Warren Johns is the executive editor of Ministry.

The attempt to explain supernatural phenomena exclusively on the basis of natural events is nothing new. The supernatural endowment of the gift of tongues at Pentecost was attributed by skeptic onlookers to the imbibing of too much alcohol (Acts 2:13). Seventh-day Adventists take literally the promise in Joel 2:28, 29, fulfilled in part in Acts 2, that the last days would be characterized by the gift of prophecy. The prophetic gift was bestowed upon Ellen G. White (1827-1915) as a partial fulfillment, we believe, of God's promise through Joel.

The Spirit's outpouring in the first century is considered to be the early rain, and the greater outpouring that began in the nineteenth century and will con tinue on into the future is described as the latter rain. If the supernatural aspects of the early rain came under sharp attack, should it be any wonder to SDAs that similar attacks should be launched against the supernaturalism of the latter rain?

In November, 1981, the journal Evangelica published the article "Visions or Partial-Complex Seizures?" by Dr. Delbert Hodder, a pediatrician living in Connecticut. His answer to the title's question is that Ellen White's visions were not visions but can be explained as a unique form of epilepsy known as complex partial seizure. More recently a committee of nine professionals has carefully analyzed this explanation and now has rendered its report (see the next page). Dr. Hodder's charges are actually a resurrection and a reclothing of an old charge made by Dudley M. Canright, who left the SDA ministry and shortly thereafter wrote the book Seventh-day Adventism Renounced. Canright diag nosed Ellen White's vision experiences as a type of hysteria (epilepsy) resulting from a blow to the head at age 9. Dr. Hodder likewise links her visions and supposed epileptic seizures to the same childhood injury.

Francis D. Nichol, a longtime editor of the Review and Herald, in his book Ellen G. White and Her Critics (1951) devoted four chapters to answering charges originally raised by Canright. Dr. Hodder takes exception to Nichol's analysis by arguing that her seizures were neither grand mal nor petit mal types (the only kinds known in Nichol's day), but a form more recently identified and given the name complex partial seizure, which can result only from an injury to the brain, and not from heredity. Essen tially what Dr. Hodder has done is to refine and expand D. M. Canright's original hypothesis.

According to Dr. Hodder, one char acteristic of those suffering from this type of epilepsy is the use of repetitive phrases, so he seizes upon Ellen White's uttering the words "Glory, glory, glory" while in vision as an example of epileptic behavior. However, he fails to realize that the threefold use of "glory" was a common characteristic of the Wesleyan holiness movement. For example, this expression appears on page 43 of the revivalist book A Memoir of Mr. William Carvossa (New York: 1856), a book that Ellen White once had in her private library. To suggest that her use of this threefold expression was a diagnostic feature of this type of epilepsy is to forget that she was simply drawing upon her Methodist heritage! Likewise, to assert that the repetitive use of "glory" was indicative of epilepsy is tantamount to saying that the early Methodist revival ists were all epileptics!

Those advocating the epileptic hypothesis to account for Ellen White's visions have utterly failed in explaining how epileptic seizures can result in the guidance of a whole church through crisis after crisis. True, some great men and women of the past have been epileptics, but their success has been achieved in spite of their infirmity, not because of it. A recent trend of niedical science has been to exhume the records of great men and attempt to diagnose posthumously their precise ailments, whether physical or psychological.

Recently scientists have postulated that Sir Isaac Newton's erratic behavior, especially evident in his later years, was owing to his having too much mercury on the brain, while others have diag nosed him as a manic-depressive. But no one is suggesting that Newton's laws of planetary motion were the product of mercury on the brain or of having a psychological disorder! —W.H.J.

                                                                                                                                                              

 

Ellen G. White and epilepsy

Three years ago a pediatrician in Connecticut circulated a paper in which he intimated that Ellen White probably had temporal-lobe epilepsy and that this disease was the cause of her visions. This paper published in North America and in West Germany also received publicity in Australia and elsewhere.

Since the continued circulation of these allegations has raised questions in the minds of some Adventists, the White Estate trustees felt that a competent committee should investigate the matter and provide the church with a statement that is both factual and trustworthy. On September 1 , 1983, the trustees appointed the Ellen G, White Health Committee, composed of eight professors in the Loma Linda University Schools of Medicine and Nursing and a well-known psychiatrist from northern California. All members of the committee are Seventh-day Adventists except Kenneth Jordan.

The committee was provided with all available materials pertinent to their investigation and asked to evaluate the evidence. Their report, sent to the White Estate on May 10, 1984, appears below. —Robert W. Olson, secretary of the Ellen G. White Estate.

Did Ellen White hove complex partial seizures? A Committee report

The diagnosis of a complex partial seizure disorder (temporal-lobe or psychomotor epilepsy) is often difficult even with the help of modern techniques such as electroencephalography and videorecording. Thus, the establishment of such a diagnosis retrospectively in a person who died almost seventy years ago, and concerning whom no medical records exist, can be, at best, only speculative, tenuous, and controversial.

The recent articles and presentation that suggest that Ellen White's visions and writings were the result of a .complex partial seizure disorder contain many inaccuracies. Ambiguous reasoning and misapplication of facts have resulted in misleading conclusions.

This committee was appointed to evaluate the hypothesis that Ellen G. White had complex partial seizures. After a careful review of the autobiographical and biographical material available, considered in the light of the present knowledge of this type of seizure, it is our opinion that (1) there is no convincing evidence that Ellen G. White suffered from any type of epilepsy, and (2) there is no possibility that complex partial seizures could account for Mrs. White's visions or for her role in the development of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Respectfully submitted,

Guy M. Hunt, M.D., Chairman

   Professor of Neurology

   Loma Linda University

 

Charles Anderson, M.D.

   Lake County Mental Health Clinic

   Lakeport, California

 

Donald Anderson, M.D,

   Assistant Professor of Psychiatry

   Loma Linda University

 

L. HaroldCaviness, M.D.

   Professor of Psychiatry

   Loma Linda University

 

Harrison Evans, M.D.

   Professor of Psychiatry

   Vice President of Medical Affairs

   Loma Linda University

 

Albert Hirst, M.D.

   Professor of Pathology

   Loma Linda University

 

Bernadine Irwin, R.N., Ph.D.

   Associate Professor of Nursing

   Loma Linda University

 

Kenneth Jordan, M.D.

   Assistant Professor of Neurology

   Loma Linda University

 

Donald Miller, M.D.

   Associate Professor of Neurology

   Chief, Neurology Sections

   Loma Linda University and Veterans

      Administration Hospital


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Warren Johns is the executive editor of Ministry.

August 1984

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