experience to "Gospel Doctrine Classes" (that was neat), I may well have the intelligence of a bag of hammers, and to prove it you cite instances where other teachers of Mormonism, even today, have just that level of intelligence. Doesn't encourage confidence in Mormonism if it produces such people and continues to give them opportunity to talk like a bag of hammers. Why should people listen to Mormons again?

    Hmm, no hiding your agenda here then. You are even willing to call into question the competence of present day Mormons to intelligently share their faith rather than admit that I may have a degree of competence myself...Nice. Hang on Seth...

    What's that Bill? What else did you want me to say? Oh, right. Bill McKeever, who sits at my shoulder every time I hit the old keyboard told me to say that he is not impressed by your rather lame ad hominem defense and, since my thoughts are his thoughts, I guess I think that too. A bit harsh, but I can't really argue with him. After all, where would I be if he didn't think for me?

    I am going to take a risk here and share a thought of my own. Be patient because who knows I may end up turning us both into Moonies or something...

    I think you are dodging the issue and forgetting that, whatever your nice friends at BYU say, whatever their latest wacky theory about what Mormonism teaches on this and that, I deal with the lies Mormons tell on the doorstep. I compare the lies I was told with the lies told today, and both with the truth of the Bible. I am addressing the teaching of Mormon apostles and prophets, not the baseless speculations of Dan Peters and his Danite friends.

    I have offered you any subject under the sun and you have offered up - what? I have invited you to tell me what YOU believe and proffered the opportunity to discuss that and you have offered - insults? You are a TBM Seth, I will give you that, and though you might thank me for it, believe me, it is not a compliment.

    I suggest we discuss evidence for the Book of Mormon. I have posted already so we can go there and take it on. let me know.

  13. I don't care what your credential are or were Mike. Nor am I taking a position on what they are or were.

    That's the whole point.

    No one cares about your credentials on the Internet Mike.

    So quit bringing them up.

  14. Oh, and I made statements about Book of Mormon geography that you can respond to when you are finished discussing personalities.