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Religious Fights over DNA (Part 2 of 8)

To say Dr. Thomas Murphy’s research about DNA and the Book of Mormon raises eyebrows among LDS Church leaders is an understatement.  Not only did it cause concern among his LDS friends, but evangelicals came looking for anti-Mormon material as well.  Tom shares his dealings with these two different groups.

Thomas:  So, my Stake President called me in to talk about that article. He said somebody had given him a copy and he was concerned that a member of the church would make the conclusions that I made. Particularly, I had said that there’s no DNA evidence to support the idea that the ancestors of American Indians came from Israel.

I didn’t think it was that radical of a conclusion. I figured the Church would eventually get there. But I was a little bit ahead of it, of where my Stake President wanted me to be. He asked me if I’d reconsider my conclusion.  I said, “Well, only if the evidence changed. If the evidence is different, yeah, I’ll consider that. But, I’ve got to be honest about what the evidence is.” He says, “Well, then I think we need to schedule a disciplinary council.”  So I said, “Well, if that’s what you want to do. It’s your decision, but I don’t want that.” That created–well, I went home that night. That was like the night before Thanksgiving, Wednesday night, right before Thanksgiving back in 2002. I wrote an email to a lot of friends, kind of a group email that I sent out explaining what had happened. I’d included it in that the editors for American Apocrypha, and some of the folks at Signature Books. They asked my permission first and then asked if it would be okay if they shared my email with the Associated Press.

But it just kind of blew up into a media frenzy. I talked to the Associated Press reporter the day after Thanksgiving, in the morning.  In the afternoon, Brent sent me an email. He said that the story’s out. “You need to get on the internet and check it out.” So I got on, I think it was ABC News or something, and it was already one of the top forwarded stories of the day. I was like, “Oh, wow.”  It kind of went crazy after that. The next couple of weeks I was having television, newspaper reporters follow me to class.

He was also recruited by an evangelical group.

Thomas: They assured me that they were trying to make a balanced perspective and so on. So I said, “Okay, I’ll sign this, then.” They interviewed me and cut out everything I said that might have challenged the historicity of the Bible, especially the dating, the timing. All of that was completely gone. Then what appears in the film are all the things that challenge Mormonism.

GT:  Oh, that’s interesting.

Thomas:  But anyway, the reason I was telling this story is that my relatives on my father’s side, they were going around Twin Falls and knocking on people’s doors and leaving this video. Then my relatives on my mom’s side, were the ones getting this video, that’s being left on their doorstep. So, I created a little bit of tension at family reunions.

Check out our conversation….

Religious Fights over DNA erupted between evangelicals and Mormons over Dr. Murphy’s claims.

Don’t miss our previous conversation with Dr. Murphy.

467: Native American DNA Scholarship


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Native American DNA Scholarship (Part 1 of 8)

We’re continuing our Gospel Topics Series.  This time, we’re going to talk about DNA and the Book of Mormon. I’m excited to introduce Dr. Thomas Murphy.  He’s an anthropologist at Edmonds College and works with Native American tribes.  Why does an anthropologist have the knowledge to critique this essay?

Thomas:  Yeah, excellent question. What lured me to anthropology, as a discipline, was the ability to be a natural scientist, a social scientist, and scholar of the humanities, all in the same discipline. [There are] not too many disciplines offer you that opportunity.  In fact, teaching at a community college has really given me the opportunity to do that as a career, to have that breadth that you don’t see that often today among scientists and scholars. Anthropology is the study of humans. We have four major subfields, what we call cultural anthropology, and that’s the study of human culture, linguistic anthropology, the study of human languages, and archeology, the study of past societies through the artifacts and features that they leave behind. Biological anthropology is the study of humans as biological organisms. That’s where the DNA comes in.

I teach biological anthropology courses that DNA work is kind of a central part of those classes. In fact, we get to extract our own DNA and take the students through that process.

Thomas shares several other experiences working with Native American tribes as an anthropologist in Washington and Mexico.  Check out our conversation….

Dr. Thomas Murphy shares experiences working with Native American tribes as an anthropologist, and his work with DNA.

Don’t miss our previous conversations with Dr. Ugo Perego on DNA and Book of Mormon.

078: Did Ugo Write the Gospel Topics Essay?  What about Rodney Meldrum?

077: How do Lemba Tribe & Viking DNA Relate to the Book of Mormon? Part 2

076: Why isn’t there a DNA match for the Book of Mormon?  Part 1

075: Is Evolution Compatible with the Bible?

074: CSI: Mountain Meadows – Using DNA to Solve 2 Mysteries

073: Ugo Discusses Critics

072: Who’s the Daddy (Part 2)?  Joseph or Windsor?

071: Who’s the Daddy (Part 1)?  Smith or Pratt?

070: Was Joseph Smith Irish?

069: How do you Figure out 150 year-old Paternity?

068: DNA 101:  Ugo Perego Introduces Basic DNA

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Racism in Mormon Scripture (Part 5 of 7)

LDS Scriptures are unique in the fact that these scriptures have been used to enforce the priesthood and temple ban on black members.  Dr. Newell Bringhurst and Dr. Matt Harris weigh in on these scriptures and how the Race and Priesthood essay fails to address these issues.

Newell  1:43:35  I was going to say just a couple of general observations about the Race and Priesthood Essay. As Matt has very effectively pointed out, the inherent aspects of Mormon racism as articulated in Mormon scripture, is nowhere even mentioned or discussed in the Race and Priesthood Essay. I mean, the whole underpinning is Brigham Young being influenced by the racism within the larger American society. To some extent, Lester Bush was making a similar case in his seminal essay, that was published in Dialogue in 1973. He made a deliberate effort, because he was a believing Latter-day Saint, believing in the veracity of Mormon scriptures and Mormon scriptural writings. They had both the Book of Mormon and the Pearl of Great Price, the Book of Abraham, the Book of Moses and I thought that was one of the major failings both of Lester Bush’s initial study and carried over in the Race and Priesthood Essay itself.

Newell:  A failure to acknowledge, that at the root of Mormon theological writings, was this belief that dark-skinned people, be they blacks, be they [American] Indians, were divinely cursed with a dark skin. That has, likewise, been reflected in the volume of Saints [Volume 2] that I went through. I thought one of the weakest parts of that volume was the way it handled the issue of blacks and the priesthood. It was standing in sharp contrast to the way it handled polygamy, which was more frank and much more open.  I was really disappointed with the way that Saints handled the issue. It’s almost like an echo of the omission that’s in the Gospel Topics Essays.

Matt:  I want to make one last point about the scriptures and race, and that is that the Book of Mormon–the scriptures don’t talk about Black people really. It’s interpreting these scriptures. They read blackness into some of these curses. I think that’s an important point to make. The other point is, the Book of Mormon, of course, talks about Lamanites, or Native Americans. So, when people talk about curses in the Book of Mormon, they’re talking about Lamanites, and so forth. But the point I want to make is that Black Latter-day Saints, when they read the Book of Mormon, when they’re in the process of conversion, for example, or even after they’ve been baptized, they read these Lamanite curses, and they wonder, “As a black man, how does this apply to me?” It’s really, really a tough issue for the Church to deal with. Because these racial tropes are all over, especially the Book of Mormon, when you get this racial fluidity. So, it’s a really challenging thing for the Church. Because really, if you were to rewrite these verses, I mean, you’re going to end up taking a pretty significant chunk of scripture out of the Book of Mormon. So it’s really a tough situation.

Matt:  So I want to acknowledge that in the Race and Priesthood Essay, I don’t know what the answers would be, I’m not sure how you would even explain these away, because it’s a real thing when you look at what the verses say, and how the leaders interpret them. There are some apologists for the church that just contort themselves into pretzels trying to make sense of these curses. It just means your spiritual soul, or it means animal skins, or any number of bizarre things. Really, when you look at what some, not all, but what some of the brethren are saying in private about these verses, it’s very clear that they think there’s going to be a literal transformation of skin change. Also, it’s very clear that in the 1950s and 60s, Latter-day Saints interpreted it as such.

Matt:  Let me give you just one example. At BYU in 1969, there were a couple of students that were doing some research for an English research paper. They did a survey in which they asked both faculty, students and people in their local wards about dark skin turning white. Overwhelmingly, these two students who did the two surveys, said that the majority of the people they surveyed thought that there was going to be a literal skin change from negros, as they put it in those days, to white people. It was pretty darn clear. One of the people doing the interview, after they compiled the data, he said, “This is what they said, but I’m not really quite sure how that works.” I mean, he’s musing about skin color changing.

What are your thoughts about how Mormon scripture has been used with regards to race?  Check out our conversation….

The Gospel Topics essay on race and priesthood ignores problematic Mormon scriptures dealing with race.

Don’t miss our previous conversations with Matt & Newell!

456: Pros & Cons of Race Essay

455: Critiquing Polygamy Essays & Sources

454: Are Gospel Essays Hidden or Public?

453: Swedish Rescue & Gospel Topics Essays