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Faith and Obama's Birth Certificate: What is Truth?

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In John 18:38, Pilate is recorded as asking Jesus, "What is truth?" This question resonates with anyone who has spent time in a courtroom. Determining what actually happened has been a significant historical function of a "trial," a testing of the truth or falsity of the testimony of witnesses. The posting of President Obama's long-form birth certificate provides a case study in what will or will not be accepted as truth.

In law there are typically three legal standards for decision making contained in jury instructions depending on the type case as defined by legislation. There is a preponderance of evidence, proof beyond a reasonable doubt, and clear and convincing evidence. Typically, these phrases are not defined for the jury, which must decide if the appropriate burden of proof has been met.

In the famous account of the rich man and Lazarus, described in Luke 16:19-31, the dead rich man in torment asks permission of Father Abraham to return and warn his brothers. This request is denied and verse 31 states: "If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead."

So what do we believe is truth and why do we believe it? There seems to be much more than the rules of logic at work. Many might say that they know in their heart or have a gut feeling. Perhaps this is our intuitive combining of experience, logic and emotion into a judgment.

Observe the commentary about the birth certificate. What does this commentary say about the limitations of human knowledge and what is considered truthful evidence? We all live by faith in the religious arena and also by social trust in the secular world of business and government far more than we might suppose. This is why individual personal integrity that collectively creates social trust is so basic to all our interactions. Without it, we become isolated individuals or competing factions with no common understandings or truths.

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