Questioning Ellen White’s Understanding of Geology: “Infidelity in Disguise” or “Fidelity to Reality?
by Ervin Taylor
By Ervin Taylor
October 18, 2013
The Adventist Review (AR) has again reprinted excerpts from an article listing Ellen White (EGW) as author, this time under the title “Infidelity in Disguise.” This article originally appeared in March 1879 in the Signs of the Times. Every few years, it appears that some editor at the AR decides that there is a need to explain again that EGW has spoken all that needs to be said on the topic of Genesis, geology, and Creationism.
To make sure that no one misses the point, there is often an accompanying statement that says something like “Seventh-day Adventists believe that Ellen G. White (1827-1915) exercised the biblical gift of prophecy during more than 70 years of public ministry.” I gather that readers are supposed to take away from that statement the understanding that since she was assumed to have the “biblical gift of prophecy” her views on this topic are to be accepted without question, “on faith” as it were. EGW said it. I believe it. That ends the discussion.
Understanding what Ellen specifically had in mind when she wrote or what had been edited together from earlier material she or her assistants had assembled from other sources is beyond the scope of this brief commentary. A scholar who has looked into this says it appears that she may not have been responding to Darwinian evolution as such but primarily to ideas presented in a work entitled "Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation," published in 1844.
One might reasonably conclude that maintaining the authority of EGW in the 21st-century Adventist Church continues to be one of the main concerns of the institutional Adventist press and the currently dominant administrative establishment at the GC.
That some wish, in the second decade of the 21st Century to highlight EGW’s 19th-century views on, of all things, geology, might strike some as a strange way to try to maintain the prophetic authority of someone whose principal focus throughout her lifetime was on the need for a Christian to develop deeply-felt spiritual values. Would it not be more helpful to highlight EGW’s focus on “God is Love”? Or is that too abstract?
What is gained in the 21st Century by continuing to link EGW with a totally scientifically-discredited understanding of earth and human history? This understanding was a widely held belief among conservative and evangelical wings of many Christian denominations in her day, and it would have been strange for her not to have believed it as well.
However, efforts today to endorse her views on this topic seem to be the equivalent of trying to support belief in a flat earth to support the authority of the Bible. That certainly was a belief held by the ancient Hebrews. Today, we now know that their understanding was simply wrong. But does this take anything away from the great themes that the Biblical narratives address such as our relationship with the Divine, as evaluated in terms of how we treat others?
Just as the understanding of the shape of the earth by the Hebrews was wrong, EGW's understanding of geology was also wrong. However, certain elements of the faith tradition she helped to found have created such a mythology around her that admitting this probably is more than anyone can reasonably expect.
Perhaps the best we can hope for is that her views on this topic will come to be only of historical interest to the point that, like her views on the Shut Door and human and animal amalgamation, they can effectively die a natural death by benign neglect. Unfortunately, this process may take several hundred years.
PS. On a slightly different topic, if someone wants to take a short break from some important task and has time to waste 15 minutes of fun reading, go to the Educate Truth (sic) web site (www.educatetruth.com) and read the exchanges of views on the thread that is dealing with “The Adventist Accrediting Association to Approve LSU’s Accreditation.” That thread is currently exhibiting how conservative Adventists can’t even agree when they are dealing with this topic among themselves. (By the way, Educate Truth (sic) is Dr. Sean Pitman’s site whose main purpose is to demand that La Sierra University turn itself into a Bible college and is outraged when it refuses to do that.)