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A Reasonable Doubt: Why the Presumption of Innocence Matters

A Reasonable Doubt? Justice must be blind, and deaf to public pressure.
Justice must be blind, and deaf to public pressure.

I love my freedom. By that I mean, I love to be able to go to Tim Hortons and buy a coffee on a whim, at any time of day or night. I love to walk outside and smell the fresh air. I love to travel and see the world.

Reasonable Doubt is the Law

What a terrifying thing it is when all the powers of government, exercised through the police and the judiciary are lined up against a private citizen to deprive him or her of their life, or their freedom. Enjoying the Golden Thread of Criminal Law is one of the great privileges of living in a country with a heritage tied to the English legal tradition. Every defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty in our legal system. The presumption of innocence is inextricably intertwined with the notion of reasonable doubt.

The Appellate Committee of the House of Lords (now known as the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom), articulated this principle clearly in one very famous case:

Throughout the web of the English Criminal Law one golden thread is always to be seen, that it is the duty of the prosecution to prove the prisoner’s guilt subject to what I have already said as to the defence of insanity and subject also to any statutory exception. If, at the end of and on the whole of the case, there is a reasonable doubt, created by the evidence given by either the prosecution or the prisoner . . . the prosecution has not made out the case and the prisoner is entitled to an acquittal. No matter what the charge or where the trial, the principle that the prosecution must prove the guilt of the prisoner is part of the common law of England and no attempt to whittle it down can be entertained. ((1936) 25 Cr App R 72, [1935] UKHL 1, [1935] AC 462, [1935] 1 AC 462)

The basic elements of the golden thread are:

  • It is the duty of the prosecution to prove the case.
  • If reasonable doubt exists, there is no option, but, “the prisoner is entitled to an acquittal.”
  • No attempt to write down this right can be entertained.

Reasonable Doubt is Challenged

Sometimes our politicians seem to forget this (see here, and here). Movements that have good intentions can sometimes be guilty of violating this too. The #meetoo movement, for example, has done an admirable job of calling out systemic abuse by powerful perpetrators who once appeared to be “above the law.” But, what if a hash tagged individual is innocent? or what is the next movement is more sinister? What consequences could this bring out?

Every free citizen should be deeply concerned to understand and the importance of the Golden Thread principle. We did not have the presumption of innocence granted to us by a benevolent power. It was the development of centuries of conflict and of debate, of blood and sweat.

Centuries ago, the monarchs and lords ruled nations with personal power over life and death. But in the 13thcentury the English Barons defeated King John on the field of battle and forced him to sign the Magna Carta (the Great Charter), which set the stage for the constitutional protections we take for granted.

Magna Carta required one right, known as the right of habeus corpus, a guarantee against illegal imprisonments. When this writ is filed, an accused person must be brought before a competent court. A court, and not a dictator will adjudicate the rightness of an imprisonment.

Reasonable Doubt is Defensible

The right to go before a court is important. The right to a presumption of innocence is vital. Along with the principle of reasonable doubt, they are our only defences against tyrannical powers. We may not like a certain jury verdict in a certain case. Government has all the resources it needs to prove its case. It has all the powers of the state at its disposal. If the prosecution can’t find a way to prove its case, maybe this should tell us something! We must be careful with unleashing the power of the state on an individual. The great English legal commentator and educator William Blackstone reminds us, “the law holds it better that ten guilty persons escape, than that one innocent party suffer” (source).


5 Relationships that Mark an Authentic Church Leader

Discerning the True Church Leaders from the False
Five Ways to Spot a True Church Leader?

There are so many churches out there today. Sometimes it can be a challenge to figure out which church to join, and which church leaders we should follow. It can even be hard to tell whether a leaders is an authentic leader, or false church leader.

Expect (In)Authentic Leaders

The Bible regularly warns us that there are going to be false leaders everywhere in every era. These many warnings force us to recognize that we might be deceived, if we are not alert.

5 Relationships that Contrast Authentic and Inauthentic Leaders

This problem of figuring out who is authentic isn’t new. The Corinthians were caught in a vicious battle between the Apostle Paul, and a group of self-designated “super apostles,” who sought to win their allegiance. These super apostles made a lot of good points. They were present with the congregation, they were persuasive, but they were not legitimate. Paul contrasts his ministry with theirs, showing 5 relationships that prove his authenticity.  

Interest-Based Negotiation: Making Peace Without Giving In

Interest-Based Negotiation:Why Can't We Just Get Along?
How Interest-Based Negotiation Can bring people, businesses, families and nations together

Interest-based negotiation is a proposed answer to the critical question, why can’t we just get along? As a parent, I am always petitioning my children to stop fighting, and to get along. But, how can I expect my kids to do this, when most of the adults around them cannot seem do so? The secret to peace between nations and humans is the same—find ways to work together. The trouble is that we just can’t seem to get along.

A cursory reading of Facebook, a few minutes of watching, or reading the news demonstrates our propensity for polarizing conflict. Every day we are reminded that that politics are becoming more and more polarized in Western Democracies (source). The World Economic Forum published a piece arguing that this fragmentation is “crippling Western democracies” (source). Families are not immune. The Independent explains that our societies are experiencing a “family breakdown ‘epidemic’” (source).

A trio of Harvard professors –Fisher, Ury and Patton, in their classic Getting to Yes(now in its 3rdedition: Penguin Books 2011 kindle; .uk.co; .ca) explain that one of the main reasons negotiations in business, family, or politics break down, is that parties get fixated on their positions. People are then left with three choices, win, lose, or compromise.

Now, it’s great to win. But what if winning costs you a friendship? It’s brutal to lose, but what if that is the cost of keeping your job? If you are absolutely convinced you are in the right, how can you accept compromise? But what if the zero-sum approach leads to a total loss?

Why Can’t We Just Get Along: Interest-Based Negotiation

What Fisher, Ury and Patton have done, is changed the rules of the game. In every disagreement that ends up in a negotiation, they explain, there are two aspects. First there is the substantive difference between the parties. Second, there is the process by which the two sides engage. The process is where the problems lie. On social media, and in the mainstream media, and in the alternative medias this process is usually a process of making outrageous ad hominem attacks (an argument or reaction directed against a person rather than the position they are maintaining), which reinforce the side held by the commentor.

But what would happen if you re-envisioned the process? Fisher, Ury and Patton argue for four game changing steps: (1) Separate the people from the problem; (2) focus on interests, not positions; (3) invent multiple options looking for mutual gains, before deciding what to do; and (4) insist that the results be based on some objective standard.

This process of interest-based negotiation has been very successful in the business world, the political world and in family conflicts. Let me begin by breaking down the steps:

Interest-Based Negotiation Step One: Separate People from the Problems

This first point, “responds to the fact that human beings are not computers” the authors explain (p 12). Our emotions, and their emotions often get in the way.  Our first step is therefore to find out the real issue(s) that we are in conflict about. Is there something (anything) concrete that we can discuss?

This seems to be the critical first step most of us miss, when we get into a conflict. We are usually upset, or feel threatened, or even overcome by the excitement and opportunity before us. We fail to realize the person who upsets us, threatens us, or stands in our way, probably feels the same way!

Interest-Based Negotiation Step Two: Focus on Interests, Not Positions

This second point is crucial. If we want to move past the thee options of the old way (Win, Lose, or Compromise), we have to do a little careful consideration. What do I really want? Why am I convinced that I need X position to happen/be true? What am I seeking, or defending, or feeling? If I can identify my real interest, rather than my position, I might be able to see other positions, maybe even many positions, which would achieve what I desire. And if I know what the other party wants, well, maybe we can both win!

Interest-Based Negotiation Step Three: Invent Multiple Options Looking for Mutual Gains, Before Deciding What to Do

This third step might just change everything. It recognizes “the difficulty of designing optimal solutions under pressure” (p. 12). I think about final exams when I contemplate this step. You have been in classes for 8 months and read and hear a significant amount of material. Most exams in law school are designed as closed book, 100% finals. So, you show up, and you have 3 hours to find optimal solutions to problem-based questions. I fail to see how this is real world applicable!

But in difference of opinion, in church, politics, family, or business, you have the chance to step back. You have taken the emotion out of the equation by focusing on the problem to be solved, not the person to be attacked. You have discovered what yours, and the other party’s real interests are, now you can brainstorm. This is not a zero-sum game. There are win-win solutions to most conflicts.

The newly discovered solution may not look anything like your original position. But if the thing you are really interested in is satisfied, why would you care?

Interest-Based Negotiation Step Four: Insist on Using Objective Criteria

Interest-based negotiation takes hard work. This is the most time consuming stage (However, you are long past the most difficult is probably the emotional hurdle of step one!). The authors of Getting to Yesexplain the three stages of this step: (1) the analysis stage, (2) the planning stage, (3) the discussion stage.

If you can take your time and gather and organize information, you will be in a position to plan for wise, efficient, and amicable outcomes. Having figured out the problem, discovered each parties interests, and committed to invent multiple solutions, you are finally ready to have that discussion you wanted to short-circuit with a Tweet.

Essential Christianity: God the Father Almighty

God the Father Almighty
God the Father Almighty

“I believe in God the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.” (see my introduction to the creed).

We may live in a sceptical and naturalistic age, but statistically, most people still believe in God. It is irrational to deny the existence of the creator of heaven and earth. Plato believed that the universe was “the product of rational, purposive, and beneficent agency” (source). Aristotle believed that all movement depends on there being a mover. This observation led him to surmise that one mover proceeded another “a chain of events [that] must lead back to something which moves but is itself unmoved.” This initial mover Aristotle “referred to as the Prime Mover… a being with everlasting life, and in Metaphysics Aristotle also calls this being ‘God’” (source).

These great minds reflect the truth that it is only “the fool” who “says in his heart, ‘there is not God’” (Psalm 14:1) – “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.” (Romans 1:20).

God the Creator, the Almighty

The Bible describes the Creative power of God as exercised through speech, “By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host” (Psalm 33:6). In the story of Creation, we read of this power described simply, “God said … and there was…” (see Genesis 1:3).

Linguists refer to certain utterances as speech acts, sometimes called words of illocutionary force. These are words that produce a particular effect–“saying can makes it so” (source). In our ordinary lives we see such speech acts. When an authorized officiant at a wedding says, “I now pronounce you man and wife” it makes it so.  God repeats his speech acts in each of the six days of Creation.

How powerful must the Creator of the world be that, at his word, the countless stars of the cosmos were brought into existence? The Apostles’ Creed was originally drafted in Greek. When it speaks about the Father’s creative power, it refers to him as “the Almighty”.  The word translated as “Almighty,” in the first line, is παντοκράτορ(pantokrator). This word means “all grasping,” or, we might say, “he’s got the whole world in his hands.”

This idea that God has the “whole world in his hands” may make for a fun children’s song. But what does it mean in real life? First, it means a great deal. Second, it means a great comfort.

God Almighty Means A Great Deal

Every moment of every day God Almighty holds everything together. He controls every act of every empire in earth. According to Scripture, the desire of even an absolute monarch “is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will.” (Proverbs 21:1). Not even a bird falls from the sky, without his involvement (Matthew 10:29).  We fret about politics. We fret about the actions of a Putin, or a Trump, or a Kim Jong-un, but, “All the nations are as nothing before [God], they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness” (Isaiah 40:17). In his own words, “I am the LORD, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create calamity; I, the LORD, do all these things” (Isaiah 45:7).

God Almighty Means A Great Comfort

The Apostle Paul asks his readers to reflect on this question: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). God promised his people “fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10). There is nothing we face that God cannot handle, “greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world” (1 John 4:4). We are his children (John 1:12) And God cares for his children, “cast all your worries upon him for he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).

In several recent sermons I reflected on the practical comfort and hope we receive from God, the Father Almighty:

The God of all Comfort(2 Corinthians 1:3-7)

What Hamlet Didn’t know(2 Corinthians 4:13-18)

Further Reflections on God, the Father Almighty

A Sermon on “the Almighty” from Romans 1:18ff


Essential Christianity Beliefs Preamble: I Believe in God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit

Essential Christianity Belief #1: I Believe in God
Essential Christianity Belief #1: I Believe in God

I Believe. But what is this faith I have? “I believe in God the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord . . . I believe in the Holy Spirit. . .  Christianity is first and foremost faith in the Triune God. In my Introductory Post, I explained that the Creed reveals the 12 Essential Beliefs which mark a Christian, as a Christian. (see my introduction to the creed). But behind, and throughout each of these beliefs is the great reality of the Triune God. 

I Believe in God: The Triune Creator, Word, and Spirit.

We may live in a skeptical and naturalistic age, but statistically, most people still believe in God (Source; Source 2; Source 3). This is unsurprising since it is irrational to deny the existence of the creator of heaven and earth. The Bible describes God’s creative power, with a simple phrase, “God said … and there was…” (see Genesis 1:3). This is repeated in each of the six days of Creation. The Psalmist summarizes things this way, “By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host” (Psalm 33:6). 

God’s creative and sustaining power is seen everywhere. All things that exist are symbols, declaring something of his existence and his nature: 

[19] For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. [20] For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. (Romans 1:19–20a)

Plato reads many of the symbols and finds himself drawn to Creator (source). Aristotle as well reads from Creation the necessity of a First Cause (source). Those that are literate in nature simply see God everywhere, though some deliberately close their eyes, and remain in ignorance (Romans 1:18-23). Content to be illiterate, they may benefit from the wisdom of Socrates, who would argue, “the unexamined life is not worth living” (source).

Christian’s read the symbolic language of nature. But, they do not stop there. They move beyond believing in the (necessary) existence of God, to a place where they believe in God. But what does this mean? 

Jesus the Word and the Reason Behind the Universe

The Word and Greek Philosophy
The Word and Greek Philosophy

When the earliest Christians (the authors of the Bible and their immediate successors) wanted to explain the nature of Jesus to the Greco-Roman world, they picked a word packed with meaning–Word:

[1] In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. [2] He was in the beginning with God. [3] All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. [4] In him was life, and the life was the light of men. [5] The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:1–5)

Logos (Λόγος) is the Greek behind the translation of Word

What the ESV translates as Word, is the Greek word Logos (λόγος): “Logos is the Greek term translated as ‘word,’ ‘speech, ‘principle,’ or ‘thought.’ In Greek philosophy, it also referred to a universal, divine reason or the mind of God (source).

Jesus, Dylan, and Creative Subversion

Jesus, Dylan, and Creative Subversion
Jesus, Dylan, and Creative Subversion

What is creative subversion? Driving to my daughter’s ballet recital, I played one of those curated “for you” playlists. Jimi Hendrix began to wail, and my mind wandered, in a natural way, to a contemplation of Jesus’ method of persuasion:

There must be some kind of way outta here/ Said the joker to the thief/ There’s too much confusion / I can’t get no relief.

Bob Dylan’s iconic song (All Along) The Watchtower is considered one of the greatest songs of all time. If you are not sure how this song led me to a contemplation of Jesus’ persuasive strategy, well, … keep reading.

How Should a Christian Educate Their Children, Public, Private, Homeschool?

Successful Parenting: How Should I Educate My Children
Successful Parenting: How Should I Educate My Children

Sometimes we hear Christians speak derogatorily about education. There is a certain strand of thinking that sees education as a secular pursuit, not worthy of a spiritual person’s pursuit. This should not be so. Education is good. It is a real privilege. It was, of course, Christians that brought about the first publicly available education systems in Europe and North America. In fact, until the 20thcentury education was almost exclusively the work of the church (source).

This is a natural outflow of a religion that values written Scripture, which appeals to thought, “’Come let us reason together’ says the LORD” (Isaiah 1:18). Christians are called to “be transformed by the renewal of [their] minds” (Romans 12:2). One who aspires to be righteous must be a careful thinker, “The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer” (Proverbs 15:28). Jesus appeals to his followers, “ Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16)

So what kind of education should Christian parents seek for our children? How can our children be equipped to reason, to transform their minds, to ponder their answers, and to be wise?

Transforming Texts: Review of Craig Carter, Interpreting Scripture with the Great Tradition

Transforming Texts: Review of Craig Carter, Interpreting Scripture with the Great Tradition
Transforming Texts: Review of Craig Carter, Interpreting Scripture with the Great Tradition

Carter, Craig A.  Interpreting Scripture with the Great Tradition: Recovering the Genius of Premodern Exegesis. Baker Academic 2018

What has the Academy to do with the local Church? Have you ever tried to read an “academic commentary” in preparation to teach a Sunday school class, or for your personal benefit, or for family devotions? What was that experience like? For many (including seminary graduates, or those who have done academic study of the Scriptures), there is a disconnect between what the academy (or commentary) teaches, and what the church believes and practices. Why is this so? Does the Church need to catch up to the times? Is there a problem in the academic tradition? What can, or should we do?

I have read substantially on hermeneutics,  and on interpreting Scripture, as well as on interpreting legal texts, contracts, and cases. This is a field of study I enjoy. But I have not been so stimulated, challenged, and affirmed in my faith reading a book on Interpreting Scripture before.

The 12 Basic Beliefs You Must Hold to be a Christian

The Rule of Faith: 12 Things You Must Believe to be a Christian
The Rule of Faith: 12 Things You Must Believe to be a Christian

What is a Christian? We can answer this question from a few different perspectives. But, the first part of the answer must deal with content. You must believe a certain set of beliefs. The Apostle Paul explains, “by [believing these truths] you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you” (1 Corinthians 15:2). Christians, for almost 2000 years, have universally held out at least 12 basic truths that define the necessary basis of the Faith. These 12 beliefs are found in the Bible.  But a statement called the Apostle’s Creed has helpfully summarized them. There may be more to being a Christian than merely believing the 12 basic beliefs of the Christianity, but there can never be less.