Sherlock Holmes and N. T. Wright

I made the comment in a post somewhere below that N.T. Wright was a bit like Sherlock Holmes in his methods. In fact, after reading his article on the Virgin Birth (discussed in the post from last Saturday) I have been forced to modify my claim: Holmes and Wright follow methods which are completely opposite.

The famous Sherlock Holmes quotation is “… when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

But Wright’s approach seems more appropriate for the historian: Without predeterming what is possible or impossible, look at the evidence and ask yoursef what is the most satisfying solution in terms of probability, simplicity and completeness (ie. it provides an explanation for all the evidence, without leaving awkward pieces of evidence out).

The answer may well lead you to covlude that what you initially thought was impossible actually happened.

About Schütz

I am Catholic, married to Cathy, father of Maddy & Mia. Since 2002, I have been the Executive Officer of the Ecumenical & Interfaith Commission of the Archdiocese of Melbourne. I was once a Lutheran pastor, but a "year of grace" and soul-searching led me into the Catholic Church. It was a bumpy ride, but with the support of my (still Lutheran) wife, I was finally confirmed on June 16, 2003.
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8 Responses to Sherlock Holmes and N. T. Wright

  1. Alex Caughey says:

    The challenge for the person of faith in the matter of the virgin birth is that preconceived beliefs will always influence the believer to believe what ever they wish to believe, rather than in any thought that a thorough investigative approach will reveal sufficient new evidence that will contribute to a change in that preconceived belief.

    The mysteries of faith remain just that, a mystery beyond our comprehension which we either believe, or do not also understanding that our beliefs do not change what ever occurred some two thousand years ago.

    • Stephen K says:

      Yes, Alex, I think you make a point that cannot be stressed enough: that all religious faith is about mysteries. Why, God is the ultimate mystery. The rush to declare “eureka!” over any aspect as if whatever it is should be self-evident to everyone else or that their own or any particular articulation is definitive and complete or completely and sufficiently true is responsible for much religious acrimony.

      • Schütz says:

        I am not sure about your defition of “religious faith”, Stephen (and Alex). In a post late last year, I commented that there is little difference in terms of “belief” between religion and politics. Deeply held beliefs, some that may even be described as “religious”, are not always about “mysteries”. If you met someone you thought was dead and buried but you could see them standing right in front of you, if you ate with them and touched them and listened to them (cf. 1 John 1) would you be having a “religious” exprience? It would be downright “mysterious” to be sure, and require you to do a quick rethink about what you thought was possible or not, but that doesn’t mean nebulous or intangible or inner-personal-mystical.

        • Stephen K says:

          I’m not quite sure I understand your example, David. I wouldn’t call seeing what purported to be my dead father a religious experience though it might have an effect on my religious faith. It would certainly present a mystery to me without it being a religious mystery. The mysteries of religion are a sub-set of mysteries in general. I simply say that the subject matter of religion consists of mysteries, mysteries of a certan category, of which God, the nature and existence of God and relationship with such a God are simply the central, fundamental instances.

          Perhaps you are saying that all categories of belief, faith, as well as religious, have mysterious subject matter That’s as may be, probably true, due to the limitations of most of our perspectives (how many of us are experts or insiders, at what point does one becaome either, and do experts and insiders know everything or never make mistakes?)

          I certainly think that belief is a realm distinct from knowledge, as C S Lewis pointed out. Some things in religion may appear to be matters of knowledge or are “knowable”, but the central subject matter – the divine – I believe is by nature a thing perceived through a glass darkly.

  2. Hannah says:

    “The challenge for the person of faith in the matter of the virgin birth ” is the challenge in a world that has lost its vision of God, to believe in miracles. The events which occurred several thousand years ago, began with an Immaculate conception of an “Almah” about 15-18 years prior, followed by mysterios conception (Yes) and virginal birth of Jesus 9 months later, followed by a silent time, followed by a “sending” to public ministry, and finally death and Ressurrection. All of these are mysterious events done in order to reverse the events which occurred in a dim past by another “almah” who said NO, and a man “man” who also said no.

    • Schütz says:

      In the same article on the Virgin Birth, Wright wrote:

      “‘Miracle’…is not a biblical category. The God of the Bible is not a normally absent God who sometimes intervenes. This God is always present and active, often surprisingly so.”

      It is the surprises which we call ‘miracles’. The rest of the time we aren’t paying attention!

      • Peregrinus says:

        I’m with NT Wright on this. We call it a “miracle” when we notice it, and when we can’t explain it. But this reflects our perspective; to God, nothing is unseen or inexpicable.

        And I think the culture that produced the bible texts was much more aware of this than we were. On the one hand, the world was full of phenomena that they could not explain (many of which we can explain), but these phenomena weren’t any more “God-caused” than ordinary phenomena, like seeds growing into crops, or cows producing calves.

        The gospels speak always of signs,, not miracles, and the important thing about signs is not that they are really impressive conjuring tricks, but that they point to something extraordinary and wonderful. They may well be “miraculous” in our terms, truly miraculous, but we should avoid getting hung up on this; that is our preoccupation, but it is unlikely to be the main thing the text is telling us.

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