The Arithmetic of Souls

I’m not anywhere close to considering myself a biology expert, however I do find the subject fascinating and I find the implications of biology on religion to be eye opening.

Mormon doctrine, the stuff generated in my lifetime anyway, tends to avoid teaching concepts that conflict with science. Science, however, doesn’t seem to mind infringing.

Take the point that Sam Harris, author of the controversial book Letter to a Christian Nation, raises. He articulates that the math behind a belief in one soul for every living being does not add up.

Take for a moment that there are souls in this petri dish, and that every three day old blastocyst is en-souled. Well unfortunately embryos at that age can split into twins. So what’s happening there? We have one soul turning into two souls?

Embryos at a later stage can fuse back into what is called a chimera—a single individual born of two embryos. So do we have two souls becoming one soul? This arithmetic of souls doesn’t make much sense.

What I’m wondering is, how does one reconcile this very simple mathematical dilemma?

DNA, Lamanites and Book of Mormon

Simon Southerton, geneticist and author of Losing a Lost Tribe: Native Americans, DNA and the Mormon Church, has taken up a crusade to “[examine] church teachings that American Indians and Polynesians have a historic bond with ancient Israelites.” He does so by using DNA research and applying it to current popular opinion of members of the Church and writings of some scholars with the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies.

This seems to be a thorny issue for Southerton. He left the Church because there seemed to be no conclusive evidence that supported the widely held notion among Latter-day Saints that Pacific Islanders and indigenous people of the Americas were descended from the Lamanites.

First, I find it unbelievable—actually, I can believe it, but it still is dumbfounding—that someone’s conviction to the Church can be swayed by scientific evidence. The Book of Mormon is not a scientific journal. It does not establish scientific fact and does not even heavily support scientific theories. It is nothing more than a spiritual record—interspersed with select historical information—of a distinct, isolated group of people.

Second, there is no indication whatsoever in the Book of Mormon that the Lamanites and Nephites were completely alone in the Americas. To say otherwise is nothing more than speculation. It is entirely plausible and even likely that the Lamanites and Nephites encountered—and even mingled with—other peoples already present in the Americas. This alone would reduce any existence of Israelite DNA. As well, it is entirely plausible that the Lamanite population died off or were exterminated; after all, the record of their history is incomplete.

Third, popular belief among Latter-day Saints does not equal doctrine. Just because many Latter-day Saints hold on to the archaic notion that all people indigenous to the Americas are descended solely from Lehi, does not make it church doctrine. I wish more people would understand this one principle. Tradition is not doctrine.

The Book of Mormon is primarily a religious book containing teachings and doctrine about God and Jesus Christ. To treat it primarily as anything else is to treat it as a very shaky foundation.

That being said, it only take a smidgen of logic to see that DNA research does not disprove the Book of Mormon. One would think a scientist like Southerton would understand that.