Reasonable Doubt

In criminal law, the United States has a burden of proof that must be met in order for someone to be convicted of a crime, and that is that the state must choose beyond a reasonable doubt that the suspect committed a specific crime. There may be unreasonable doubts, or shadows of a doubt, but so long as there is no reasonable doubt (itself a pretty high standard of doubt), then a conviction is merited [1]. My experience with criminal and civil law has been very limited to date (which is precisely how I want it), but the question of what doubt is reasonable is itself a serious question. After all, doubt is the other side of the coin of faith and trust, the measure of how these are lacking. Reasonable doubt is the measure of that which prevents us from having unreasonable faith and trust in that which does not deserve our confidence, and unreasonable doubt is that which prevents us from having the appropriate faith and trust in those things that actually deserve our confidence. What is reasonable depends on fact, and using reasonable doubt to determine that which is factual reaches perilously close to tautology–if we assume ourselves to be reasonable people, than we will assume our doubts to be reasonable, and that is not an assumption that is always safe to make. Yet if we cannot trust ourselves and our own rationality, we will certainly act unreasonably in placing our faith and trust in something (or nothing). How is it that we can develop our own minds and hearts such that we can behave to high degrees of both humanity and rationality, with a high degree of understanding our internal and external worlds?

In 1995, a little-known rapper named Jay-Z released his debut album called “Reasonable Doubt.” Ironically enough, as the case may be, the story of how the album was made itself expresses the problems of trust and confidence that tend to plague my personal existence. Jay-Z began his career some six years before, when he had been mentored by a rapper who was quickly dropped from a label, leaving Jay-Z in the lurch and dealing drugs and selling mix tapes out of the back of the car to build his reputation. Eventually he got a record deal but left it because he could do everything that the record company was trying to do better, including marketing and promotion. As a result, he ended up founding his own label, which he has successfully run, and became the sort of kingpin he sang about from the very start of his career. His doubt in the competence of record label executives was certainly reasonable, and his career a sign of what happens when colossal ambition is combined with considerable competence [2].

For a variety of reasons, I have long been intrigued with the debate between Darwinism and Intelligent Design. At the heart of the debate is what constitutes reasonable doubt. There have been many books written about the lack of empiricism inherent in Darwinian assumptions, and I have written a fair amount about the subject myself [3], and such a fact has been proven at such length and admitted in so many scientific journals that it is hardly a point of debate except that scientists understandably do not wish to admit their doubt into the area of public consciousness, where it might erode faith in the bogus Darwinian superstructure among the general public. When presuppositions come under question, what is reasonable doubt to those that have a different worldview provoke the most unreasonable hostility among those who find any such questions to be very dangerous. Attacks on presuppositions endanger the legitimacy of a worldview, and most people are sufficiently committed to their worldviews to view such attacks in the harshest and most unreasonable of ways because of the severity and sensitivity of the attacks.

How then are we to deal with reasonable doubt in our lives? Reasonable doubt is what allows us to wrestle with uncertainty, to be comfortable (at least as comfortable as one can be) with uncertainty in a world full of it, to admit that we do not have to know all the answers. It allows us to be skeptical of those who make claims without sufficient evidence, or who attempt to smuggle in presuppositions and assumptions as facts when their veracity has to be demonstrated rather than merely taken as an article of faith. Unreasonable doubt is what keeps us from recognizing the truth because of our own prejudices. Ultimately, it is reality and the truth that is to be the test of whether our doubts are unreasonable or reasonable, and our doubts and lack of trust in people often tends to provoke that which we most fear but are also at least somewhat responsible for. Such is the life, though, that we live, forced to wrestle with our commitments and with the darkness all around us, unable to escape the responsibility for our beliefs and the actions we take based on those beliefs.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

[3] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Christianity, Musings and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Reasonable Doubt

  1. Pingback: Book Review: Darwin’s Doubt | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Confidence Intervals | Edge Induced Cohesion

  3. Pingback: Burden Of Proof | Edge Induced Cohesion

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