Sherlock on God

Sherlock on God January 7, 2017

The return of Sherlock on New Year’s Day included a request for Sherlock to become a godparent, which leads him to comment on God. In the episode Sherlock says, “God is a ludicrous fiction, dreamt up by inadequates who abnegate all responsibility to an invisible magic friend.”

Yet in the same episode, Sherlock shows himself unable to get jokes made at his expense, and we also learn how his views on determinism have changed. He now views premonitions and intuition as real and insightful but natural phenomena.

But most interestingly, Sherlock comes back more than once to the vow he made to them, despite his dismissive words about God and godparenting, which were the context for that vow.

Mary uses random moves hoping to evade Sherlock, but he tracks her, first claiming that nothing is truly random, but then acknowledging that he put a tracking device in her memory stick.

And later, after Mary is killed, Sherlock goes for counselling, in what looks like the top floor of a church.

And at the very end of the episode, Sherlock returns to the running theme of the episode, which has been the famous story of the merchant running from death when he sees him (to both his and death’s surprise) in Baghdad: can Samarra be avoided?

And so within the framework of the episode, Sherlock’s dismissive words about God seem less compelling, despite his brilliance in certain kinds of deductive reasoning and observation.

Of related interest, see the recent post by Russell Cowburn (a physics professor at Cambridge University) on why he is a Christian. It starts with the limited perspective on the universe by another high-functioning sociopath who is quite brilliant in some respects but completely inept in others: Sheldon Cooper.

God is a ludicrous fiction Sherlock


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  • arcseconds

    Here is the ‘historical’ Holmes on the topic:

    “Thank you. I have no doubt I can get details from Forbes. The authorities are excellent at amassing facts, though they do not always use them to advantage. What a lovely thing a rose is!”

    He walked past the couch to the open window and held up the drooping stalk of a moss-rose, looking down at the dainty blend of crimson and green. It was a new phase of his character to me, for I had never before seen him show any keen interest in natural objects.

    “There is nothing in which deduction is so necessary as religion,” said he, leaning with his back against the shutters. “It can be built up as an exact science by the reasoner. Our highest assurance of the goodness of Providence seems to me to rest in the flowers. All other things, our powers, our desires, our food, are all really necessary for our existence in the first instance. But this rose is an extra. Its smell and its color are an embellishment of life, not a condition of it. It is only goodness which gives extras, and so I say again that we have much to hope from the flowers.”

    Percy Phelps and his nurse looked at Holmes during this demonstration with surprise and a good deal of disappointment written upon their faces. He had fallen into a reverie, with the moss-rose between his fingers. It had lasted some minutes before the young lady broke in upon it.

    “Do you see any prospect of solving this mystery, Mr. Holmes?” she asked, with a touch of asperity in her voice.

    “Oh, the mystery!” he answered, coming back with a start to the realities of life. “Well, it would be absurd to deny that the case is a very abstruse and complicated one, but I can promise you that I will look into the matter and let you know any points which may strike me.”

    “Do you see any clue?”

    “You have furnished me with seven, but, of course, I must test them before I can pronounce upon their value.”

    “You suspect some one?”

    “I suspect myself.”

    “What!”

    “Of coming to conclusions to rapidly.”

    “Then go to London and test your conclusions.”

    “Your advice is very excellent, Miss Harrison,” said Holmes, rising. “I think, Watson, we cannot do better. Do not allow yourself to indulge in false hopes, Mr. Phelps. The affair is a very tangled one.”

    ― Arthur Conan Doyle, The Naval Treaty

  • myklc

    I fear we see the fingerprints of the current authors rather than the historical Holmes. A brief examination of ‘the historical documents’: http://www.worlds-best-detective-crime-and-murder-mystery-books.com/sherlock-holmes-on-religion-article.html

  • guest

    This is very late but I really don’t think Sheldon fits the definition of a sociopath. He’s shown empathy for people on many occasions. He expresses it awkwardly, true, but a true sociopath wouldn’t feel it at all. I’m not sure what the writers intended but he seems to me to either have some form of aspergers or to be a narcissist of the fragile type.

    Sherlock also is not really a sociopath. I know he says he is but his actions prove otherwise. He has emotional attachments to people like John, Mrs. Hudson and Molly.

    I don’t think any of the things you mention contradict Sherlock’s beliefs about God. Surely you don’t have to be religious to consider keeping a vow important, especially if you make it to a friend? And intuition just being data that your conscious mind hasn’t fully noticed is actually something supported by psychological research. Going for
    counselling is common after the death of someone close to you. It doesn’t have to be church-related. Your GP can refer you through the NHS. Most atheists will agree that death cannot be avoided forever. Some of us might hope to prolong life through technology or gene therapy, but even if you could make your body unaging, there’s still the sun going supernova and the heat death of the universe to contend with.

    How are you enjoying the new series? I have to say I think it’s been terrible, disjointed, overdramatic and frankly ridiculous. I think it jumped the shark a season ago. Still watching, though, mainly for Moriarty, and because my family like it.

    • arcseconds

      Over time, the probability of accidents happening approaches 1 anyway.

      I don’t think you’ll get to the heat death of the universe (or rather to the point the fact it’s getting increasingly difficult to pump energy anywhere makes a human body thermodynamically unfeasible to run) or even the sun exploding: you’ll die in a car crash or a space vehicle accident or slip on a banana peel long before that. And that’s assuming ennui doesn’t mean you start taking ever increasing risks!

      I’ve always though Sherlock pretty hit and miss, and I’ve only watched up to the Hound of the Baskervilles. I thought the bit where Moriaty has him solving all these problems one after the other was already overly dramatic and ridiculous. It was basically an exercise in writerly one-upping.

    • I haven’t enjoyed the latest season as much as previous ones, but the series as a whole does very much feel like one would expect from Steven Moffatt given what his era of Doctor Who has looked like.