Beyond Reasonable Doubt


Years ago, here in California, reporting for jury duty was different from what it is now. Then when we would receive the summons, we had to report to the assigned venue for ten days, or, if chosen to serve on a jury, throughout the duration of the trial.

Part of that process was for prospective jurists waiting in the jury room, to be selected randomly to serve on a panel. This group would go to an assigned courtroom where we satin the spectators’ chairs. From the panel a number of potential jurists would randomly be chosen and called up to the jury box. Those twelve, and the two alternates, were then questioned by the lawyers and the judge.

More than once I was included in a panel and sat in the courtroom listening to the lawyers explain law, ask questions, and dismiss various individuals from the box. (Those folk then returned to the jury room until they were impaneled again.) A new name was then chosen and the potential jurist would take the vacated spot in the box and would undergo the same questioning.

During my ten days, first in the criminal court and then later in the civil, I learned a lot about the legal system. But my point here is not to critic the various things I saw then or have seen since from sitting on other juries.

Rather, one of the most memorable learning experiences I had was from one defense and one prosecuting attorney who explained the term “reasonable doubt.”

The trial was of someone accused of murder, so these lawyers wanted to be sure the members of the jury would understand this important term, reasonable doubt.

The defense attorney explained by using an example. Let’s say there’s a swimming pool at a park or somewhere with a sign that says, Stay out of the water. On the side of the pool are clear footprints leading from the pool to your chair. Is this evidence beyond reasonable doubt that you have violated the law? At first blush, it might seem so. But what if there was a shower stall at the edge of the pool? What if there was the possibility of rain that day? I’ll add this one: what if there was a hose lying on the grass or various other people with water bottles that may have spilled? Suddenly there are more possibilities than just the one idea that the person did in fact enter the water when they weren’t allowed to do so.

The way the law reads, according to this lawyer, the jurist was bound to assume innocence—meaning that, if there were these other possible explanations, they were obligated to assume one of them, not the one indicating a law had been broken.

I was a little stunned (so much so that I remember the illustration all these years later). Who could ever be found guilty? Almost, it seemed, you needed an eye witness—well, more than one, and a camera would even be better—if you were to find a defendant guilty.

Then the prosecutor took his turn. He stood behind a podium with a microphone so everyone could hear. As all the attorneys, he looked the part of the professional: neat; nice shirt, tie, suit coat; well groomed. He had not walked to the podium because it was positioned in front of his table. In addition, he faced us. He brought our attention to his clothing, then said, What if someone told you I was wearing boxer shorts and not my suit pants, would you believe it to be true? We didn’t have eyewitness evidence that he was not in his boxer shorts. It was a possibility. Did that mean that we now had doubt that would prevent us from making a decision about how he was dressed?

No, he said, because of he word “reasonable.” There were no other attorneys in boxer shorts. In fact no other people in the courtroom or jury room or anywhere else in the courthouse wearing boxer shorts. To think that he was doing so, stretched the concept that there was reasonable doubt as to what he was wearing. In other words, he said, jurists can and should use deductive reasoning and not think they had to be at the crime scene and witness the crime if they were to arrive at a guilty verdict.

That long explanation applies not just to jurists. It applies to anyone who wants to know if God exists or not. There is abundant evidence that God exists, just not eyewitness evidence. I’ve written on this subject countless times (here’s one I recommend: “What Creation Tells Us About God”).

In one recent-ish post, I made a list of things that point to God’s existence. The first item is the intricacy, the complexity of life—of all the world, the universe, really. Nothing we know of, anywhere, came into existence unless something or someone made it. When we see a canyon, for example, we don’t think, Wow, an anomalous dent in the earth. No, we ascribe a means by which it was formed: by erosion from a river, by a flood, by wind or a meteor. Something.

Only the universe, according to atheists, has no cause. Oh, sure, the “Big Bang.” But what initiated the thing that initiated all the universe? Science has no answer. We don’t know, they say.

Which brings us back to reasonable doubt. I can see that atheists doubt God’s existence. But is it reasonable?

All known complex things — created by someone or something;
the universe — no idea how it came about (but it wasn’t God.)

Is the latter a reasonable position? I don’t see how it could be considered reasonable. Like the attorney who was in fact wearing suit pants, we potential jurists could make that conclusion without having to see him. It simply was not reasonable to believe otherwise. Logical deduction makes it clear.

Published in: on August 28, 2019 at 5:40 pm  Comments (9)  
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A Cat Claim And The Existence Of God


savannah_cat_portraitEarlier this week I spent the better part of one day in a discussion in the Facebook group for theists and atheists. One person (who I will refer to by the generic pronoun he) wrote, “If someone told you they had a cat, yet there was no evidence they owned a cat wouldn’t that be evidence against their cat claim?”

My answer was simple: their claim that they owned a cat must be considered as evidence, unless they’ve proved themselves to be liars or delusional.

His response was simply this: produce the cat.

But there’s the problem. What if the cat is an indoor cat? Or what if, for safety reasons, the owner only wants the cat to be allowed in the backyard?

Anybody claiming that the cat doesn’t exist has to doubt the word of the owner. Some might even go so far as to doubt the existence of a backyard. Oh, you say he’s in your backyard, but I’ve never seen your backyard. In fact, you don’t actually have a backyard. It’s more likely a park that lots of people share, and any cat that might have been spotted back there is likely someone else’s cat, or it’s not a cat at all. It’s probably a small dog or maybe even a squirrel. I’ve seen squirrels in your tree before, so your supposed cat is probably just another squirrel.

Those who question the existence of God operate from the same premise: what is true must be verified by an approved method—either by first hand knowledge (because eyewitness accounts are notoriously unreliable) or by passing the hard-evidence test.

Therefore, since I have not seen your cat, you don’t own a cat. Or, since there is no litter box contents going into your trash can, since you never bring home a new bag of cat litter, since you don’t bundle your cat into a cage and drive him to the vet from time to time, and since there aren’t cat hairs clinging to your clothes, you don’t own a cat.

Even though you say you do.

This discussion can be frustrating, especially if the cat is somewhere else at present. Suppose the owner took it with her on a trip abroad, only to have it quarantined when she returned. Roughly thirty days, the customs officials said. So day after day the owner tells the neighbor she has a cat, one he’ll see when it gets home.

The neighbor, however, refuses to believe she has a cat because he says, “Faith is no path to truth as it can be used to justify anything.” In other words, he refuses to believe the owner’s word. That would not be evidence. That would be faith, and faith is just wishful thinking.

But what if the owner’s son also said, “Yes, we have a cat.” And the vet who gave the animal shots before the trip abroad said, “I know she owns a cat.” Are three eyewitnesses enough?

To complicate things, what if the discussion was about a former cat, not a current pet. What if she told her neighbor she once owned a prize-winning Savannah she sold for $30,000. The neighbor demands proof. “Produce the bill of sale or pictures,” he says.

But then he disqualifies the bill of sale she brings out because it is handwritten. “Anyone could have forged that document,” he says. The pictures could just as easily have been photo-shopped from ones on line. So how can she prove that she indeed owned the cat? Eyewitness accounts are out, documentation is out, and “faith” in the owner’s word is out.

I don’t want to belabor the analogy. The point is, the neighbor has decided he doesn’t believe the woman owned a cat which she sold for $30,000. It’s not in his experience that a cat could cost that much, and he never saw the cat himself. He’s not going to be so foolish as to believe the woman because she could tell him anything. Is he supposed to believe any old story that she or others choose to tell?

The fact is, the man does have faith: primarily in his own knowledge and experiences. If he had seen the cat, he’d believe. Others might believe once they see the bill of sale. Still others might be convinced by the pictures. But all of them have faith in something or someone.

Faith is nothing more than trusting a source.

When it comes to God and His existence, He is the primary source. He demonstrates His existence in what He has made. He tells us of His existence in His written revelation. Ultimately He exhibited His existence by taking on the likeness of humankind. Currently He verifies His existence by His presence in the lives of those who believe Him.

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said—
To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled? (“How Firm A Foundation,” Timeless Truths)

Published in: on December 7, 2016 at 6:00 pm  Comments Off on A Cat Claim And The Existence Of God  
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The Existence of God Wasn’t Always A Question


Bible-openSome years back I had an amazing revelation when I was reading Psalm 115 related to the existence of God—not whether He exists but how to digest the arguments against His existence by those who do not recognize Him. In Psalm 115, the writer includes a section about idols:

Their idols are silver and gold,
The work of man’s hands.
They have mouths, but they cannot speak;
They have eyes, but they cannot see;
They have ears, but they cannot hear;
They have noses, but they cannot smell;
They have hands, but they cannot feel;
They have feet, but they cannot walk;
They cannot make a sound with their throat. (vv 4-7)

The thing is, this is written in juxtaposition to “But our God is in the heavens.” In other words, by implication, the psalmist is saying, God is all that these idols are not.

My thought was, how did the psalmist know? Did he see a vision of God? Or accept that God had spoken through the Torah? Did he believe the stories passed down from father to son about God in the midst of Israel’s camp for forty straight years—or was he one of those older children who witnessed God’s presence? Was he, perhaps, a high priest who had seen the tablets written by the finger of God? Or had he heard a prophet and witnessed the fulfillment of his words?

Interestingly, this statement that God is in the heavens seems to be unquestioned, not the introduction of a topic to debate.

Years later, Jeremiah said something very similar, but the fact that he was a prophet would indicate to me that he had first hand knowledge of the fact that God lives.

First, reciting what God said, he describes the inanimate idols of the nations, ending with:

“Like a scarecrow in a cucumber field are they,
And they cannot speak;
They must be carried,
Because they cannot walk!
Do not fear them,
For they can do no harm,
Nor can they do any good.” (Jeremiah 10:5)

The next verse, and this would appear to be Jeremiah’s conclusion, says “There is none like You, O LORD;/You are great, and great is Your name in might.”

All this to say, it doesn’t appear that the Israelites had any question about God’s existence. Their problem was His identity.

Moses’s question was this: When the people ask me for Your name, what should I tell them?

I used to have trouble with the answer: I AM WHO I AM. What did that even mean?

Now I realize it is most profound. God is and always has been. He is before anything else was and He will continue to be, without end. He is the creator and sustainer of the world. All things find their being in Him and without Him nothing was made that has been made. In Him is life and breath. And He has no end.

So my revelation? Questioning the existence of God seems to be a very modern thing. The psalmist and Jeremiah had no problem identifying false gods as nothing, but they knew quite well that God lives.

This article, minus some minor editorial changes, first appeared here at A Christian Worldview Of Fiction in December 2007.

Published in: on January 14, 2016 at 6:53 pm  Comments (13)  
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