Examining the claims of Jonathan Neville and the Heartland movement

Thursday, September 16, 2021

The fraud behind Jonathan Neville’s “multiple working hypotheses”

Jonathan Neville doesn’t like the fact that Book of Mormon Central, Interpreter, BYU Studies, and other scholarly Latter-day Saint outlets don’t take his work seriously. He regularly accuses these organizations of “censoring” Heartlander claims. The alternative framework he prefers is one of “multiple working hypotheses,” which means that every theory should be be given equal weight, allowing readers to decide for themselves which one is accurate.

Teach the Controversy flat earth “Multiple working hypotheses,” however, is a fraud. It’s the same tactic used by young-earth creationists and flat-earthers who insist that their ideas should be taught in public schools alongside proven scientific theories. “Teach the controversy” is the slogan crafted by the Discovery Institute, an organization that advances the pseudoscientific claims of intelligent design. (The National Center for Science Education has responded to the Discovery Institute, and Amorphia Apparel has cleverly mocked their slogan.)

What’s particularly bad about Jonathan Neville’s “multiple working hypotheses” claim is how hypocritical it is of him to advance it. For example, in his September 15, 2021, blog post about Book of Mormon geography, he writes:
I often refer to “multiple working hypotheses.” The concept means a variety of interpretations of the same facts. I’m all in favor of different ideas. What I don’t favor is censorship, omitting facts, and conflating facts with assumptions, opinion, inferences, hearsay, etc.
I’ve emphasized the last portion of that quote because it’s a stunning claim, considering that Jonathan Neville regularly does exactly what he says he doesn’t favor. Probably the most egregious example of this is his “demonstration” theory, which he’s been advancing for a couple of years now.

Faced with the overwhelming numbers of eyewitness accounts of Joseph Smith translating the Book of Mormon by means of a seer stone, Neville has claimed that when Joseph used a stone in his hat he was only demonstrating how the translation process worked. The problems with this claim are twofold:

  1. There is not a shred of evidence to support it. Not a single person who knew or was acquainted with Joseph Smith ever even so much as suggested that he might have been just demonstrating the translation method when he used a stone. There is a total lack of any contemporary or late testimony that backs up Neville’s theory.
  2. It’s not falsifiable. Because there’s not even one eyewitness who said anything about a demonstration, pro or con, Neville can put forth this claim and then challenge his critics to prove he’s wrong. Real history and real science don’t work that way, of course; the onus is on Neville to provide evidence that he’s right instead of simply creating an ad hoc theory to resolve problems inherent with his insistence that Joseph Smith used only the Nephite interpreters—the Urim and Thummim—to translate the Book of Mormon.

In short, Neville is pulling the same fast one that the Discovery Institute does: Create an alternative explanation that is based on flawed analysis, a lack of evidence, and/or an abuse of the scientific method, then complain that one’s theory is being “censored” or “suppressed” when it’s rejected by mainstream scholars, instructors, and academic organizations. (“Teach the controversy!”)

Another tactic regularly employed by Jonathan Neville is poisoning the well, a logical fallacy in which one commits “a preemptive ad hominem (abusive) attack against an opponent” by “prim[ing] the audience with adverse information about the opponent from the start, in an attempt to make your claim more acceptable.” A clear example of this tactic shows up in Neville’s September 15th blog post:
One resource that presents multiple working hypotheses is here:


This is one of the best sites I’m aware of for info about the Book of Mormon.

I’m told that Book of Mormon Central acquired the site, which may explain the editorial bias evident throughout. (Yes, I realize that one could argue this site contradicts my claim that BMC doesn’t want people to consider multiple working hypotheses, but the site had these maps before BMC acquired it.)…

The “Mesoamerican” map description uses the typical appeal to authority fallacy: “subscribed to by most mainstream LDS scholars at BYU and the Maxwell Institute.” In reality, the Maxwell Institute takes no position on the question, there has never been a poll of “mainstream LDS scholars at BYU,” many of whom don’t accept Mesoamerica, and this appeal to authority boils down to the efforts of a handful of scholars in the M2C citation cartel—including the ones who own this website. Book of Mormon Central insists people must accept M2C to even participate in their efforts to share the Book of Mormon with the world.
There are many problems with Neville’s statement, but the one I’ve emphasized is the well-poisoning example. Neville has been “told” that Book of Mormon Central acquired BookOfMormon.online, but he doesn’t tell us who told him this information or where he learned it so that we can assess how accurate his claim is.

Giving him the benefit of the doubt that the ownership claim is true, Neville then implies that Book of Mormon Central has changed the site’s content since acquiring it, and that explains the “editorial bias evident throughout” the site. He provides no evidence whatsoever that the site has been modified in any way by Book of Mormon Central (who may or may not own it), but that doesn’t stop him from (once again) insinuating that there’s a grand conspiracy to keep Latter-day Saints from “consider[ing] multiple working hypotheses.”

Since he’s on a roll with claims that lack any demonstrable evidence, he also tells his readers that “Book of Mormon Central insists people must accept M2C to even participate in their efforts to share the Book of Mormon with the world.” Where did any representative from Book of Mormon Central say or write this? How does he know this to be true? He doesn’t tell us because it isn’t true.

As I’ve demonstrated repeatedly, Jonathan Neville has a problem telling the truth. The reason that mainstream organizations like Book of Mormon Central, Interpreter, and BYU Studies don’t publish his and other Heartlander materials isn’t because of some weird fetish with “M2C”; it’s because Neville and his comrades make claims without supporting evidence, irresponsibly distort the historic and scientific record, and regularly accuse those who disagree with them of acting in bad faith.

If you want into the Real Scholars Club®, Brother Neville, you’re going to need to play nice and not make stuff up. It’s really just that simple.

—Peter Pan


  1. I really dig those Amorphia designs, especially the classical elements, 'Paul is dead', and Xenu (ignoring the flaw that the DC-8 has engines) ones.

  2. This may be of interest to you. https://www.millennialstar.org/taking-the-stone-out-of-the-hat-part-i-witness-and-warning/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+TheMillennialStar+%28Millennial+Star%29

    1. Oof. Thatʼs a metric ton of fundamentalist assumptions right there.

    2. Peter Pan is one to believe in the Limited Mesoamerica geography theory, requiring the Prophet Moroni to wander for some 40 years and travel thousands of miles from Central America to present-day New York with the gold plates and the Urim and Thummim in his care for four decades. Then the Prophet Moroni carefully buried both objects in the ground with water-tight cement concealed under a stone. Then when Moroni reveals said objects to Joseph Smith, the boy-prophet needs neither to translate the plates, because he already had a rock and a hat. Then Peter Pan calls Jonathan Neville an idiot, while Pan can’t think logically for himself but has to rely on some idiot scholars to do the thinking for him.

    3. 2CF: Independence, MO to San Francisco CA (the California Trail) is roughly 1,950 miles, depending on the specific route; some were longer. In the 1840s/50s, this was routinely done in 7-8 months with large groups of people and livestock, and all the logistical challenges involved, to say nothing of dying of dysentery along the way (and who of us hasn't done that a few times on the Oregon Trail!).

      Nuevo Progreso, Campeche, MX (at the mouth of the Usumacinta River) to Palmyra, NY is a distance of 2,865 miles. Google Maps says you can drive it in ~48 hours if you don't get stopped at cartel roadblocks. One solitary man moving at 10 miles a day would take 287 days, or less than 10 months to do it. Depending on the terrain, a healthy individual should be able to walk 10 miles in less than three hours. Granted, there are a lot of assumptions baked into this oversimplification, but it illustrates the weakness of your argument, and even leaves more than 39 years for cement to cure and further dilly-dally.

      Moroni didn't even have to walk the entire way. Travelling by canoe is certainly an option, as they were used all over the Americas at the time, and are much better for hauling stuff. Moroni doesn't tell us his mode of travel to "wander whithersoever [he could]" (Moroni 1.3); walking is usually inferred, but is not implicit in the text. Plus, he had the Liahona at his disposal as well. Not bad odds for a long-distance migration.


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