Identity or Objectivity

One of the most difficult tasks of the scientific investigator is the achieving of true objectivity.

HERSCHEL C. LAMP, M.D., Medical Secretary, Middle East Division

The article was from Christianity Today, and it was presented to me by a fellow physician who is an active Baptist layman. In fact, he had on other occasions ex­pressed in friendly con­versation his disagree­ment with some of our doctrinal beliefs. I was not surprised to learn that the article was a polemic against Sev­enth-day Adventists by Walter R. Martin.

When I returned the periodical to him, we exchanged views about the substance of the article, particularly in regard to Mr. Martin's statement about "the disconcert­ingly Adventist habit of proselyting Chris­tian converts and failing to identify them­selves properly when conducting large cam­paigns." My friend chided us for this failure to identify ourselves in our mass evangelistic programs, and charged that we are thereby making use of deception and subterfuge. He laid a similar charge against us for our use of the noncontroversial topics of evangelical Protestantism to attract our hearers and to lure them into correspondence courses and other evangelistic media where our true doctrinal image becomes clear.

At the time of this conversation my doc­tor friend and I were both taking graduate study, and were sharing courses in biostatis­tics and research techniques, and this com­mon experience served as a convenient foundation for our discussion of this topic of denominational identification.

Research begins with an idea that de­velops into a theory sufficiently rational to call for an experiment designed to test the validity of the investigator's assumptions. For example, a pharmaceutical company has developed what it feels is a superior product for the treatment of high blood pressure. To determine its effectiveness in human subjects, a project is devised to test the new product against another drug of proved merit and also against a placebo containing a completely inert material. Three groups of patients having comparable degrees of hypertension are chosen. One of the three preparations is given to each group. At regular intervals these pa­tients undergo carefully standardized blood pressure determinations, which are care­fully recorded for the purpose of compari­son to determine which preparation gave statistically significant therapeutic results. What we have outlined here is a controlled clinical experiment, and superficially it ap­pears to be quite a satisfactory scheme.

One of the most difficult tasks of the scientific investigator, however, is the achieving of true objectivity—the elimina­tion of bias and preconceived opinion, and it is this element of bias that has not been eliminated in the research instrument just described above. First, it must be under­stood that a blood pressure determination is a variable dependent upon conscious and subconscious emotional influences act­ing upon the patient and subject to some extent to the recording technique of the observer.

Second, a large group of complex mo­tives may exert such strong force on the experiment that they completely nullify the results. The physician-investigator wants the test product to be effective be­cause (I) he likes success, (2) he knows that an effective drug will bring thou­sands, even millions, of dollars to his com­pany and perhaps a promotion for him­self, and (3) he desires the personal pres­tige that the publication of his results in a scientific journal will bring. Similarly, prej­udicial forces are at work in the patient. He may or may not experience a change in blood pressure, depending on how well motivated he is to get well. This in turn is often dependent upon physician-patient rapport. If the patient has confidence in his doctor's skill and wants to please the doctor by responding to the medicine in which the doctor has expressed confidence, improvement will be noted in the blood pressure level.

To eliminate as much as possible the human elements that detract from objec­tivity, a "double blind" type of study is set up. The two drugs to be tested and the inert placebo are all prepared in identical tablet form so that their identity is not known either to the investigator or the patient, but only to a third person who dispenses the tablets according to a pre­determined experimental pattern. Only at the conclusion of the study when the blood pressure readings before and after the ad­ministration of the tablets are compared can the relative efficacy of the three tablets be honestly appraised. The experiment has been a success because the identity of the test materials was temporarily hidden in a search for truth.

Men everywhere, knowingly or unwit­tingly, are engaged in a grand experiment, seeking to unravel from the complex, cos­mic web that golden strand of truth which can guide them into an understanding of the meaning of the universe in which they live. The task of the Christian is basically one of communication—of making known to a perplexed world the purpose of man's existence through the divinely revealed message of hope and salvation as it is in Christ.

As Seventh-day Adventist Christians we believe that we have been called to preach a special threefold message that calls men in the last days to separate themselves from the Babylon of error and become a part of God's "remnant" where they can give glory to God through obedience to His commandments and prepare themselves for the imminent judgment of God. Many voices are calling to the seeker after spirit­ual truth, and these voices bear widely differing messages. The conviction and working hypothesis of Seventh-day Advent­ists is that we have in the message we preach a superior product that will stand up un­der the test of careful and unbiased Bib­lical scrutiny against other religious beliefs and also against the inert philosophies of the atheist and agnostic.

To preach and persuade in the frame­work of a truly critical objectivity of the type shown by the "double blind" study is difficult, even impossible, to achieve be­cause it is in the realm of personal religious belief that prejudices run deeper than in any other area of religious thought.

Each potential candidate for the king­dom of heaven wears, as it were, a pair of glasses fashioned by the twin artisans, train­ing and experience, to serve as a filter through which all subsequent knowledge must pass. Solidly forged family and na­tional loyalties, firmly fixed cultural pat­terns and social mores, deeply rooted child­hood hostilities and present personal ani­mosities—all these and more are strong deterrents to an unprejudiced view of newly presented spiritual truth.

In the face of such formidable obstacles to communication there is often a tendency of the church to minimize the need for objectivity, and to attempt to attract the uncommitted mind into a particular church communion through an appeal to identity. Some may respond to the appeal to historical identity by yielding to the call of "the Mother Church," "the oldest, the original Christian church," "the fountain­head of biblical interpretation flowing out through the stream of unbroken papal suc­cession."

Still others may succumb to a need for cultural identity, as the young African who joins the church because he views the badge of Christianity as a symbol of Western civilization with which he so much wants to be identified. Yet another may choose his denominational affiliation on the basis of social identity, selecting "the friendly community church," the church "where everyone who is anyone in town attends," or even the church with the finest Boy Scout troop or the league-lead­ing bowling team.

As Seventh-day Adventists we have a set­ting for our church within a wonderful historical-prophetic framework, and we earnestly desire to represent by our loving, joyful, and helpful Christian lives a church that has a strong socially and emotionally satisfying appeal to those we seek to woo to Christ. The fact remains, however, that the message we preach is, and will continue to be, a message that is unpopular to a rebellious and unregenerate world. Fur­ther, it must be remembered that any mi­nority group, especially one whose doctrines so often run counter to the main currents of popular religious belief, can expect to be misunderstood, misquoted, and maligned. It is apparent, then, that we cannot rely on an appeal to denominational identity if we are to succeed in our task of world evangelism.

We ask only that men honestly examine the message we preach to see if it is in­deed the Bible truth we profess it to be. The call of Adventism is a call to all men —Baptist and Buddhist, Mormon and Mos­lem—to prepare for the coming of the Lord. If revealing our identity will serve the cause of truth best, then we can re­joice in proclaiming our organizational name. But if to openly and boldly display our denominational label will so prejudice the mind of someone that the way for fur­ther communication to his soul is ob­structed, then should we not wisely with­hold this disturbing information until a more propitious time? The work of win­ning souls is this life's most demanding vocation, calling for all the wisdom, tact, good judgment, and kindly understanding we can muster. Denominational identity, as such, is not our goal. Rather, we seek to guide men honestly and objectively in their search for truth. If we find that leav­ing off identifying labels will help us in this noble pursuit, surely we may do so in all good conscience, knowing that such a course is not only reasonable and prudent but scientifically and scripturally sound as well.

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HERSCHEL C. LAMP, M.D., Medical Secretary, Middle East Division

January 1965

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