LDS Scholar, Scientist Weigh In on Talk Radio DNA Debate
On 23 February 2006 BYU professor Daniel C. Peterson and DNA scientist John M. Butler were interviewed on the Hugh Hewitt radio program concerning DNA and the Book of Mormon. One week earlier, the Los Angeles Times had run a front-page story on how human DNA studies contradict the Book of Mormon because they suggest an Asian ancestry for people native to the Americas; and on that same day the Times reporter, William Lobdell, was a guest on Hewitt's program.
Peterson, director of METI and editor-in-chief of the FARMS Review, which has published key scholarly studies on the DNA question (see 15/2, 2003), fielded questions about ancient America population size and empirical evidence that supports the Book of Mormon's claim to be an ancient text. Butler, a research chemist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology and leading forensic DNA scientist, outlined the problems of making inferences from broad DNA studies that did not use a reliable genetic marker as a calibration point.
Butler cited a 2003 study that found that Icelanders' documented ancestors living only 150 years ago could not be detected based on Y-chromosome or mitochondrial DNA tests. "So . . . why would we expect to see large amounts of Middle Eastern DNA from a people who . . . migrated to the Americas 2,600 years ago?" Butler emphasized. If there is no reliable genetic marker for a source population (the case with Lehi's group), there is no calibration point, and the results of DNA tests are inconclusive: the fact remains that a group of people can vanish without a genetic trace. And, of course, as Hewitt observed, "the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence."
The transcript of this interview can be accessed at http://www.radioblogger.com/archives/february06.html#022306 (to get to the precise segment in the lengthy transcript, search on "The other side of the Book of Mormon DNA debate"). For more on Butler's views concerning the applicability of DNA studies to the Book of Mormon, see his article "Addressing Questions Surrounding the Book of Mormon and DNA Research" (posted at http://farms.byu.edu/publications/dna/ButlerBofMandDNA_Feb2006.php).