22.9.08

The "Conan Doyle" Principle

When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.
~ The Sign of Four, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle


The creator of the greatest fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes, came up with this great observation on deductive reasoning: examine all the explanations, then eliminate those which could not have happened until only one remains.

There is nothing wrong with the logic in this statement. Detectives still talk about eliminating people from their enquiries, and my son even has a game "Guess Who?" which works on the same principle.

However there is more to this statement, and it is very telling. It shows people will be prepared to believe something that is totally improbable and full of inconsistencies if they consider it to be the only option on the table. It also shows that what people end up believing goes hand in hand with what they are not prepared to believe. Although some explanations will be eliminated through observation and reasoning - some are never even considered because they are deemed impossible from the outset.

Your assumptions on what is possible determines your worldview, and your worldview determines your belief. It doesn't matter how much evidence to the contrary you are presented with, if you filter that evidence though you presuppositions you will never be presented with anything that challenges your belief.

Take the darwinian theory of evolution. It doesn't matter how improbable it is, or how many unexplained stages it involves, to those who have written of anything supernatural as impossible, the fact that we are here is the only proof they need to claim that it must be true.

It is said "seeing is believing" but the "Conan Doyle" principle shows that this is often not the case. You might think that all that is required to convince someone who disbelieves in the miraculous is for them to witness a miracle, but in practice it doesn't work like that. If someone holds firm to their belief that the supernatural is impossible they will reinterpret the evidence to an alternative explanation no matter how improbable that might be. In the Gospel accounts, when Jesus presented a man born blind who could now see, there were many who preferred to believe that Jesus had found another healthy man who looked identical to the blind man, than accept that a miracle had occurred.

You see in cases like these seeing is not believing. Compelling evidence alone is not enough to persuade. What is required is a change of worldview that allows people to reach a correct conclusion from the evidence. Without this they will go away just as sceptical as when they arrived.

The ancient Greeks had a word for this change of worldview: metaknoia. It means literally to change your mind. Not to change you mind about something, but as if you had exchanged your mind - radically changing the way you think about something.

Interestingly, this is the word that gets translated as "repent" in the Bible, and was the first word used by both Jesus and John the Baptist in their message about the coming kingdom of God. "Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand." Change your assumptions about what is possible, because if you don't you will not be able to receive anything that follows.

9 comments:

Ricky Carvel said...

"the impossible often has a kind of integrity to it which the merely improbable lacks"
Dirk Gently
;o)

Chris HH said...

Like it!

Richard Bentall said...

Chris

I do find it somewhat sad spending large amounts of money in the search for an understanding to creation when all you need to know is found in Genesis 1. With the Large Hadron Collider having a technical fault that has caused it to shut down for the time being, I do think that any “results” will never come to fruition, infact I do think that there will be other problems with this machine in the coming months.

We must keep in our minds that God created this MEST universe (MEST = Matter, Energy, Space and Time), and as such, is not part of the very universe, He created [although he is in it]. God transcends both space and time, and does not consist of matter or energy. (Jesus said, "God is Spirit.")

So, the question of whatever they find, has an answer of, that, too, was created by God.

The point is, since God is not part of this MEST (i.e. material) universe, the physics that explains this universe can not explain God; furthermore, the methods used to test and measure this MEST universe can not possibly be used to test or measure God.

God said "If you seek for me, then you shall find me, if you search for me with all your heart (with an honest and humble heart), and I will be found of you, says the Lord."

God said He would reveal Himself to the humble heart, but He also said that He would hide Himself from the proud, the arrogant, the mocker, the skeptic, and the scoffer alike.

If you don't even bother seeking God, you can not say God doesn't exist.

If, however, you DO seek God but you don't find Him, to know WHY you can't find Him, you need look no farther than your own heart for answers.

The ball is now in your court Mr Large Hadron Collider and your following Scientists

Richard

PS Every blessing to you and your family

Ricky Carvel said...

Hello.

Richard just said:
"We must keep in our minds that God created this MEST universe (MEST = Matter, Energy, Space and Time), and as such, is not part of the very universe, He created [although he is in it]. God transcends both space and time, and does not consist of matter or energy. (Jesus said, "God is Spirit.")"

I've been following the Christian response to the LHC experiment in CERN with interest. I've noticed quite a few Christians asserting things (like the above) that the Bible doesn't say.

For example, I am not aware of any passage in the Bible that even implies that God is outside of or created time. Because the people to whom God gave his revelation and who wrote it down had no concept that anything or anyone could be outside of time. Yes, he is the alpha and the omega, but that merely means he was at the beginning and still will be at the end. There's no suggestion that he is able to (for example) travel in time or is somehow currently in multiple points in time.

Likewise when Jesus says 'God is Spirit' that doesn't imply that God has no matter or energy, because those concepts weren't around at the time this was written.

Sorry to appear to be moaning at you, its just that I've heard too many people imposing world views onto the biblical text that simply were not in the heads of the folk who wrote them.

And when it comes to Genesis 1, I still want to know who created the 'waters' - the stuff out of which God creates heaven and earth?

Richard Bentall said...

Ricky

When I say God is out of this universe, then what I mean is he is not subject to the elements but wholely part of it [it may seem a contridiction but its not].
God is out side of time because you hit the nail on the head "the alpha and Omega" and time is only here for man and not God. God is not a man and therefore he may have matter, but could be in a different elelment as know it God is not a man that he should lie or sleep etc.

Ricky - regarding your last point And when it comes to Genesis 1, I still want to know who created the 'waters' - the stuff out of which God creates heaven and earth? God did. Is does say In Genesis 1 In the Beginning God created. If God didn't, then He wouldn't be a creative God in totallity, only partly, and we know that is not true. How did he do that I don't know all I know is that God created the heavens and the earth and the fullness thereof.

Have a great day

Richard

Chris HH said...

Ricky,

The concept of God being outside of time and creating time comes from a combination of a biblical understanding that God created all things, and a scientific understanding (courtesy of Einstein) that space and time, matter and energy are integrally connected and cannot exist one without another.

But you are right, God never refers to himself as being outside of time, and never relates to his creation in that way - so we shouldn't speculate too much about that.

He also refers to himself not in terms of absence of time, but of fullness of time. He exists in eternity - he is the Ancient of Days.

This implies to me that whilst our own expression of time came into existence with creation, it is a physical representation of a heavenly reality - the eternity in which God has always existed.


Richard,

Some good comments, although a little off topic ;-)

I have posted my own thoughts on the LHC as a separate post. BTW point 3 is in no way intended as a dig at you. I've heard this opinion in various forms before, and just wanted to set the record straight.

SLW said...

Chris, Ricky & Richard,
I would add that the biblical concept of holiness (otherliness) as applied to God clarifies his reality apart from creation. He sustains creation by his will but isn't sustained, confined nor defined by it.

Richard Bentall said...

Chris - Its good to get these points out there from a Christian view and its seems that once again you have hit a hot cookie.

Good to see you blogging again and keep up these posts, there are good reading and get the grey matter going.

Richard

Ricky Carvel said...

Richard said:
"regarding your last point And when it comes to Genesis 1, I still want to know who created the 'waters' - the stuff out of which God creates heaven and earth? God did. Is does say In Genesis 1 In the Beginning God created. If God didn't, then He wouldn't be a creative God in totallity, only partly, and we know that is not true. How did he do that I don't know all I know is that God created the heavens and the earth and the fullness thereof."

Hi there. I'm really not meaning to pick on you here, but you're touching on a subject that has been irritating me for some time...

Yes, the bible tells us that God made "the heavens and the earth" but its only through a 20th/21st century interpretation of those words that we come to the understanding that God created the entire universe. In OT times the 'heavens' were basically the skies and close stars immediately above the earth. That is all that Genesis ever claims God created. There's a vast near-infinity of universe out there that the bible never tells us anything about.

You say "If God didn't, then He wouldn't be a creative God in totallity, only partly, and we know that is not true." but actually, we know no such thing, we only assume it.

As I say in this post, Genesis 1v1 appears to be a summary statement of what happens in verses 3 and following. The 'waters' mentioned in verse 2 are assumed to be there as a starting point.

The bible claims that God is really powerful, but contemporary Christians assert that he is infinitely powerful. The bible claims that God made this world and its environs (out of the chaos), but contemporary Christians claim that God made everything that is (out of nothing).

We (Christians) are prone to exaggerate every claim made in the bible, up to the point of claiming things that are actually impossible. No wonder folk don't believe in the God we proclaim.

We proclaim the God who knew about the tsunami before it happened, who actually had supreme control over the tsunami, who could have prevented the tsunami, but chose not to and let thousands of people die...

The bible tells of a God with plans for the future, not foreknowledge of everything. With great power but not infinite power. Who made us but not necessarily everything. Who is ever present with us (his people), but not necessarily omnipresent. etc. etc.

We have been playing a game of 'our God's bigger than your god' for centuries and have ended up at the point where the God we proclaim is not actually consistent with the reality we see around us.

Rant over, sorry.

Ric.