The Hill Cumorah by C.C.A. Christensen (1831-1912)
Where Science Meets the Book of Mormon: Come Follow Me Lessons: January 1-7; Introductory Pages of the Book of Mormon
I am going to begin with a brief introduction. I am Trent Dee Stephens, PhD. I have a BS in Microbiology, a BS in Zoology, and an MS in Zoology, all from BYU. I have a PhD in Anatomy from the University of Pennsylvania and have been teaching anatomy and developmental biology, primarily at Idaho State University, for around fifty years. I have been an active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for my entire 75 years of life. I have been a bishop twice and have served as a temple worker in both the Idaho Falls Temple and the Pocatello Temple, where my wife, Kathleen and I still serve.
I have authored or co-authored over thirty five books, including three bestselling Anatomy & Physiology textbooks (McGraw-Hill). One of those A&P books is now in its 13th edition. I have authored or co-authored six books on the relationship between science and religion:
Who is Adam? Where Science Meets Religion, (Amazon, 2023)
The Immortal Messiah: The Physiology of Resurrected Beings, (Cedar Fort, 2022)
The Infinite Fall: A Scientific Approach to the Second Pillar of Eternity, (Cedar Fort, 2021)
The Infinite Creation: Unifying Science and Latter-day Saint Theology, (Cedar Fort, 2020)
Who are the Children of Lehi? DNA and the Book of Mormon, with Jeff Meldrum (Kofford, 2007),
Evolution and Mormonism: a Quest for Understanding, with Jeff Meldrum and Forest Peterson, (Signature, 2001)
My objective in writing these books is to assure students, and everyone else, that they don’t have to compromise either science or religion for the two to be compatible. The science in these books is no-nonsense and often discussed at a very high level: sometimes getting into issues such as quantum physics and dark matter. I am a biologist who unapologetically addresses evolution.
I will begin this blog and podcast with a statement about people who become distanced from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as outlined at Wikipedia (which I love as often my initial go-to clearing-house source; I then check out the references to find where the original source material can be found, and then read that): “The foremost reasons [for people becoming disassociated with the Church] are disbelief both in Joseph Smith as a prophet and in the Book of Mormon as a religious and historical document. Reasons for this disbelief include issues with anthropological, linguistic, archaeological, and genetic evidence against the Book of Mormon in the New World.” I will be dealing with these and many more issues this coming year in my blog and podcasts concerning Science and the Book of Mormon. The references for the above quote in Wikipedia are listed as #s 8 and 9. Both references are to a website: Mormons in Transition, Institute for Religious Research, Grand Rapids, Michigan.
I scanned down the list of references to the Book of Mormon on the website and found it interesting that my book, with Jeff Meldrum, Who are the Children of Lehi, DNA and the Book of Mormon, did not make the list. In our book, we stated that the DNA data suggest a Siberian origin for Native Americans. The list at Mormons in Transition, therefore, appears to be a bit cherry-picked. What did make the list was a documentary, DNA vs the Book of Mormon, produced by Living Hope Ministries in 2003. I am featured in that documentary. I was called by a producer from Living Hope Ministries because I had been a member of a panel discussion on DNA and the Book of Mormon and because, they told me, they couldn’t find an active member of the Church willing to be interviewed for their film. I told them that I would be happy to talk with them about DNA and the Book of Mormon. I agreed to be interviewed for three reasons: 1. I am not afraid to talk to anyone, anywhere about my research, my publications, or my beliefs. 2. I did not want them to publish a documentary wherein they stated that no active member of the Church would talk to them. 3. This is what I am going to tell you next…
I told them that this is what they were going to do: they were going to come to my laboratory at ISU and spend about two hours interviewing and recording me. Then they were going to cut out of that interview about fifteen seconds of what I said that agreed with their point that there is no DNA evidence to support the Book of Mormon, and throw away the vast majority of our interview. They assured me that that was not what they were going to do — that their documentary was going to be “fair and balanced.” When someone tells me that — it throws up a red flag. I told them that I didn’t believe a word of their promise, but they could come and interview me anyway.
So they came and interviewed me for about two hours and when the video came out, I was featured for about twenty two seconds. I was off by about seven seconds in my prediction. So the third reason I went ahead with the interview is so I can tell you that that video — and a lot of others like it — was/were not even remotely “fair and balanced.” What the website, Mormons in Transition, Institute for Religious Research, said about DNA vs the Book of Mormon is that, “This documentary accurately presents the consensus of the scientific community that northern Asia — not Israel — is the place of origin of the Native American Indians.” Being one of the “experts” interviewed for that documentary, I challenge the use of the word “accurate” in describing it. I have a very strong background in genetics, including population genetics — which is what I covered in my interview with Living Hope Ministries — the part they cut out, and what Jeff and I discussed in our book, Who are the Children of Lehi. I will discuss many of those issues in later blogs and podcasts.
The producers of DNA vs the Book of Mormon asked for my opinion on the “Introduction” to the Book of Mormon, which stated at the time that the Lamanites “…are the principal ancestors of the American Indians.” My reply to their question was not included in their documentary. At the time of that interview, I was a bishop in a university married ward. I followed the guidelines concerning addressing issues with Church doctrine and policy: I met with my Stake President, a brilliant and astute man, and told him of my conversation with the producers of DNA vs the Book of Mormon. I said to him, as I had said to the producers, the statement that the Lamanites “…are the principal ancestors of the American Indians” is not part of the Book of Mormon. It apparently was written by Elder Bruce R. McConkie and included in the 1981 edition of the Book of Mormon, by the Missionary Committee, as a well-intentioned synopsis and summary of the book. That statement “the principal ancestors” is not supported by the Book of Mormon text itself. When I pointed that out to my Stake President, he said, “I never thought about that before, I will check into this.” Sometime later, he told me that he had brought this issue up with our Area General Authority and he said, “I never thought about that before, I will bring it up with the Missionary Committee.” These discussions with my Stake President took place around 2003-2004. The wording in the Introduction was changed in the 2006 Doubleday edition and subsequent editions published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to state that the Lamanites “…are among the ancestors of the American Indians.”
Peggy Fletcher Stack said in an 8 November 2007 article in the Salt Lake Tribune, “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.’ With this change, the LDS Church is ‘conceding that mainstream scientific theories about the colonization of the Americas have significant elements of truth in them,’ said Simon Southerton, a former Mormon and author of Losing a Lost Tribe: Native Americans, DNA and the Mormon Church.” (Signature Books, SLC, 2004) Southerton’s book is listed on the Mormons in Transition, Institute for Religious Research website.
Peggy Stack continued, “‘DNA has revealed very clearly how closely related American Indians are to their Siberian ancestors,’ Southerton said in an e-mail from his home in Canberra, Australia. ‘The Lamanites are invisible, not principal ancestors.’”
I agree completely with Southerton’s statements, quoted by Slack, but, in later blogs and podcasts, I will explain why the Lehites, Nephites, Mulekites, Jaredites, and Lamanites are “invisible,” and why the Introduction now states that they “…are among the ancestors of the American Indians.”
I recall reading in a post not long ago by a former member of the Church that that change in the Introduction was one of the reasons for her leaving the Church. As the one who apparently set in motion that change, it seems to me that the change would argue against leaving the Church, not in favor of leaving, but what do I know about individual motivations.
I believe my books have been written from an uncompromising perspective of a scientist, as well as from an uncompromising believer in Christ’s restored Church and the divinity of the Book of Mormon. Science is not conducted by unbiased people — rather, science is designed in such a way as to minimize the biases in its practitioners. I have spent the past two years writing Science and Religion blogs about the Old Testament and New Testament, and will now begin writing blogs and making podcasts about the Book of Mormon. My blogs and books can be found on my website: trentdeestephens.com.
Trent Dee Stephens, PhD