A Response to Ron Corson

Ron Corson, founder of the blog, “Adventist media response and conversation,” has made several critical comments about my presentations at the “Ellen White Summit” sponsored by the Oregon Conference (Gladstone Park Conference Center, Oregon, November 11, 12, 2005). At the outset I should say that I had no idea these presentations would be put on the worldwide web. I am comfortable with the presentation, "Ellen White and Inspiration” (#4), being on the web, but “Ellen White and Her Critics” (#3), was only an introduction to the issues. As such, it suggested sources to study but did not provide specific and detailed responses to the critics. Below is my response to Corson’s comments. To read Corson’s comments in context see his blog: cafesda.blogspot.com.

In his post, “Ellen White and Canright,” he believes there was “some interesting material” presented at the summit. “But,” he says, “there is a good deal of false information in there also.” So far, he has not demonstrated any false information yet. I’ll be watching to see if he can.

Corson:

“The first is from one of the lesser presenters at the summit. I don’t think I could possibly find time to deal with all the logical fallacies he uses in his presentation on ‘Ellen White and her Critics.’ Jud Lake tried to point out the logical fallacies of the critics but really mainly points out his own fallacies.”

My response:

Ok, so I am a lesser presenter. I yield to my distinguished colleagues who are obviously well known and respected scholars in the SDA church. But this ad hominem remark does not help Corson’s argument. The onus, of course, is on him to address the logical fallacies in my presentation, which he does not do. To simply say that a person commits fallacies without demonstrating it is the “that’s a fallacy” fallacy! Corson, of course, will argue that I did the same thing to the critics in my presentation. Admittedly, my presentation is open to this charge because of its nature–it was only an introduction to the issue of Ellen White’s critics. I only mentioned a few fallacies in passing with an illustration or two. I was not attempting to seriously address the many logical fallacies in the critics of Ellen White. My purpose was only to make the listeners aware of the criticisms of Ellen White by identifying the historical roots of the critics, setting forth some of their main characteristics, directing listeners to sources that address the critics in some detail, briefly exposing some of their tactics, suggesting coping strategies, and briefly revealing some of the research on the charge of plagiarism–all in less than an hour (hardly time to deal with these issues in any depth). As such, “Ellen White and Her Critics,” is intended only as an overview of the issues. Had I known this would be put on the worldwide web, I would have made some changes, such as more depth and evidence.

Corson:

“A big one he uses is the A priori fallacy he says that the critics use because they begin with the assumption that she is not a prophet. Yet for some reason his own fallacy and that of all the presentors that EGW is a prophet are not considered to be A priori fallacies.”

My Response:

He is referring to one place in the presentation where mentioned this particular fallacy. The careful listener of my presentation will notice that the precise word I used was not “a priori” but “apriorism.” A priori is a type of reasoning that begins with general principles and moves to particulars, often called deductive reasoning. For example, the starting point for Ellen White critics is that she was a false prophet; the starting point for Ellen White supporters is that she possessed the prophetic gift. Beginning an argument with a specific premise in mind is not necessarily a fallacy. It is what happens later in the argument that determines whether or not a fallacy is occurring. This is where apriorism becomes relevant. Apriorism is a logical fallacy in which a person starts with a "conclusion" and stays with it, ignoring all contrary evidence. What I said in my presentation, which Corson failed to acknowledge, was that the critics start with the conclusion that Ellen White was a false prophet and read this into everything she says without ever examining the context or any contrary evidence. This is apriorism and supporters of Ellen White can be guilty of it as well. Any argument pro or con about Ellen White must be examined in its entirety to detect this fallacy.

Corson:

“But here is what Jud says at about 34 minutes into his presentation on Ellen White and Inspiration (part 4):
“Ellen White experienced numerous times the Prophetic model, dreams and visions. But some have taken this to an extreme, a number of the people in her day took this to an extreme and this is where the critics have made a big mistake. They’ve taken.. pushed this envelope I should say of this model. And gotten into what we discussed already, verbal dictation. Listen to Canright, remember who Canright is famed critic he wrote in his critical book on Ellen White I shared with you in my last presentation. Listen, every line she wrote he believed whether in articles letters testimonies or books she claimed and this is my bold she claimed was dictated to her by the Holy Ghost and hence must be infallible. This I think contributed to his great fall or some say he more took the position when he turned against the Adventist church but either way this is what he is saying here, he saying she claimed this well I think it is already very clear she did not claim this. Dr. Newborn touched on this…’

Compare what Canright actually wrote as found in chapter 3 at:
http://www.ellenwhite.org/canright/egw16.htm"

My Response:

Corson cites me in my second presentation, “Ellen White and Inspiration,” and endeavors to show that I misquoted Canright. Here he gets it wrong again. He cites me at the point I am quoting from Canright on verbal dictation and then retreats to the ellenwhite.org site for an online version of the book I was citing: Life of Mrs E.G. White, Seventh-day Adventist Prophet: Her False Claims Refuted, (Salt Lake City: Grant Shurtliff, Sterling Press, 1998), D.M. Canright. I will not cite the entire statement from Canright or respond to it at this time. I plan on writing a critique of the entire book. As to the above statement from my presentation, I was actually citing the “Preface” found on page 1 (page 9 in the original 1919 edition) of my hard copy. Corson did not see the DVD and thus did not have the advantage of seeing the Powerpoint slide which referenced the paging. Here is the quote with the inserted comments I made at the Summit presentation in brackets: “Every line she wrote [he believed], whether in articles, letters, testimonies or books, she claimed [and this is my bold-a reference to the Powerpoint slide] was dictated to her by the Holy Ghost, and hence must be infallible” (p. 1). So I was not misquoting Canright.

Corson seems to have focused in on my inserted comment “he believed,” for he says after citing Canright: “It is not Canright who said that Ellen White’s words must be infallible it was his response to the followers of Ellen White who saw her as infallible . . .”. My point was, if one listened carefully to my comments, that Canright believed Ellen White claimed every line was dictated to her by the Holy Spirit. My comments following this quote from Canright provide evidence that Ellen White and the early pioneers never claimed verbal dictation (listen to the presentation as well as to Craig Newborn’s presentation: “The Path to Disengagement”).

Corson:

“In all of this however we know that Canright did not have some wooden literal view of Ellen White verbally inspired.”

My Response:

It can easily be demonstrated that Canright evaluated Ellen White from the standpoint of a dictational model of inspiration. In his 1889 book, Seventh-day Adventism Renounced, he objected even to her personal corrections in the handwritten originals. “I have seen her scratch out a whole page, or a line, or a sentence, and write it over differently. If God gave her the words, why did she scratch them out and alter them” (p. 138)? But what was most scandalous in Canright’s eyes is found on page 141: “In 1885 all her ‘testimonies’ were republished in four volumes, under the eye of her own son and a critical editor.” By sampling the number of changes on four pages chosen at random, he attempted to estimate what percentage of the total number of words in her writings might have been affected by the editorial process: “At the same rate in the four volumes, there would be 63,720 changes” (ibid.). He concluded: “Fine inspiration that is” (ibid.)!

Ellen White repeatedly rejected this view of inspiration (see Newborn’s “The Path to Disengagement”). From her point of view, Canright’s attempt to measure inspiration in terms of numbers of words was a futile exercise that missed the real issue. Her concern was simple: she wanted her thoughts accurately represented and in the best language possible. For Ellen White’s own words on this issue, see Selected Messages, vol. 1, pages 24-26.

Obviously, Canright did not believe she was inspired in any way during the writing of his books against her. But it is quite clear from the above evidence in Seventh-day Adventism Renounced that his approach to inspiration was verbal dictation. He writes in his 1919 Life of Mrs. E.G. White . . . Her False Claims Refuted, that he “once accepted Mrs. White’s claim to inspiration . . .” (p. 2). Thus, at one time he embraced Ellen White’s inspiration, but from a dictational point of view. While he gave up believing in her inspiration, he evaluated her from this view of inspiration that many would describe as wooden, literal, and non-biblical.

In conclusion, Corson shows on this post, “Ellen White and Canright,” a superficial engagement with my material. His comments appear to be more reactionary than serious engagement. I will engage with his other posts on the summit as time allows.

Jud Lake, Th.D., D.Min.