Examining the claims of Jonathan Neville and the Heartland movement

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Illusory truth, straw men, and Jonathan Neville

Jonathan Neville’s March 27, 2019, blog post, “The M2C hoax - part 5 - Illusory truth,” takes aim at what he claims are “illusory truths” used by “M2C* citation cartel” scholars to bolster belief in the Book of Mormon as a Mesoamerican record.

As usual, however, Neville is doing little more than propping up and demolishing straw men caricatures of what Mesoamerican geography advocates actually argue.

The three examples Neville uses as the kinds of supposed arguments of John L. Sorenson and other scholars include the following:
Mayans were farmers
Nephites were farmers
therefore Nephites were Mayans 
Mayans had large stone pyramids
Nephites built towers
therefore Nephite towers were large stone pyramids
Mayans experienced volcanic eruptions
Nephites experienced earthquakes, darkness, whirlwinds, etc.
therefore Nephites lived in a volcanic area. 
Those are straw men—blatant caricatures meant to portray Mesoamerican arguments as simplistically absurd. In fact, the arguments made by Sorenson and other scholars are much, much more sophisticated and intricate than Neville lets on.

For instance, Sorenson never claims “Mayans were farmers, Nephites were farmers, therefore Nephites were Mayans.” Instead, he argues that the scale and nature of agricultural production and animal husbandry depicted in the Book of Mormon more closely matches the archaeological picture of Mesoamerican than the North American “heartland.”

The same goes for the second straw man created by Neville: Sorenson and others have argued that the scale of urbanization depicted in the Book of Mormon more closely matches that of Mesoamerica than North America. I recommend you read Sorenson’s arguments in his published books, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon and Mormon’s Codex, rather than Neville’s dishonest pasquinade.

The third example used by Neville is especially galling. Much has been published on the subject of volcanism in the Book of Mormon. This article from Book of Mormon Central summarizes the current state of the research in a helpful way that shows readers just how badly Neville is misrepresenting his opponents’ arguments.

Not content with just misrepresenting, though, Neville then psychologizes them by claiming that they are suffering from a mental condition. According to Neville, the only way you can believe “M2C” is if you suffer from cognitive biases. This is, of course, part of the overall rhetorical game he plays to vilify and dehumanize his opponents. It can’t be that people just sincerely disagree with Neville; they must be censorious conspirators with debilitating mental conditions! Because, after all, once you’ve become a Gnostic Heartlander like Jonathan Neville and know the real truth about “M2C” and what the prophets have really taught about Book of Mormon geography, the only options are to accept Heartland dogma wholesale or be written off as another pitiful victim of the M2C conspiracy.

This is what makes Neville nothing more than a crank Internet conspiracy theorist. Real scholars do not peddle these kinds of talking points, and they do not misrepresent their opponents’ views with straw men arguments. Note that actual scholars like John Sorenson, Brant Gardner, Mark Wright, Kerry Hull, and John Clark have never stooped to Neville’s level of ad hominem attacks. That Neville is content with doing so demonstrates that he is not a serious scholar with serious points to consider.

—Captain Hook

* “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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