Apostate: John Locke (Chapter 5)

Apostatevideoby Lana Hope cross posted from her blog Wide Open Ground

As a warning, the writing in this chapter is confusing; it fails to clarify terms and positions, and it is hard to pinpoint what he is trying to say. I will try to directly quote and interpret to the best of my ability. Please re-interpret or add commentary.

John Locke studied and tutored at Oxford University. There he drank deeply from the wells of humanism which had originated in the Renaissance of Greek and Roman philosophies.

In my first review, I stated that good philosophical writing defines terms. In this section, we can easily see why defining humanism is so important. When a person says he or she is a humanist in the 21st century, and in context he or she refers to a non-religious person, that carries a different meaning than a Renaissance humanist or the Romans and Greeks. Swanson has lumped it altogether. That is unfair. Furthermore, it’s ironic because John Calvin (who Swanson praised in the previous chapter) was a renaissance humanist as was Zwingli

Writing to a Dutch friend of the humanist “Remonstrant” movement, he stated, “If everything in the Holy Scriptures is to be indiscriminately accepted by us as divinely inspired, a great opportunity will be given to philosophers for doubting our faith and sincerity.”

Swanson does not provide a footnote on the Remonstrants movement as he should (it’s very hard to follow when he throws out terms with no point of reference). It appears as if the Remonstrants were a group who followed after Arminius and opposed predestination. I am confused at how that makes one a humanist. Again, Swanson appears to be labeling people with terms without any direct meaning behind those terms.

But [Locke's] attempt to separate faith and knowledge could never succeed, since knowledge is defined as a justified, true belief. What then is belief, but the faith that something is true? By the time Locke had come to the conclusion that there was no connection between faith and knowledge, all that was left of Aquinas’ sacred knowledge and the certainty of divine revelation had eroded.

I made a comment earlier today that Swanson constantly blames Aquinas for the start of the decline of the Christian west. Here is an example.

Swanson is correct that knowledge is defined as a justified, true belief.  But in analytical philosophy departments today, there is controversy and recognition that justified beliefs may not be possible. (Philosophy has changed since the 17th century.) See Quine’s, a pillar atheist philosopher of the 20th century, essay “Naturalized Epistemology” where he defends that justified beliefs are not possible.

In the 18th century, humanist rationalism progressively trumped the teachings of Scripture, and John Locke was an indispensable link in the  chain of apostasy in Europe and America.

—Locke writes, ” . . . an explict belief is or can be required in no man, of more than what he understands of that doctrine.” This is an example of Latitudinarian rationalism at its best.

Swanson really needs to state that John Locke was not a rationalist. This is philosophy of history 101. Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz were rationalists. Locke, Berkeley, and Hume were empiricists.

Locke can be rational without being a rationalist. There is a difference between being rational and a rationalists or embracing rationalism. This does not require a PhD in philosophy, either. Swanson, I am sure, would say that he is human and not a humanist.

I will give Swanson the benefit of the doubt that he may know that Locke is not a rationalist. (The chapter briefly mentions one of his empiricist ideas.) But he does not clarify that. He repeats over and over that Locke places too much faith in reason and rational thought, and that he is “example of Latitudinarian rationalism.” This is wrong terminology.

Locke was an empiricist. Swanson critizes Locke for having all his ideas wrong. But Locke did not have it all wrong.

Rationalism places the importance on the mind and rational deduction as the chief way that we come to knowledge and truth. Empiricism teaches that we know truth not by abstract deduction or mind but through the reality we encounter with sensory experience.

Locke correctly points out that truth corresponds to reality. The rationalists after Descartes had become too conceptual. When explaining the conceptualism of the 17th century, R.C. Sprouls evokes the example of a unicorn. A conceptualists would say that if I can imagine a rational unicorn, then a unicorn must exist. Their logic was that anything rational was true. Locke brought us back to reality in so far as he taught that something is real if it is true. And we get in touch with the real through our senses.

Did Locke get his Biblical doctrine wrong? Did he get his philosophy wrong? Most definitely he got things wrong. Philosophy moves on just like science moves on. Hume followed him. Kant followed him. And from these people, we realized what Locke had wrong.

But Locke did not get it all wrong. And indeed, Locke was an advocate of objective truth. Instead of being the enemy of truth that Swanson makes him to be, Locke is a good reminder that there is absolutes out there, and that we can encounter truth through the senses.

I just wish Swanson was more honest here and admitted that we can disagree with Locke on doctrine and the scriptures and appreciate what he did for science.

John Locke and his fellow academics provided the intellectual ammunition needed for the breakdown of the Christian faith at the university level.

I would have liked to see this supported. Swanson says that the radical ideas of Unitarianism and Latitudinarianism moved from European Universities to American Universities, and that is probably true. But still, this point should include a citation from a historian or someone who has made the connection. I briefly tried to find sources as I’m interested in this topic, but I have not found them yet. This kind of argument would take a lot of research, something he either has not done, or failed to cite.

John Locke’s influence on the Western world is truly remarkable. Historians Charles Taylor and Jerrold Seigal claim that Locke’s “Essay Concerning Human understanding” marked “the beginning of the modern Western conception of the self.”

This is an interesting point. Although he does not include this, I wonder if Swanson could ariculate what is a modern understanding of the self, and what was the premodern understanding. Why is the modern understanding (according to Swanson) of the self wrong? What is the premodern understanding right? And then, my biggest question is why does he think protestant Christians (or the non-apostate protestant ) today have a premodern understanding of the self? I argue that Swanson does have a modern conception of the self, and ironically, a lot of this does go back to Locke.

As just an example, capitalism itself is a product of modernism and a modern understanding of the self. Our notion of human rights and society depends on how we see the relation to the self and the other.  I will try to write a whole post on this sometime instead of take up more space here. But it is completely inconsistent if Swanson actually believes that he does not have a modern conception of the self while simultaneously holding to such modern interpretations of freedom and relations.

Walbuilders.com comments, “It is not an exaggeration to say that without [John Locke's] substantial influence on American thinking, there might well be no United States of America Today.”

Bad source, Swanson. If you would like to know about Wallbuilders and how they misread history, see this post on Homeschoolers Anonymous by Sarah Jones.

True knowledge can only come from God, whether by oral or written form, by natural or special revelation.

Ooooooooookay. I agree. But that is what Thomas Aquinas taught. Aquinas contends that we have knowledge through natural revelation, which is accessible to all people. Swanson called Aquinas an apostate over this, and now he’s making that argument.

According to Locke, one’s own mind is sufficient to discern truth apart from divine revelation.

Swanson makes this comment why critizing Locke. But Locke is correct, and Swanson is incorrect. Think about it this way. Does a baby need divine revelation in order to learn shapes, colors, and space? Does a baby need divine revelation to learn hunger and affection? Of course, we can use our mind to find truth apart from divine revelation because everything we know does not come from divine revelation.

Overall, Swanson spends most of the chapter talking about Locke’s bad doctrine and faulting him for destroying the world. I agree with Swanson that Locke was a powerful influence. But as I agrued, this came with both the good and the bad. Furthermore, we are all products of modernism. We think and understand ourselves through modern conceptions of selfhood. Rather than point fingers at Locke, a more interesting study would be to compare Locke to the premoderns. But oh yea, philosophy is evil. Pardon me.

Finally, I would like to add, as a philosophy student, that rejecting ideas is never as easy as saying that someone is wrong. Philosophy has created who we are. We carry premodern, Christian, and modern ideas and traditions with us. Lets be realistic. Philosophy has affected fundamentalists too.

The next chapter is on Rousseau. Come back. Or see my tweets under the hashtag #ApostateTheBook

Part 1 |Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Read everything by Lana Hope!

Lana Hope was homeschooled 1st-12th grade in a small town and rural culture. Involved in ATI, her life growing up was gendered, sheltered, and with a lot of shame and rules in disguise of Biblical principles and character qualities. After college Lana moved to SE Asia and began working with the abused, and upon discovering that the large world is not at all like she had been taught, she finally questioned it all, from Calvinism to the homeschool movement to the foundation of her Christian faith. Today Lana is a Christian Universalist, holds a B.A. in English, and is currently working on a M.A. in philosophy.  She blogs about the struggles she has faced leaving fundamentalism and homeschooling behind and how travel and missions has wrecked her life for good and bad at her blog www.wideopenground.com.

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