Refuting the errors of Jonathan Neville and the Heartland hoax

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Jonathan Neville simply cannot be taken seriously

As the name of this blog implies, Jonathan Neville lives in a fantasy world of his own creation, where questionable evidence, logical fallacies, and ludicrous assertions are standard operating procedure.

(It’s a lot like how Drew Carey would introduce the comedy television show he once hosted: “Welcome to Whose Line is it Anyway, the show where everything’s made up and the points don’t matter.”)

Sometimes, however, he manages to outdo himself, as he does in his February 21, 2019, blog post “Persuasion vs. Education.”

Neville’s main point in this post is that he believes he’s educating his readers, not persuading them to believe anything. He even makes the bizarre claim, “I don’t think people even can be persuaded, except by depriving them of important information.” (Many great philosophers, politicians, and educators over thousands of years would certainly disagree with that, as would Latter-day Saint missionaries and the apostle Paul—see Acts 13:43; 18:4; and 26:28.)

Let’s examine a few of the strangest statements Neville makes in this post:
If I was [sic] trying to persuade people, I would use the tactics employed by Book of Mormon Central Censor, FairlyMormon, and the rest of the M2C* citation cartel. I would censor sources and interpretations that contradict my views. I would use logical fallacies. I would appeal to the authority of my like-minded academic peers. I would use peer-approval instead of peer-review when I publish articles. I would use my position as an employee to imprint the M2C interpretation of the text, to the exclusion of alternative views. Basically, I would use Orwell’s 1984 as my handbook.
[Bold text in the original.]

Looking beyond Neville’s continual use of pejorative names for organizations he opposes, note how Neville himself is far more guilty of the behaviors in his list than those he criticizes:
  • He censors sources and interpretations that contradict his views. For example, he frequently explains how he believes that Joseph Smith wouldn’t and couldn’t have written the 1842 Times and Seasons articles on Mesoamerica and John Stephens’ book Incidents of Travel, but he doesn’t explain or even mention Joseph Smith’s November 1841 letter in which he wrote that he had “read the volumnes with the greatest interest & pleasure,” and believed that “it unfolds & developes many things that are of great importance to this generation & corresponds with & supports the testimony of the Book of Mormon.” Beyond this, Neville repeatedly ascribes the worst motivations to those who disagree with him, without ever quoting what they themselves believe. (There’s an example of this below.)
  • He uses logical fallacies. A lot of them. In nearly every post he writes.
  • He cites his like-minded peers and uses peer-approval instead of peer-review. Note that Neville’s books are printed by the self-publishing outfit CreateSpace and by Digital Legend, which publishes a wide range of Heartlander books on the Book of Mormon and right-wing conspiracy theories. (Has anything Neville has written ever passed peer review? If so, I’d love to see it.)
  • Has Neville used his positions to spread his interpretations of Book of Mormon geography? He has recently served as a senior missionary; I would be surprised if he never taught Heartland theories to the Saints where he ministered.
Neville’s final mention of Orwell is also a nice touch. Mike Godwin would nod knowingly.
Maybe, like some M2C intellectuals lately, I would claim I’d been hired by the prophets so my personal, academic opinions cannot be analyzed, criticized, or disagreed with.
Wow. Just . . . wow.

Neville doesn’t cite or link to any source where an “M2C intellectual” has made this claim, so it’s impossible to refute. I suspect that he failed to do this on purpose.
But I don’t do that. Unlike the M2C citation cartel, I don’t have “credentials” or any position of authority to enforce my views.
Holier than thou, Neville ironically declares that he has no “credentials” (in scare quotes, no less). What he doesn’t seem to realize that that having done actual research, actual scholarship, and actual peer review makes one’s evidence and arguments better and more reliable. Neville has no academic training in anthropology, geography, history, or any other field on which he opines; he’s certainly free to express his beliefs on these things, but let’s not be misled into thinking this makes his arguments superior to those who have legitimate backgrounds in those fields.
I provide my red-line comments to academic material so everyone can see that I’m not “cherry picking” or hiding anything. I also welcome, even solicit, corrections whenever I mistake or overlook a relevant fact.
How generous of him. Long experience by many people has shown, however, that Neville does not welcome corrections—rather, he refutes both facts and interpretations when he disagrees with them. (See the revealing comment thread on this blog post, for example.) There’s no evidence that he’s ever changed his mind based on the writings of people who disagree with him, and he actively deletes, without posting, comments on his blogs from people who challenge him.

Neville concludes by promising his readers, “I’ll be discussing all of this in upcoming posts and books.” I look forward to more contradictions, logical fallacies, and strained interpretations from Neville-Neville Land. It’s what keeps this blogger motivated.

—Peter

* “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.

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