‘Evidence-based’ is the catch-phrase of modern medicine.  For the non-medical, or those without much involvement in research, the implication of the term ”evidence-based’ is that a thing won’t be done without being subjected to properly designed and controlled research studies that, upon analysis, reveal that thing to be the right one.  In medicine, this often involves clinical trials that compare treatments in differing groups of patients with the same problem.

And in truth, it has been a long time coming.  For too long, we have done things in medicine because ‘everyone does it.’  From antibiotics for every sore throat to skull X-rays for every fall, modern medicine is a storied history of group-think and, quite often, pressure from peers and patients.  We owe a debt of thanks to brave researchers, willing to ask tough questions about established practices and courageous enough to suggest changes.

Evidence-based theory makes some sense, as long as it doesn’t turn into ‘authority-based medicine,’ and as long as theories like this are kept in proper perspective.  On a larger level, the idea of EBM is often extrapolated by those looking at life in general.  It  seems to presuppose that there are not many self-evident truths in science, medicine or life, and that if someone proposes to know a self-evident truth, that individual must be viewed with caution and suspicion.  After all, his opinions have not been evaluated for the validity of their evidence.

However, isnt it interesting that even evidence-based truth suggests that truth can be known, and that it can be discovered and validated!  The reality is that even those who don’t believe in self-evident truth, independent truth, absolute truth, must rely on the existence of it, against which their proposals, methodologies, designs, results and statistics must be compared.

More fascinating, as a Christian I frequently hear prominent thinkers suggest that my beliefs are not valid because they have not been subjected to any scientific evaluation, nor could they be.  Therefore, since objective, self-evident truth would suggest a natural law, a universal truth, and since that truth can never be evaluated in an evidence-based manner, it must be assumed that my ideas of God, and of truth, are invalid.

But if that is the case, I’d like to ask this:  are we really modern believers in science?  If so, how much of our lives are evidence-based?  Do we compare our children with other children, in a double-blinded, placebo-controlled study to see if they are good children, or worthy of our affection and love?

Have we ever validated the route we drive to work?  Oh, it may seem better than another, but isn’t that anecdote if not supported by a study and attendant statistics?  When we fall in love, we may have comparisons from the past, but are we really offering as  a hypothesis that girl A will be a three times better kisser than girl B, and less likely to interfere with our hunting season?  Are we setting up a study to compare the two?  And do they know about it?  And if so, are the guns locked in the cabinet?

We may like rib-eye, we may love to read Hemingway, but have we studied those tendencies carefully?  We may even, on a more frightful level, believe that capitalism or socialism are good, but have they been subjected to the bright light of evidence-based research?  Or are they merely evaluated by that great bugaboo of medicine, ‘anecdote?’

And if we believe that a thing is good, like health-care reform, or saving people from bankruptcy, have we studied whether or not people are worth saving, worth healing?  Have we looked at a series of poor children, divided into groups, to decide if starvation was, in fact, good for society or bad?

And have we ever asked if society, or humans, were good or bad?  Or what good or bad is?  Have we checked to see what it means to feel happy or sad, or why one or the other should be better?

Have we evidence that we are?

No.  Some things are true.  Some things are self-evident.  No matter what our often flawed research may say.

So let’s continue the research…in the proper areas.  Evidence-based practices can save untold lives and ease a boat-load of suffering.  Old, useless ideas must be let go and replaced with better ones.

But let’s remember that there are elements of the human experience that need no studies or statistics to prove beautiful and worthwhile.

Sometimes truth is, and that’s simply enough.

Edwin

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