Sherlock Holmes (2009)
A) What the film declares about the current worldview (specific details)
The 2009 detective film “Sherlock Holmes” espouses the naturalism worldview and indirectly attacks theism (namely Christianity) through the film's plot, visuals, and dialogue. The plot revolves around Sherlock Holmes unraveling the mystery of a man's resurrection from the dead. Of course, while others tremble at the apparent supernatural event, the eccentric scientist Sherlock is unphased, and sets to determining not if, but how a man could be resurrected. Clearly operating from a naturalistic worldview, he begins asking the pertinent question of, “What are the facts?” which sum up a key line from the film: “It's a huge mistake to theorize before one has data. Inevitably, one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.” The film's unsaid assumption is that once one has the facts, all supernatural theories will be put to rest at the feet of Naturalism and reason.
Sherlock then begins disproving one supernatural act after another with a natural explanation for each, since according to his worldview "everything that occurs in the universe is due to the operation of the laws of nature" (Th, 186; Th, 2:127). He shows that the notorious reputation of Lord Blackwood, the occult leader, including his magical possession of a prison guard, is all a paid performance. The hanging was faked through the use of a hook in the hangman's knot and a paid off executioner. The lack of pulse for the death pronouncement was induced by a chemical made from rhododendrons to create a death-like state. The occult leaders tomb was not broken from the inside by supernatural strength, rather the sandstone slab was already broken and glued together with an ancient Egyptian recipe of egg & honey which would wash off in the rain. The mysterious appearance of Lord Blackwood in his father's home is explained by a secret room allowing him to “appear and disappear” while Sir Thomas's helpless drowning is not a result of magic, but a paralytic chemical reaction when water filled the copper bathtub. The American cult member likewise did not magically burst into flames for shooting at Lord Blackwood, but a trick bullet ignited a liquid explosive he mistook for rain. Lastly, the attempt to kill England's Parliament through dark power was to be accomplished with cyanide gas released via remote control, while his loyal cult members were protected not by magic, but an antidote he tricked them into taking.
Power through fear is explained as the reason why Lord Blackwood went through so much trouble to deceive weak minded Theists. Conceived in an occult ceremony between a powerful practitioner (who then died in childbirth) and the occult order's leader, he was believed to be a curse. Using the convenience of his “miraculous” birth, he learned to use the occult faith to position himself to overthrow England, America and maybe the world. Theism becomes a tool to instill a fear that will allow him to establish his rule over Theists and non-theists alike. The occult leaders point this out to Sherlock Holmes by stating, “we know you don't believe in magic. We don't expect you to share our faith, just our fears.” Sherlock agrees that infectious fear is indeed the true danger, as the film subtly reduces the Theistic worldview to a means of manipulating people.
The film also makes other subtle stabs at Theism and most specifically Christianity. Lord Blackwood is found in his cell reading from The book of Revelation, John's Apocalypse. Later in the film he applies quotes of Christ living again to himself. Fearful masses are shown in the film twice, once before Lord Blackwood's hanging carrying crosses and then again before the predicted rise of the dark powers, each time needing to be subdued by police forces as preachers suspect Armageddon. Of course, the hero of naturalism, Sherlock Holmes, rejects all of this by mocking Christian scripture at the sight of Blackwood's empty tomb ominously stating “on the third day...,” with outstretched arms. Lastly, the film includes two scenes where Sherlock's genius uses natural means to create “order out of chaos” and resolve “thousands of years of theological controversy,” which the film conveniently doesn't elaborate on.
B) How it might be used as a “launching pad” for a consideration of the claims of Christ
While the film does view the world through the lens of Naturalism, it does provide justice to the human experience, even experiences contrary to the laws of nature. While pondering the resurrection of Lord Blackwood, Watson recalls his encounter with the supernatural through a man in India who “...predicted his own death down to the hour, the exact number of bullets and their placement.” And then astonishingly, Sherlock agreed that the supernatural could be at work in this case. Unlike many who hold the Naturalism worldview, miracles were not immediately cast aside as impossible, but more likely improbable. He simply was not going to jump to that conclusion without reviewing the facts.
Sherlock Holmes is portrayed as a man of logic, but even he did not rule out the possibility of the supernatural. Thus, one who assumes a natural cause and explanation for everything must be willing to critically investigate the claims and evidence of Christ. Therefore Sherlock Holme's quote about avoiding jumps to the supernatural, “it's a huge mistake to theorize before one has data. Inevitably, one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts,” cuts both ways. Ironically, the film even shows Sherlock Holmes engaging in supernatural occult practices when he is at his wits end and time is running out. While I would never recommend anyone dabble in the dark arts to test their truth claims, in the film it was only after Sherlock investigated the occult primary source documents and experienced them himself that he was able to deduce the mystery's conclusion. Therefore, one cannot conclude a purely Naturalistic system based on facts with zero room for supernatural events, without first investigating the claims of Theism and the evidence for Christ.
Despite the film's many subtle stabs at Theism and Christianity, it must be credited for its honest handling and portrayal of reality by acknowledging that Sherlock Holmes' victory in disproving Lord Blackwood's “supernatural” resurrection and dark powers, does not disprove Theism. As Sherlock Holmes reveals how he unraveled the mystery and dispelled the magic to the vanquished Blackwood, he recognizes that despite his enemy's failure for worldly power, his participation in occultism may have an impact on his eternal destination: “You'd better hope that [occult black magic] is nothing more than superstition, as you performed all the rituals perfectly. The devil is due a soul I'd say.”
The film's use of Christian imagery and themes can be used to launch a discussion with others regarding the Bible's claims on such topics. The resurrection themes are the most pertinent, since the truthfulness of Christianity hinges on the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. Just like the nemesis Lord Blackwood did in the film, Jesus Christ was brought to trial and executed, except Christ was falsely accused and hung innocent of any crimes. Again, similarly to the film, an empty tomb spoke to Christ's resurrection, and may people witnessed him walking and even eating after death. The film's references to Revelation could also serve as a conversation starter regarding Christ's second coming, judgment of the Earth and ultimate victory over sin and evil.
Lastly, the film's heavy focus on the occult and black magic could also serve as common ground for Naturalists and Theists to discuss the supernatural since both frown upon occult practices. The theistic discussion can then back into the truths of Christianity since the Apologetics discourse on miracles typically centers on biblical accounts, prayer, and prophecy, but spends little time investigating tarot cards, witchcraft, and divination of pagan or occult belief systems (potentially out of fear for individual safety). However, practitioners of magic and dark arts swear by their reality and effectiveness (especially in other parts of the world, but not excluding North America as attest by former practitioners). Even in the film, the occult order's members consisted of the city's elites, those educated to know the difference between illusion and reality (but also those potentially hungry for more power). Christianity recognizes that occult practices are more than illusion and can access very real power; however, it is the source of this supernatural power that is to be feared and avoided. The Christian worldview reveal that religious and supernatural power outside of the Holy Spirit is simply a front for the devil and his demons.
C) Ways to discuss the specific conveyer with someone who is not a believer
It is because Sherlock Holmes holds such a positive view of Naturalism while balancing a healthy view of reality that it serves as an effective means to begin an apologetic conversation with an unbeliever. Without overtly pro-religious themes or a wholly unbelievable story, the film meets those who firmly maintain a Naturalism worldview on their turf. Open conversations regarding the movies content and outcome will hopefully show skeptics that Christianity is open to hard questions and can fit within a scientific understanding, while creating a platform to question the assumptions of Naturalism.
Approaching the films unstated answer that more knowledge will solve societies problems may be a safe place to start since many skeptics, especially well-educated ones hold this view. In response, we should ask, “is more knowledge really the answer to life's problems?” The movie glamorizes Sherlock Holme's amazing power of observation of even the smallest details, recognizing a nearly invisible knife simply “because [he] was looking for it” or determining his whereabouts via sounds and smells. However, the movie also shows an indirect example of the Naturalism worldview's failures. The nemesis Lord Blackwood is a Naturalist, carrying out his dark plot for power using the natural world. Had Lord Blackwood been a Theist, he would have relied solely on the occult to bring about his success instead of going to such lengths to artificially manufacture his resurrection and magic powers. Naturalism ultimately cannot provide an absolute truth from which right and wrong can be derived, leading the skeptic ultimately into Nihilism. Knowledge can't help us without a morality to govern it.
Eventually Christians must respond to the movies skeptical assertion that religion is a tool of manipulation. While unfortunate, believers must agree that Christianity can and has been used to acquire power and even for evil. Fortunately, these atrocities do not negate the truth claims of Christ, since these outcomes always result from ignorance or twisting of the absolute truth and morality taught by the biblical Christ. Just like Lord Blackwood, these “Christians” used religion like any other scientific practice for their own personal gains. This reveals that the corruption we disdain begins at the human level - a phenomenon fully explained by man's depravity due to sin as revealed by Presuppositional Apologetics.
Using reason we can question the Naturalism worldview and expose its flaws by inquiring why Sherlock Holmes himself did not adhere to strictly natural phenomenon and allows room for miracles in his investigation? Classical apologist C. S. Lewis argues that naturalism itself is circular, since if “everything, including our thinking and judging, belongs to one vast interlocking system of physical causes and effects, then we are left with no reason for believing it to be true because all judgments would equally and ultimately be the result of non-rational forces.” From this point “once the naturalists accept the privilege of a mere belief basis for naturalism, for which they have no rational or scientific proof, they must allow alternative worldviews the same opportunity” (BECA 454). This will create a platform for the honest skeptic to review the facts and evidence of Christianity.
Since Sherlock Holmes conveniently brings up the idea of a man resurrecting from the dead, we should ask the question “can somebody truly rise from the dead?” Obviously, Christianity claims that not only can someone rise from the dead, historically somebody did – Jesus, and Christians themselves will be resurrected at the end of history to join him. A combined Evidentialist and Fidiest apologetic will prove most helpful with a skeptic now hopefully open to investigating truth claims. By studying the primary source material of Christ, the Christian bible, skeptics can begin to make their own informed decisions rather than accepting other skeptics' conclusions with blind faith. Beginning with the gospel's depiction of Christ's ministry we can show where and how Jesus claimed not only to be the God of the Hebrew bible, but also the divine Messiah prophesied there. Then we can discuss Christ's predicted death to solve the depraved world's sin problem and the evidences of his victory over death through his resurrection. As the skeptic reviews the scriptures and reasons for faith, we should pray trusting that the Holy Spirit will work and reveal truth in their life, all from watching Sherlock Holmes.
Brett Yardley: Warrior for Christ. Devoted Husband. Proud Father. Martial Artist. Hopeful Philosopher & Theologian. Aspiring Teacher & Writer.