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Quote by Austin Farrar
The relationship between rational argument (evidence) and belief.
"Though argument does not create conviction, lack of it destroys belief.
What seems to be proved may not be embraced: but what no one shows the ability to defend is quickly abandoned.
Rational argument does not create belief, but it maintains a climate in which belief may flourish."
An article reviewing Rod L. Meldrum's book Rediscovering the Book of Mormon Remnant Through DNA was published in Volume 22, Issue 1 of the FARMS Review of the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, September 2010. The article, authored by Canadian Gregory L. Smith takes issue with nearly every aspect of Meldrum's work. Much of the article attempts to discredit and impunge the character of Meldrum rather than provide an objective review of the materials and concepts from the book. However, Smith does address what is perhaps the most substantive issue, that of DNA dating. This article provides the entire, yet very limited, response to Smith's article in the now defunct FARMS Review. It has been kept rather brief in an attempt to address the core issues without causing undo contention.
It is well established that the leadership of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not endorse any proposed Book of Mormon geography, but rather maintains neutrality on the subject. The Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (hereinafter FARMS), was founded in 1979 by John W. Welch purportedly for the purpose of defending the Church through scholarly research and apologetics. Others became involved in the organization, such as Daniel C. Peterson, Kirk Magleby, John Sorenson and others who served as members of their board.
FARMS Founded to Promote Mesoamerican Theories
During an interview with PBS in 2006, FARMS board member and now former Chief Editor of the FARMS Review, Daniel Peterson, briefly described the beginnings of FARMS by stating, “We wanted to use the training we were getting in ancient languages, ancient history, Middle Eastern studies and so on to examine the Book of Mormon on the assumption that it really is an ancient text with roots in the Middle East or in Mesoamerica.”
FARMS was founded by individuals who fervently believed that the lands of Mesoamerica were the primary lands of the Book of Mormon. They set out “on the assumption” that evidences there would support the Book of Mormon's historical authenticity or historicity. The organizations logo (see in the article graphic above) featured a Mayan glyph as the upper right character which represented “Mesoamerican studies.” Clearly the organizations focus as related to Book of Mormon research was an underlying assumption that the history occurred in Mesoamerica. In the PBS interview, Peterson draws several parallels from his knowledge of Mesoamerican culture and archaeology. Ultimately FARMS was organized and funds were solicited and raised, in large part due to the efforts of Peterson, in its support. Over a number of years it became one of the premier apologetic organizations outside of the Church and their influence grew as did their promotion of Mesoamerica as the setting for the Book of Mormon.
In 1984 FARMS partnered with Deseret Book and began publication of the collected works of Dr. Hugh Nibley. A year later John Sorenson’s book, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, which proposed a theory based in Mesoamerica, debuted as one of the foremost studies on Book of Mormon geography and was heavily promoted by both FARMS and Deseret Book. FARMS grew to prominence within the scholarly community at BYU and was approached by the university in late 1997 to join with them under a newly formed organization called the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship (hereinafter MI). Agreements were negotiated such that FARMS could continue on much as it had, but now with the support of the university...and under their direction. The board of FARMS was dissolved and the university appointed directors to oversee operations. Many former FARMS board members retained positions within the new organization.
Even while under the direct control of BYU management, the former FARMS board members turned from defending the official positions of the Church to defending their own theories, specifically the ongoing promotion of their own Mesoamerican theories over the Church’s official position of neutrality on the subject. Following their assimilation into the Maxwell Institute, they began again aggressively criticizing alternative theories that were not in alignment with the now defunct FARMS favored Mesoamerican ideologies. They developed their own interpretations of the geographic passages in the text and held that every other theory must comply with their interpretations or face a hostile negative "review" in their flagship publication, the FARMS Review. However, this time they were in association with and under the auspices of the Church's BYU controlled Maxwell Institute. Under Peterson's direction they launched Mesoamerican theory based criticisms against faithful members of the Church whose desire was simply to defend the gospel, but using alternative theories to those of FARMS. The culmination and climax of these critical reviews were those perpetrated against Rod L. Meldrum and his Heartland Model colleagues Wayne N. May and Bruce Porter and many others (all faithful Church members) which were included in the last, and final, three issues of the now defunct FARMS Review.
Maxwell Institute Fires Former Editorial Board of FARMS Review - June 14th, 2012, see article HERE
In June of 2012 Maxwell Institute executive director M. Gerald Bradford fired the former editorial staff of the FARMS Review who were among the most outspoken critics and detractors of the Heartland Model geography research. It included Daniel C. Peterson, Chief Editor of FARMS Review as well as Louis Midgley, another editor, and Gregory L. Smith, the author of the highly critical review, addressed in this article, of Meldrum's book, ReDiscovering the Book of Mormon Remnant Through DNA (download entire book FREE - HERE) and Robert White who was on the FAIR board when they determined to spend many months in producing hostile "reviews" of Meldrum's first released video DNA Evidence for Book of Mormon Geography.
FARMS Review Editorial Team Devoted Inordinate Time, Effort, and Published Pages Against Heartland Research
This FARMS Review editorial team presided over the most extensive series of negative critiques and reviews against the Heartland Geography Model proponents and their research, carried out under the auspices of BYU’s Maxwell Institute. According to the FAIR organization, FARMS served as a "clearinghouse" for cutting-edge research on the Book of Mormon" and published works which were "typically reviews of books and other materials that were critical of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." Interestingly, Volume 22, Issue 1 included 199 pages of caustic critiques against Rod L. Meldrum, a faithful Church member who is not critical of the Church at all but in fact is endeavoring to defend it through profound new research that more robustly supports the Book of Mormon but unfortunately does not support the Mesoamerican theories proposed by FARMS. These articles obviously required many months in research, review, editing and publishing by many FARMS Review staff members. Considering that FARMS is thought to be primarily interested in reviewing materials critical of the Church, it is astounding that 71% of its content (all other articles in this issue totaled only 82 pages) was spent in targeting a fellow Church member who is trying to support it.
The subsequent issue of FARMS Review, Volume 22, Issue 2, devoted 107 of 219 pages of articles to critiques against the Heartland Model. Combined, these two issues included 306 pages of anti-Heartland articles in an historic and monumental effort to discredit this invigorating new research and discourage Church members from objectively considering it. This is because it seriously challenges the many years of heavy promotion of Mesoamerican theories by FARMS, especially since a significant paradigm shift was already occurring only months after the release of Meldrum's first DVD, DNA Evidence for Book of Mormon Geography (see blog notes). According to former FARMS Review Senior Editor Louis Midgley in his Editor's Introduction of issue 1, A Tidy Garden, most alternative Book of Mormon geography theories "have not garnered much attention among the saints." However, because the Heartland Model has become a "swelling movement" within the Mormon Church, according to the University of Chicago's Martin Marty Center for the Advanced Study of Religion, Meldrum and fellow Heartland advocates were targeted for critical, even hostile reviews. Incredibly, this unprecedented barrage of negative articles followed on the heels of blog comments made by Peterson while trying to downplay the significance of what was (and is) really happening, posting on several blogs that Rod Meldrum and the Heartland Model were not even "on the radar" of FARMS/MI.
Peterson Demonstrates Lack of Knowledge of Heartland Model in Mormon Times Column
Peterson has used his column in Mormon Times/Deseret News as a sort of bully pulpit to promote his Mesoamerica leaning theories and discount or discredit the Heartland Model research. One such article was published at the end of 2011, just before New Years. The clever article, titled May Your New Year Begin Better than Amalickiah’s claims that “it’s virtually certain that the story didn’t occur in…the upper Midwest” a clear reference to the Heartland Model. Peterson then provided average temperatures for Rochester, New York in January and February to establish his point. However, the Heartland Model had already explained in DVD's and presentations that Nephite calendaring would place the Nephite New Year in April and their primary lands nearer St. Louis than Rochester. Average temperatures under these parameters average 67 degrees with high recorded temperatures over 90 degrees. When confronted in an email (01.02.12) by Meldrum asking why he ignored what the Heartland research actually proposes, Peterson quipped, “On the whole, I pay no attention to what you do. Seriously. The column wasn’t aimed at you. I don’t think about you or your “movement” very much. You don’t loom very large in my universe.” Such a response seemed disingenuous considering the unprecedented number and voracity of articles he presided over as Chief Editor of FARMS Review published just months previous. Realizing that Peterson now openly admitted that he was ignorant of the Heartland research he had attacked using his organization and column, Meldrum offered Peterson a full complement of educational materials along with lunch at Red Lobster to which Peterson graciously agreed. During the lunch conversation Peterson agreed to review the materials himself (rather than relegate it to underlings) and mentioned that he would attempt to set up a Maxwell Institute meeting wherein Meldrum would present a portion of his materials. No further contact to Meldrum by Peterson has been made up to the date of publication of this article.
According to personnel on the editorial team of the FARMS Review, since FARMS was now part of BYU’s Maxwell Institute and BYU is overseen by the First Presidency of the Church, they alleged that any article critical of the FARMS Review would be construed as an attack on the First Presidency. Thus any challenge to the critiques would result in accusations of being unfaithful to Church leadership.
Greg Smith Produces Contemptuous Critique of Meldrum's DNA Research for FARMS Review
The longest and arguably the most vitriol of all the attack articles in the FARMS Review came at the hands of Canadian Gregory L. Smith. The very title of the article is steeped in condescension and contempt; Often in Error, Seldom in Doubt: Rod Meldrum and Book of Mormon DNA. Smith then offers a 145 page "review" of Meldrum’s 170 page DNA research, published in his book ReDiscovering the Book of Mormon Remnant through DNA (download the full book PDF HERE).
Meldrum’s DNA research could potentially be very important because, according to surveys of thousands of ex-Mormon’s conducted by John Dehlin, the majority who lost their faith in the Book of Mormon, and subsequently left the Church, claim they did so as a result of the DNA controversy that Meldrum directly addresses in his book. Dehlin founded the website Mormon Stories that, coincidentally, FARMS/MI determined to "review," with Smith apparently tapped to author another hostile critique much as he did against Meldrum. Ironically, this may have been the deciding factor in the firing of Peterson and Smith along with the remainder of the FARMS Review editorial staff. Salt Lake Tribune religion writer Peggy Flecher Stack’s article, Shake-up hits BYU's Mormon Studies institute discusses this “tipping point." Read the article HERE.
According to the Tribune article, Dehlin got advanced notice of the upcoming critique and immediately contacted an LDS General Authority whose involvement allegedly caused Director Bradford to pull the article, thereby delaying, again, publication of the upcoming inaugural issue of the replacement for FARMS Review, now to be renamed the Mormon Studies Review, and further degrading relationships with Peterson and his staff. In retrospect, it is unfortunate that Meldrum did not respond similarly to the advanced notice of the impending hostile critiques in FARMS Review.
Dissecting Smith's Article
Smith's article against Meldrum is broken into four sections.
The first section is an opening "salvo" aimed squarely towards the character defamation of Meldrum. Included is the characterizing of Meldrum as a 'conspiracy theorist' because of his stating that the theory of evolution has become scientific dogma, especially among the most powerful scientific organizations, where surveys have shown that over 90% of their (National Academy of Science - NAS) membership consider themselves "atheists." (See article, Leading Scientists Still Reject God, Nature Vol. 394, 23 July 1998) In stark contrast, the vast majority of Americans (90%) believe in God (see The Harris Poll #11, Feb. 26, 2003). Meldrum is simply demonstrating that scientific organizations are highly disposed to and even select for disbelief within their memberships. This is not a secret, it is obvious that there is scientific bias because their percentage of belief is directly inverse or opposite of the population at large.
Smith then consumes a page and a half claiming that there is no such thing as "race" among humans, repeatedly calling human races a "folk" concept. He thinks it misleading for Meldrum to consider that there are three genetic "supergroups" derived from Noah's three sons (Ham, Japeth, Shem), even while he admits that "there are super- or macrohaplogroups L, M, and N, found at highest frequency in Africa, Asia, and Europe, respectively." Smith may be dismissing this because of his belief that Noah's flood was not an actual or at least world-wide event, but rather a figurative or local flood and would therefore leave many other peoples upon the earth, thereby contradicting the Biblical account.
Meldrum's character is again called into question for two and half more pages as Smith attempts to cast Meldrum as a evangelical zealot who proclaims himself as an inspired instrument in God's hands. Unfortunately for Smith, Meldrum has never so said or written, therefore Smith must fall back on unedited testimonials from Meldrum's website. Since others have had what they feel to be spiritual confirmation of the research, Smith tries to assert that Meldrum coerced or somehow pressured them into their conclusions. Meldrum's confidence or "certitude" in the Heartland Model is misunderstood by Smith to be insincerity in Meldrum's opening disclaimers in his presentations, videos and books that the Church has no official position on the matter of geography and that this is simply information stemming from this research. Meldrum's confidence in the Heartland theory originates from the many diverse fields of knowledge that tend to support it. This is the most disturbing aspect to Smith. Smith attempts to portray Meldrum as someone who is usurping revelatory authority from the leaders of the Church, which Meldrum categorically denies and for which Smith offers nothing but conjecture. Smith takes offense that so many members of the Church claim to have had spiritual experiences with the research and have shared them with Meldrum who placed them, unedited, on his website. It would seem that Smith's primary purpose in this line of critique is to cause Church members to be wary of Meldrum because he holds himself up as having received revelation for the Church which he knows is abhorrent to Church members, including Meldrum, as well as being utterly without merit as Meldrum has never so stated nor indicated.
Thus, after five full pages of attempted character defamation Smith has now, he believes, thoroughly prepared his readers to reject anything and everything by Meldrum and accept his (Smiths) assertions.
The second section (Part 1) consists primarily of more of Smith's complaints with Meldrum's alleged personal character flaws such as:
1. sloppiness in his research, (Smith takes issue with Meldrum's lack of a good copy editor, mechanical errors and stylistic lapses, yet Meldrum made no claims of it being "scholarly" in nature, only "rather technical" and Meldrum does not have the resources of BYU's Maxwell Institute to pay for such editing and this has little to do with the content of the research)
2. attacks on LDS Scholars, (Meldrum's original DNA video was misconstrued by some as an attack on all LDS scholars which was not intended nor expressed as such)
3. insistence that there be DNA evidence, (Meldrum has not insisted that DNA evidence exist for the book to be true, however, after careful review of the prophecies, it is apparent that there will be a remnant of the house of Israel remaining on the promised land in the latter days "according to the flesh" which in Meldrum's mind means that there will be evidence, not that there must be evidence. Meldrum's position is based on these prophecies)
4. "fundamental protestant" creationist views, (Meldrum does take the scriptures rather literally and has been involved in scientific research that has helped him to become comfortable with the statements of ancient and modern prophets involving creation)
5. "shoddy" documentation, (However, Smith was apparently able to find every reference provided by Meldrum, it simply wasn't in a regular stylistic format)
6. belief that those who are in tune with the spirit will receive answers to their prayers,(Meldrum believes in receiving answers to prayer, both for himself and others)
7. causing of contention, (Meldrum has simply been sharing his research in support of the Book of Mormon. Mesoamerican promoting organizations have spent thousands of hours and undisclosed sums in publishing dozens of anti-Heartland articles for several years while Meldrum has refused to refute or contend publically with those articles in order to avoid contention)
8. insistence that his interpretation of scripture is divinely inspired, (this is false. However Meldrum does believe in a rather literal interpration of most scriptures, believing that what they say, they mean)
9. portrayal of those who disagree with his interpretations as rebellious or less than faithful, (we are told to be careful about those who "wrest" the scriptures to achieve their own interpretations and cause contention when the scriptures are clear - see Alma 13:20, D&C 10:63)
10. fundamentalist thinking, (Meldrum's thinking might be considered fundamentalist when viewed by progressives)
11. distortion of the status of his teaching, (whatever this is meant to mean)
12. avoidance of unsupportive quotes, (Meldrum's failure to quote non-prophets whose opinions differ with scripture or prophetic utterances is condemned)
13. portrayal of his sources as authoritative, (Meldrum's primary sources are the scriptures and scientific journal articles which would seem to most LDS to be "authoritive")
14. insistence that scriptures require his interpretation, (see 8 above)
15. those who disagree with him are ignoring scripture, (see 9 above)
16. criticizing of BYU and Church leaders, (this is false, Meldrum has never criticized BYU or Church leadership. Smith's argument stems from a blog comment wherein Meldrum was asked why BYU teaches evolution to which he responded for academic compliance or accreditation, which is true. The teaching of evolution is a national requirement for accreditation of all universities by government decree. BYU teaches many subjects for which the Church has no official position, which means that the teaching of evolution is in no way an endorsement of it. The Church has never endorsed a belief in organic evolution, only the teaching of it)
17. questioning of prophets and apostles, (Meldrum has never questioned the prophetic utterances of prophets or apostles, however, as is common among LDS scholars, Meldrum may question the opinions of such leaders when no indication of revelatory insight is claimed. Prophets and apostles are allowed to have their own opinions on many subjects and they may or may not always be correct)
18. spiritual and intellectual dangers of his research, (the primary danger of this research in the mind of Smith and other Mesoamerican promoting organizations is the unsubstantiated assumption that members might base their testimonies upon it because it is so compelling, and when it is proven to be false, those who did so will leave the Church in droves. This is nothing more than conjecture and after four years of sharing this information the assumption is demonstrably false as nothign of the sort has happened. Members are not basing their testimonies upon it, it has not been proven false, and there is no mass exodus from the Church because of it)
19. risks to vulnerable souls, (Smith and associates feel that regular Church members are incapable of coming to the correct conclusions in regard to Meldrum's research, thereby risking their souls. This is nonsense, see 18 above)
20. unchallenged misrepresentations, (Smith feels obligated and compelled to challenge Meldrum's supposed misrepresentations in order to defend the "vulnerble souls" that might agree with Meldrum)
21. false information causing misplaced trust, (Smith is concerned that the Church will be blamed for Meldrum's research...once it is proven false, which is another speculation based on circular reasoning through a forgone conclusion. i.e. Since Meldrum is wrong, people who rely on his information will ultimately find themselves wrong and then they will blame the Church)
22. undercutting of the Church's official stance, (Meldrum makes it clear in his materials and presentations what the official stance of the Church is; one of neutrality. There is no undercutting of the Church's stance by Meldrum)
22. not granting of leeway for those who differ with him, (Meldrum cannot and does not attempt to force anyone to agree with him. In fact Meldrum specifically advises that folks research all sides and then ask the Lord for guidance)
23. condemnation of certain Church leaders, (Meldrum has never condemned any Church leaders. While it is true that Meldrum, and other Church leaders including prophets, has disagreed with the opinions expressed by such leaders as John A. Widtsoe, James E. Talmage and Bruce R McConkie nowhere has Meldrum condemned these men. Some have been severely repremanded by Church leaders by correcting them publically. It must be noted that Meldrum does not take the opinions of these men, who were never prophets, over the teachings of the scriptures or the prophets)
24. errors of logic, (Smith insinuates that Meldrum is illogical and does not understand the science)
25. preoccupation with certainty, (Meldrum is preoccupied with finding the facts and the truth, rather than unfounded, unobserved speculations and assumptions)
26. dismissal of data out of hand, (If data is presented that is based on speculation or that opposes the teachings of the gospel, scripture or prophets, Meldrum is likely to severely question and possibly dismiss it)
27. ignoring of strongest evidence, (Smith assumes Meldrum is ignoring the strongest evidence, which is an unsubstantiated assumption. Meldrum simply disagrees with accepting unsubstantiated assumptions not based in empirical evidence)
28. numerous misrepresentations, (this is again an assumption that Meldrum is misrepresenting things, rather than simply disagreeing with them)
29. conviction over data, (True, Meldrum is convinced of the truthfulness of the scriptures and the prophets, and will take their words over scientific theories every time, regardless of the supposed data and corresponding theories that may seem to support it)
30. all-or-nothing view, (True, when it comes to believing in prophecy and scripture, Meldrum is unflinching in his support)
31. disappointment with LDS scholars, (True, Meldrum has found overwhelming bias and lack of objectivity in certain LDS scholars, primarily in those who have been promoting Mesoamerican theories to Church membership for so many years and who are more interested in defending their own theories than in learning of other possible evidences in other locations)
32. fundamentalist expectations, (see 4 above)
33. aggressive and unfair criticizing of LDS scholars, (It is not considered by Meldrum to be aggressive or unfairly critical of LDS scholars who ignore the words and actions of the Prophet Joseph Smith when they refute their proposed theories and can be historically authenticated to be from the prophet, such as his own writings)
34. deeply flawed amateur labors, (Smith attempts to impune Meldrum's implied lack of professionalism and flawed logic, which is subjective in nature)
35. financial motivations. (Smith attempts to impune Meldrum's character by implying that Meldrum is only doing this for money, which again is nothing but speculation and conjecture, since Smith cannot possibly know why Meldrum feels driven to share this information)
Amazingly, the first 15+ pages of Smith's review is directed at Meldrum's supposed character, personality and intelligence flaws which preface the actual beginning of Smith's critiquing of Meldrums DNA argument. All this was clearly intended to show Meldrum's mal-intent, lack of knowledge of the subject material, and a host of other derogatory implications. While it might be tempting to address each and every one of these assumptions about Meldrum, let it suffice to say that these are all nothing more, nor less, than critiques of the person, and not the research, thus far it is an attack on the messenger, not the message.
Smith Finally Begins to Address the Genetics
Section 3 (Part II) begins the actual addressing of the genetics involved in Meldrum's work. Without delving into every aspect of Smiths assements of Meldrum's genetic research, Smith argues:
1. that a literal descendant may somehow not be a genetic descendant. Meldrum questions how that could be since every descendant is a genetic decendant from two parents whose DNA that child shares. Later in the article Smith states that "to speak of genetic descendants is redundant-all descent is genetic since by definition we pass DNA on to our descendants" which contradicts his previous position.
2. that a "remnant of the house of Israel" may not actually mean a genetic remnant and may not indicate a genetically related lineage of Israel.
3. that when the Book of Mormon prophets state that their seed, the remnant, will "not utterly be destroyed according to the flesh" that this by no means could be construed as being a literal genetic remnant in spite of the fact that it so states that their posterity, their seed and their flesh, created from their own DNA, will not be destroyed, but will continue on into the latter days. Somehow, they are enabled to continue "in the flesh" without passing their DNA on to future generations, according to Smith.
4. that the prophecies regarding the remnant coming to the knowledge that they are literal "descendants of the Jews" (see 2 Nephi 9:53, 30:4, 1 Nephi 15:14) will come from the Book of Mormon itself. But how are they to know that the Book of Mormon applies to them? Since not all Native Americans are descendants of the Lamanites, as indicated by the change in the introduction page of the Book of Mormon in 2007 by Church leadership, it would seem the most logical means by which they might know if they are the remnant is if they have DNA types that tie them to Jewish populations. Such a tie has been found by main stream geneticists, as that found in the Algonquian Indian groups of North American as well as their ancestors, the ancient Mound Builders who were in America's Heartland during Book of Mormon time frames. Their haplogroup X DNA type does tie them to the Ashkenasi, Shepardic, and other Jewish populations around the world.
5. that a person having a spiritual witness of the Book of Mormon is identical to being a literal genetic descendant of the Lamanites. Were this the case then every member of the Church could claim to be a literal genetic descendant. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Only through literal descendants of the house of Israel can the prophecies be fulfilled, according to the scriptures which clearly speak of a descendants who are genetically related to "their fathers" (see D&C 3:16-20). Smith claims that the science of genetics makes the expectation of the fulfillment of the scriptural prophecies "dubious."
6. that 'seeds' of plants, animals and humans are somehow not geneticly reproduced from the parents DNA and are therefore not 'replicas.'
7. that a group of people, living in near isolation as were the Nephites after establishing the land of Nephi, would somehow lose their genetic signal over time, rather than have them amplified through repeated replication. The Nephites, who were living the laws of Moses which forbids intermarriage with outside groups, and who were under commandment not to intermix with the Lamanites, were nevertheless multiplying and replenishing in the land of Nephi for some 500 years. Smith considers this to be a 'tiny signal' rather than a powerful genetic force on the promised land as the scriptural account indicates.
8. that Lehi could somehow be theoretically considered an "ancestor to virtually all modern-day Amerindians" even though there were isolated groups of Amerindians, such as the Hopewell Mound builders, the Aztec's, Inca's and Maya in their respective locations and time frames that had little to no interaction with the other groups. How then were their lineages intermixed? What if they weren't? How could every indigenous person be descended from every ancestral lineage? The only way is to harken back far enough, such as to the time of Noah or Adam, from where these lineages originated. This is a macro theoretical model which Smith appears to be applying on a micro scale.
The Most Important Issue - DNA Dating and Evolutionary Presuppositions
The most substantive issue raised against Meldrum's actual genetics research involves DNA dating. Native American genetics research claims that the haplogroup X DNA type, that Meldrum posits could be evidence of Semitic ancestry for some Native Americans, arrived in America some 40,000 years ago. This is obviously long before Lehi’s group. The critical question then becomes, how was this date arrived at?
Meldrum is not ignorant of the scientific dating as Smith alleges and in fact delves deeply into it in his book. He demonstrates, through direct quotes from main stream genetics journals, that the dating method used in obtaining this figure, called phylogenetic dating, is based squarely on the evolutionary "assumption" or "estimate" that humans and chimps shared a common ancestor some 5-6.5 million years ago. Meldrum provides direct quotes from respected scientific journals on pages 104-105 of his book. From the prestigious journal Science, "The most widely used mutation rate for noncoding human mtDNA relies on estimates of the date when humans and chimpanazees shared a common ancestor, taken to be 5 million years ago." Science 279, 2 Jan. 1998 as reprinted HERE p2. And from the journal Genetics 172:p377, Jan. 2006, "Assuming 6 million years for the human-chimp species split and 6.5 million years for the most recent common ancestor of their mtDNA lineages, we estimate the average transversion rate..." Meldrum believes this evolutionary assumption to be incompatible scripturally, prophetically and doctrinally, while Smith accepts and embraces the premise.
When the theoretical phylogenetic DNA rate of change (mutation) is compared with actual empirical or observed DNA rates of change derived from the sequencing of actual Grandmother/Granddaughter pairs, the rate of change (mutation rate) has been found to be so great that geneticists were forced to publish that the most recent common ancestor to all humans lived only 6,000-6,500 years ago. Again from Science, "Regardless of the cause, evolutionists are most concerned about the effect of a faster mutation rate. For example, researchers have calculated that “mitochondrial Eve” – the woman whose mtDNA was ancestral to that in all living people—lived 100,000 to 200,000 years ago in Africa. Using the new clock, she [Eve] would be a mere 6000 years old. No one thinks that’s the case…" Science 2 Jan. 1998:279 no. 5347, pp 28-29 reprinted HERE p4 . And from the journal TREE Vol. 12, no.11, Nov. 1997, "If molecular evolution is really neutral at these sites, such a high mutation rate would indicate that Eve lived about 6500 years ago – a figure clearly incompatible with current theories on human origins." Meldrum references Thomas J. Parsons in Nature Geneticswherein the largest empirical study to date had been completed. Parsons concludes that "Thus, our observation of the substitution rate, 2.5/site/Myr, is roughly 20-fold higher than would be predicted from phylogenetic analyses. Using our empirical rate to calibrate the mtDNA molecular clock would result in an age of the mtDNA MRCA [most recent common ancestor] of only ~6,500 y.a., clearly incompatible with the known age of modern humans." Nature Genetics, Vol 15, April 1997. Yet this figure, which is obviously supportive of Biblical time lines, is in every case summarily dismissed by modern science simply because scientists believe it could not possibly be "the case" because it is “incompatible with current theories" or "the known age of modern humans.”
Smith Argues for Human Descent From Chimps
Smith takes the position of arguing in favor of the theoretical phylogenetic dating and in so doing is deliberately or unknowingly arguing that humans evolved from chimps, rather than being created in the image of God and placed on earth by Him as testified in the Bible, Pearl of Great Price and LDS temple ceremonies. In previous blog comments Meldrum noticed Smith quoted evolutionist and devout atheist -- Richard Feynman -- in supporting his comments and indeed Smith references the fanatically pro-evolution website www.talkorigins.org in his article against Meldrum. Smith continued to attack Meldrum online to the point that he was banned from making further posts on Meldrum's blog. Meldrum, presuming that Smith held deeply rooted beliefs in organic evolution, emailed Smith four questions regarding those beliefs for clarification. Smith replied to these questions in an email sent July 7th, 2011.
Meldrum Asked: “1. Do you believe in macro evolution, one species changing into another species?”
Smith's Answer: “In the evo-bio world, "macroevolution" refers to gene frequency change at or above the level of the species. Given that speciation has been observed in the wild and the lab, I think denying its existence entirely is counterfactual. I don't know if such mechanisms are adequate to explain all of life's diversity, however. I have no firm opinion on the matter. If he means "macroevolution" in the sense that it is often used in the creation/evolution wars, I regard that usage as notoriously ill-defined and somewhat elastic, and so don't consider it a really meaningful classification to which I can speak.”
Meldrum: “2. Do you feel that this is how God created all the world's living creatures?”
Smith: “I do not know. I presume God could use it if He so chose. I don't think it a question of much importance religiously.”
Meldrum: “3. Do you think that man was a part of that evolutionary process?”
Smith: “I do not know. I don't think it a question of much importance religiously. Using mtDNA or Y-DNA to trace human population movements and development requires the use of some evolutionary biology concepts and applying them to humans, however.”
Meldrum: “4. Did man and apes/chimps share a common ancestor?"
Smith: “I do not know. I don't think it a question of much importance religiously.”
For someone so confident in evolutionary dating assumptions in this FARMS Review article, Smith seems alarmingly unsure of his religious beliefs on the topic of whether humans evolved from chimps. This issue is relevant to this discussion because it is the basis for the theoretical phylogenetic dating techniques for which Smith attacks Meldrum. This assumption under-girds the supposed arrival of haplogroup X into North America. Smith unabashedly argues for this theoretical dating which carries with it the evolutionary assumption that humans evolved from chimps.
FARMS Review Promotes Own Theories Over Church Positions
Therefore, Peterson, in publishing Smith's article in the Maxwell Institutes FARMS Review, used BYU/Church funds to promote their views rather than the official position of the Church or its leadership. Smith ignored the observed dating rate observations provided in Meldrum's book, apparently preferring unobserved evolutionary dogma over observable science or scriptural and prophetic teachings. All this was done in an effort to prop up Peterson and FARMS crumbling Mesoamerican theories which to date have failed to provide any genetic support for the Book of Mormon. As a result of the complete lack of genetic evidence in Mesoamerica, they have been placed in such an extraordinarily difficult position that they feel they must proclaim that genetic evidence is not even to be expected - offering several genetics arguments. While there are possible genetics explanations for this utter lack of DNA evidence within the Mayan civilization of Mesoamerica, their claim is made in spite of the prophecies in the Book of Mormon itself that indicate that there will be a remnant of the house of Israel remaining on the promised land in the latter days "according to the flesh" (1 Nephi 15:14, 2 Nephi 9:53, 30:4, 3 Nephi 21:2-4, Ether 13:8). As Meldrum’s book points out in an entire chapter devoted to DNA dating methods, if the observed rate of DNA change (mutation rate) from studies using actual human beings is applied in computing the arrival of haplogroup X in North America rather than the theoretical rate, its arrival would have occured in the vicinity of 2,000 years ago, which is incredibly consistent with that of Lehi’s group as outlined in the Book of Mormon.
The Condescension of Smith
Devoid of academic objectivity or restraint, Smith is condescending throughout the article which is painfully obvious not only in his chosen title, but from his opening statement to his closing remarks. His opening statement, repleat with sarcasm, reads in part, “Rod Meldrum has, he believes, found compelling scientific evidence for the Book of Mormon. And lest we should be inclined to doubt the compelling nature of his findings, we are presented with a page of ‘endorsements’ by various authors with titles such as ‘Plant Pathology,’ ‘Ph.D.,’ ‘MS MD,’ and ‘Ph.D., Plant Geneticist.” It is true that Meldrum’s book is endorsed by experts holding these advanced degrees. It is common for book authors and publishers to provide such endorsements. Smith attempts to belittle and dismiss these experts by employing sarcasm and marginalization.
In closing Smith writes, “The Book of Mormon, the Latter-day Saints, and the Church of Jesus Christ deserve far better than Meldrum’s pseudoscientific snake oil and strained proof-texting.” Is this the spirit of open inquiry and sincere investigation into a topic that is far from settled? Is this the manner in which fellow brethren are exhorted to "reprove" or correct one another? (see D&C 121:43)
Smith takes Meldrum to task for his unyielding stance on a number of issues, for which Smith accuses Meldrum of disallowing or rejecting outright alternative viewpoints. Smith then roundly criticizes Meldrum for his more literal viewpoints on scriptural creation, Biblical ancestral lineages, Noah's flood and lack of faith in DNA dating founded upon the theories of organic evolution, among a myriad of other views. Is Meldrum being held to a double standard or is Smith engaging in the very thing he accuses Meldrum of?
Is This Style of Attacking Apologetics Against Church Members Acceptable?
Could the FARMS attacking type of apologetics be the reason the Executive Director of the Maxwell Institute at BYU, and possibly Church leadership, determined to take control of former FARMS board members and later fired those who continued to engage in these practices? Did Smith and FARMS Review unscrupulously attack fellow Church member Rod L. Meldrum - while utilizing BYU/Church funding and support? Is this the sort of "scholarship" contributors to FARMS/MI are expecting from their donations? Are their donations being put to good use when being used to defend positions not held by the Church and which may actually run contrary to its prophetic teachings on the origins of man, such as the Smith article advocates?
It is acknowledged that Meldrum has not directly addressed every aspect of Smith's reviews in this article. This has been done purposefully in an effort to avoid further contention, as well as not providing fodder for further critiques of the Church as others watch fellow brethren of the Church "slugging it out online." Such a spectacle could be many times more damaging to the Church than either Meldrum's book or Smith's article.
Meldrum would like to extend to Smith his gratitude for taking the time to review his work even if he does not necessarily agree with the majority of it. It has proven to be thought provoking and has helped Meldrum to further refine and improve his research which now even better addresses the critics of the Church. While Meldrum acknowledges in his book and lectures that there is no way to ever "prove" the truths of the Book of Mormon through DNA evidence, it is nevertheless a worthwhile endeavor to continue with research that may ultimately provide overwhelming support to the Church through verifiable Book of Mormon evidences of its historicity.
Meldrum may take up the challenge of further addressing Smith's critique, but feels that, at this time, those interested should simply download and read Meldrum's FREE e-book (some verifying information required) as well as Smith's review in order to study it out in your own mind. Then ask the source of all truth in prayer! This is standard policy within the bounds of the scriptures. Best of luck on your journey!
Rod L. Meldrum is solely responsible for the content of this article.