Ellen White: The Astronomy Vision

Because my posts about Tell The World are getting too long, I’ve decided to write some smaller posts I can link to. That way I’ll always have a URL to pull up when I need to explain to someone what the heck I’m talking about.

I also think it would be a good idea to do a general series of posts on what Adventists believe and how Adventist culture works, in case someone who’s not Adventist stumbles upon my blog. That way I don’t have to keep explaining the same thing over and over.

So, here’s the Astronomy vision. At first I thought there were 2 separate astronomy visions, but after doing some reading, it appears that there are actually multiple accounts of the same vision.

I copy, here, directly from The White Estate website, though the original source is noted:

J. N. Loughborough’s work, The Great Second Advent Movement, page 258, says:

“‘One evening at the conference above mentioned [Topsham, Maine, 1846], in the house of Mr. Curtis, and in the presence of Elder (Captain) Bates, who was yet undecided in regard to the manifestations, Mrs. White, while in vision, began to talk about the stars, giving a glowing description of the rosy-tinted belts which she saw across the surface of some planet, and added, “I see four moons.” “Oh,” said Elder Bates, “she is viewing Jupiter.” Then, having made motions as though traveling through space, she began giving descriptions of belts and rings in their ever-varying beauty, and said, “I see eight † moons.” “She is describing Saturn.” Next came a description of Uranus with his six moons, then a wonderful description of the “opening heavens.”’

“This was sufficient, and accomplished its purpose. Elder Bates was convinced, and became a firm believer in the visions.

That is one source. Here is Ellen White’s recollection. Note that when Ellen herself writes, she keeps the details vague. I do not know how long after the event this was written. If it was written many years later, maybe she knew she should be vague. But I don’t know when exactly it was discovered that the number of moons Saturn has was incorrect, soooo moving on.

Again I am copying from the White Estate Website, though the original source is noted.

“August 30th, 1846 I was married to Elder James White. In a few months we attended a conference in Topsham, Me. Bro. J. Bates was present. He did not then fully believe that my visions were of GOD. It was a meeting of much interest. But I was suddenly taken ill and fainted. The brethren prayed for me, and I was restored to consciousness. The Spirit of GOD rested upon us in Bro. C.’s [Curtis’] humble dwelling, and I was wrapt in a vision of GOD’s glory, and for the first time had a view of other planets. After I came out of vision I related what I had seen. Bro. Bates asked if I had studied astronomy. I told him I had no recollection of ever looking into an astronomy. Said he, ‘This is of the LORD.’ I never saw Bro. Bates so free and happy before. His countenance shone with the light of Heaven, and he exhorted the church with power.”—Spiritual Gifts, vol. 2, p. 83.

A quick google search reveals that, as of 2016, we know that Saturn has 62 moons, and Uranus has 27. This of course, may still not be the correct number of moons.

Another witness, years later, told the story differently. Instead of quoting from the White Estate website, I looked up the original source myself.

I encourage you to look this up for yourself as well, and see that the context is indeed the 1846 Astronomy Vision.

I don’t know why WordPress didn’t connect the block quotes. I didn’t leave anything out.

Again we quote from Mrs. Truesdail, who was present on the occasion of the giving of the vision referred to. She says:-
“Sister White was in very feeble health, and while prayers were offered in her behalf, the Spirit of God rested upon us. We soon noticed that she was insensible to earthly things.
This was her first view of the planetary world. After counting aloud the moons of Jupiter, and soon after those of Saturn, she gave a beautiful description of the rings of the latter. She then said, ‘The inhabitants are a tall, majestic people, so unlike the inhabitants of earth. Sin has never entered here.’ It was evident from Brother Bates’s smiling face that his past doubts in regard to the source of her visions were fast leaving him. We all knew that Captain Bates was a great lover of astronomy, as he would often locate many of the heavenly bodies for our instruction.
When Sister White replied to his questions, after the vision, saying that she had never studied or otherwise received knowledge in this direction, he was filled with joy and happiness.
(JN Loughborough: The Great 2nd Advent Movement, p. 260-261)

 

Ellen White’s vision, for the most part, matched up perfectly with what was known about astronomy in the 1840s. 

One way SDAs have of explaining this is saying that God showed Ellen White this information, though he knew it was wrong, because he knew that it would convince Bates the visions were from Him.

These very same SDAs will then turn around and say that not only does God never lie, that he is incapable of lying. If God says something, boom, it happens. God says Saturn has X many moons, Saturn will suddenly have X many moons.

Another argument SDAs have is that perhaps Ellen White wasn’t actually shown Saturn. She herself didn’t say what planet she was looking at, after all. Bates decided what planet she was looking at. Perhaps she was looking at.. Planet Dorkian, and Bates mistook it for Saturn.

Ok, but that still puts God in the position of lying by omission which, as any toddler can tell you, is still lying.

Or it puts God in the position of not knowing everything.

If God is all knowing, he knew that Joseph Bates would decide that Ellen White was seeing Saturn, and he didn’t bother to correct him. That is a form of lying.

Or, a God who was not all knowing gave Ellen White a random astronomy vision… and it got interpreted wrong, but that’s ok because God couldn’t have known that.

Either way, God doesn’t come out on top in this.

You can’t have it both ways. God either lied by omission, or God didn’t mean to lie and is not all knowing, or something else is going on here. Christians and Atheists alike are going to reject the first two options, so that leaves option C. But what is option C? What else is going on here?

How could Ellen White have known Astronomy “without ever having studied it?”

Set aside the fact that we have only her word on this matter. I do not, here, want to get into an argument over whether or not she lied purposely with malicious intent.

Instead, I’m going to talk about cryptomnesia. We learned recently in psychology class how horribly unreliable memory is. It is very easy, actually scarily easily, to tamper with someone’s memory. False memories can be implanted, and people can be convinced of things that never happened.

Cryptomnesia is one of the many ways in which memory can be tampered with. Cryptomnesia is a big fancy word for what happens when say, The Abominable Snowman reads about something in a book. The Abominable Snowman then forgets that she read about something in a book, and goes to write a blog post on that something. She remembers what she read in the book, but she doesn’t remember that she read about it in a book. In fact, The Abominable Snowman thinks that she is coming up with an original idea that is wholly and completely her own. That’s cryptomnesia.

I could absolutely see that happening in the case of Ellen White. She either overheard someone talk about astronomy or read something, forgot about it, and re remembered it in the form of a vision, wholeheartedly believing that it was from God.

(In fact, cryptomnesia may explain why her books are so heavily plagiarized.)

So now you know about Ellen White’s infamous astronomy vision. Bring it up to an Adventist sometime. If they’ve heard of it at all, amuse yourself by observing the mental gymnastics they go through to make it all ok.

 

 

 

 

 

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