Refuting the errors of Jonathan Neville and the Heartland hoax

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Still more assertions without evidence from Jonathan Neville

Jonathan Neville makes things up. He invents people, invents history, and invents his own facts. This is what people do when they don’t have the truth on their side: They lie.

Here’s just the latest example of one of Jonathan Neville’s lies: Neville asserts that his “M2C and SITH friends continue to get offended” by Heartland claims, and that “we see frequent examples on the web sites of Fairlatterdaysaints, CESLetter, the InterpreterFoundation, mormonstories, and everyone else who accepts M2C and SITH.”

If the “examples” are so frequent, Brother Neville, then it should be easy for you to give us just one or two examples, don’t you think? But, as usual, you don’t because you can’t.

While we’re on the subject of lying, Neville’s recent tactic of claiming that Latter-day Saint apologists “basically agree with the critics regarding fundamental aspects of the Book of Mormon” is complete and utter bovine offal. The anti-Mormon CES Letter and John Dehlin’s dreadful MormonStories podcast don’t “accept M2C and SITH.”

Those two sources both completely reject the historicity of the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith’s claims to having translated it by the gift and power of God. They don’t believe in one Cumorah or two Cumorahs; they believe in zero Cumorahs, because they assert that there were no Nephites, no Moroni, and no gold plates. They don’t believe that Joseph Smith used a seer stone or the Nephite intepreters to translate the Book of Mormon; they believe that Joseph was a fraud who didn’t have any supernatural abilities to translate ancient texts.

Please, Brother Neville: Stop lying about people who disagree with you.

—Peter Pan

Friday, September 24, 2021

The latest Neville Land fan mail

Stephen Reed, who goes by the online pseudonym “TwoCumorahFraud,” is a belligerent Heartlander who regularly leaves comments on this blog. Some of his comments I’ve published; others I leave permanently in the moderation queue because they’re insulting or nasty.

He recently left this comment:
Peter Pan is one to believe in the Limited Mesoamerica geography theory, requiring the Prophet Moroni to wander for some 40 years and travel thousands of miles from Central America to present-day New York with the gold plates and the Urim and Thummim in his care for four decades. Then the Prophet Moroni carefully buried both objects in the ground with water-tight cement concealed under a stone. Then when Moroni reveals said objects to Joseph Smith, the boy-prophet needs neither to translate the plates, because he already had a rock and a hat. Then Peter Pan calls Jonathan Neville an idiot, while Pan can’t think logically for himself but has to rely on some idiot scholars to do the thinking for him.
I’m featuring this comment as its own blog post because I think it merits a response.

Peter Pan is one to believe in the Limited Mesoamerica geography theory, requiring the Prophet Moroni to wander for some 40 years and travel thousands of miles from Central America to present-day New York with the gold plates and the Urim and Thummim in his care for four decades.

I do think that Mesoamerica does present the strongest case, archaeologically and anthropologically, for being the area where the Book of Mormon took place. Why Stephen Reed is critical of the claim that Moroni traveled on foot from Mesoamerica to western New York is beyond me.

  • The Nephites made their last stand against Lamanites 384 years after the sign of the birth of Christ. (Mormon 6:5)
  • By the 400th year, the Lamanites had hunted down and killed all the Nephites, and the whole face of the land was covered by Lamantites and robbers. (Mormon 8:6–9)
  • Moroni was the only survivor among his people: “I make not myself known to the Lamanites lest they should destroy me.… Wherefore, I wander whithersoever I can for the safety of mine own life.” (Moroni 1:1, 3)
  • After more than 420 years since the sign of the birth of Christ, Moroni sealed up the records. (Moroni 10:1–2)

Google Maps directions from Veracruz, Mexico, to Palmyra, New York, United States Moroni had wandered away from the Lamanites for at least twenty-one years (421 − 400 = 21) and possibly as long as thirty-seven years (421 − 384 = 37). A direct journey from the area just north of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec to western New York would be a distance of just over 4,000 kilometers or about 2,500 miles. An individual could walk that in twenty-one years by traveling just .53 kilometers—one-third of a mile—per day. That gives Moroni more than enough time to make the journey, even allowing for an indirect route.

Heartlanders like Stephen Reed, on the other hand, would have us believe that Moroni “wander[ed] whithersoever I can for the safety of mine own life” for more than two decades by staying near the hill Cumorah, even though Lamanites covered “the whole face of the land.” This makes little sense from a rational standpoint and does not line up with Moroni’s account.

Then the Prophet Moroni carefully buried both objects in the ground with water-tight cement concealed under a stone.

Yes. Since ancient American cement has been found only in Mesoamerica, it makes sense that Moroni would have brought the knowledge of how to make limestone cement with him. No one in the American Midwest or Northeast ca. AD 400 would have known how to do this.

Then when Moroni reveals said objects to Joseph Smith, the boy-prophet needs neither to translate the plates, because he already had a rock and a hat.

This statement makes zero sense. Whether Joseph Smith used a stone in a hat or “two stones in silver bows” (or both) to translate the Book of Mormon, he still needed to translate it. Since he couldn’t read the language on the plates, the translation was accomplished through divine aid, “by the gift and power of God.”

Then Peter Pan calls Jonathan Neville an idiot, while Pan can’t think logically for himself but has to rely on some idiot scholars to do the thinking for him.

To the best of my knowledge, I have never called Jonathan Neville an “idiot.” There’s certainly nothing in the 275 published posts on this blog that shows I’ve ever used that word to refer to him. And not only have I not said or written it, I also do not believe it to be the case. Jonathan Neville is often mistaken and sometimes dishonest, but he is not of low intellect.

Stephen Reed, on the other hand, has explicitly stated in his comment that it’s his opinion that people who advocate for a Mesoamerican setting for the Book of Mormon are “idiot scholars.” If this is how he talks about fellow Latter-day Saints, then he sounds like a charming individual indeed.

—Peter Pan

Postscript: Stephen Reed left a comment on this blog post that you can read here. In it, he makes numerous historical claims without once providing evidence that Latter-day Saint scholarship is in any way derivative of the works he cites. I’m not going to publish his post because he repeatedly refers to me and everyone else who disagrees with him as “ignorant and an idiot.” Mr. Reed apparently does not know how to have anything approaching a civil conversation.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

The fraud behind Jonathan Neville’s “multiple working hypotheses”

Jonathan Neville doesn’t like the fact that Book of Mormon Central, Interpreter, BYU Studies, and other scholarly Latter-day Saint outlets don’t take his work seriously. He regularly accuses these organizations of “censoring” Heartlander claims. The alternative framework he prefers is one of “multiple working hypotheses,” which means that every theory should be be given equal weight, allowing readers to decide for themselves which one is accurate.

Teach the Controversy flat earth “Multiple working hypotheses,” however, is a fraud. It’s the same tactic used by young-earth creationists and flat-earthers who insist that their ideas should be taught in public schools alongside proven scientific theories. “Teach the controversy” is the slogan crafted by the Discovery Institute, an organization that advances the pseudoscientific claims of intelligent design. (The National Center for Science Education has responded to the Discovery Institute, and Amorphia Apparel has cleverly mocked their slogan.)

What’s particularly bad about Jonathan Neville’s “multiple working hypotheses” claim is how hypocritical it is of him to advance it. For example, in his September 15, 2021, blog post about Book of Mormon geography, he writes:
I often refer to “multiple working hypotheses.” The concept means a variety of interpretations of the same facts. I’m all in favor of different ideas. What I don’t favor is censorship, omitting facts, and conflating facts with assumptions, opinion, inferences, hearsay, etc.
I’ve emphasized the last portion of that quote because it’s a stunning claim, considering that Jonathan Neville regularly does exactly what he says he doesn’t favor. Probably the most egregious example of this is his “demonstration” theory, which he’s been advancing for a couple of years now.

Faced with the overwhelming numbers of eyewitness accounts of Joseph Smith translating the Book of Mormon by means of a seer stone, Neville has claimed that when Joseph used a stone in his hat he was only demonstrating how the translation process worked. The problems with this claim are twofold:

  1. There is not a shred of evidence to support it. Not a single person who knew or was acquainted with Joseph Smith ever even so much as suggested that he might have been just demonstrating the translation method when he used a stone. There is a total lack of any contemporary or late testimony that backs up Neville’s theory.
  2. It’s not falsifiable. Because there’s not even one eyewitness who said anything about a demonstration, pro or con, Neville can put forth this claim and then challenge his critics to prove he’s wrong. Real history and real science don’t work that way, of course; the onus is on Neville to provide evidence that he’s right instead of simply creating an ad hoc theory to resolve problems inherent with his insistence that Joseph Smith used only the Nephite interpreters—the Urim and Thummim—to translate the Book of Mormon.

In short, Neville is pulling the same fast one that the Discovery Institute does: Create an alternative explanation that is based on flawed analysis, a lack of evidence, and/or an abuse of the scientific method, then complain that one’s theory is being “censored” or “suppressed” when it’s rejected by mainstream scholars, instructors, and academic organizations. (“Teach the controversy!”)

Another tactic regularly employed by Jonathan Neville is poisoning the well, a logical fallacy in which one commits “a preemptive ad hominem (abusive) attack against an opponent” by “prim[ing] the audience with adverse information about the opponent from the start, in an attempt to make your claim more acceptable.” A clear example of this tactic shows up in Neville’s September 15th blog post:
One resource that presents multiple working hypotheses is here:

This is one of the best sites I’m aware of for info about the Book of Mormon.

I’m told that Book of Mormon Central acquired the site, which may explain the editorial bias evident throughout. (Yes, I realize that one could argue this site contradicts my claim that BMC doesn’t want people to consider multiple working hypotheses, but the site had these maps before BMC acquired it.)…

The “Mesoamerican” map description uses the typical appeal to authority fallacy: “subscribed to by most mainstream LDS scholars at BYU and the Maxwell Institute.” In reality, the Maxwell Institute takes no position on the question, there has never been a poll of “mainstream LDS scholars at BYU,” many of whom don’t accept Mesoamerica, and this appeal to authority boils down to the efforts of a handful of scholars in the M2C citation cartel—including the ones who own this website. Book of Mormon Central insists people must accept M2C to even participate in their efforts to share the Book of Mormon with the world.
There are many problems with Neville’s statement, but the one I’ve emphasized is the well-poisoning example. Neville has been “told” that Book of Mormon Central acquired, but he doesn’t tell us who told him this information or where he learned it so that we can assess how accurate his claim is.

Giving him the benefit of the doubt that the ownership claim is true, Neville then implies that Book of Mormon Central has changed the site’s content since acquiring it, and that explains the “editorial bias evident throughout” the site. He provides no evidence whatsoever that the site has been modified in any way by Book of Mormon Central (who may or may not own it), but that doesn’t stop him from (once again) insinuating that there’s a grand conspiracy to keep Latter-day Saints from “consider[ing] multiple working hypotheses.”

Since he’s on a roll with claims that lack any demonstrable evidence, he also tells his readers that “Book of Mormon Central insists people must accept M2C to even participate in their efforts to share the Book of Mormon with the world.” Where did any representative from Book of Mormon Central say or write this? How does he know this to be true? He doesn’t tell us because it isn’t true.

As I’ve demonstrated repeatedly, Jonathan Neville has a problem telling the truth. The reason that mainstream organizations like Book of Mormon Central, Interpreter, and BYU Studies don’t publish his and other Heartlander materials isn’t because of some weird fetish with “M2C”; it’s because Neville and his comrades make claims without supporting evidence, irresponsibly distort the historic and scientific record, and regularly accuse those who disagree with them of acting in bad faith.

If you want into the Real Scholars Club®, Brother Neville, you’re going to need to play nice and not make stuff up. It’s really just that simple.

—Peter Pan

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

“Inclusion” does not mean all theories are equal

Jonathan Neville has spilled much ink complaining about how Heartland theories are not accepted by BYU Religious Studies Center, Book of Mormon Central, FAIR, Interpreter, and other “M2C/SITH” institutions.

In his latest jeremiad, he grumbles:
On this blog, as well as my other blogs and books, we include all points of view. I link to and discuss multiple working hypotheses, always hoping this leads to unity (which is not the same as agreement). Everyone who loves, lives by, and seeks to share the Book of Mormon ought to feel a sense of unity of purpose, even if we have different ideas about its setting, historicity, and origins.

Yet leading LDS intellectuals oppose inclusion and actively exclude even faithful members whose interpretations don’t perfectly align with their M2C and SITH theories.

Specifically, the editorial policies of, Book of Mormon Central, the Interpreter and others specifically and adamantly exclude those of us who don’t accept M2C and SITH.

Maybe someday they will change. No one is asking them to abandon the theories they have promoted for decades.

We just ask them to accommodate multiple working hypotheses so Latter-day Saints can make informed decisions.
In his blog post, Neville abuses a quote by Elder Gary E. Stevenson of the Twelve about inclusion and unity. Inclusion and unity are important principles, but they are not virtues in and of themselves. For example, it would not be a wise idea to include gay couples in temple sealings simply for the sake of unity between Latter-day Saints who accept gay marriage and those who don’t. Inclusion and unity are only good if the principles being included are true.

Back in May 2019 I wrote:
What Neville fails to grasp is that not all theories are equally valid and worthy of serious consideration. For example:

  • Should BYU’s Department of Physics and Astronomy be required to teach the flat-earth theory alongside the belief that the earth is a sphere?
  • Should BYU’s Department of History be required to teach the theory that NASA faked the moon landings alongside the belief that the Apollo missions actually landed on the moon?
  • Should BYU’s Department of Asian and Near Eastern Languages be required to teach the theory that ancient aliens built the pyramids alongside other theories?
  • Should BYU’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry be required to teach alchemy alongside other theories of chemical science?
Flat earth Jonathan Neville Heartland Book of Mormon
Jonathan Neville believes we should include “all points of view” and “multiple working hypotheses.”
Just because Jonathan Neville believes that his theories are faithful doesn’t mean they’re true or worthy of consideration. Book of Mormon Central, Interpreter, and other Latter-day Saint organizations don’t exclude Heartland theories because they “don't perfectly align with their M2C and SITH theories”; they exclude them because they’re based on fabrications and exaggerations of history, archaeology, anthropology, and other sciences as well as distortions of scripture and prophetic teachings.

Truth is more important than inclusion and unity.

—Peter Pan

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Please show us the receipts, Brother Neville

Jonathan Neville keeps telling us about anonymous “people” who ask him or tell him this or that. He never bothers to tell us who these people are or how they contact him.

Here’s the latest example:
I frequently hear from M2C and SITH scholars and their followers who say that we should accept the theories of the credentialed class because they are experts who have studied these things. They’ve reached a “consensus” about M2C and SITH and they expect all Latter-day Saints to agree with them.
I would like very much to know who these supposed “scholars and their followers” are. I’d also be interested to know how often “frequently” is (weekly? monthly? annually?). In other words, show us the receipts, Brother Neville.

I’ll wager real money that he can’t and won’t give us any examples of this because virtually no one who believes Cumorah was in Mesoamerica and that Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon using a seer stone would claim that anyone must believe them just because they said so. What we actually see from those people are arguments based on evidence from history, archaeology, anthropology, and the scriptures.

For example, John L. Sorenson, emeritus professor of anthropology at Brigham Young University, wrote Mormon’s Codex, an 826-page book setting forth his evidence-based arguments for a Mesoamerican setting for the Book of Mormon. Not once in his entire book did he state or even imply that anyone has to believe him simply because he’s an expert on archaeology and anthropology.

(Back in 2019, Jonathan Neville promised to review Mormon’s Codex and tell us where and why Sorenson’s arguments were incorrect. He wrote five blog posts about this, and not one of them actually engaged with any of Sorenson’s evidence. And I didn’t fail to point this out at the time.)

Until he feels inclined to tell us who these “people” are, Jonathan Neville’s claims about “scholars and their followers” who tell him things have just as much evidence for their existence as the rest of the claims made by advocates for the Heartland hoax.

—Peter Pan

Friday, September 10, 2021

Neville tries to step it up, trips over his own feet

This humble blog has now been operating for over two-and-a-half years. The stated purpose of the Neville-Neville Land blog is to “refute the errors of Jonathan Neville and the Heartland hoax.” That is, to use a term coined by fighter pilots, a “target-rich environment,” which explains how this is now our 272nd published post.

During this time, Jonathan Neville has largely ignored the Neville Land blog. Occasionally he’s taken some potshots at it, but only once has he deigned to actually respond to any substantive issues that I’ve raised (and that one attempt was easily refuted).

Something must have changed recently, because Neville has suddenly stepped up his passive–aggressive attacks on me. And he’s doubling down on his (bizarre) belief that I’m either Daniel Peterson or in cahoots with him.

evil Peter Pan Neville-Neville Land Jonathan Neville
Me, apparently.
Neville begins his September 10, 2021, blog post, “Worst LDS apologist/polemicist”—spoiler alert: that’s me—with a 609-word introduction to Latter-day Saint apologists who defend the faith against its critics. He tells us that, for some apologists, “these debates are emotional, not intellectual,” that “their egos (and possibly their careers) are directly tied to the success of their theories,” and that this “affects their rationality and objectivity.” Neville doesn’t bother to give us any actual examples of these supposed irrational and subjective arguments, but that’s been par for the course for anti-Mormon critics for decades now; Neville is just the newest voice in the anti-Mormon chorus.

Next, Neville describes certain logical fallacies, including the fallacy of the ad hominem argument:
The worst fallacy, probably, is the ad hominem fallacy. Ad hominem means “against the man,” and this type of fallacy is sometimes called name calling or the personal attack fallacy. This type of fallacy occurs when someone attacks the person instead of attacking his or her argument.

The ad hominem fallacy is the principal rhetorical tool of a polemicist. Polemicists who resort to ad hominem attacks are admitting that their arguments cannot survive scrutiny.
As I’ve documented numerous times, Jonathan Neville is certainly familiar with the ad hominem fallacy—just not familiar enough to know when he’s the one committing it.

And here’s where we get to the really good part:
Lately, we have an LDS polemicist who not only relies on ad hominem attacks, but his very brand is ad hominem. Even better, he is so unsure of (or embarrassed by) his attacks that he remains anonymous.

I should say, tries to remain anonymous.

This doesn’t make him (or her or them) a bad person. Undoubtedly this is a very nice guy who is just insecure and emotionally involved, whose ego and worldview is threatened by even faithful teachings that he has not been aware of before. His work is full of factual and logical fallacies that are easy to observe. It’s pathetic, really, but we can’t fault the poor guy for trying.

But we can fault the well-known polemicist who promotes his “anonymous” alter ego.

Obviously, I’m not going to name names or provide links. This specific individual (or group) is not the point. Even if one person decided to desist with the polemical ad hominem attacks, it wouldn’t matter because the M2C/SITH citation cartel has plenty of such people who write anonymously, popping up in various fronts of the Potemkin village they inhabit.
There’s so much delicious content to unpack from Neville’s broadside attack. Let’s take these one at a time, shall we?

  1. Lately, we have an LDS [sic] polemicist who not only relies on ad hominem attacks, but his very brand is ad hominem.

    Oh, my dear sweet summer child. That would be a legitimate assertion if only you would provide some evidence of it. If my 271 previous blog posts have been nothing but ad hominem attacks—to the point where I’ve established a “brand,” as you say—then it should be easy to provide your readers with one or two examples of my supposedly fallacious arguments. You’ve provided none, though, which only demonstrates how your brand is misrepresentation of your opponents and their arguments.
  2. Even better, he is so unsure of (or embarrassed by) his attacks that he remains anonymous. I should say, tries to remain anonymous.

    Well, I must be doing better than just “trying,” because you’re not even close to the mark if you think I’m Daniel Peterson. As I’ve stated repeatedly on this blog, I’m not Peterson. I’m not even in Peterson’s inner circle of close friends and colleagues. I’ll freely admit to having met him a number of times at conferences and so forth, but I am not him.

    As far as being “unsure of” or “embarrassed by” my arguments, nothing could be further from the truth. This blog is pseudonymous (not “anonymous”) because I’ve seen the way you go after people with whom you disagree. Your attacks on the character and motivations of good Latter-day Saint scholars are scurrilous, and to be perfectly honest I don’t want to be another name on your enemies list.

    Please believe me when I say that I’m nobody. I’ve never worked in academia. I’ve published virtually no scholarly works, and none of any note. If you discovered my real name, your first reaction would be to say, “Who?”
  3. This doesn’t make him (or her or them) a bad person. Undoubtedly this is a very nice guy who is just insecure and emotionally involved, whose ego and worldview is [sic] threatened by even faithful teachings that he has not been aware of before. His work is full of factual and logical fallacies that are easy to observe. It’s pathetic, really, but we can’t fault the poor guy for trying.

    It’s deeply ironic that, after patiently describing to his readers the fallacy of the ad hominem, Neville immediately makes an ad hominem argument. I am, according to his masterful psychoanalysis, “insecure,” “emotionally involved,” and driven by threats to my “ego and worldview.” My “work is full of factual and logical fallacies that are” so “easy to observe” that Neville doesn’t even bother to give his readers a single example of them!

    Earlier Neville told us, “[The ad hominem] fallacy occurs when someone attacks the person instead of attacking his or her argument.” Indeed it does, Brother Neville. Indeed it does.

    And characterizing your teachings as “faithful” is quite the stretch. (You have been reading my blog, haven’t you?)
  4. But we can fault the well-known polemicist who promotes his “anonymous” alter ego.

    For those at home who are trying to keep up, he’s now referring to Daniel Peterson. I can, without reserve, declare that not once have I asked Peterson to link to this blog. Peterson does so, I imagine, because Jonathan Neville has and continues to attack Peterson’s work and motivations (including in the very blog post I’m reviewing here). That doesn’t make me Peterson’s “alter ego,” merely someone who happens to think that one Daniel Peterson is worth a thousand Jonathan Nevilles when it comes to sustaining and defending the kingdom of God.
  5. Obviously, I’m not going to name names or provide links.

    Obviously. That would give your readers the opportunity to weigh my arguments for themselves instead of filtering them through your distorted lens.

    I have linked to Neville’s blogs and books and web pages hundreds of times, and I promise my readers that I will continue to do this so they can evaluate for themselves what he writes.
  6. This specific individual (or group) is not the point. Even if one person decided to desist with the polemical ad hominem attacks, it wouldn’t matter because the M2C/SITH citation cartel has plenty of such people who write anonymously, popping up in various fronts of the Potemkin village they inhabit.

    This is a rather odd comment that, if I didn't know better, betrays a deep-seated paranoia. Neville-Neville Land is, to the the best of my knowledge, the only anonymous pseudonymous blog that criticizes Jonathan Neville’s dishonesty, misrepresentation, and irresponsible scholarship. Yet Neville seems to not only believe that there are “plenty” of anonymous people who are attacking him, but that they are part of some coordinated plot by “the M2C/SITH citation cartel” (a supposed group that exists solely in the mind of Jonathan Neville). Since conspiracy theories are practically a vertical market for Heartlanders, this comes as no surprise.

Neville concludes his blog post with a lengthy quotation from D. Michael Quinn’s second edition of Early Mormonism and the Magic World View in which he (Quinn) attacked FARMS and Daniel Peterson for their “polemical tactics.”

For the sake of time, allow me to give you just one example of how disingenuous the late Quinn was in his assessment of Daniel Peterson:
In [an] issue [of FARMS Review of Books], Peterson had also written a thirty-eight-page defense of the periodical’s use of “insults” and “ad hominem (i.e., ‘against the man’)” statements about authors whose books were being reviewed by FARMS. Peterson even boasted that some FARMS writers were born “with the nastiness gene.”
Quinn was referring to Daniel Peterson’s introduction to FARMS Review of Books 8/1, published in 1996. However, the material Quinn cited in his footnotes did not support the claims he made in his text. (This was a common problem with Quinn’s works after his resignation from BYU in 1988.)

Any honest person who reads Peterson’s introduction to that volume would be hard pressed to conclude that he was “defending” the use of “insults and ad hominem.” On the contrary, Peterson was explaining why an article in previous number of the FARMS Review had brought up the fake ministerial credentials of an anti-Mormon critic and why it was not ad hominem to do so.

As for Peterson’ supposed “boast” that “some FARMS writers were born ‘with the nastiness gene,’” again, Quinn thoroughly misrepresented Peterson. In a footnote in his introduction (no. 98), Peterson playfully explained:
Let me simply say, in passing, that, if we have occasionally been guilty of levity at the expense of some of our critics, this has been because they tempted us with irresistible targets. It isn't our fault. Like most other Americans in the late twentieth century, we are victims. A few of us, indeed, may have been born that way, with the nastiness gene—which is triggered by arrant humbuggery.
It has famously been said that humor is subjective. Daniel Peterson’s trademark dry wit may not be to the taste of Michael Quinn or Jonathan Neville or any of Peterson’s many other critics, but what he wrote in that footnote was unquestionably tongue-in-cheek and certainly not a “boast.”

Neville would, of course, strenuously disagree with Michael Quinn about Joseph Smith’s use of seer stones and magic—which was the entire subject of Early Mormonism and the Magic World View—but Neville uncritically and unquestioningly quotes 726 words from Quinn because he needs Quinn’s stick to beat his (Neville’s) opponents. For Neville to quote Quinn in this manner is either the height of hypocrisy or yet another example of his stunning lack of self-awareness.

Undoubtedly, Neville will take satisfaction—in private or on his blog—that his post elicited this response from me. That’s fine, because I’m not writing for him anyway—I’m documenting his slow, dramatic exit from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the hopes that I can warn some people about his claims—claims which are leading people away from teachings of living prophets and apostles.

—Peter Pan

Saturday, September 4, 2021

Brigham Young, M2C intellectual

President Brigham Young made the following statement a letter written in 1876 dealing with the issue of missions and the Mormon settlements in Arizona. He wrote:
Nor do I expect we shall stop at Arizona, but I look forward to the time when the settlements of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints will extend right through to the City of Old Mexico, and from thence on through Central America to the land where the Nephites flourished in the Golden era of their history, and this great backbone of the American Continent be filled, north and south, with the cities and temples of the people of God. In this great work I anticipate the children of Nephi, of Laman and Lemuel will take no small part.

—Brigham Young to William C. Staines, 11 January 1876, Letterbook 14:124–26 [Church catalog linkdownload image]
Brigham’s expectation could well be considered a prophecy: Church membership in Mexico has grown from just 2,314 in 1920 to 1,481,530 in 2020. In Mexico, there are thirteen operating temples, one under construction, and two more have been announced. The first convert in Guatemala wasn’t baptized until 1947; now there are 281,465 members there, plus two operating temples, one under construction, and one more announced. Truly “this great backbone of the American Continent” has been “filled, north and south, with the cities and temples of the people of God,” and the descendants of Lehi in those countries have taken “no small part” in that growth.

Yet, Heartlanders would have us believe that the Nephites flourished in their Golden era across the Mississippi River from Nauvoo. Jonathan Neville wrote an entire book about this, and his flagship website that bears the same name is subtitled “The North American Setting for the Book of Mormon.” But the Heartlanders’ evidence for Nephites in the Midwest rests almost entirely with forged and unprovenanced artifacts, the Hopewell people that Heartlanders claim were the Nephites “left no written language or recorded histories,” and no complex ancient civilizations or structures have been discovered there. All the Heartlanders have so far is a few fire pits where clams—a food forbidden by the law of Moses—were cooked.

Meanwhile, the list of prophets and Church leaders who believe that the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica grows longer. —Peter Pan

Friday, September 3, 2021

Assertion ≠ evidence

One of the greatest vices of Heartlanders in general—and Jonathan Neville in particular—is their tendency to make assertions without providing any evidence that their assertions are true.

Here’s just the latest example from Jonathan Neville’s blog Book of Mormon Central America: Does Brother Neville have any evidence that this supposed progression happens in real life?

Consider for a moment that Book of Mormon Central, perhaps the best-known and most popular Book of Mormon site on the internet,* teaches both “M2C”** and “SITH,” and yet the organization, its officers, and its employees are completely faithful to the gospel and to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Elders Jeffrey R. Holland and D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles have spoken at Book of Mormon Central events. Yet Neville would have us believe that Book of Mormon Central is just one step away from apostates like Jeremy Runnels and John Dehlin!

(And before Book of Mormon Central existed, Elders Neal A. Maxwell, Dallin H. Oaks, Henry B. Eyring, and L. Tom Perry spoke at the annual FARMS banquets. The fact that an apostle or other current general authority has never spoken at a Heartland event tells us a lot about who the Brethren trust.)

And what of members of the Church who believe that Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon with a seer stone (“SITH”) but also believe that the hill Cumorah of the Book of Mormon is in New York? Did they just skip a step in Neville’s supposed “progression”? Let’s not forget that, until a few years ago, Heartlanders believed in “SITH”; how did they manage that without accepting “M2C” first?

Perhaps the most damning contrary evidence against Neville’s assertion is that the prophets teach “SITH.” I’ve presented the abundant evidence for this multiple times on this blog, but Neville has yet to engage with or respond to any of it. The list of Church presidents, apostles, and other general authorities who have taught that Joseph Smith used a seer stone to translate the Book of Mormon includes President Russell M. Nelson, President M. Russell Ballard, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Elder D. Todd Christofferson, President Wilford Woodruff, President George Q. Cannon, and Elder B.H. Roberts. Are the prophets themselves progressing away from the teachings of the prophets?

Does Jonathan Neville have an explanation for any of this? Perhaps he can deign to give us some evidence of his supposed “progression away from the teachings of the prophets.”

—Peter Pan

* gets nearly six times as many monthly visits as Rod Meldrum’s site. BMC also has nearly 43 times the number of links to its content from other sites (backlinks) than Meldrum’s site does. (Site vs. site comparison data.)
** “M2C” is Jonathan Neville’s acronym for the theory that the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica and that the hill Cumorah in the Book of Mormon is not the same hill in New York where Joseph Smith received the plates of Mormon.

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Debunking Jonathan Neville’s fake history of “M2C”

The Heartland theory and the movement behind is based largely on fabrications and exaggerations of history, archaeology, anthropology, and other sciences. Heartlanders regularly make false assertions to support their beliefs; if the facts can’t be distorted, they’ll invent their own facts. (Many examples of this can be seen in the Heartlander-published Annotated Edition of the Book of Mormon.)

Among this is Jonathan Neville’s fake history of the development of the Mesoamerican theory of Book of Mormon geography. Since at least 2017, Neville has been making unsubstantiated claims in an attempt to convince his readers that the Mesoamerican geographic theory was adopted by Latter-day Saints from non-members over the objections of Church leaders. (This is not the first time he’s invented history.)

On August 31, 2021, Neville summarized his assertions in the blog post, “Origin of M2C Fantasyland.” His brief summary gives me an opportunity to respond to and expose his fabricated history.

For a reliable (if now somewhat dated) history of theories of Book of Mormon geography, see part 1 of John L. Sorenson’s 1990 book The Geography of Book of Mormon Events: A Source Book.

I will quote Neville’s blog post in full.
People often ask why our leading LDS [sic] scholars continue to teach students (as well as missionaries and new members) that the prophets were wrong about the New York Cumorah.
Once again, Neville quotes from unidentified “people” who are asking him these questions. Who are these people? And how often is “often”?

And again, Neville tries to frame the argument as one of scholars teaching that “the prophets were wrong,” when no Latter-day Saint who believes in a Mesoamerican Book of Mormon has ever used that phrase or even implied anything like it. Continuing to make that assertion, as he has hundreds of times now, is intellectually irresponsible, bordering on libel.
These scholars teach instead that there are “two Cumorahs.” The one in New York, they claim, is a false tradition, while the real Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 is somewhere in southern Mexico. This is the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory (M2C).

Here’s a short explanation of the intellectual genealogy of M2C.
False is too strong of a word, I would argue; incorrect or misguided are probably more accurate terms. Since there is no revelation on the geography of Book of Mormon events—“the Church’s only position is that the events the Book of Mormon describes took place in the ancient Americas”—any comments on specific locations from Church leaders, scholars, and members is just speculation. (And that includes Oliver Cowdery and Letter VII.)

However, I must give Neville credit for the clever image he used in his blog post. He managed to take a jab at the Neville-Neville Land blog without mentioning it by name.
RLDS scholar L.E. Hills decided that Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and their successors in the LDS church [sic] were wrong about Cumorah in New York. He rejected Letter VII and the teachings of Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Orson Pratt, and every other LDS [sic] leader who ever addressed the topic.
There are two significant fabrications in this statement:

  1. Neville provides no evidence of how he knows what Louis Hills’s thoughts and motivations were. Did Hills actually “decide” that Church leaders “were wrong”? Did he “reject Letter VII”? (Was he even aware of Letter VII?) Neville doesn’t tell us how he knows these things, so we can dismiss his claim as nothing more than mind-reading.
  2. Neville begins his “short explanation of the intellectual genealogy of M2C” with Louis Hills’s book Geography of Mexico and Central America from 2234 B.C. to 421 A.D., but he overlooks—or perhaps purposely ignores—Mesoamerican Book of Mormon geographies that predated Hills’s 1917 work, including:
    • The 1842 and 1843 Times and Seasons articles (pt. 1, pt. 2, pt. 3). Neville insists Joseph Smith had nothing to with these articles, but they at least demonstrate that Latter-day Saints were envisioning Mesoamerica as the setting for the Book of Mormon during Joseph Smith’s lifetime.
    • Apostle Orson Pratt’s article in the June 16, 1866, issue of the Millennial Star. Pratt affirmed a New York Cumorah but placed the remainder of the Book of Mormon in northern South America and Central America.
    • The brief pamphlet, Plain Facts for Students of the Book of Mormon, with a Map of the Promised Land, written and published by a Latter-day Saint in or before 1887:
These three publications, among other statements made by Latter-day Saint leaders in the 1800s, clearly demonstrate that Louis Hills was not the first person to theorize a Mesoamerican Book of Mormon geography. Anthony W. Ivins, who was ordained an apostle in 1907, also apparently supported a Central American setting (Sorenson, p. 17 & 22).

Louis Hills was, as far as we know, the first person to argue in print that the hill Cumorah of the Book of Mormon was in southern Mexico, but let’s go to Neville’s next step before addressing that.
Hills published a map in 1917 showing Cumorah in southern Mexico.

Over the objection of LDS [sic] leaders, LDS [sic] scholars copied the map published by L.E. Hills, moved Cumorah a few miles east, called it their own, and published it everywhere, including on the BYU Studies web page, where you can still see it today.
Neville presents no evidence whatsoever that “LDS [sic] scholars copied” Hills’s map and “called it their own.” Sorenson (pp. 205–206) indicates that the first Latter-day Saint to present a Mesoamerican geography with Cumorah in southern Mexico was Willard Young, who developed his theory “a few years before 1920.” There is no source that indicates Young was aware of Hills’s theory; Neville is taking advantage of the close timing of the two to fallaciously assert that correlation must equal causation.

Neville also asserts that these new geographic theories of Latter-day Saint scholars were published “over the objection of LDS [sic] leaders,” but he cites only one leader who disagreed with a Mesoamerican Cumorah: Joseph Fielding Smith.

As Sorenson explains (pp. 23–24), Elder Smith published an article in the Church Section of the September 10, 1938, issue of the Deseret News in which he affirmed a hemispheric geography of the Book of Mormon (a theory Neville and other Heartlanders reject) and the location of the hill Cumorah in New York (which Neville and other Heartlanders believe). Smith wrote that the theory that the Book of Mormon took place totally within Central America has caused “some members of the Church [to] become confused and greatly disturbed in their faith of the Book of Mormon.” Elder Smith did not explain how or why believing that the Book of Mormon of took place in Central America would cause a person to be “confused and greatly disturbed,” but his unfounded claim has become an unquestionable fact for Jonathan Neville, Rian Nelson, and other Heartlanders. (Joseph Fielding Smith’s article was reprinted in Doctrines of Salvation 3:232–241, so it must be true!)
Church leaders asked the scholars to stop teaching a specific geography, so CES took the BYU Studies map and turned it into a fantasy map, continuing to teach students that the prophets were wrong about Cumorah in New York.
Neville has blithely skipped over nearly one hundred years of history to get to this point. (See Sorenson, pp. 20–31.) He fails to tell us anything about the work of Janne M. Sjödahl, M. Wells Jakeman, Thomas Stuart Ferguson, Milton R. Hunter, John L. Sorenson, David A. Palmer, V. Garth Norman, and many others who advanced Mesoamerican Book of Mormon studies and maps during the twentieth century.

Neville also completely ignores the long history of internal maps of the Book of Mormon. He would have us believe that the “BYU Studies map” (which was really John Sorenson’s map from his 1985 book, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon) was “turned…into a a fantasy map” sometime recently. As Sorenson’s book indicates (pp. 22–23), the first internal map of the Book of Mormon was created by Lynn C. Layton and published by the Church in the July 1938 issue of Improvement Era. The following year, Latter-day Saint seminary teachers J. Alvin Washburn and J. Nile Washburn published their own internal map that had a Mesoamerican focus (201–203). Other internal maps created by Latter-day Saints include ones by Kenneth. A. Lauritzen (102–103), Daniel H. Ludlow (120–123), Harold. K. Nielson (124–125), Paul Dean Proctor (147–148), and Thomas L. Tyler (190). Ludlow’s internal map was included in the 1979 Book of Mormon Institute Manual and its second edition in 1981, as well as in the 2012 Book of Mormon Seminary Teacher Manual. (See those maps here.) Neville would have us believe that internal Book of Mormon maps were created because “Church leaders asked the scholars to stop teaching a specific geography,” but that is completely, utterly, and totally false.
Then BYU scholars who work with Book of Mormon Central used computer graphics to make the CES map look more like a real-world setting.
Neville is referring to the Virtual Book of Mormon map created by the BYU Virtual Scriptures Group, headed by Tyler J. Griffin, Associate Professor of Ancient Scripture at BYU.

Dr. Griffin explained the Virtual Book of Mormon differently than Jonathan Neville described it: “To not promote anyone’s personal theories regarding exact locations of Book of Mormon events, includes a geography-neutral Book of Mormon map. It is intentionally not linked to any modern maps of the Americas. Our map is a relational one, based on details found only within the text itself.” (BYU Religious Education Review, Fall 2019, p. 26.)
Book of Mormon Central continues to insist that the only viable and permissible interpretation of the text is M2C. They’ve embedded M2C in their logo by using a Mayan glyph to represent the Book of Mormon.
Neville makes a very big deal about Book of Mormon Central’s logo. It really bothers him that they lean toward a Mesoamerican setting for the Book of Mormon.

And yet Book of Mormon Central’s website and publications do not state that Mesoamerica is “the only viable and permissible” location for the Book of Mormon. Neville didn’t get that from Book of Mormon Central; he made it up.
Nevertheless, some people wonder why faith in the Book of Mormon is declining, both among young people who are taught this fantasyland version of the Book of Mormon and among nonmembers contacted by the missionaries (who have been taught M2C).
Again with the “some people” who wonder. Who are these people he’s talking about?

Less than two weeks ago I debunked Jonathan Neville’s baseless claim that “M2C” and “SITH” are affecting the growth of Church membership.

As this blog has demonstrated repeatedly, Jonathan Neville has difficulty telling the truth. His August 31, 2021, blog post is yet another example of how he concocts his own fictitious history to shore up his phony claims about “M2C,” “SITH,” and other subjects.

It’s long past time for him to stop.

—Peter Pan
Postscript: Neville tells us, “I posted some images to prod a goofy anonymous critic who, as I expected, posted his typically goofy responses.” Calling my debunking of his fantasy history “goofy” is not an argument, of course.

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Pandemic falsehoods and “two lines of communication”

The crackpottery over at the FIRM Foundation blog continues unabated. This time, it comes from David W. Allan, who will be one of the keynote speakers at next month’s FIRM Foundation Conference.

Rian Nelson, who runs the FIRM Foundation’s blog, is a hardcore anti-vaxxer. He’s compared vaccines to sorcery and the occult and called pharmaceutical drugs “poisonous.” This, of course, runs face-first into the First Presidency’s recent counsel urging individuals to be vaccinated for COVID-19 which states, “Available vaccines have proven to be both safe and effective.”

The First Presidency’s letter of encouragement leaves Latter-day Saint anti-vaxxers in a state of cognitive dissonance. How can one sustain the Brethren while simultaneously believing that they’ve been duped by “BigPharma” or, even worse, are complicit with them? Cue David Allan, who has no medical background of any sort.

How does Allan thread this needle? First he tells us that Satan “uses the imperfections of [the Church’s] membership and leadership to impede the Church’s designed goal.” Having established that Church leaders are imperfect, he then informs us that the letter from the First Presidency was general counsel, not revelation. “Since this counsel didn’t line up with my database,” he explains, “I then in prayer asked the Lord how I can know.”

Allan doesn’t tell us what the answer to his prayer was. Instead, he did his own “research using some of the best experts on the planet,” from which he “determined that the theory that the only solution for the pandemic is a vaccination to be false.” Who are these experts? He lists fourteen individuals, each of whom is an anti-vax crusader or general conspiracy theorist. His list includes such luminaries as:

  • “Professor" Delores Cahill, who is no longer a professor, since she was relieved of her position at the University College of Dublin earlier this year. Cahill’s credentials are impressive, but she started going off the rails around 2016 when she published a peer-reviewed paper on HPV that was later retracted due to methodological problems. You can learn more about her recent bizarre statements and behavior here.
  • Dr. Ryan Cole, who also has impressive credentials but has claimed that COVID vaccines can cause cancer and autoimmune diseases, that the federal government has been suppressing ivermectin as a COVID treatment, and that vitamin D supplements are a better alternative to masks and social distancing. More about Dr. Cole here.
  • Dr. Sherri Tenpenny believes that COVID vaccines make people magnetic and are connected to 5G cellular transmissions. More about her here.

I bet if I went through all fourteen people in David Allan’s list of “best experts” that every one of them would be showing the same symptoms of the dreaded Nutbag Virus.

Allan concludes his blog post:
Going back to my main point of how to know if something is true is only if God tells you. It is critical for each of us to hearken to the voice of our Savior. We have the sure scriptural promise that as we treasure up His word, we shall not be deceived. Having our own personal revelation on this critical matter is critical at this time, trusting in the Lord and not the arm of flesh.

The Lord has given us warnings of the kinds of satanic lies of the globalists and many government leaders. They fit the scriptural descriptions perfectly, and we know the pandemic is one of Satan’s later-day [sic] strategies.
Starting with his second claim first, is David Allan actually implying that the First Presidency is spreading “satanic lies of the globalists”? It certainly seems that way to me—that, or Allan doesn’t realize the implications of what he writes.

To Allan’s claims about needing “our own personal revelation on this critical matter” and “trusting in the Lord and not the arm of flesh”—the “arm of the flesh” being the First Presidency, of course—this kind of thinking is precisely what Apostle Dallin H. Oaks warned the Saints about in his October 2010 General Conference address:
Elder Dallin H. Oaks October 2010 Two Lines of Communication I feel to add two other cautions we should remember in connection with this precious direct, personal line of communication with our Heavenly Father.

First, in its fulness the personal line does not function independent of the priesthood line. The gift of the Holy Ghost—the means of communication from God to man—is conferred by priesthood authority as authorized by those holding priesthood keys. It does not come merely by desire or belief. And the right to the continuous companionship of this Spirit needs to be affirmed each Sabbath as we worthily partake of the sacrament and renew our baptismal covenants of obedience and service.

Similarly, we cannot communicate reliably through the direct, personal line if we are disobedient to or out of harmony with the priesthood line. The Lord has declared that “the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness” (D&C 121:36). 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.
Sadly, the Saints have not been immune to the vast amounts of misinformation circulating on the internet. We’re now seeing more and more people like David Allan, Rian Nelson, Jonathan Neville, and Rod Meldrum who claim to know better than the sustained, ordained leaders of the Lord’s Church about vaccines, the Book of Mormon, Church history, and many other subjects. This can only lead to division and schismatic groups made up of people who have found that the counsel of Church leaders doesn’t fit their personal political views.

My prayer is the the Lord will frustrate the efforts of David Allan and other the Heartlanders and cause their misguided efforts to come to naught.

—Peter Pan

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