Apparent Conflict

Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 108, contains eight relevant concepts:

  1. Formation of coal beds is linked to the Food.
  2. Coal produces oil.
  3. Subterranean fires are fueled by the burning of both coal and oil.
  4. Water added to the subterranean fires produces explosions, thus earthquakes.
  5. Earthquake and volcanic action are linked together as products of these underground fires.
  6. Both limestone and iron ore are connected with the burning coal beds and oil deposits.
  7. Air is involved in the super heat.
  8. Deposits of coal and oil are found after the subterranean fires have died out.

This seems to be in stark contrast to the widely adopted theory of plate-tectonics, in which “the immediate cause of most shallow earthquakes is the sudden release of stress along a fault, or fracture, in the earth's crust, resulting in the movement of opposing blocks of rock past one another. This causes vibrations to pass through and around the earth in wave form."1


Nothing in Ellen White’s comments rules out the plate-tectonics theory. Further, nothing in her writings states that all volcanoes are the product of burning coal fields or that all earthquakes are caused by subterranean fires. When she links earthquakes and volcanoes together, one immediately thinks of the Pacific Ocean “ring of fire” and its high potential for disasters from both.

However, notable scientists have confirmed Ellen White’s observations. Otto Stutzer’s Geology of Coal documented that “subterranean fires in coal beds are ignited through spontaneous combustion, resulting in the melting of nearby rocks that are classed as pseudo volcanic deposits.”2 Stutzer listed several examples of such activity, including “a burning mountain,” an outcrop that “lasted over 150 years,” and “the heat from one burning coal bed [that] was used for heating greenhouses in that area from 1837 to 1868.”3 Modern confirmation exists for the igniting of coal and oil with its sulfur constituent “seen around the eruptions of hot springs, geysers, and volcanic fumaroles.”4 References to rocks “which overlie the coal [and] have suffered considerable alteration because of the fires, being sintered and partly melted,” correlate with Ellen White’s statement that “rocks are heated, limestone is burned, and iron ore melted.”5 Further research in the western United States has produced conclusions and language very similar to Mrs. White’s writings of a century earlier: “The melted rock resembles common furnace clinker or volcanic lava.”6 One last charge has been that melted iron ore is not found in connection with burning coal and oil deposits. However, a United States Geological Survey paper records the discovery of hematite (an iron ore) that had been “formed in some way through the agency of the burning coal.”7 The suggestion that Ellen White was indebted to existing sources for her scientific information is without merit, because some of this verification only became known many years after her death. Further, “It is much more unlikely that she resorted to the published ideas of contemporary Creationists on the subject, since their views were relics of wild cosmological speculations.”8


While there are questions we cannot yet answer with certainty, we do nevertheless recognize that many issues on which Ellen White has been challenged are not as black-and-white as sometimes presented. With potential explanations available, it is easier to remain faithful to the gift of prophecy, particularly in the light of all the positive evidence.

[This section was adapted from: Herbert E. Douglas, Messenger of the Lord, pp. 492-493]

  • 1. The Concise Columbia Encyclopedia. Copyright © 1995 by Columbia University Press.
  • 2. Otto Stutzer, Geology of Coal, translated by Adolph Noe (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1940), pp. 309, 310.
  • 3. Johns, “Ellen G. White and Subterranean Fires, Part 2,” Ministry, October 1977, p. 20.
  • 4. Ibid.
  • 5. Stutzer, Geology of Coal, p. 310; Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 108, cited in Johns, “E. G. White and Subterranean Fires, Part 2,” p. 20.
  • 6. E. E. Thurlow, “Western Coal,” Mining Engineering, 26 (1974), pp. 30-33, cited in Ibid., p. 21.
  • 7. G. Sherburne Rogers, “Baked Shale and Slag Formed by the Burning of Coal Beds,” U. S. Geological Survey Professional Paper, 108-A (1918), cited in Ibid., p. 21.
  • 8. Johns, “Ellen G. White and Subterranean Fires, Part 2,” p. 22