Ellen G. White and Her Critics


Chapter 2—A Life Sketch of Mrs. White
Were Mrs. White’s Visions Due To Nervous Disorders?—Part I

Charge: Mrs. White’s so-called visions were simply the result of nervous disorders. She suffered a blow on the head from a stone thrown at her at the age of nine that affected her nervous system. Medical works in the sections entitled “Hysteria,” “Epilepsy,” and “Schizophrenia” describe her case exactly. Physicians who knew her well also thus described her. EGWC 26.1

It is through visions that God communicates with His prophets. If certain singular manifestations in the experience of an individual, which he claims are visions, are explainable on purely natural grounds, his claim to be the possessor of the prophetic gift collapses. EGWC 26.2

The favorite method by which critics of all things heavenly, including the Bible, have tried to prove their case is by attempting to show that the supernatural incidents described in Holy Writ can be explained on a physical or material basis; for example, that Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus was simply an epileptic fit. EGWC 26.3

This charge against Mrs. White was first formulated in 1887 by D. M. Canright shortly after he left the Adventist ministry. Through the years he amplified the charge, and from him almost all other critics of Mrs. White have drawn. He charged that she was afflicted with “a complication of hysteria, epilepsy, catalepsy and ecstasy.” He focused almost exclusively on the first two, however, for the last two have a dubious status in medical literature as distinct disease entities. EGWC 26.4

Attention should be called, at the outset, to two primary weaknesses in this charge as it has been made through the years: EGWC 26.5

1. The medical authorities quoted as proofs are almost invariably works current at the opening of the twentieth century, or earlier. But most of what is certainly known today in the field of mental maladies has been acquired since that date, and has greatly revised our ideas of mental maladies. EGWC 27.1

2. A diagnosis has been reached simply by examining a few isolated incidents in Mrs. White’s life, so-called symptoms of mental disorder, without considering her whole case history, or her life history, as the layman would say. The first step that a reputable psychiatrist takes when confronted with a person who seems to display symptoms of abnormality is to secure a case history. If the case is at all unusual, he would not even attempt a diagnosis without this history. Hysteria, for example, is not simply a group of symptoms; it is a group of interrelated symptoms in a particular individual, who because of this malady is a distinctive kind of personality. The different symptoms are like so many brush strokes; together they serve to produce a certain picture, with a certain hue. Different color combinations produce different pictures, even though the ultimately different pictures may seem to the untrained eye to contain many similarities in the colors applied by the brush strokes. Who of us has not seen an artist on the public platform making stroke after stroke on a sketch, and constantly causing us to change our idea of what he was painting, as he added a color here or a line there? We were able to draw a correct conclusion as to the picture he was creating only when all the lines and all the tints had been applied. Thus with the diagnosis of a case in the field of psychiatry. EGWC 27.2

In our examination of this charge we shall: EGWC 27.3

1. Give a case history—a life sketch—of Mrs. White. EGWC 27.4

2. Set forth the facts concerning her condition in vision, and compare this condition with that of Bible prophets. EGWC 27.5

3. Present certain currently known facts about epilepsy, hysteria, and schizophrenia. EGWC 27.6

4. Examine certain evidence and medical testimony that are alleged to prove that Mrs. White was abnormal. EGWC 27.7