A Prophet Among You

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Nervous Disorder 11

Prominent among the charges of Ellen White’s critics are variations on the theme that her visions resulted from some type of nervous disorder stemming from the injury she suffered as a girl. Hysteria, epilepsy, and schizophrenia are most frequently mentioned. The stories built around these charges have seemed plausible enough to cause a number of persons, who have not taken occasion to investigate the manner of the giving of visions and the life and work of Mrs. White for themselves, to accept and propagate them. In this connection there are two facts to be kept in mind: (1) No scientific evidence is given to support the charges, and (2) the whole ministry of Mrs. White and the body of her writings belie the charges. APAY 413.4

1. No scientific evidence. When we say that no scientific evidence is given to support the charges, we mean that an investigation of the so-called evidence quickly reveals that it is unsound. Generally the evidence consists of the testimony of one or another, or all, of three physicians who claimed to know much about Ellen White’s physical condition and her visions. Added to these are statements drawn from medical books, which seem to describe some of the physical phenomena accompanying Ellen White’s visions. APAY 414.1

The three physicians usually quoted are Drs. W. J. Fairfield, William Russell, and J. H. Kellogg. A study of the facts in the case as they are presented in detail by F. D. Nichol indicates that in none of these instances is acceptable scientific evidence given. It is shown that Dr. Fairfield had no opportunity to examine Mrs. White during a vision; in fact, he does not claim to have done so. He established a medical institution rivaling the Battle Creek Sanitarium, became critical of others connected with that institution, and tried to cause trouble for them. There is no evidence that Dr. Russell ever saw Mrs. White in vision, or that she was a patient of his at any time, and he makes no such claim. No real evidence is presented. In fact, in 1871 Russell repented of his attitude toward James and Ellen White, and he wrote them a letter of confession which was published in the The Review and Herald, April 25, 1871. However, this is unmentioned by critics today. APAY 414.2

Dr. Kellogg’s case differs from that of the other men. For many years he was closely associated with Mrs. White and had abundant opportunity to know of her general physical condition as well as her condition when in vision. But what was Dr. Kellogg’s attitude during the years he was associated with Mrs. APAY 414.3

White? Through these years he repeatedly expressed his conviction that her visions were from God. These expressions appear in published works as well as in letters. See Appendix D, pages 490-493. It was not until Mrs. White spoke against some of his views and policies that he turned against her, expressed doubts as to the origin of her messages, and refused to accept them. Whatever the factors involved in his reasons for rejection, they were strictly nonmedical. APAY 415.1

Weaknesses similar to those appearing in the testimony of the three physicians are seen also in the testimony presented from medical books. The statements quoted may be authentic and authoritative ones, but they are applied to Ellen White, not by a qualified physician, but by a critic. There is nothing scientific in an unqualified person’s reading in medical books the symptoms of diseases concerning which the most skilled diagnosticians sometimes differ widely, and from such reading attempting to diagnose a case. APAY 415.2

2. The types of disorders of which some critics feel symptoms appeared in Ellen White’s experience are types that affect the whole personality and experience. They are disorders for which medical help has been found only in comparatively recent years. Therefore, if Mrs. White was afflicted with any of these diseases, she would have to be regarded as an untreated case, subject to the progressive ravages of the disease. But the most careful study of her life and writings fails to give the slightest hint of such effects, The comment of the editor of the New York Independent, in 1915, previously quoted,—“She lived the life and did the work of a worthy prophetess,“—gives a clue to the regard in which Mrs. White was held. Another writer of a biographical sketch showed his attitude in these words: “Mrs. White is a woman of singularly well-balanced mental organization. Benevolence, spirituality, conscientiousness, and ideality are the predominating traits. Her personal qualities are such as to win for her the warmest friendship of all with whom she comes in contact, and to inspire them with the utmost confidence in her sincerity.... Notwithstanding her many years of public labor, she has retained all the simplicity and honesty which characterized her early life.” American Biographical History of Eminent and Self-Made Men, Michigan volume, page 108 (1878). APAY 415.3

The best way to deal with problems regarding Ellen White’s physical and mental condition is to become well acquainted with the story of her life and the product of her pen. Her writings reveal clarity of thinking, consistency of treatment, unity of thought, depth of insight, and unique aptness of expression that are signs of a well-organized mind and a consistent Christian outlook. APAY 416.1