I’ve been producing a podcast and hosting a website (PleaseConvinceMe.com) for several years now, and people email me with their questions and doubts related to the evidence for the Christian worldview. Skeptics sometimes write to inform me that they simply don’t believe there is enough evidence to prove that God exists. Christians sometimes write to tell me that they are struggling with doubt because they aren’t sure if the evidence is sufficient. In many ways, all of these folks are struggling with the same question that jurors face in every case. When is enough, enough? When is it reasonable to conclude that something is true? When is the evidence sufficient?
In legal terms, the line that must be crossed before someone can come to the conclusion that something is evidentially true is called the “standard of proof” (the “SOP”). The SOP varies depending on the kind of case under consideration. The most rigorous of these criteria is the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard that is required at criminal trials. But how do we know when we have crossed the line and are “beyond a reasonable doubt”? The courts have considered this important issue and have provided us with a definition:
“Reasonable doubt is defined as follows: It is not a mere possible doubt; because everything relating to human affairs is open to some possible or imaginary doubt. It is that state of the case which, after the entire comparison and consideration of all the evidence, leaves the minds of the jurors in that condition that they cannot say they feel an abiding conviction of the truth of the charge.”
This definition is important because it recognizes the difference between reasonable and possible that we discussed earlier. There are, according to the ruling of the court, “reasonable doubts,” “possible doubts,” and “imaginary doubts.” The definition acknowledges something important: every case has unanswered questions that will cause jurors to wonder. All the jurors will have doubts as they come to a decision. We will never remove every possible uncertainty; that’s why the standard is not “beyond any doubt.” Being “beyond a reasonable doubt” simply requires us to separate our possible and imaginary doubts from those that are reasonable.
-Jim Wallace in Cold-Case Christianity, KL 2163-2195.