Examining the claims of Jonathan Neville and the Heartland movement

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Jonathan Neville’s incredible self-own

In internet parlance, a self-own is when someone inadvertently embarrasses themselves by doing something that backfires on them. Today, Jonathan Neville owned himself. From this post that appeared on his Interpreter Peer Reviews blog:
As an optimist, I would like to see the Interpreter change its name and become a serious academic resource that respectfully considers multiple faithful points of view. I don’t think that’s possible so long as it’s under Dan’s thumb.
If I may blunt, Jonathan Neville wouldn’t know a “serious academic resource” if it hit him head-on on Interstate 15. The lack of serious academic rigor in his publications—as demonstrated by Spencer Kraus’s two reviews of his works, as well as comments he makes in the very blog post I’m reviewing (see below)—amply demonstrate this. He is in no position to criticize others in this area.
The other day on his blog, Dan Peterson (aka Slander Dan) was complaining again. He wrote, “For an unpleasant few days recently, a zealous and pseudonymous advocate of the ‘Heartland’ model for the geography of the Book of Mormon was active in the comments section…”

This is the same Dan who for years on his same blog has eagerly promoted a blog by “a zealous and pseudonymous advocate” of Dan’s theories. The blogger there goes by the name of Tinker Bell, or Peter Pan, or some such. He named his blog using my name, which should be enough of a clue that what he writes is full of logical fallacies.

One time I looked at that blog and it was so ridiculous that I’ve ignored it, but sometimes people send me excerpts. The person(s) who writes there chose an apt pseudonym because the arguments and claims are childish and foolish. Delusional, really. That author(s) writes so poorly and angrily that it’s no wonder he/they uses a pseudonym. And he’s even a contributor to the Interpreter.

Which is actually not surprising.
So, so much to unpack here.

First, Daniel Peterson’s “complaint” wasn’t that the individual who commented on this blog was “zealous and pseudonymous.” There is nothing untoward about being zealous; neither, I would assert, is there anything by nature improper about being pseudonymous. Peterson’s “complaint”—if it even rises to such a level—was that this Heartlander’s “not particularly convincing approach was to call me stupid and incompetent, to insult many of my best friends, to predict that I will be severely punished in the next life for my failure to share his geographical ideas, and to accuse me of having stolen my own views on the topic from a former mid-level leader of what was once called the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.” He we see that Jonathan Neville either fails to understand what he reads or feels inclined to misrepresent others by giving a partial quotation so as to misconstrue the intended message.

Next, Neville is perturbed that I named this blog by making use of a pun at his expense, yet he himself has no compunction about doing this and more. In the very blog post I’m reviewing, he referred to Daniel Peterson as “Slander Dan” (which he has now done at least twice). He also invented and continually uses the term “SITH” to refer to the historical fact that Joseph Smith used a seer stone to translate the Book of Mormon, knowing full well that word also has a dark meaning and using it intentionally so. He also has used puns in the names of his own blogs, including “Book of Mormon Central America” (a play on Book of Mormon Central), “Scripture Central America” (a play on Scripture Central), and “Fairly Mormon” (play on FairMormon, the former name of FAIR). If naming this blog after his name is “enough of a clue” that what I write “is full of logical fallacies,” then what can be said of him and his many, many blogs that do the same?

Finally, Neville admits that he looked at this blog once and deemed it “ridiculous,” and he asserts that my “arguments and claims are childish and foolish. Delusional, really.” Furthermore I write “poorly and angrily.” My multitude of sins having been laid bare, I now submit to you, dear reader: If my arguments are so foolish, my claims so delusional, and my writing so poor, then certainly it would be a simple matter for Neville to give us even a few examples of my foolish arguments, delusional claims, and poor writing. In post after post after post—this is my 345th in over four years of blogging—I have quoted Jonathan Neville, sometimes at length, and amply demonstrated where he has misrepresented those who disagree with him, has used logical fallacies in his arguments, has been irresponsible in his use of sources, and has been downright dishonest. And I have provided links to his blogs so that my readers can evaluate my claims for themselves. The very least he can do for his readers is to name this blog, give them a few delusional quotes, and provide links. Yet he never does so. Instead, all we get from Neville is an occasional brush-off. These are a poor substitute for actual engagement. One could be tempted to conclude that he’s unwilling or unable to rebut what I’ve written.
I’d welcome an honest exchange and debate, of course. But not with a pseudonymous fool.
If that’s a proposition, then I accept. In fact, I’m willing to reveal my actual identity in return for “an honest exchange and debate” with you, Brother Neville. Consider that an offer.

Neville goes on in his blog post to insult Dan Peterson further, saying that he “used to respect” him but now claiming that Peterson’s “cantankerous, thin-skinned approach to apologetics was mildly humorous decades ago, but has worn thin with overuse.” This, he says, is “tiresome, goofy, and reflects badly on other Latter-day Saints who engage with critics.” He also again falsely asserts that Peterson and his followers “consider themselves superior to ordinary Latter-day Saints,” a “credentialed class” who feel “entitled to interpret Church history, scriptures, and doctrine for the rest of us.” This is just gross character assassination, as anyone who knows Daniel Peterson can attest.

Neville next turns to his complaint about Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship, which published his response to Spencer Kraus’s critical reviews of his books:
The Interpreter has become a strident gatekeeper and enforcer of dogma. That’s why I include them in the M2C/SITH citation cartel and that’s why I started this blog in the first place.

True, the Interpreter did publish my response to the two Kraus reviews of two of my latest books, albeit long after the original reviews. A legitimate journal would have published my response with the original reviews. But that’s not how the Interpreter operates.

In writing my response, I complied with the word count and editorial input they gave. Fair enough. But when they published my response, they simultaneously published a rejoinder by Kraus that I hadn’t seen. And they didn’t let me respond to the rejoinder!…

The Interpreter is a laughably fake journal, a digital Potemkin village designed to look serious and academic while rejecting the hallmark of actual academic journals: reasonable, considered debate from multiple perspectives.
And this is where Neville demonstrates that he hasn’t got the slightest clue how “serious academic resources” operate, because that’s how the response/rejoinder process works for every academic journal:

  • A review is published.
  • If the reviewed individual wishes to respond, he or she writes a reply that is published at the next available opportunity, along with a rejoinder by the initial reviewer.
  • End of process.

It’s extremely rare for an academic journal to continue a back-and-forth discussion. In fact, there is nothing in the practices of academic journals that requires or suggests even publishing responses to critical reviews, and most journals don’t do it at all—it was a courtesy extended to Neville, one that he availed himself of and then turned around and (repeatedly) insulted the publisher for criticizing him in the first place and for not publishing his response they way he wanted it published. And here he even lashes out at the journal that respectfully gave him the opportunity respond by calling it “laughably fake” and “a digital Potemkin village.”

Truly, no good deed goes unpunished.

As an optimist, I would like to see Jonathan Neville change his approach and become a serious academic who respectfully engages with other points of view. I don’t think that’s possible so long as he fails to comprehend what he reads, continues to misrepresent not just the arguments of but the very people who disagree with him, and behaves hypocritically by demanding that he be heard and respected while not showing respect to others.

—Peter Pan


  1. I was so happy to discover this Blog. Thank you, thank you Peter Pan - and Brother Dan, too! I am, of course, familiar with the Heartland "hoax" (as I believe Dan put it) and contend with it - very congenially - in my own ward among those who buy into it. I only recently discovered Bro. Neville and was astonished at his... lack of actually wrestling with the evidence (such as: the text of the Book of Mormon). I must admit I am a bit biased, having taken a class called something like "archaeology and scripture" prior to my mission. not only was Biblical archaeology shown to be lacking as conclusive evidence of much of the history mentioned in the Bible, but the Book of Mormon was put in that same light. Luckily (to the rescue, as one of our dear prophets was wont to utter) one of our texts was Dr. Sorenson's "An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon" (it was not yet published; we had it in manuscript form), and my eyes were opened to seeing what the text of that sacred treasure actually says - and doesn't say.

    Yesterday (!) I saw an interview with Bro. Neville on one of my favorite LDSaint-related podcasts - CWIC Media - and I couldn't even get through the first 10 minutes of it. Distraught, I found in the comments a link to this blog, so again I say: hank you, thank you Peter Pan - and Brother Dan, too!

    1. Welcome, St Balthazar! Glad you find this little corner of the internet. Thanks for your kind comments.

    2. I reluctantly watched the video and couldn't get past 16 minutes. That was the moment when Nevilled somehow argued that reading the BoM to see what it says about geography is out of bounds. (starting at 16:09) He claims this is because, "the text is subject to interpretation." But EVERY text is subject to interpretation. (That's one of those things you learn in evil scholar school.) What he is really arguing is that he doesn't like the strong interpretations that disagree with him. He also used the term, "my friends" towards Book of Mormon central. Then he insults them and says they are "irrational" and "ludicrous." Neville claims the Book of Mormon is important, but then ignores the Book of Mormon so he can talk about Book of Mormon geography. He says Book of Mormon geography isn't important, but then presents a false dichotomy about Smith's words and the text. He claims to be really chill about it (in the first few minutes of the video), but then constantly insults his opponents. That's awful on its own, but the worst part is the facebook group where I found it, everyone loves it!

    3. Morgan: Much of what Jonathan Neville writes is self-contradictory. My favorite of his shibboleths is his claim that he’s “fine with people believing M2C if they want to," because “lots of people choose to repudiate the teachings of the prophets.” (In fact, he wrote exactly today in yet another attack on Daniel Peterson on his “Interpreter Peer Reviews” blog.) It’s obvious to everyone that he’s 𝑛𝑜𝑡 “fine” with people believing that the Cumorah of the Book of Mormon isn’t the same hill as the one in New York because (according to him) that view “repudiates the teachings of the prophets.” Yet he continually repeats that self-contradictory claim. It’s perplexing to those of us who see through his transparently false claims.


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