Evidence and Casey Anthony
July 12, 2011Seth Kurtenbach from the University of Missouri SASHA calls for us to apply reason to the Casey Anthony trial.
This post originally appeared on the official blog for the University of Missouri Skeptics, Atheists, Secular Humanists, & Agnostics
Of course we know that many are outraged at the Casey Anthony verdict. However, I’ve seen some tempered and reasoned responses as well, of the form: ‘Yes, she probably did it, but the evidence just wasn’t there, so they had to acquit her.’ I agree that there was not sufficient evidence to support a conviction, and I was pleased with the jury’s respect for the evidence. Like some others, I think this case is a shining example of the system working as it is supposed to. However, I want to draw the reasonable people’s attention to a potential source of inconsistency when evaluating the case. If one agrees that the evidence is not sufficient for a conviction, on what grounds does one think that she probably did it?
I want to challenge this sort of response, even though I think it is the more reasonable response of the two. It is good that one can acknowledge that the evidence was not sufficient to overcome reasonable doubt. It is bad to then assert that she probably did it. The evidence is the same for all of us, and as many of the reasonable responders have pointed out, the jury is in the best position to judge the evidence, having dedicated as much time as they have to thinking about it. How can one acknowledge the primary importance of evidence, and the fact that the evidence does not sufficiently support the conclusion that she did it, and still positively believe that she did it? I think this is an inconsistent set of beliefs. I think that one should proportion one’s own beliefs to the evidence to the same degree expected of a jury. Ask yourself, why do you think she did it? Now, in the same mindset with which you evaluated the jury’s verdict, evaluate your own reason for believing that she did it. I think that most will realize that they do not really have a good reason for thinking that Casey Anthony murdered her child. As badly as we want to know what happened, and as easy as it is to jump to a conclusion based on some sort of common sense response to some strangeness of her behavior or the case, I think the rational response, consistent with the evidence, is to embrace one’s ignorance. I am pleased with the jury’s verdict because the evidence just wasn’t there, and because the evidence wasn’t there, I am uncertain about her guilt, and because I am uncertain about her guilt, I continue to presume that she’s innocent.
It is not enough to applaud public displays of reason. One must practice good reasoning on a daily basis, with every personal belief. If you agree that the evidence does not support a belief, then doubt is the appropriate cognitive state, whether you are on a jury or your couch.
Editor's Note: You can further follow Seth's opinions at the MUSASHA blog, specifically his most recent post that further examines the social and political implications of the Anthony verdict:
About the Author: Seth KurtenbachSeth Kurtenbach is pursuing his PhD in computer science at the University of Missouri. His current research focuses on the application of formal logic to questions about knowledge and rationality. He has his Master's degree in philosophy from the University of Missouri, and is growing an epic beard in order to maintain his philosophical powers. You can email Seth at Seth.Kurtenbach@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter: @SJKur.
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