[Guest post by DRJ]
Like me, you probably studied world history in school and learned about the recurring conflicts between religion and science. For instance, many religions and religious leaders rejected scientific concepts such as the heliocentricity of Copernicus and Galileo and Darwin’s theory of evolution. Similarly, many modern scientists doubt(ed) that religious belief and prayer can miraculously cure illness.
These subjects came to mind when I read an article from today’s Salt Lake Tribune. The article reported a one-word change in the introduction to the Book of Mormon that was made in part because of advances in DNA research:
“The LDS Church has changed a single word in its introduction to the Book of Mormon, a change observers say has serious implications for commonly held LDS beliefs about the ancestry of American Indians.
Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe founder Joseph Smith unearthed a set of gold plates from a hill in upperstate New York in 1827 and translated the ancient text into English. The account, known as The Book of Mormon, tells the story of two Israelite civilizations living in the New World. One derived from a single family who fled from Jerusalem in 600 B.C. and eventually splintered into two groups, known as the Nephites and Lamanites.
The book’s current introduction, added by the late LDS apostle, Bruce R. McConkie in 1981, includes this statement: “After thousands of years, all were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are the principal ancestors of the American Indians.”
The new version, seen first in Doubleday’s revised edition, reads, “After thousands of years, all were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are among the ancestors of the American Indians.”
Historically, Mormonism taught that its patriarch, Lehi, was “the ancestor of all of the Indian and Mestizo tribes in North and South and Central America and in the islands of the sea.” However, DNA testing cast doubt on this claim since tests on more than 12,000 Indians suggest “that the continent’s early inhabitants came from Asia across the Bering Strait.”
Alternatively, many modern Mormons have adopted the “limited geography” theory that their ancestors lived separate from native Americans:
“Mormon researcher John M. Butler and DNA expert further argues that “careful examination and demographic analysis of the Book of Mormon record in terms of population growth and the number of people described implies that other groups were likely present in the promised land when Lehi’s family arrived, and these groups may have genetically mixed with the Nephites, Lamanites, and other groups. Events related in the Book of Mormon likely took place in a limited region, leaving plenty of room for other Native American peoples to have existed.”
The interplay between science and religion is both interesting and eternal.