Refuting the errors of Jonathan Neville and the Heartland hoax

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Talk is cheap, Brother Neville

In a speech given April 23, 1910, President Theodore Roosevelt declared,
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

I have always enjoyed this quote. I’ve reflected on its wisdom often when evaluating whether it’s worth my time to consider some given criticism I have received from someone. After all, if the only thing the person criticizing me is doing is pointing out the inadequacies of my efforts from the comfort of his armchair, then the chances are that I can disregard his or her criticisms as lazy and unfair. On the other hand, if I receive criticism from someone I respect because I see they too are engaged in worthwhile, meaningful work, or are honestly trying to make things better, then I might well consider their criticism and ask myself how I might improve.

When it comes to Book of Mormon scholarship, Jonathan Neville is the equivalent to an obnoxious armchair critic who can’t be bothered to lift a finger to do actual scholarship, but is instead content with taking potshots at real scholars from one of his bajillion different blogs or from his preferred vanity press, Digital Legend, home to most other published works about the Heartland hoax.

Neville’s the type of man President Roosevelt was condemning in his speech.

This can be seen in Neville’s May 21, 2019, blog post, “A Waste of 1,000 Research Papers.” In it, Neville points to an article from the Atlantic. The article is indeed a sobering read, and should caution us not to become too comfortable in our conclusions or complacent in our research.

But instead of offering to help by contributing to the academic discussion on Book of Mormon studies, Neville predictably uses this article to lob the same tired and inaccurate claims about “M2C”* and spew the same old tired calumnies about “M2C intellectuals” at BYU, Book of Mormon Central, and the Seminaries and Institutes of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

If Neville were actually trying to help correct the perceived shortcomings of academia, he wouldn’t unfairly accuse those who disagree with him of engaging in “censorship, academic bullying, and elitism,” nor would he misrepresent the views of those who accept a Mesoamerican setting for Book of Mormon geography, as he does in his blog post. Instead, he would take the claims in his post such as “the New York Cumorah fits what anthropology, archaeology, geology, and geography tell us” and submit them to be published in a reputable, peer reviewed academic journal or press.

Talk is cheap, Brother Neville. You can either sit in your armchair and take lazy potshots at real scholars who, by the sweat of their brows (imperfectly, of course), are trying to advance our knowledge of the Book of Mormon and Church history, or you can put your money where your mouth is by getting anything you write published in a reputable, peer reviewed academic venue.

Until such time, I’ll continue writing-off your ignorant criticisms of “M2C” as nothing but the ravings of a fringe conspiracy theorist armchair critic who can’t do anything but talk a big game and fool gullible people.

—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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