Refuting the errors of Jonathan Neville and the Heartland hoax

Monday, December 30, 2019

Examining the Heartlander brain

This is your brain on the Heartland theory
Jonathan Neville frequently psychoanalyzes those who do not agree with his views. For example, he accuses those who believe in what he calls “M2C” of living in a bubble of “Loserthink” and being stuck in “mental prisons,” and that those individuals are afflicted by these because “M2C has been imprinted on [their] minds…from an early age.”

In other words, Neville believes that people don’t accept his views on Book of Mormon geography and Church history because they are mentally deficient and brainwashed—in other words, they’re too stupid to understand the Book of Mormon the way that he does.

In Neville’s mind Heartlanders are, of course, enlightened and thinking persons who have broken free of the “mental prisons” and “Loserthink” that plagues the majority of the Saints. Heartlanders, he asserts, have the spiritual “gift of knowledge” based on evidence, while those who haven’t heard of the Heartland theory or who have rejected it is have only the “gift of great faith,” absent any knowledge-based evidence. (I’m not kidding; he actually believes that.)

Although I’ve been hesitant to turn the tables and psychoanlyze Neville in return, I believe I’ve found a possible reason why he, an otherwise intelligent person, believes what he does: Because he holds extreme views, he has trouble “thinking about his own thinking.”

From an article recently published in Popular Science (emphasis mine):
A new study from researchers at University College London offers some insight into one characteristic of those who hold extreme beliefs—their metacognition, or ability to evaluate whether or not they might be wrong.

“It’s been known for some time now that in studies of people holding radical beliefs, that they tend to…express higher confidence in their beliefs than others,” says Steve Fleming, a UCL cognitive neuroscientist and one of the paper’s authors. “But it was unknown whether this was just a general sense of confidence in everything they believe, or whether it was reflective of a change in metacognition.”

He and his colleagues set out to find the answer by removing partisanship from the equation: they presented study participants with a question that had an objective answer, rather than one rooted in personal values.

They studied two different groups of people—381 in the first sample and 417 in a second batch to try to replicate their results. They gave the first sample a survey that tested how conservative or liberal their political beliefs were. Radicalism exists on both ends of the spectrum; the people at the furthest extremes of left and right are considered “radical.”

After taking the questionnaire, the first group did a simple test: they looked at two different clusters of dots and quickly identified which group had more dots. Then they rated how confident they were in their choice.

People with radical political opinions completed this exercise with pretty much the same accuracy as moderate participants. But “after incorrect decisions, the radicals were less likely to decrease their confidence,” Fleming says.

Unlike political beliefs, which often have no right or wrong answer per se, one group of dots was unquestionably more numerous than the other. But regardless of whether or not there was an objective answer, the radicals were more likely to trust their opinion was correct than to question whether they might have gotten it wrong.

This finding—which the team replicated with tests on the second group of participants—suggests that the metacognition of radicals plays a part in shaping their beliefs. In other words, they actually can’t question their own ideas the same way more moderate individuals can.
While the UCL study looked at political beliefs, it could also be applied to religious beliefs, which are also based on subjective, philosophical worldviews.

Jonathan Neville is an extremist—an individual who believes this his unusual views, which are held by only a fraction of like-minded persons, are “the truth,” while the vast majority of people who disagree with him are blinded by error. Because he is an extremist, he is unable to question whether his own views are actually correct.

From a historical perspective, that kind of rigid fundamentalism has led inexorably toward apostasy. The insistence that “I am right and the rest of the Saints have all got it wrong” has resulted in thousands of individuals breaking from the Church of Jesus Christ and starting their own dissident movements—from Sidney Rigdon and William Law in the 1840s, to William Godbe and his followers in the 1860s, to polygamous “fundamentalists” who broke with the Church in the 1920s, to the recent apostate cults that have sprung up around Denver Snuffer, John Dehlin, and Jeremy Runnells.

The clock is ticking on the Heartland movement. Will its leaders and followers begin to moderate their views and accept the teachings of modern Church leaders, or will they continue to entrench and eventually split off to become their own religious movement? If the UCL study is a true indicator of the extremist brain, the latter result sadly appears to be the inevitable one.

—Peter Pan

* “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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