I recently published on the FAIR Blog a post called Misquoting Science
with the objective of clarifying a statement that appeared in the June 2012 issue of Sunstone
magazine. In a nutshell, the poorly formulated quote was yet another attempt to demonstrate how DNA science is the ultimate proof against the historicity of the Book of Mormon since no Israelite DNA could be detected in the Americas. I have addressed this issue in great length before here
and spoke a little more about it at the recent FAIR conference (a full transcript will be available some time in September). However, I have been made aware of a comment posted on a forum not particularly fond of LDS beliefs, which reads:
"A full transcript of his presentation is not available yet but he has posted some of his words on the FAIR blog.
One of things I read in his blog concerned me. He said "I personally find it a very complex task to identify and clearly discern any non-Asian-like genetic signals in the New World that would have resulted from migrations that took place in the last couple thousands of years."
How does he square this statement with the fact that his Italian mentor Dr. Antonio Torroni and colleagues were able to determine a Near Eastern origin of the Etruscans?http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1852723/pdf/AJHGv80p759.pdf
'The origin of the Etruscan people has been a source of major controversy for the past 2,500 years, and several hypotheses have been proposed to explain their language and sophisticated culture, including an Aegean/Anatolian origin.'
'These findings support a direct and rather recent genetic input from the Near East—a scenario in agreement with the Lydian origin of Etruscans. Such a genetic contribution has been extensively diluted by admixture, but it appears that there are still locations in Tuscany, such as Murlo, where traces of its arrival are easily detectable.'
Dr. Perego would do well to explain why science works in Italy but not in America."
I have wondered why it took so long for anyone to bring this up. I am very familiar with the study my colleagues at the University of Pavia did on Etruscan DNA and I was surprised no one had yet correlated that study with the search for Near Eastern mitochondrial DNA lineages in the Americas. "Bravo" to the individual that has finally come up with this question and, since this person was "concerned" about my statement and also calls for an explanation on "why science works in Italy but not in America," I am happy to write a couple of lines on my own blog with the hope that it will be a good educational opportunity to others, particularly to those
that also commented on the above post.
First, I find it humorous (and I cannot resist, but have to write something here about it) that the original comment from Sunstone
magazine did not receive a single note of criticism by those that are bringing up issues with my own comments. As long as someone having absolutely no credentials in the field of science is willing to openly criticize the Book of Mormon, he/she is immediately welcome by all those that share similar feelings toward that volume of scriptures. However, how dare I say anything on this very subject, having a PhD in population genetics (with a dissertation on Native American DNA), and having researched extensively about the origin of Native Americans through DNA, publishing the results with international collaborators in a peer-reviewed journal with a considerable high impact factor
! But this is not all. Dr. Torroni and Dr. Achilli, the main authors on the Etruscan DNA study mentioned in the comment above, are among those that read and provided feedback to my own essay on DNA and Book of Mormon published in No Weapon Shall Prosper
last year (see note
at the end of the article).
Here is the problem, for anyone honestly interested in understanding how population genetics work: the study on Etruscan DNA proposes a genetic link (mitochondrial DNA only) between the population of modern-day Turkey (ancient Lydia) and a few villages in Tuscany, Italy (where Etruscans lived prior to their assimilation by the Roman Empire). This movement of people took place about 2500 years ago, which is about the same time when the Book of Mormon voyage of Lehi and his family took place toward the Americas. Why then can science work for the Etruscans and not for Book of Mormon people? Here are a few points that should help clarify the matter.
First of all, the Near Eastern origin of Etruscans is a theory, not a fact. Just like some individuals claim that Old World DNA in the Americas is a legacy of Book of Mormon migrants, not everyone agrees with that hypothesis. It is an idea that needs further investigation and does not provide conclusive evidence. So it is with the genetic origin of the Etruscans. The 2007 study by Achilli et al. stands on solid foundations and I strongly support their conclusions, but not everyone in the field of population genetics agrees with them. A more recent study
(2009) using both modern and ancient mtDNA reached different conclusions, stating that "So far, the study of mtDNA has not substantially contributed to addressing the most debated question concerning the Etruscans, their origin." People disagree on conclusions drawn using genetic data to reconstruct ancient population migrations all the time. It is OK to have a preferred opinion or a favorite publication, but we must also acknowledge that there are others that don't see it the way we do.
If the genetic evidence is correct (based on the study by Achilli et al. 2007), we must then consider the next two points.
According to one tradition, the king of Anatolia sent half of his population to settle another area due to the fact that there was a severe famine in the land and not enough resources to sustain everyone. If this is the case, the number of people that left the ancient Near East and settled in Italy was not small. In contrast, when talking about Lehi and his family, we have a nucleus of about 15-20 people settling in a continent where tens of millions of indigenous Amerindians already lived. As I explained in my blog post
, one of the problems in ensuring the survival of genetic signals into future generations was the size of the Israelite group within the much dominant Amerindian genetic landscape. Additionally, there are records that show where the ancestors of Etruscans landed and settled (the Italian region Tuscany was named by the Romans after the Etruscans), while the geography of the Book of Mormon is still a matter of debate even among LDS scholars.
Next, the Etruscan mtDNA paper is a study about frequency and geographic distribution, not necessarily about age coalescence (see Figure 3
). The mtDNA lineages observed in the Near East are similar to those observed in Italy, but not in other parts of Western and Eastern Eurasia. Thus the link about the ancient migration of the ancestors of Etruscans was proposed. In the Americas we also find a large number of Old World mtDNA lineages that are found in many parts of Europe and the Middle East. If we would apply the same criteria used in the Etruscan paper, we would also conclude that many individuals in the Americas have Old World origins. However, scientists feel more comfortable in assigning these lineages to post-Columbian introgression, thus excluding a priori any migration (or genetic evidence) to the Americas that took place within the last couple of millennia. And this is OK with me, because:I still think that the primary reason why DNA cannot be used to test for the presence of Book of Mormon migrants arriving to the Americas in 600BC lies in the fact that it quickly disappeared due to genetic drift and the small size of the migrant group (and this is also the reason why it has not been detected in the few ancient DNA samples recovered and analyzed to date), as well as the obvious reason that we don't have the genetic profile of those arriving with Lehi to the Americas. We know something about their genealogy and we assume that their DNA would be the most representative DNA from the Middle East. But this is another straw man assumption. No one would accept the "assumption" of a genetic lineage as evidence in any modern-day legal, paternity, or forensic case. So, why is the fact that we don't know Lehi's genetic profile "proof" that the Book of Mormon people never existed?
If anyone wants to embrace genetic evidence for population migrations, he/she must also be willing to consider all the research that is available and the limitations proposed by the different authors, and not pick only what best suits their preconceived notions. Of course, when it comes to the Book of Mormon and anything that is considered "secular evidence," it is nearly impossible to be completely unbiased and that is why the final test is what the book call for itself (Moroni 10:3-5).