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Sunday, 8 September 2013

Meldrum's X lineage Post 2: THE BAD

Introduction

This post is the second of three posts dealing with the X lineage DNA claims of Rodney Meldrum, who leads the Heartland apologetic movement. The first post summarises the science, the second deals with Meldrum's interpretation of the science and the third discusses Meldrum's questionable salesmanship. 

Post I. Meldrum's X lineage: THE GOOD 
In this post I introduce some of the key scientists who have researched the X lineage and summarise the X lineage research.

Post II. Meldrum's X lineage: THE BAD 
In this post I review Rodney Meldrum's Creationist agenda, how this impacts his interpretation of the science and his "creative' use of evidence in support of his Heartland movement.

Post III. Meldrum's X lineage: THE UGLY 
In the third post I look at the controversy Rodney Meldrum has sparked in apologetic circles and the questionable way he is selling his ideas.

Rodney Meldrum
President FIRM Foundation


Rodney Meldrum

Meldrum first entered apologetics in about 2003, soon after he came across the DVD DNA vs. the Book of Mormon which was produced by a Christian outreach in Brigham City, Utah. Meldrum was alarmed by claims in the DVD that Israelite DNA is absent in Native American populations. He became even more troubled when he learned soon afterwards that many LDS apologists at BYU, in particular Mesoamerican (LGT) apologists, had largely conceded that Israelite DNA had not been found in living Native Americans. Meldrum set to work to prove the Mesoamercian apologists wrong. Over the last 6 years Rodney Meldrum has been loudly promoting the Heartland Theory. In his book Rediscovering the Book of Mormon Remnant through DNA Meldrum claims that critics of the Book of Mormon were too quick to claim all Native American DNA lineages were derived from Asia (Rediscovering, pages 5-8) and LGT apologists have been misled by the "anti-mormon" critics. The Heartland model is well on its way to becoming the most popular model of Book of Mormon geography.    

Meldrum established the FIRM Foundation (Foundation for Indigenous Research and Mormonism) in late 2008. FIRM now claims to have over 200 members sitting on 10 boards and over 25,000 subscribers to its newsletters. FIRM sponsors two "International Book of Mormon Evidence Conference's" each year and numerous regional conferences. Each conference typically attracts over 400 attendees and they are always sold out. Meldrum recently released a book, Exploring the Book of Mormon in America's Heartland, which has sold about 15,000 copies. He now makes a living from the sales of books, DVDs, tours, conferences, artwork and other novelties from his website.


Young Earth Creationism

Rodney Meldrum is a Biblical fundamentalist. He believes (knows) that the earth is roughly 6,000 years old, the Flood killed most living things about 4,500 years ago and that all continents were colonised by the descendants of Noah within the last 4,000 years. Meldrum presents himself as a "researcher, author and national lecturer" on the Book of Mormon. He claims to have served as a senior scientific researcher on a university-level natural sciences textbook for well over 7 years, however, the book remains unpublished. Somewhat surprisingly, for someone claiming to be working on a scientific book, Meldrum has no formal scientific qualifications and is not a scientist. The natural sciences textbook will not be mainstream science because of Meldrum's fundamentalist beliefs. The book is almost certainly an attempt to portray Creationism as scientific. 


My position as the author of this work is that when there is an inferred conflict between scientific theories and scriptural truths, the scriptures will always be demonstrated true, and the theories of men, put forward through science, will eventually conform to the truths of the gospel, not the other way around. Of course error can be made in the interpretation of scripture; however when they (the Scriptures) are clear and supported by prophetic or revelatory understanding, and if they cannot be reconciled with the current theories of science, then it should be understood that eventually the scientific theories will be altered to comply with God’s truth, even if that means waiting until the next life. 
Rodney Meldrum, Introduction, Rediscovering the Book of Mormon Remnant through DNA, page 3
Readers of Rediscovering are left in little doubt what Meldrum interprets as "clear" in scripture. Meldrum still holds on to the fundamentalist notion that the entire world was populated by the family of Noah, and that Noah's sons gave rise to the major racial groups. He even uses this religious belief as "evidence" that Native Americans didn't cross the Bering land bridge during the last ice age.
"First, the Book of Mormon does not describe an overland migration into the Americas from Asia, but rather a transoceanic voyage from the Mediterranean area. Second, Lehi’s lineage stems from the descendants of Noah’s son Shem, and not Japheth, the father of the Asiatic peoples." 
— Rodney Meldrum, Rediscovering the Book of Mormon Remnant through DNA, Page 7
Another reason Meldrum cannot accept the Beringian migration "theory" is that he finds it hard to believe that people could have survived an ice age. The notion that people migrated to where there wasn't permanent ice appears to have escaped him.
"The resulting crop and plant failures due to year round freezing temperatures would make it impossible for most animals and humans to find food and would cause a complete collapse in the normal food chains and populations of the earth."   
— Rodney Meldrum, Rediscovering the Book of Mormon Remnant through DNA, Page 100
According to Meldrum the scientific consensus that Native Americans entered via the Bering Strait is just a "theory" or an "idea". He uses similar tiresome logic to dismiss evolution. Its just a "theory". What Meldrum completely misses is that there are abundant scientific facts that conclusively prove that man has lived in the New World for over 13,000 years. The Bering Strait "theory" is universally accepted by the scientific community because a staggering amount of scientific evidence from numerous disciplines supports it. Dismissing it as a "theory" doesn't remove the facts, the most obvious being that North America is blanketed in thousands of Clovis spear points that are associated with organic material that has been carbon-dated (thousands of datings) to about 13,500 years ago. 

Clovis spear points date
to 13,500 years BP

There are times when Meldrum's cherry picking of scientific evidence and his underlying fundamentalist beliefs are exposed. For example, most fundamentalists dismiss radiocarbon dating out of hand, because the technology is used widely to date the age of organic materials up to 50,000 years old. That's well beyond the age of the world Meldrum lives in (see Rediscovering, pages 93 to 99). But Meldrum is prepared to use radiocarbon dates (e.g. 1340 years BP) that prove the X lineage was in the Americas prior to the arrival of Columbus (see Rediscovering pages 75, 90 and 142). Why? Because that piece of evidence helps prove that the X lineage arrived before Columbus, a fact that is necessary for his argument to be valid. But what if radiocarbon dates come along, as they inevitably will, that reveal a 10,000-year-old individual with an X2a lineage? Meldrum would simply reject the result because it wouldn't be consistent with his interpretation of scripture. In fact Meldrum has already prepared his escape clause. This is Meldrum's response to questions about the DNA lineage work done on the remains of On Your Knees Cave Man from Alaska, which were carbon-dated to 10,300 years ago.
Carbon dates going back to about the time of Noah’s flood are generally relatively accurate depending on many parameters, but the dating pre-flood is problematic because of the disturbance in the global C14/C13 ratio’s at that time. The same goes with the Canadian dating of 5,000 year old remains.
— Rodney Meldrum, TheFamily.com

In Meldrum's view carbon dating is accurate within the last few thousand years because he can use that to support his predetermined X lineage claims but the moment it is used to date material that doesn't fit within his creationist 4,500 year post flood timescale its reliability disappears completely. Its all a bit too convenient. Meldrum correctly alludes to the fact that C14/C13 ratios have changed historically, but because we have anchored tree ring carbon dates we know pretty much exactly how much those ratios have changed by and when they have changed. The ratio changes are related to fluctuations in the earth's magnetic field and they generally affect the accuracy by much less than 10%. It has nothing to do with imaginary global flood events.



Recent Heartland DNA Claims

While originally there was a small measure of moderation in Meldrum’s X lineage claims, all signs of restraint have disappeared in recent months. Meldrum is now promoting the “Israelite” X lineage loudly across the Internet. At the last Book of Mormon Evidence Conference Jake Hilton announced a new “Mormon Evidence” initiative aimed at reaching the youth of the church via Facebook, Youtube and Twitter. According to Jake Hilton the only place you find the X lineage outside of the Americas is in Jewish populations.




“What makes Haplogroup X2 DNA so significant is that it is only found in one other location on the planet: Among Jewish populations of Europe and the Middle East.”

 Jake Hilton, 2013
This claim is demonstrably false. The X2 lineage is found in numerous populations over a vast area of Europe and into Central Asia, from the Orkney Islands off Scotland to the Altai Mountains in Southern Siberia and many places in between. It also has no specific ties to Jewish populations where it occurs at similarly low frequencies. It has been found at slightly elevated frequencies (7.7%) in the non-Jewish Druze population currently living in Israel (Shlush et al. 2008), but the slightly higher frequency in this population is most likely due to chance. The Druze are a small insular group and genetically isolated groups frequently carry specific lineages at higher frequency due to bottleneck effects.

Some could be excused for thinking that Hilton got a little carried away with his claims, but his words are directly in line with false claims Meldrum has made in the past. 

"The Bering Strait theory is so prevalent that researchers were still trying to find some sort of trace in Asia, rather than accepting the idea that another (possibly European) migration had actually occurred. However, as of 2009, Haplogroup X is still not found in Asia, and continues to frustrate the theory, causing researchers to invoke the “it got lost” explanation"
— Rodney Meldrum, Rediscovering the Book of Mormon Remnant through DNA, Page 76
It is inexcusable for Meldrum to be making this false claim 8 years after the X2 lineage was identified in Siberian populations. As far back as 2001 the X2 lineage was identified among the Altaian population of Southern Siberia (Derenko et al. 2001). Since then the X2 lineage has been identified in several Central Asian populations and a couple of other Siberian populations (Reidla et al. 2003; Starikovskaya et al. 2004). The version of the X2 lineage identified in the Altaians (X2e) is not closely related to Native American X lineages. In fact, the X2e lineage has also been identified among the Druze and Georgians.    

Rodney Meldrum has now enlisted the support of Alan Osmond to promote his Heartland ideas and the claims grow bolder by the minute. This is exactly what you would expect from someone who is essentially a net-marketer.
“LISTEN UP - "Especially if you are a Mormon/Latter-day Saint"!
DNA Traces Jewish Descendants From Jerusalem To North America!”




Consider these comments made by Alan on his TheFamily.com website.
"DNA findings establish haplogroup X as originating in Israel, continuing through the destruction of Jerusalem at 586 B.C., and now verified in the Heartland of North America during Book of Mormon time frames. This level of secular evidence is unprecedented. Even more interesting is that Joseph Smith, when commanded by the Lord to take the Book of Mormon to the “Lamanites” (see D&C 28, 30, 32), immediately dispatched four missionaries to four Indian tribes located in New York, Ohio and Missouri. Amazingly, these four tribes, which were recorded in the journal of Parley P. Pratt, just happen to all have high concentrations of haplogroup X today!"

“Today, there is ample and overwhelming evidence of Israelite DNA among Native populations of North America! The Book of Mormon is a historical record of real people and events."

"Amazingly, haplogroup X has also been found in the Ashkenazi, Sephardic, Libyan, Moroccan, Tunisian, and Iraqi Jewish populations, the latter of which can trace their ancestry back to 586 B.C. when they were forcibly removed from Jerusalem by King Nebuchadnezzar and taken to Babylon (Iraq) as slaves."
Again, there is no evidence to support any of these statements. If the X lineage arrived in the Americas just 2,500 years ago we would expect the X lineages of Native Americans to be very similar because they would not have had sufficient time to accumulate many new mutations. But even in the Americas we see considerable diversity in the X2a lineage family. The figure below shows all of the branches in the Native American X2a subclade (retrieved from phylotree.org)



By following the branches that connect any two DNA lineages in the above figure, and counting up the mutations (circled) you can see that even in the X2a subclade there are several lineages that are very different.  For example, there are 15 mutations that distinguish the X2a1a1 lineage from the X2a2 lineage. If you include the 6 unique mutations that all X2a lineages share (lower branch), that makes a minimum of 21 mutations that distinguish the X2a1a1 lineage from all other X2 lineages. 2,500 years is clearly insufficient time for these mutations to have arisen by chance.

If we compare the number of mutations that have occurred in X2a lineages with the number of new mutations that have occurred in other founding lineages of Native Americans we see similar numbers. The figure below compares the number of mutations in the X2a1a1 lineage with a typical lineage (A2i) in the major founding A2 haplogroup. Both share a similar number of mutations which are most likely to have arisen since their arrival in the New World. 



You will also notice that the A and X lineage are very distantly related. They are different branches of the N super-haplogroup. The number of mutations that have occurred in the X2a subclade since it branched from other N lineages is 15. In other words, the amount of variation within New World X2a lineages is similar to the variation that distinguishes X2a from other lineages belonging to the N haplogroup, which includes the Native American A2 lineage.


Meldrum’s "keystone" argument




In spite of the consensus among scientists that American Indian X2a lineages entered the New World about 15,000 years ago, Rodney Meldrum is adamant that it arrived at about the time Lehi did. He recently explained his logic on Alan Osmond's website. His entire argument rests on his interpretation of the science of dating DNA. About 40% of his book Rediscovering the Book of Mormon Remnant Through DNA, is devoted to proving that the scientific community has got their timing all wrong when it comes to mutation rates. But Meldrum's real issue isn't mutation rates. Its evolution. In Meldrum's mind, anything based on the assumption that human's and chimpanzees share a common ancestor is inherently flawed. 
It all comes down to the DNA dating issues that I discuss in detail in my (Rod L. Meldrum) book, Rediscovering the Book of Mormon Remnant Through DNA. Haplogroup X is, obviously, the base or original haplotype with X2 being a sub-group or “clade” and X2a being a sub-sub group. X2a (in Native American populations of North America) is absolutely related to X2b (found in Israelite populations worldwide), the only question is when did the mutations differentiating them arise, which relies on the assumptions of mtDNA mutation rate dating. 
The phylogenetic dating method which has been used in the estimated 12-15k year ago arrival figure, is purely theoretical in that it assumes a common ancestor for both humans and chimps at 5-6 million years ago and deduces the rate of change (or mutation rate) from the differences between humans and chimps over that time, speculated to be one mutation per every 6,764 years on average (Genetics 172:373-387, Jan 2006).

The Pedigree dating method, which is based on empirical comparison of thousands of living grandmother/granddaughter lineages to establish the actual observed rate of change demonstrates that the mutation rate for mtDNA is 20-26 times higher than the theoretically derived phylogenetic rate implies (American Journal of Human Genetics 66:1599, 2000).

Application of the observed mutation rate to the mtDNA facts results in an approximate arrival date of haplogroup X somewhere around 2,000-2,500 years ago rather than the theoretical 12-15k date. Thus, the unobservable theoretical dating is the only thing standing in the way of haplogroup X being Book of Mormon related. Once the dating is corrected to known, actual and observed mutation rates, it falls directly into Book of Mormon time frames. Download the entire e-book at http://www.bookofmormonevidence.org/downloads.php for further detailed, referenced information.


Rod Meldrum President – The FIRM Foundation 
Well over a decade ago there was debate in the scientific community over the correct mutation rate to use when dating mtDNA lineages. That debate has now been largely resolved but Meldrum persists in holding on to the most extreme estimate of mutation rates from a single paper published over 15 years ago. Back in 1997 the entire mtDNA genome had only been sequenced in a handful of individuals. We now have databases containing almost 17,000 entire human mtDNA sequences. In 2010 Rodney Meldrum appeared in a DVD documentary Lost Civilizations of North America where he presented his outdated DNA dating arguments. Four scientists were so annoyed by his distorted DNA dating claims that they wrote the following response. 
... the particular controversy that Meldrum cites is a decade old, concerns the mutation rate in only one small segment of mtDNA (the control region), and has generally been resolved. Pedigree studies measure the rate of mutation observed in parent-offspring comparisons, but many mutations are eliminated within a few generations of their occurrence because of natural selection, genetic drift, and recurrent mutation at some sites in the DNA. The measurable rate of mtDNA evolution therefore decreases over time (Soares et al. 2009), making it inappropriate to use mutation rate estimates from pedigree studies for dating the origin and diversification of most lineages (for example, any that originated more than a few generations ago).  
Instead, the mtDNA mutation rate is calculated by measuring the number of genetic differences between two or more individuals (or species) and then dividing that number by the length of time since they diverged from a common ancestor. The timing of their divergence is based on fossil, archaeological, and/or geological evidence, and it is not simply "theoretical" (as Meldrum suggests). Furthermore, Meldrum does not rely on newer findings to argue that haplogroup X began to diversify and spread only two thousand years ago, as he claims, but rather on an old and unusually fast estimate of the mtDNA mutation rate (Parsons et al. 1997). Virtually all pedigree studies have found significantly lower mutation rates (Howell et al. 2003) than the one Meldrum uses, which suggests that haplogroup X began diversifying much earlier than he claims. Studies of the complete mitochondrial genome (rather than just the control region), using less controversial mutation rates for the mtDNA coding region, also suggest that haplogroup X began to diversify much earlier (~31,800 years ago; Soares et al. 2009). 
 Deborah Bolnick, Kenneth Feder, Bradley Lepper & Terry  Barnhart, (Civilizations Lost and Found: Fabricating History - Part Three: Real Messages in DNA)

Meldrum believes that scientists have made incorrect assumptions about the rate at which mutations emerge to create new DNA lineages. He thinks these are all out by a factor of about 10 to 20. Using his own dating approach, based on a single outdated paper which no scientists currently adhere to, Meldrum dates the age of the X lineage to about 2,500 years, an age that conveniently fits with the Book of Mormon narrative. 

The real bogyman here is evolution. It is abundantly clear in Rediscovering that Meldrum utterly rejects evolution. In his book he argues that, since evolution has been dismissed by Mormon prophets, it is false. He turns a blind eye to clear statements by the church that it takes no position on evolution. But Meldrum persists, because rejection of evolution goes hand in hand with accepting Meldrum's flawed dating claims. Meanwhile, entire academic departments at church-owned BYU are staffed by scientists who on a daily basis use the principles of evolution to make sense of the biological world in which we live. Over 99.9% of earth and life scientist accept evolution as a fact. These are people who have gone to the trouble to gain sufficient knowledge about evolution to make an informed and considered choice. Less that 0.2% accepted Creationism (700 out of 480,000). Meanwhile Meldrum, who has no scientific credentials, continues to claim he knows best.

In the borrowed words of a faithful Mormon BYU professor, that he offers annually to his fresh crop of naive LDS biology students: Evolution is a fact Rodney, get over it.


References

Derenko, Miroslava V., Tomasz Grzybowski, Boris A. Malyarchuk, et al. (2001) "The Presence of Mitochondrial Haplogroup X in Altaians from South Siberia," American Journal of Human Genetics 69:237-41.

Howell, N. (2003) "The Pedigree Rate of Sequence Divergence in the Human Mitochondrial Genome: There Is a Difference Between Phylogenetic and Pedigree Rates" American Journal of Human Genetics, Vol. 72. 659-670.

Reidla, et al. (2003) "Origin and Diffusion of mtDNA Haplogroup X," American Journal of Human Genetics 73, 1178-90.

Thomas J. Parsons (1997) "A High Observed Substitution Rate in the Human Mitochondrial DNA Control Region" Nature Genetics, Vol. 15, 363–8

Shlush, L. I. et al (2008) The Druze: A population genetic refugium of the Near East. PLoS ONE, 3 , p. e2105.

Soares, P; Ermini, L; Thomson, N; Mormina, M; Rito, T; Röhl, A; Salas, A; Oppenheimer, S et al. (2009) "Correcting for purifying selection: an improved human mitochondrial molecular clock" American Journal of Human Genetics 84: 740–59.

Starikovskaya et al. (2004) "Mitochondrial DNA Diversity in Indigenous Populations of the Southern Extent of Siberia, and the Origins of Native American Haplogroups" Annals of Human Genetics 69. 67-89.

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