Examining the claims of Jonathan Neville and the Heartland movement

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Perhaps Jonathan Neville’s biggest strawman yet

Jonathan Neville frequently employs logical fallacies in his writing. (This blog has documented many examples.)

In his June 10, 2020, blog post, “M2C does not stick to the text of the Book of Mormon,” Neville makes yet another a strawman argument:
Our M2C* friends often justify their repudiation of the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah by claiming they stick to the “text of the Book of Mormon” and that anything the prophets have said beyond that is pure speculation.

Do you see how that is a fundamental logical thinking error?

Nowhere does the text of the Book of Mormon identify the “Western hemisphere,” the “Americas,” or even “America” as Lehi’s land of promise.

There is no basis in the text for looking at any particular part of the world.…

Based on the text alone, Lehi could have landed literally anywhere. He could have landed in Australia, Chile, Guatemala, Florida, or Japan. He could have circumnavigated Africa and ended up in Italy.

Based on the text alone, choosing the “Americas” is as arbitrary as choosing Malaysia or Eritrea or anywhere else on the planet.
I detect nothing in Neville’s post that indicates he’s being sarcastic or using parody. He actually believes that he’s made a good, solid argument against those who argue for a Mesoamerican setting for the Book of Mormon.

A strawman argument is one in which the individual claims that his opponent believes X, when his opponent actually believes X1; X is a caricature of the opponent’s argument, but it’s easier to demolish than X1. (That’s why the fallacy is called a strawman: It’s much easier to attack a scarecrow than it is to attack a living person.)
Scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz
What’s the strawman in Neville’s argument? Mesoamericanists have never claimed that only the text of the Book of Mormon informs us about its location, nor have they claimed that anything the prophets have said outside the text is “pure speculation.”

What do “M2C intellectuals,” as Neville calls them, actually believe? Well, as I’ve mentioned repeatedly on this blog (like here, for example), they accept what the Book of Mormon of says about its own geography, along with revealed, authoritative statements from Church leaders on the subject, including this one from Joseph Smith, which is canonized in the Pearl of Great Price:
While I was thus in the act of calling upon God, I discovered a light appearing in my room, which continued to increase until the room was lighter than at noonday, when immediately a personage appeared at my bedside, standing in the air, for his feet did not touch the floor.… He called me by name, and said unto me that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me, and that his name was Moroni; that God had a work for me to do.… He said there was a book deposited, written upon gold plates, giving an account of the former inhabitants of this continent, and the source from whence they sprang. He also said that the fulness of the everlasting Gospel was contained in it, as delivered by the Savior to the ancient inhabitants; also, that there were two stones in silver bows—and these stones, fastened to a breastplate, constituted what is called the Urim and Thummim—deposited with the plates; and the possession and use of these stones were what constituted “seers” in ancient or former times; and that God had prepared them for the purpose of translating the book. (Joseph Smith—History 1:30, 33–35)
In this canonized account of the angel Moroni’s first visit to Joseph Smith on September 21, 1823, Moroni indicated that the Book of Mormon is “an account of the former inhabitants of this continent,” meaning the continent on which Joseph Smith lived.

Noah Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language defines continent as “a great extent of land, not disjoined or interrupted by a sea; a connected tract of land of great extent; as the Eastern and Western continent.” Stephen Smoot has compiled dozens of sources from Joseph Smith’s time of “this continent” referring to what we today call the Western Hemisphere, not just to North America.

The scriptural statement in Joseph Smith—History is accepted by every believer in the Mesoamerican setting of the Book of Mormon. For Neville to argue, therefore, that they suffer from a “fundamental logical thinking error” not just untrue; it is grossly and flagrantly untrue. It represents either a fundamental misunderstanding of the arguments of those whom he criticizes or a malcious attempt to misrepresent their arguments.

This is, of course, not the first time Neville has misrepresented the arguments of believers in a Mesoamerican Book of Mormon setting: Prior to this post, I’ve cataloged fifty-eight other examples of him doing so.

It’s odious, and Jonathan Neville should be ashamed—ashamed enough that he would stop doing it.

But after, now, fifty-nine posts pointing out his obnoxious behavior, I sadly have little confidence that he will change his ways.

—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.

1 comment:

  1. Why does Neville keep referring to "M2C" advocates as his "friends"? His behavior towards them hardly indicates feelings of friendship on his part. I'd hate to see what he writes about his enemies!


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