Does Ellen White Deserve a Nobel Prize?

By Dirk Anderson

The myth that Mrs. White was years ahead of science was popularized in the 1972 book Prophet of Destiny written by Rene Noorbergen.1 Noorbergen, who previously published books extolling psychics Jeanne Dixon, David Bubar, and Nostradamus, wrote thus of Ellen White:

"We have noted but a very few of the scientific insights that were given to Ellen White. Many more could be mentioned; enough in fact to quite fill this book. For example: Cancer is caused by a germ..."2

Noorbergen and others have suggested that Mrs. White's use of the term "germ" in reference to cancer indicates she had "supernatural knowledge" and was "years ahead" of later scientific discoveries that have attributed the cause of some cancers to viruses. Is it true that Mrs. White's ideas about the cause of cancer were decades ahead of science?

Where Did She Get Her Teaching on Cancer?

Mrs. White taught that by ingesting meat, the "cancerous germs" could be transferred to humans, thus causing cancer in humans:

"People are continually eating flesh that is filled with tuberculous and cancerous germs. Tuberculosis, cancer, and other fatal diseases are thus communicated."3

Ellen White was not the first to notice the connection between meat eating and cancer. In L.B. Coles' book, Philosophy of Health, published in 1853, (many years prior to Ellen White's first health reform "vision") Coles linked cancer with the eating of flesh meats:

"If we use food adapted to create cancerous, scrofulous, or any other humors, we run the risk of having such humors develop themselves, sooner or later, in some part of the system."4

There is strong evidence Mrs. White plagiarized heavily from Coles' books. Therefore, it seems probable she got her ideas about cancer from L.B. Coles rather than from supernatural sources.

In the 19th century a number of scientists theorized that cancer, tuberculosis, leprosy, and syphilis were caused by bacteria, microbes, or parasites. For example,

"On December 3, 1890 William Russell, a pathologist in the School of Medicine at the Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh, gave an address to the Pathological Society of London in which he outlined his histopathologic findings of 'a characteristic organism of cancer' that he observed microscopically in tissue sections from all forms of cancer that he examined, as well as in certain cases of tuberculosis, syphilis and skin infection."5

However, no specific cancer "germ" was ever found, and because cancer did not act like a contagious and infectious disease, by the early 1900s scientists finally declared that there was no germ that caused cancer.

Can I get Cancer from Eating Cancerous Meat?

One of Mrs. White's primary concerns with eating meat is that by eating meat with cancer in it, one can acquire that cancer. However, according to scientists, even when injected with live cancerous organisms, laboratory animals do not develop cancers:

"It is true that many varieties of germs, molds, and microscopic parasites can often be cultivated from various kinds of tumors, but when these microscopic organisms are injected into animals they fail to cause any cancerous or other tumors to grow."6

Dr. Gregory Hunt, in his book Beware This Cult, explains, "If they fail to cause cancer when injected, they won't when ingested."

Changing Words

In her early writings, Mrs. White, like L.B. Coles, used the term "cancerous humors."7 A humor is defined in the 1828 version of Webster's Dictionary as:

"Moisture; but the word is chiefly used to express the moisture or fluids of animal bodies, as the humors of the eye. But more generally the word is used to express a fluid in its morbid or vitiated state. Hence, in popular speech, we often hear it said, the blood is full of humors."

Dr. Ronald Numbers notes that Mrs. White later changed her terminology:

"In her early writings she had described how flesh-meats filled the blood 'with cancerous and scrofulous humors.' Within a few decades, however, scientists like Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch had convinced the world of the existence of germs, and Mrs. White's language changed accordingly. The familiar humors disappeared from her works, and she began writing instead of meat filling the body with "tuberculous and cancerous germs."8

Viruses were discovered in Mrs. White's lifetime, but we do not know if she was ever aware of them. Mrs. White never used the term "virus" in her writings. At first she said cancer was caused by a humor. Later, after the existence of germs was proven, she said it was caused by a germ. However, a germ is a bacterium, not a virus. Now, modern proponents of Mrs. White would like us to believe that Mrs. White actually meant "viruses" when she wrote "germs."

Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia
Virus - Parasite with a noncellular structure composed mainly of nucleic acid within a protein coat. ... The existence of submicroscopic infectious agents was suspected by the end of the 19th century...
Bacteria [germ]11 - Microscopic unicellular prokaryotic organisms characterized by the lack of a membrane-bound nucleus and membrane-bound organelles. ... They were first observed by Antony van Leeuwenhoek in the 17th cent.; bacteriology as an applied science began to develop in the late 19th cent. as a result of research in medicine and in fermentation processes, especially by Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch.

Viruses and Germs: What is the Difference?

Dr. Yee Him J Wong explains the difference between viruses and germs:

"Both virus and bacteria (that’s germs) can cause infections. Bacteria are of the size of a cell and can be seen using ordinary light microscopes. Bacterial infections can usually be treated with antibiotics. Virus is much smaller than bacteria and can be thought of as a parasite of cells. Virus can only be seen under electronic microscopes."

While there is no such thing as a cancer "virus" or "germ", several different viruses have been linked to certain types of human cancers, such as cancer of the cervix, Burket's lymphoma and Karposies sarcoma. It should be noted that the transfer of these particular viruses to humans has never been associated with eating meat.9

Worthy of a Nobel Prize?

Let us review the facts and determine if Mrs. White's statement about cancerous germs is really worthy of a Nobel prize:

  1. The theory that cancer was caused by germs, microbes, or parasites was not unique to Ellen White. A number of scientists in the 19th century proposed that cancer was caused by a germ.

  2. Mrs. White taught that the cancer germ was transmitted to humans by eating meat, but there is no evidence that cancer is transferred to humans in that manner.

  3. While there does appear to be a connection between cancer and certain viruses the consensus of the scientific community is that cancer is caused by mutations of genes responsible for cell growth. John Hays, a molecular geneticist at Oregon State University, says "overwhelming evidence shows a close connection between cancer and mutations of genes that control cell growth."10

Cancer and Solitary Vice

Mrs. White also said that cancer was caused by "solitary vice."

"Nature will protest against the abuse she has suffered, and continues to suffer, and will make them pay the penalty for the transgression of her laws, especially from the ages of thirty to forty-five, by numerous pains in the system, and various diseases, such as affection of the liver and lungs, neuralgia, rheumatism, affection of the spine, diseased kidneys, and cancerous humors."12

Interestingly, SDAs are not as anxious to publicize this tidbit of scientific wisdom about the cause of cancer! Shouldn't she be nominated for a Nobel Prize for this as well?

See also


1. Rene Noorbergen's other books include such titles as You are Psychic, Jeane Dixon: My Life and Prophecies, and Nostradamus Predicts.

2. Rene Noorbergen, Prophet of Destiny, chapter 7.

3. Ellen White, Child Guidance, p. 382. See also MS 7, 1904.

4. L.B. Coles, Philosophy of Health, p. 15, (1853). See also page 67.

5. Alan Cantwell, Jr. M.D., "The Russell Body - The Forgotten Clue To The Bacterial Cause Of Cancer", © 2003.

6. Doctors Don't Believe It--Why Should You?, p. 266.

7. Ellen White, Appeal to Mothers, p. 18 (1864).

8. Ronald Numbers, Ph.D., Prophetess of Health, p. 176.

9. Cancer-causing viruses are passed from human-to-human, not from meat to human. The Epstein-Barr virus (infectious mononucleosis) has been linked with a number of human cancers. Several human papillomaviruses (HPV) have also been shown to initiate cervical cancers. Another human papillomavirus has been associated with some forms of Kaposi's sarcoma. In addition, hepatitis B has been shown to increase the risk of liver cancer. (Columbia Encyclopedia)

10. "Can Germs Cause Cancer? Evolutionary Medicine Attributes Most Disease to Microbes", ABC News, Amherst, Mass., Jan. 8, 2004.

11. The word "germ" is a common, non-technical word for bacteria. The Wikipedia encylopedia defines a germ as thus: "Germ is an informal term for a disease-causing organism, particularly bacteria (as in germ warfare)."

12. Ellen G. White, Solemn Appeal, 1870, p. 63.

Category: Myths
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