Tuesday, September 11, 2012


Every now and then, a bit comes along that hits to the heart of what I love about Sherlock Holmes. When you get past the cool trappings, be they Victorian or Cumberbatchian, the fun personality (oh, yes!), and the ever faithful Watson, Sherlock Holmes is about rational thought and, that constant bane of the superstitious: science.
I discovered the following in The Magic of Reality: How We Know What's Really True by Richard Dawkins.

“What would you think of a detective who, baffled by a murder, was too lazy even to try to work at the problem and instead wrote the mystery off as ‘supernatural’? The whole history of science shows us that things once thought to be the result of the supernatural – caused by gods (both happy and angry), demons, witches, spirits, curses and spells – actually do have natural explanations: explanations that we can understand and test and have confidence in. There is absolutely no reason to believe that those things for which science does not yet have natural explanations will turn out to be of supernatural origin, any more than volcanoes or earthquakes or diseases turn out to be caused by angry deities, as people once believed they were.”

I don’t know if Dawkins had Holmes in mind when he wrote that, but some of Sherlock’s most fun cases are the ones where he debunks an apparently supernatural event. The Hound of the Baskervilles. “The Devil’s Foot.” “The Sussex Vampire.”  And one of the worst sins that any non-Doyle author can commit in writing of Sherlock Holmes is putting him up against a supernatural creature who remains supernatural. Dracula. Aleister Crowley. Cthulhu. A real Sherlock Holmes would debunk anything thrown at him, reducing it to a simple, explainable thing, to which Lestrade would remark, “Oh . . . that’s all it is.”

Science. It’s a great thing.

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