We’re continuing our discussion of Matt Harris/Newell Bringhurst’s book on the 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. 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 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.” 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.
What are your thoughts on DNA & the Book of Mormon? What do you think of the Gospel Topics essay on the Book of Mormon & DNA Studies?