Ronald Numbers, Historian of Science and Ellen White, Dies at 81

Ronald Numbers, a leading American scholar in the history of religion and science whose 1976 book Prophetess of Health challenged the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s belief in Ellen G. White’s work, died on July 24. He was 81. A great raconteur who uniquely contributed to the upper echelons of both religion and science historiography, he served as a president of both the American Society of Church History and the History of Science Society.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

Very sad at the loss of one of the great historians of Adventist, science and philosophy. He has left a body of work that will remain relevant for many generations.

Vale Ron.



Another great historian of Adventism has gone, but his work and legacy lives on. May he rest in peace.


Personally I would add…“Another honest great historian of Adventism…”


With the loss of Fritz Guy and Ron Numbers this week, our denomination will continue to flounder about. The lack of educational diversity in the administrators at the GC reflects their retrogressive leadership and theological incompetence. Hopefully we can survive this wilderness wandering episode in our church’s history, and at least the preserved works of these two remain available to everyone interested in seeking the truth. God’s rest, Ron and Fritz!


This notice of Numbers’ death and tribute to his Adventist historical scholarship nicely bookends Spectrum’s appreciative stories about that scholarship nearly fifty years ago. I had the privilege of knowing Ron from the time he was a physics major in college, and I was a Collegedale Academy student planning on myself studying physics in college; I got him to tutor me in trigonometry one summer. When we spoke via phone four months ago, he recalled me “as his first student.” I had the honor of keeping in touch with Ron over the years, occasionally working on relatively minor projects.


Thanks, @AlexAamodt, @TheAdventistPodcast, and Isabella Koh.

I was blessed to have Ron Numbers as an in-studio guest, on my WBAI-NY/99.5 FM radio show, NONFICTION, in 2015. He was the first guest of the year…and one of my show’s last guests: That summer, having done NONFICTION a dozen years, my wife and I left New York City.

(His appearance was also memorable for me because it was the only broadcast I ever did, in on, which my wife physically sat, in the adjoining studio, watching and listening to me work. After it was over, Ron signed her copy of Ellen Harmon White: American Prophet, the Oxford University Press book he’d co-edited with Gary Land and, of course, Terrie Dopp Aamodt, Alex’s mom.)

I have the soundcheck, somewhere, and will find it; I haven’t listened to the show since we did it.

I remember him as a gracious and genial man. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, he was also very youthful: I was stunned to learn he was 81 when he died. This means he was in his early 70s when I spoke to him. I would have guessed him a decade younger.

Like most of us here, I have a super-soft spot for those people who question the Adventist church’s closely-held, wrong ideas. They are never thanked for their service to the truth.

This goes beyond writing a work, like Prophetess of Health, which the denomination deems defamatory. Despite their deep obeisance to the prophet, when I ask fellow Adventists, few, if any, seem to ever know that, in 2014, a major press published a scholarly review of White’s life and work. I’ve concluded the church has little use for any depiction of EGW in which she is not, essentially, incandescent.

As the above obituary states, because of his deep roots in Adventism, Ron’s early scholarship, specifically Prophetess of Health, drove a massive rift between him and the members of his own family. It was one in which, ironically, per Ron, another recently deceased member of the Spectrum brain trust played a part.

An excerpt from Numbers’ republished 2008 Spectrum interview, below, shows this:


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