Refuting the errors of Jonathan Neville and the Heartland hoax

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Jonathan Neville, proper names, and the use of ad hominem

Every once in a while, Jonathan Neville admits to the existence of this blog. He doesn’t engage with any of the arguments I make or answer any of the questions I raise (except one halfhearted attempt, long ago); he simply complains that I’m being mean to him.

The latest example of this may be found in the June 21, 2021, post “Proper names” on his InterpreterPeerReviews blog. This post is significant enough that I reproduce it in full, below, with my responses and commentary.
I often hear from people who think I’m too nice toward certain LDS [sic] scholars. For example, some people wonder why I avoid the full names of people named Dan.
I wonder who these people Neville “often” hears from who think he’s “too nice” to other Latter-day Saints he disagrees with. I don’t consider it “nice,” for example, to accuse “Dan”—i.e., Daniel Peterson—of using anti-Mormon claims from the first anti-Mormon book in the movie Witnesses and of purposely stirring up controversy in order to generate additional donations for the Interpreter Foundation, as Neville did recently.

In the two-and-a-half years of this blog’s existence, I’ve documented numerous examples of Jonathan Neville not being “nice” to other Latter-day Saints, both scholars and leaders. One can readily use the Tags section in each blog post to see examples of Neville using ad hominem arguments, misrepresenting others’ views, being dishonest, and flirting with apostasy. To the best of my knowledge, neither he nor anyone else has responded to these examples and demonstrated where I’ve been wrong or distorted the facts.

(For the record, I welcome any and all such responses, and I will even gladly post them on this blog, if anyone cares to write something.)
A few years ago, I reached an agreement with certain LDS [sic] scholars (not including Dan) that I wouldn’t use their full names in my blog posts because the back-and-forth comes up in [G]oogle searches and could reflect on their careers. I agreed because I don’t think a focus on individuals should be part of the discussion.
I don’t know when, where, or how this supposed “agreement” took place, but I was not there and not a part of it. (That’s not because I’m secretly Daniel Peterson—I’m not, as I’ve repeatedly been forced to insist.)

I don’t believe that anyone should avoid using the complete name of someone whose writings they are criticizing just to be “nice.” If Jonathan Neville is going to put his name on his books and his websites, then people should be able to find responses to his claims by searching online for his name. It’s not like he has an academic career to protect.

If I were suspicious, I’d infer from his statement that Neville was trying to prevent people from discovering criticisms of his work.
Plus, I genuinely like, respect and admire most LDS scholars.

I write about issues, facts, and arguments.
Yes, he truly “likes, respects, and admires” people who disagree with him. These individuals are “usurpers of the prophets” and followers of Satan (as he has claimed), they “erase Church history for ideological reasons” (as he has claimed), they use censorship to distort the historical record (as he has claimed), they are “causing people to lose faith in the Book of Mormon” (as he has claimed), and they “reject the teachings of the prophets” (as he has claimed hundreds of times).

Other than those examples—and many more—Neville is all about “issues, facts, and arguments.”
Dan, however, has long focused on ad hominem arguments. That’s a last resort for those who cannot make rational, fact-based arguments. Not surprisingly, he repeatedly uses my name in his blog, preferring that over focusing on the issues.
How dare Daniel Peterson respond to Neville by name when Neville attacks him! The sheer audacity of such a thing! {sarc}

The ironic thing is that Neville, by attacking Peterson’s supposed ad hominem arguments while not giving a single example of these arguments, is himself making an ad hominem argument.
His favorite anonymous blog, to which he refers frequently, specializes in ad hominem, to the point where the blog itself uses my name in its title.
Neville is, of course, referring to this humble blog (which is pseudonymous, not anonymous).

While I legitimately try to refrain from ad hominem arguments, I fully admit that some may have slipped through here and there. (This is one example of a post that I regret.) I welcome any corrections and will gladly even guest-post them, as I mentioned above.

It is not ad hominem to use Neville’s name as a pun in the title of this blog. Neville appears to making the common error of confusing sarcasm, wit, and poking fun at one’s opponent with an actual ad hominem fallacy, in which the person ignores his opponent’s argument entirely and attacks his person instead.

(I posted this example of an ad hominem fallacy last year, but Neville doesn’t appear to actually read this blog; he just rails against it for its many supposed sins.)
In any legitimate academic field, such tactics would be rejected out of hand, but among LDS [sic] apologists, this is business as usual.

This is among the reasons why LDS [sic] apologetics has earned its reputation for deplorable tactics, logical and factual fallacies, and overall absurdity. These apologists do more to drive people away from the Church than the critics do.

We can expect more of the same, of course. These apologists aren’t about to change course after decades of doing this.
Daniel C. Peterson
Daniel C. Peterson, the Meanest Man in Mormonism®
Neville is, of course, making the same tired argument that critics of Daniel Peterson and other people at the (now defunct) Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies have been making for thirty years. Peterson and his colleagues often accompanied their devastating reviews of anti-Mormon and bad pro-Mormon scholarship with incisive wit, for which they were regularly accused of being “mean and nasty.” I was a regular reader of those early FARMS publications, and I clearly recall Peterson fending off such accusations. (See, for example, Peterson’s editor’s introduction to Review of Books on the Book of Mormon vol. 4; Peterson’s essay “Text and Context” in Review of Books on the Book of Mormon vol. 6, no. 1, esp. pp. 534–536; and George L. Mitton’s editor’s introduction to The FARMS Review vol. 16, no. 1, esp. pp. xiii–xiv.)

As it was then, so it is now: Neville has repeated the well-worn tropes about Daniel Peterson’s supposed “deplorable tactics” and how his writings “drive people away from the Church,” all the while refusing to give a single example of where Peterson’s arguments have failed (or that he even made an argument to begin with).

Neville’s outcry will certainly play well with John Dehlin, Jeremy Runnells, and other ex-Mormon haters. Neville has attacked defenders of the gospel and defended its attackers before, so his repeated attempted assassinations of Daniel Peterson’s character are to be expected.
Now you “know why” I focus on issues instead of people.
Except you don’t, Mr. Neville. You regularly write petty, awful things about good and decent scholars who don’t happen to agree with your heterodox views. It’s not enough for you to simply make a counterargument; you insist on continually claiming bad faith among your ideological opponents.

If this blog accomplishes only one thing, I hope that is to provide a record of Jonathan Neville’s disgusting behavior. That way, after he and other Heartlanders have apostasized from The Church of Jesus Christ and formed their own fundamentalist cult, people will be able to look back at the enormous pile of accumulated evidence and say, “Of course—we should have seen it coming all along.”

—Peter Pan


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