Refuting the errors of Jonathan Neville and the Heartland hoax

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Just because something is new does not make it correct

Jonathan Neville frequently blogs about “new information” and the resistance most people naturally have to changing their minds in light of new understanding.

Generally speaking, he’s right about this. Most people, when presented with new ideas, cling to and justify their existing beliefs. Human beings prefer to have their beliefs confirmed rather than challenged. When we confront convincing evidence that challenges our views, we go through a period of cognitive dissonance—a state of discomfort that exists while we struggle to reconcile two competing beliefs that both seem correct.

Where Neville is mistaken, though, is in assuming that his heterodox views about the translation of the Book of Mormon, the nature of the gold plates, and the geography of the Book of Mormon are rejected by the majority of Latter-day Saint scholars and informed members simply because they are new and not because they are wrong.

For example, on June 22, 2021, Neville published to his Book of Mormon Consensus blog a post entitled “Going forward because something has changed.” His brief blog entry is a repost from someone else’s blog; that author wrote:
People don’t say yes or change their minds because you persist.

That’s because we don’t like to admit we were wrong.

If we’re going to go forward, it’s because something has changed. It might be that our situation is different, that the story we tell ourselves is different, that the times have changed or that your offering has. It might be that we trust you more.
I believe that Neville continually reposts and retweets this kind of stuff because he genuinely believes that the Heartland view is a serious challenge to the Mesoamerican theory of Book of Mormon geography and the holistic view of Church history that includes Joseph Smith’s use of a seer stone to translate scripture. In Neville’s mind, his theories have been rejected simply because Church scholars and other members are unwilling to consider alternative viewpoints.

This is, of course, where he’s gone wrong. The assertions of Heartlanders like Neville haven’t been rejected because they’re new; they’ve been rejected because they are based on selective evidence, flawed interpretation, motivated readings of scripture, and conspiracy theories. (See, for example, reviews of Neville’s work here, here, and here, along with this critical review of the Heartlander-published edition of the Book of Mormon.)

Barney Stinson How I Met Your Mother new is always better Then there’s the issue of Neville’s pattern of deception in advancing his views. Simply put, he and other Heartlanders have a hard time telling the truth.

New is not always better, correct, or preferable. New ideas must be examined and tested. If they better explain the evidence—all the evidence, not just selected pieces of it—then most honest people will embrace them. This is unlikely to happen with the Heartland theory as long as it continues to be rooted in its flawed and dishonest approaches to history, scripture, and science.

—Peter Pan


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