Refuting the errors of Jonathan Neville and the Heartland hoax

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Another of Jonathan Neville’s specious comparisons

One consistent aspect of Jonathan Neville’s arguments is that they sound or appear plausible at first, but on further examination they quickly begin to fall apart.

Some examples of this can be found in his April 29, 2022, blog post, “M2C NPCs”:
Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter has brought out the differences of opinion about “free speech.” Here’s an [sic] summary from a Twitter user:

Perhaps what is happening here is that the left doesn’t want to engage in any debate because they know that they can’t win the argument if the other side is allowed to speak.

The parallels to the M2C and SITH citation cartels are apparent.
They’re only “apparent” if you buy Neville’s false claim that Book of Mormon Central, the Interpreter Foundation, and BYU Studies Quarterly don’t publish Heartland research because these organizations “reject the teachings of the prophets” about the location of the hill Cumorah. The truth is that these organizations don’t publish research by Heartlanders because—as I’ve documented on this blog—they continually use irresponsible scholarly methods, continually appeal to conspiracy theories, continually treat fraudulent artifacts as genuine, and continually misrepresent the arguments of those who disagree with them (including, in at least one instance, comparing people who disagree with them to Satan).

But just because these organizations don’t publish Heartland research doesn’t mean they don’t “want to engage in any debate because they know that they can’t win the argument if the other side is allowed to speak.” Heartlanders have many websites and blogs through which they disseminate their views. (Neville himself has, as of the date of this writing, thirty-one blogs that he maintains.) Book of Mormon Central and the Interpreter Foundation have reviewed Heartland publications (see here and here), and BYU Studies has published a favorable examination of the New York Cumorah (see here), so any claim that they are refusing to “engage in debate” is simply false. Finally, Heartland publications and conferences don’t promote opposing views; does that mean that Heartlanders aren’t “allowing the other side to speak”? Of course not.

Neville’s comparison of debate among Latter-day Saints over issues of importance to Heartlanders to Twitter’s controversial practice of banning users is therefore inaccurate, bordering on ludicrous.

In the same blog post, Neville complains that he “keep[s] hearing the same tired, ridiculous arguments from M2Cers,” including this example:
Q. The Book of Mormon doesn’t mention snow (except as a metaphor), so how could it have taken place in the Midwestern states through New York where it snows annually?

A. The New Testament doesn’t mention snow (except as a metaphor), so how could it have taken place in Israel, Turkey, etc., where it snows annually?

Neither the Book of Mormon nor the New Testament related weather reports.
This is a not just a bad comparison, it’s also a dodge—and not a clever one. By comparing the extensive historical narratives in the Book of Mormon to the much more limited narratives in the New Testament, he’s employed the logical fallacy of the False Equivalence—an “apples and oranges” argument.

While it’s true that the New Testament only mentions snow three times—and each time only as a metaphor (see Matthew 28:3; Mark 9:3; Revelation 1:14)—the New Testament doesn’t contain anything like the broad, sweeping narrative histories that make up much of the Book of Mormon, including the Book of Mormon’s lengthy explanations of the migrations of groups of people and large-scale military operations. It would be more legitimate to compare the Book of Mormon to the Old Testament, which does mention snow in the land of Israel (e.g., 2 Samuel 23:20/1 Chronicles 11:22; Job 9:30; Job 24:19; Psalms 148:8; Jeremiah 18:14).

Illinois snow
Deep drifts of snow in central Illinois, which the Nephites never mentioned in their record.
But even comparing the experience of the Israelites in the Old Testament to the experience of the people of Lehi in the Book of Mormon is still not entirely legitimate, because the Mediterranean climate of Israel is mild in comparison to the climate of the American Midwest. In Israel, temperatures are mild at the coast and hot in the inland deserts, and snow is only seen at elevations above 2,500 feet. The American Midwest, on the other hand, is wet and cold in the winter, with significant snowfall throughout the entire region. Modern Illinois—the purported site of “the plains of the Nephites”—typically receives 14 inches of snowfall annually in the south and 38 inches in the north. Anyone who is familiar with Latter-day Saint history knows how bitterly cold and snowy the winters were in New York and Ohio (which receive lake-effect snowstorms due to their proximity to the Great Lakes), as well as the horrific conditions the Saints experienced in Missouri in the winter of 1838/1839 and in Iowa in the winters of 1846/1847 and 1847/1848. The light dusting of snow seen occasionally in the hill country of Jerusalem simply doesn’t compare to the blizzard conditions regularly seen the American Midwest and Northeast.

The Book of Mormon always describes the Lamanites and the Gadianton robbers wearing next to no clothing (Enos 1:20; Mosiah 10:8; Alma 3:5; Alma 43:20; Alma 44:18; 3 Nephi 4:7). The only time individuals are described as wearing thick or heavy clothing was for defensive reasons, not for warmth (Alma 43:19; Alma 49:6). The text only uses the word snow once (metaphorically, by Nephi who was raised in the area near Jerusalem—1 Nephi 11:8) and the word cold is also only used once (also by Nephi to describe “the cold and silent grave”—2 Nephi 1:14).

The New Testament doesn’t mention snow because it has very little historical narrative and snow was not that common in the area around Israel. The Old Testament mentions snow occasionally because it has more historical narrative and snow did occasionally fall at lower elevations. The Book of Mormon doesn’t mention snow anywhere in its extensive historical narrative, despite the fact that (according to Heartlanders) it supposedly took place in a region where snow is frequent, common, and often deep.

Neville’s comparison of the Book of Mormon to the New Testament is both specious and disingenuous.

—Peter Pan

Monday, April 11, 2022

Rian Nelson pulls a Michael Scott

Rian Nelson—manager of the FIRM Foundation’s blog and social media sites, author of Moroni’s America – Maps Edition, and hardcore conspiracy theorist—has written a new book: These Stones, Fastened to a Breastplate.

In the product description for his book on the FIRM Foundation’s website, Nelson declares:
I believe Lucy Mack Smith is credible and not Martin Harris, David Whitmer, or even Emma Smith, who all spoke about the stone in the hat but never saw the spectacles, the breastplate nor the plates during translation.
This is, of course, the same argument made by Jonathan Neville. It’s a bizarre, fatally flawed claim, in that it gives undue credence to Lucy Mack Smith, who never witnessed the translation of the Book of Mormon, over three key firsthand witnesses to the translation process.

I do have to confess, though, that I found this statement on the back cover of Nelson’s book to be unintentionally amusing because of its resemblance to a famous quote-within-a-quote: —Peter Pan

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Jonathan Neville’s latest folly: The Kinderhook Plates

Heartlanders have a tendency to accept archaeological hoaxes as genuine artifacts. The Michigan Relics (which James E. Talmage debunked over 100 years ago), the Newark Holy Stones and the Los Lunas Decalogue Stone (see here), and the Tucson Lead Artifacts (see here) have all been exposed as modern frauds, yet Heartlanders claim they are legitimate evidence of ancient Book of Mormon peoples in North America.

(This very day, in fact, The Salt Lake Tribune published an article about the Heartland movement. The article quotes Kenneth Feder, who holds a Ph.D. in anthropology and has taught that subject at Central Connecticut State University since 1977. Regarding the Newark Holy Stones, Feder says, “Archaeologists are certain it’s a hoax. Case closed.”)

Recently, Jonathan Neville sat for a half-hour interview on YouTube in which he described the history of the Kinderhook Plates and the supposed evidence for their authenticity:
Facsimile of the Kinderhook Plates, Times and Seasons 4/12, May 1843
A facsimile of the Kinderhook Plates, published by John Taylor in the Times and Seasons, May 1, 1843. (Click to enlarge.)
The Kinderhook Plates were an attempted hoax perpetrated on the Prophet Joseph Smith. As the Church’s article about the plates explains, a group of men brought the six small, engraved, bell-shaped plates to Joseph in 1843. Joseph initially showed some interest in the plates, but he never produced a revealed translation of them.

In 1878, Wilburn Fugate claimed that he and two other men created the plates “simply for a joke.” Questions about the authenticity of the plates persisted until 1980, when Stanley B. Kimball secured permission from the Chicago Historical Society to have Northwestern University perform destructive tests on the one extant plate from the set. The findings of those tests were published in the August 1981 edition of Ensign magazine. Kimball wrote:
The extreme depth of focus and resolution of the scanning electron microscope (SEM) at high magnification make it possible to clearly distinguish between etching or engraving on metal surfaces. If a character were cut or scratched into the surface, the groove would contain secondary grooves and ridges running lengthwise within it where the engraving instrument forced a flow of metal. This would be especially noticeable at groove intersections, where metal would be pushed from the second groove into the first. On the other hand, etched lines would show no metal flows or secondary grooves; instead, a roughened, pock-marked etching would be seen.… The irregular, grainy texture characteristic of acid etching is evident, not a striated surface that would have been produced by an engraving tool.…

The X-ray fluorescence test indicated that the plate was made of a true brass alloy of approximately 73 percent copper, 24 percent zinc, and lesser amounts of other metals. In addition, an examination of the small area of the plate that was ground and polished revealed a basically “clean” alloy—that is, there were very few visible traces of impurities such as particles of slag and other debris that one might expect to find in metal of ancient manufacture.

As a result of these tests, we concluded that the plate owned by the Chicago Historical Society is not of ancient origin. We concluded that the plate was etched with acid; and as Paul Cheesman and other scholars have pointed out, ancient inhabitants would probably have engraved the plates rather than etched them with acid. Secondly, we concluded that the plate was made from a true brass alloy (copper and zinc) typical of the mid-nineteenth century; whereas the “brass” of ancient times was actually bronze, an alloy of copper and tin. Furthermore, one would expect an ancient alloy to contain larger amounts of impurities and inclusions than did the alloy tested.
Kimball’s findings match those of a non-destructive examination of the plate performed in 1966 by Latter-day Saint physicist George M. Lawrence, who concluded:
The metal of the plate is fine grained and homogeneous as are modern metals. It has no spring when flexed, like annealed copper. Except for scratches, the surface is smooth as if the plate had been rolled or ground rather than hammered or cast.…

The [plate’s] dimensions, tolerances, composition and workmanship are consistent with the facilities of an 1843 blacksmith shop and with the fraud stories of the original participants.
Despite the confession of Wilburn Fugate, the overwhelming scientific evidence, and the stated position of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Neville in his interview repeatedly claimed that the Kinderhook Plates were more likely to be authentic ancient relics than 19th-century forgeries.

With regard to the scientific tests that have been performed on the plates, Neville specifically said (beginning at 9:16):
Well, Edward [sic] Kimball did an analysis. They took—there was one plate found—all the plates were lost, but as you [the interviewer] mentioned, the one plate had been discovered, and they knew it was the same one because there was the same etching and there was a nick on one of the corners. And so they did a metallurgical analysis and determined that it was an alloy that was common in the 1800s. And so, therefore, they assumed that it really was.

And they looked at the engravings, and the guy—sorry I’m not using their names, but people who don’t care [sic] what their names are, they can look it up in Wikipedia—but the guy who claimed it was a fraud [i.e., Wilburn Fugate] said that they etched it with acid, wax and acid. And, according to this metallurgical analysis, it was etched with acid, these things [points to the engravings on his replica of the Kinderhook plates]. But, at the same time, the original story was that they [the people who discovered the plates] washed it with acid. So, if they had washed it with acid, it could have caused the same kind of indication on the marks as being etched by acid. So, there’s a little bit of ambivalence.
Not only has Neville misrepresented the scientific analyses performed on the plates, it’s not even clear that he has more than a cursory understanding of the evidence and the arguments involved.

  • The individual who arranged for the tests to be performed in 1980 was Stanley Kimball, not Edward Kimball.
  • The metallurgical tests done didn’t just determine that the plate was made from “an alloy that was common in the 1800s.” It determined that it was impossible for that alloy to be ancient, due to its high zinc content. Ancient copper–zinc alloys were composed of, at most, 15% zinc (Craddock & Lang, p. 217), while the Kinderhook plate analyzed by Northwestern University was made of 24% zinc, a percentage common for brass made in the 1800s.
  • Likewise, the purity of the tested plate’s alloy—meaning its low amount impurities and debris—is what one would find in a brass alloy of modern manufacture. Ancient alloys, created by hand with rudimentary tools and equipment, had much higher amounts of slag than what we find in the plate tested in 1980.
  • Furthermore, as George Lawrence’s analysis revealed, the surface of the plate is “smooth as if the plate had been rolled or ground rather than hammered or cast,” as it would have been if it were created anciently.
  • Neville is also incorrect in claiming that washing the plate with acid could make it appear as if it were engraved with acid. As the scanning electron microscope analysis revealed, the engravings do not show any evidence of having been cut or scratched into the plate with a tool; rather, their texture is characteristic of acid etching.

So, contrary to Neville’s glib claim that Stanley Kimball just “assumed” that the plate was made in the 1800s because of the composition of the alloy, the tests performed at Northwestern University in 1980 provided practically incontrovertible evidence that the Kinderhook Plates could not have been made anciently. There is no “ambivalence,” as Neville claims.

This yet another example of Neville misrepresenting the evidence so that it fits his predetermined beliefs. It’s to Neville’s advantage if the Kinderhook Plates are genuine, because that would mean they were discovered in the American Midwest and are of Jaredite origin, therefore proving the Heartland theory. He’s content to overlook historical and scientific evidence just to reinforce his personal beliefs.

—Peter Pan

Monday, March 14, 2022

Follow-up: The character of Stephen Reed (“TwoCumorahFraud”)

My last post was an open letter to Stephen Reed, a zealous Heartlander and conspiracy theorist (two things which often go hand-in-hand).

Mr. Reed regularly comment-bombs this blog with hateful, petty, immature remarks. I don’t usually approve his comments to be published; this only causes him to mock me for supposedly being afraid of the truth, yadda, yadda.

Here’s an example of one of his latest comments. I’m posting this only because I want my readers to know the kind of remarks that prompted my open letter to him. I don’t know Mr. Reed personally, but his comments clearly demonstrate that he’s obsessed and possibly somewhat unhinged.

Rod Meldrum’s FIRM Foundation has published Mr. Reed’s writings. Take that as you will.

—Peter Pan

Saturday, March 12, 2022

An open letter to Stephen Reed, aka “TwoCumorahFraud”

Mr. Reed,

Please stop leaving childish and insulting comments on this blog. I won’t approve them to be published, and I’m tempted to flag them as spam.

Regular readers of this blog are already acquainted with your claims and your insolent manner, so please find another blog to harass, if you would be so kind.

—Peter Pan
Golden retriever puppy running
Since I don’t have a photo to go with this post, here’s one of a Golden Retreiver puppy. Because everyone loves puppies. Even Stephen Reed, I’ll wager.

Sunday, March 6, 2022

Peter’s hiatus and three brief notices

Things have been quite busy at the Pan household recently, and consequently this blog has suffered for want of attention. I can’t guarantee that will change any time soon, but I’ll do my best to continue exposing the distortions, misrepresentations, and fallacies of the Heartland movement.

Here are three recent examples of such from the keyboard of Jonathan Neville:

1. Correspondences

Neville recently visited Louvre Abu Dhabi where, he tells us, he “spent some time in the opening exhibit that celebrated similarities among cultures around the world and throughout time.”

His takeaway from this exhibit? “It reminded me of the futility of finding ‘correspondences’ as evidence of the Book of Mormon in Mesoamerica.” (Because everything for Neville is an allegory of “M2C” in some way.)

Neville again attacks John Sorenson’s, Mormon’s Codex, a book about which he complains much but never actually rebuts or even engages. Neville sums up:
The basic M2C logic works like this:

Nephites were farmers.

Mayans were farmers.

Therefore the Nephites were Mayans.

Neville’s laughably oversimplified version of Sorenson’s 714 pages of evidence and argumentation betrays that he either hasn’t read Mormon’s Codex or, if he has, he hasn’t understood it.

What’s worse, however, is that Neville considers it “futile” to find correspondences “as evidence of the Book of Mormon in Mesoamerica,” yet he’ll gladly accept such supposed correspondences as long as they’re found in North America and confirm his own biases. The Heartland Annotated Edition of the Book of Mormon is full of such parallels that are questionable at best and laughable at worst, so it’s more than a bit hypocritical of Neville to misrepresent Sorenson’s correspondences while offering up his own bogus ones.

2. Jonathan Neville on John Dehlin

John Dehlin has made a very comfortable living by accepting tax-deductible donations from people who dislike The Church of Jesus Christ for one reason or another. Jonathan Neville has a blog where he’s posted a handful of lackluster reviews of Dehlin’s claims. Seemingly, the worst he can say about Dehlin is:
Mormonstories provides a useful service for people to vent, form a community of like-minded people, and confirm their respective biases. That’s all fine. People can believe and do whatever they want.
Neville keeps his powder dry, as it were, for the real problem—believing, faithful Latter-day Saint scholars who haven’t fallen for the claims of the Heartland movement:
In a sense, Dehlin has an easy job. He just has to point people who have a faith crisis to the writings of LDS scholars in the citation cartels who have repudiated the teachings of the prophets. Then he asks, if Joseph and Oliver were wrong about the translation and historicity of the Book of Mormon, what’s left?
I honestly don’t know if John Dehlin has ever connected the dots in the way the Neville frames it. (Let’s just say I have my doubts that Neville is accurately describing Dehlin’s approach.) By a strange coincidence, however, Neville’s friend and fellow-traveler Rod Meldrum recently went on Dehlin’s MormonStories podcast. The entire podcast is seven hours long (!), and it’s a cringe-fest from start to finish. Here are just a few examples of how jaw-droppingly awful their conversation was. [Comments in italics are mine.]

  • Dehlin claimed that before FARMS was founded, there weren’t any theories about a limited Book of Mormon geography. [Limited geography theories have been around since the late 19th century, and John Sorenson developed his in 1955, over twenty years before FARMS came into existence.]
  • Regarding limited geography theories, Dehlin claimed it was Daniel Peterson, Lou Midgley, and “the apologist Egyptian guy…. I’m spacing his name…. [5 second pause] …oh, Hugh Nibley started the movement.” [This is a wonderful example of the level of Dehlin’s knowledge base. For someone who is arguably the best-known critic of the Church today, Dehlin’s handle on basic facts is shockingly low. Not only could he not recall the name of Hugh Nibley—the best-known Latter-day Saint scholar of the 20th century—but he also incorrectly believes that Nibley contributed to the development of Book of Mormon geography.]
  • Dehlin gave Meldrum this backhanded compliment: “If you read the scriptures, the Book of Mormon and the Bible, seriously, and take them literally, there’s little wiggle room for there having been a global flood, Adam and Eve being literal, etc. And there’s also little wiggle room for the prophets, seers, and revelators who have taught that these things are literally true for centuries.… [Because Heartlanders believe these things are literal] there’s a level of integrity that I think fundamentalist Mormons [i.e., Heartlanders] have, that I think apologists like FARMS and Maxwell Institute, and even neo-apologists like [Richard] Bushman, [Terryl] Givens, [Patrick Mason], they lose integrity because they massage words in ways that make words lose all their meaning. And in that sense I’m giving you and other ultra-orthodox Mormons credit. I’m tipping my hat because you’re saying that when prophets, seers, and revelators say something, they mean it.” [This exposes an important fact: John Dehlin and Rod Meldrum are not that far apart in their thinking. Both of them are hyper-literalists. Dehlin’s inability to use nuance and think below a surface-level reading led him out of the Church; Meldrum’s similar inability led him to double-down on fundamentalist, literalist readings and interpretations of history and scripture.]
  • [Meldrum explaining how the FIRM Foundation came into being]: “So I start doing these firesides [about the Heartland theory], and I’m running around, it’s costing me gas, it’s costing me time, it’s costing me money, I’m getting emails left and right, and I realize that there’s no way I can continue to work full time while doing this.”
    [Dehlin]: “Oh, I relate to this part.”
    [It’s amazing and wonderful to see two grifters empathizing with each other’s experiences.]

Who’s more on “team Dehlin”? Latter-day Saint apologists or Heartlanders? You be the judge.

3. Jonathan Neville on Jeremy Runnels

Speaking of grifters, Jeremy Runnels, author of the past-its-expiration-date anti-Mormon Letter to a CES Director was the subject of one of Neville’s recent blog posts. Neville wonders:
It has always seemed strange to me that CES [the Church Education System] never responded to Jeremy Runnels’ questions.

Jeremy was entitled to answers to his questions (at least, to his original, non-snarky questions).

Instead, he gets silence from CES and a torrent of sophistry from FAIRLDS and other apologists.
This statement pulls back the curtain and reveals how truly ignorant Neville is about Runnels. Neville actually believes Runnels’s fabricated history of how the CES Letter came to be! He accepts at face value Runnels’s lie that he was a sincere truth-seeker who took his questions to a real, honest-to-goodness CES director.

The truth is that, two years before he invented that fiction, Runnels was circulating a draft of his document on Reddit’s exmormon forum, claiming that he wanted input from others who were critical of the Church of Jesus Christ and that he wanted the document to “go viral.” (You can read the real history of the CES Letter in this Reddit post.)

The worst part of all of this is that Jonathan Neville believes that Jeremy Runnels is honest and sincere while Scott Gordon of FAIR and other faithful apologists are the real cause of lost testimonies. Neville truly lives in a bizzaro world where up is down, black is white, anti-Mormons are just misunderstood, and defenders of the gospel are conspiring to destroy faith. —Peter Pan

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Heartland research director: “Many members of our church [have] a cult mindset.”

About a year ago, Kimberly W. Smith, research director for the “Joseph Smith Foundation”—a DBA for the late James Stoddard’s for-profit company, Integrivizion LLC—was caught claiming on social media that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is “off course.” Ms. Smith or Rian Nelson later deleted her comments, but not before my sources could grab some screenshots of what she had written.

Ms. Smith is back again, this time claiming that those who follow the repeated counsel of the First Presidency to be vaccinated against COVID‑19 “have fallen victim to a cult mindset.”

On the FIRM Foundation’s blog run by Rian Nelson for Rodney Meldrum, Ms. Smith—an anti-vax conspiracy theorist—writes:
Many people and churches accuse us of being a cult for believing in a living prophet. Of course, they don’t fully understand that prophets are a blessing from God and have always been his mouthpiece to guide his children, especially in times when the people were extremely wicked and did not have the companionship of the Holy Ghost.

But the difference between a prophet and cult leader (aside from the obvious calling from God) is that a prophet will tell you his message and encourage you to seek the guidance from the Lord. Whereas a cult leader expects and often demands absolute loyalty to his words.

Obviously, we all know that our beloved prophet has offered his guidance and support in regard to the ‘thingy’. But he very carefully stated that it should be a decision between you, your medical advisor, and the Lord.

However, it has become abundantly clear that many members of our church have fallen victim to a cult mindset. After this past year, and some very disturbing comments under Elder Holland’s recent message I realized how bad it truly is. That many in our church would willingly “poke” or poison themselves without thought purely on the basis that the Prophet “said to”. As upsetting as this realization was, it quickly opened my mind to the immense opportunity we have before us, to encourage and develop spiritual growth within ourselves and our church. We have so much to do you guys!

I think our prophet and the Lord’s apostles know this; they’ve been trying to teach this principle for a long time. That personal relationship with the Savior takes work! A cult mindset really does not. It is a lazy path. We have a duty to help our families and friends recognize the true role of the prophet and our relationship with our Savior. [emphasis added]
Ms. Smith’s comments are the latest in a long line of irresponsible anti-vax statements made by prominent individuals in the Heartland movement. Despite the First Presidency’s counsel that members of the Church should be vaccinated against COVID‑19, their reassurances that “available vaccines have proven to be both safe and effective, and the personal example they set by being vaccinated themselves, anti-vaxxers within the Church—including Rian Nelson and Kimberly Smith—have continued to spread lies and misinformation, calling COVID‑19 vaccines “poison” and even comparing vaccines to sorcery and the occult.

Anti-vax conspiracy theorists like Ms. Smith have also repeatedly distorted the true principle of agency by claiming “a prophet will tell you his message and encourage you to seek the guidance from the Lord,” thereby falsely implying that personal revelation overrides prophetic counsel. The First Presidency’s counsel is that “if members have concerns” about vaccinations, “they should counsel with competent medical professionals and also seek the guidance of the Holy Ghost.” Irresponsible anti-vaxxers have twisted this counsel to suit their own purposes, telling gullible members of the Church that they can ignore prophetic counsel just because they falsely believe the Holy Ghost has told them the vaccines are “poison.”

As Apostle Dallin H. Oaks warned in October 2010 General Conference:
Unfortunately, it is common for persons who are violating God’s commandments or disobedient to the counsel of their priesthood leaders to declare that God has revealed to them that they are excused from obeying some commandment or from following some counsel. Such persons may be receiving revelation or inspiration, but it is not from the source they suppose. The devil is the father of lies, and he is ever anxious to frustrate the work of God by his clever imitations.
The Savior exhorted the people of Galilee and the descendants of Lehi to “beware of false prophets,” and that observant individuals could detect such impostors by their fruits. The individuals at the forefront of the Heartland movement are false prophets who wrest the teachings of true prophets and the scriptures “unto their own destruction.”

[To Jonathan Neville’s credit, he has stated that he believes “Church leaders have given common sense advice ever since the COVID outbreak started, regarding both the face masks and the vaccinations.”]

—Peter Pan

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

“Empathy, mutual respect, and understanding”

In a recent blog post, Jonathan Neville asserted:
As I’ve said repeatedly, I’m fine with people believing whatever they want. Ideally, people make informed decisions so they are not threatened by what others think. But that requires a little effort and some mind expansion, as well as empathy, mutual respect, and understanding.
“Empathy, mutual respect, and understanding.”

Jonathan Neville appearing on the Mormon Book Reviews YouTube channel
Does Jonathan Neville demonstrate “empathy, mutual respect, and understanding” by using the ominous‑sounding acroynm “SITH”?
One could reasonably ask Brother Neville the following questions:

  • Did he demonstrate “empathy, mutual respect, and understanding” when he quoted language from the temple endowment to imply that Daniel Peterson is like Satan and when, instead of apologizing, he falsely claimed that Peterson was offended his slur?
  • Did he demonstrate “empathy, mutual respect, and understanding” when he accused Daniel Peterson keeping controversy going because it “generate[s] donations” for the Interpreter Foundation and then lied again by claiming he “didn’t accuse Dan of anything”?
  • Did he demonstrate “empathy, mutual respect, and understanding” by lying to Matthew Roper about his intentions and motivations when he asked Roper for research assistance?
  • Did he demonstrate “empathy, mutual respect, and understanding” when he called the people who work for Book of Mormon Central “hirelings”?
  • Did he demonstrate “empathy, mutual respect, and understanding” when he falsely claimed that Latter-day Saint apologists “basically agree with the critics regarding fundamental aspects of the Book of Mormon”?
  • Does he demonstrate “empathy, mutual respect, and understanding” every time he derides BYU’s internal map of the Book of Mormon as a “fantasy map”?
  • Does he demonstrate “empathy, mutual respect, and understanding” when he accuses those who disagree with his assertions of “rejecting the teachings of the prophets”?

These are just a few select examples of Neville’s dishonesty, misrepresentations, and use of ad hominem arguments. One reason this blog exists is to keep a record of these so that uninformed people will understand not just what Neville says but what he does.

Jonathan Neville apparently believes that “empathy, mutual respect, and understanding” are a one‑way street that only people who disagree with him have to walk down.

—Peter Pan

Saturday, January 29, 2022

Jonathan Neville’s double standard on the Book of Mormon witnesses

In one of Jonthan Neville’s latest blog posts—coarsely titled “Rejecting the witnesses”—he criticizes Daniel Peterson’s list of recommended books to strengthen faith. Neville writes:
They’re all great books in many respects, especially if you believe/teach M2C and SITH. But only one of them is completely faithful to the witnesses.

That fits with the approach taken by Dan and the rest of the M2C citation cartel (along with the SITH-sayers). They want people to accept the witnesses as reliable and credible—except for what they said about Cumorah.

When it comes to Cumorah, our M2C scholars, such as Dan, want people to think the witnesses were ignorant speculators who misled the Church until they, the scholars, came along to straighten things out.

It’s a patently self-serving, arrogant position for these scholars to presume they know more than Joseph, Oliver, their contemporaries and successors. But what can we expect from a group of intellectuals who publish under the The Interpreter rubric?
Neville continues his pattern of discourteously referring to Daniel Peterson as “Dan” (as if they were close friends) and disparaging the Interpreter Foundation for daring to have a name that Neville believes is somehow prideful or supercilious.

Observant readers will also note that Neville just engaged in a massive double standard: Neville says that he “want[s] people to accept the witnesses as reliable and credible,” when they mentioned the hill Cumorah. But Oliver Cowdery, Martin Harris, and David Whitmer’s calling was to be witnesses of the translation of the Book of Mormon, and on that matter Neville insists that you disregard anything they said that doesn’t match his idiosyncratic views on that subject.

Oliver, Martin, and David were not witnesses to Book of Mormon geography or the destruction of the Nephites; they never saw anything regarding those subjects. It’s perfectly legitimate to evaluate their views on the location of Cumorah carefully and cautiously. Neville, however, would have us wholly accept everything they said about Cumorah, regardless of context, while at the same time allowing just a handful of select statements from Oliver Cowdery (and only Oliver Cowdery) and rejecting everything else.

Jonathan Neville’s hypocrisy shines so brightly one could place it on a rocky shoreline to warn ships at night.

—Peter Pan

Friday, January 21, 2022

Jonathan Neville, Lucy Mack Smith, and responsible historiography

One of Jonathan Neville’s frequent assertions is that the 1844/1845 memoirs of Lucy Mack Smith, mother of the Prophet Joseph, provide evidence that the hill where Joseph received the plates from Moroni was called Cumorah as early as 1823. In his “classic post” on the subject, Neville wrote:
Lucy Mack Smith explained that Moroni identified the hill as Cumorah the first night he met Joseph Smith. She also quoted Joseph Smith referring to the hill as Cumorah before he even got the plates.
Neville also regularly criticizes The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Church Historical Department, and Latter-day Saint historians for “avoiding” and “omitting” Lucy’s use of the term Cumorah in her memoirs. In one recent blog post, he told us:
Many LDS [sic] intellectuals are schizophrenic about Lucy Mack Smith. They think her history is credible and reliable about everything except (i) Cumorah and (ii) the First Vision, which she didn’t mention.

For example, in the Joseph Smith Papers, Translations and Revelations, Vol. 5, Original Manuscript, the Introduction cites or refers to Lucy 36 times. But the editors carefully avoid what she said about Cumorah.

The Saints book, Volume 1, follows the same approach, citing Lucy’s history dozens of times but omitting what she said about Cumorah.
As is his wont, Neville has misrepresented what historians believe about Lucy’s history. His claim that “they think her history is credible and reliable about everything except Cumorah and the First Vision” distorts what scholars have actually written. For example, the “Historical Introduction” to Lucy’s memoirs in the Joseph Smith Papers explains:
“Much of the value of Lucy Mack Smith’s account lies in her offering a wife and mother’s perspective on her family’s role in the early church. She illuminates the family setting that fostered the birth of Mormonism and retells incidents and interactions recounted nowhere else. Though there are errors in the dating of some events and occasionally in place and individual names, overall her account is of inestimable value, providing a rarely heard woman’s voice as it traces [Joseph Smith’s] life from beginning to end. She was present at many seminal events and offered insights no one else could provide.” [emphasis added]
But Neville was not satisfied to simply misrepresent the opinions of credible Latter-day Saint scholars; he then went a step further and invented reasons why they supposedly “avoid” and “omit” Lucy’s mention of Cumorah:
The intellectuals who reject (and censor) these accounts [in which Lucy mentions Cumorah by name] offer two justifications for their choice, both patently outcome-driven rationales designed to accommodate the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory (M2C).

  • Some say Lucy’s reference to Cumorah must be attributed to her erroneous adoption of a supposedly false tradition about Cumorah started by unknown early persons at an unknown time.
  • Others say Lucy wasn’t credible because she didn’t describe the First Vision in her original dictated account (the 1844/5 version).

Obviously, these two objections contradict one another.
Neville didn’t bother to cite any sources for the “justifications” he claimed are being offered by Latter-day Saint “intellectuals.” Without a source to examine, I’m forced to conclude that he has once again misrepresented what others have actually written or even invented these justifications out of whole cloth. (Sadly, he has a history of doing such things.)

The truth, of course, is more nuanced and less conspiratorial than Neville would have us believe.

Careful and responsible use of sources

Like all historical documents, memoirs and autobiographies cannot simply be taken at face value. By their nature, they are written many years after the events they describe, and memory is often fallible. As the authors of a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concluded, “Memory distortions are basic and widespread in humans, and it may be unlikely that anyone is immune.” (You can read more about this in The Atlantic.)

This is especially true when quoting from memory what someone supposedly said: Can you remember the details of conversations that took place last week? Last month? Last year? How about over twenty years ago? That is what Neville is relying on Lucy Mack Smith to have done when she quoted over twenty years later and purportedly verbatim what the angel Moroni told Joseph Smith in September 1823. (And this was a conversation that she herself did not participate in but heard about later from Joseph!)
The angel spoke [“]I perceive that you are enquiring in your mind which is the true church there is not a true church on Earth No not one Nor <​and> has not been since Peter took the Keys <​of the Melchesidec priesthood after the order of God> into the Kingdom of Heaven the churches that are now upon the Earth are all man made churches. Joseph there is a record for you and you must get it one day get it There is a record for you and Joseph when you have learned to keep the commandments of God but you cannot get it untill you learn to keep the commandments of God <​For it is not to get gain.> For But it is to bring forth that light and intelligence which has been long lost in the Earth Now Joseph <​or> beware <​or> when you go to get the plates your mind will be filld with darkness and all man[n]er of evil will rush into your mind. To keep <​prevent> you from keeping the commandments of God <​that you migh may not suceced in doing his work> and you must tell your father of this for he will believe every word you say the record is on a side hill on the Hill of Cumorah 3 miles from this place remove the Grass and moss and you will find a large flat stone pry that up and you will find the record under it laying on 4 pillars <​of cement>[”]— then the angel left him
Any honest person would be compelled to admit that that is an exceptionally lengthy quote. Almost no one has a memory good enough to remember, word for word, something like that after nearly two decades. There’s no doubt that Lucy was generally accurate about the broad themes in what she learned from Joseph about what Moroni said, but it’s irresponsible of Neville to hang evidence of the use of the word Cumorah on such a slender thread. That’s the difference between his pseudoscholarly approach to history and what real historians do.

Anachronistic use words

Title page of George F. Kennan's Memoirs, 1925-1950 Another consideration to keep in mind is that individuals frequently use anachronistic terms when writing their memoirs. This is partly because their vocabulary and understanding are tainted by what they know at the time that they write about past events and partly because they will consciously use terms that people contemporaneous to the events would not have understood but their (later) readers will. Allow me to give you an example:

George F. Kennan (1904–2005) was an American diplomat and historian whose views were important in the development of the U.S.’s post&–World War II policy of “containment” of the Soviet Union. In 1967 he published the first volume of his personal history, Memoirs, 1925—1950, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Biography the following year.

In his memoirs, Kennan, writing in the mid-1960s, recalled a vacation he took in Wisconsin in 1937, where he had been born:
In an effort to rediscover the soil from which I had grown, I rented a bicycle and pedaled through the central portion of the state, even spending a night at the farm my grandfather had owned in the years just following the Civil War. The experience only emphasized the degree of my estrangement. The rural Wisconsin I remembered was largely the Wisconsin of the pre-automobile age. The intervening years had seen the completion of the revolution in transportation that followed World War I. [p. 75]
Wait—“World War I”? Kennan was recalling his memories of Wisconsin in 1937; at that time that war was called by Americans The Great War. There had been no World War II yet—that war didn’t begin until 1939—so it was anachronistic for Kennan to call it “World War I” at that point in his history.

But we must keep in mind that Kennan was writing thirty years after the events he described, by which time everyone in America referred to the 1914–1918 war in Europe as World War  I. Similarly, Lucy Mack Smith dictated her memoirs in 1844 and 1845, long after the hill in New York near the Smith home had come to be called Cumorah by Latter-day Saints. It’s indisputable that her recollection of 1823 was affected by what she knew in 1844.

Direct claims vs. passing mentions

A final important way in which responsible scholars interpret historical documents is how they treat words that are used in a casual, fleeting, or superficial manner.

In her late recollection of what Joseph had told her Moroni had said to him, Lucy quoted the angel as saying, “The record is on a side hill on the Hill of Cumorah 3 miles from this place.” Her main point was that the plates of Mormon were buried in a hill near the Smith family farm.

Neville’s use of Lucy as evidence that Moroni called the hill Cumorah in 1823 would be greatly strengthened if she had written something like, “The angel told Joseph that the hill 3 miles from this place was called Cumorah in ancient times,” or “The angel said that his people anciently had all been destroyed at the hill 3 miles from this place.” But she said neither of those things—her focus was entirely on the record that was in the hill a few miles south of where the Smiths lived.

Neville is using this passing remark as evidence of something that Lucy almost certainly never intended it to mean. Her point was about the record; she was not asserting that the hill had a certain name. This is similar to the error that Neville and other Heartlanders fall into in their use of Oliver Cowdery’s mention in Letter VII of “the fact, that here, between these hills, the entire power and national strength of both the Jaredites and Nephites were destroyed.” It’s too much of an evidential burden to for such statements to be used in such a manner.

These are just three examples of the ways that responsible, careful historians use sources. Jonathan Neville is not responsible or careful in the way his misuses Lucy Mack Smith’s words to suit his own agenda.

—Peter Pan

Friday, January 14, 2022

Daniel Peterson lives rent-free in Jonathan Neville’s head

[Yes, I realize that one could claim that Jonathan Neville lives rent-free in my head. And someone has.]

The origins of the Heartland movement are rooted in the creation of an “enemies list.” About fifteen years ago, Rodney Meldrum began giving public presentations about his theory that the Book of Mormon took place in the American Midwest and that the Nephite city of Zarahemla was on the Mississippi River. In his 2008 DVD presentation, he said:
This is the kind of stuff that the anti-Mormons just love. They love to see our LDS scholars dismissing Joseph Smith because they know, they can see these things that Joseph Smith has written and they’re not being followed by the scholarly community of the church, unfortunately.
Meldrum followed this by quoting Gordon B. Hinckley about those who “disdain” the Prophet Joseph Smith and then falsely implying that President Hinckley was speaking of Latter-day Saint scholars who believe the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica.

Since that time, Heartlanders like Meldrum and Neville have continually and falsely accused good men like Daniel Peterson and the late John Sorenson, and good organizations like The Interpreter Foundation and Book of Mormon Central, of “rejecting the teachings of the prophets” and teaching that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery “misled the Church.”

Daniel Peterson’s reactions and responses to Neville’s accusations has barely risen above the level of bemusement. When Neville recently compared Peterson to Satan, Peterson responded to this slur with his usual self-deprecating humor:
A small coterie of my most obsessive ex- and anti-LDS critics effectively appear to be convinced that I’ve never done a decent deed, thought a humane or honest thought, achieved even the most insignificant competent act, said a civil or charitable thing, been impelled by an honorable motive, behaved other than in the most buffoonish possible way, or breathed a worthy breath. And now Mr. Jonathan Neville seems to have come to a similar conclusion, albeit by a rather different route. In view of such a growing consensus, I find that I myself am almost persuaded.
Commenting on Peterson’s reply, Neville bizarrely claimed that Peterson’s “reputation for taking offense is legendary…and it detracts from his overall message.” (Does anything in Peterson’s puckish response indicate that he was offended?)

To start off the new year, Neville has published on one of his blogs “More thoughts on getting offended.” He writes:
My critics, including Dan [Peterson] and his followers, express great offense because I disagree with them on a few topics and I explain why.
Neville gives us no examples of the supposed “great offense” taken by Peterson. (Probably because there have been none.)
Chill, people. Don’t confuse your opinions with who you are. You can consider what other people think, even (especially) when they think differently from you, without taking personal offense.

Maybe you’ll even learn something new.
Neville’s pretension is on full display here. His arrogant directive, “chill, people,” tells us that he believes Peterson and his followers are in some sort of state of frenzy about what he believes. (Nothing could be further from the truth, of course.)

The concern that scholars have with Heartlanders like Neville isn’t that they “think differently,” it’s that Heartlanders use pseudoscholarship to advance their claims, and that Latter-day Saints who believe their false assertions are likely to suffer damage to their testimonies when they discover that they’ve been misled.
This tweet succinctly explains what’s going on.

Ed Latimore

Disagree [sic] only offends you when your perspective is based on feelings rather than fact.
Mr. Latimore’s poor English aside, Neville still hasn’t produced a shred of evidence that Daniel Peterson or anyone connected to him has been “offended.”
Everyone at the Interpreter should realize that, despite the name of their organization and journal, and the arrogant editorial tone of their management and editors, they are not really “Interpreters” for anyone but themselves. People can and do read the same evidence and reach different faithful conclusions.
If anyone is displaying an “arrogant editorial tone,” I would submit that it’s Jonathan Neville, who has falsely insisted—repeatedly now—that people who disagree with him are “offended,” that they should “chill,” and that these people are upset because Neville and his comrades “think differently.”

Neville’s arrogance is also demonstrated in how he has misunderstood the name Interpreter. No one at the Interpreter Foundation has, to the best of my knowledge, ever claimed that they have some special dispensation to “interpret” the scriptures or the gospel for members of the Church. My recommendation would be for Neville to take a step back and ask Daniel Peterson what the name “Interpreter” means and why he chose it.
The Interpreter would be far more effective if it stopped pushing Dan’s ideology with a series of logical and factual fallacies and instead encouraged contributors and readers to share facts and multiple working hypotheses.
Daniel Peterson lives rent-free in Jonathan Neville's head As I’ve already pointed out, Neville’s call for “multiple working hypotheses” is a sham designed to get his flat earth-style theories accepted in reputable Latter-day Saint publications.

Beyond that, though, it’s quite audacious for Neville to suggest that others stop “pushing [their] ideology with a series of logical and factual fallacies,” when it’s Heartlanders who, for years, have been pushing fraudulent artifacts (like the Michigan Relics), abusing DNA science, and misrepresenting historical sources.

Sadly, Jonathan Neville appears to lack the self-awareness needed for him to see clearly that the problem lies in what he believes, writes, and teaches and not with his ideological opponents who have suffered his smears and dishonest attacks patiently and charitably.

—Peter Pan

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

A promise to my readers

This blog is far from perfect, and a few of my posts I even regret writing. (This one comes especially to mind.)

Barack Obama awards a medal to Barack Obama But I promise you that I will never repost any of my old blogs and call themclassics.”

Although the value of art is subjective, it’s pretty well established that the artist himself does not have the right to determine which of his own works is worthy of praise and has withstood the test of time. To do so merely exposes the creator’s hubris.

—Peter Pan

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