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Friday, June 29, 2018

Locke’s Philosophy of Revelations and Miracles

Portrait of John Locke 
John Locke, in his An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (Book 4), says that tedious labor is required to test the genuineness of a revelation. He attacks the enthusiasts who claim to have experienced divine revelations, referring to them as “men in whom melancholy has mixed with devotion, or whose conceit of themselves has raised them into an opinion of a greater familiarity with God, and a nearer admittance to his favour than is afforded to others, have often flattered themselves with a persuasion of an immediate intercourse with the Deity, and frequent communications from the Divine Spirit.” (Essay; Book 4; Chapter 19: “Of Enthusiasm”; 5)

The enthusiasts are clearly violating Locke’s principles of religious beliefs which he has described in the earlier sections of his book. He notes that “all their confidence is mere presumption: and this light they are so dazzled with is nothing but an ignis fatuus, that leads them constantly round in this circle; It is a revelation, because they firmly believe it; and they believe it, because it is a revelation.” (Essay; Book 4; Chapter 19: “Of Enthusiasm”; 10)

He says when we give a hearing to an enthusiast who is claiming that God has spoken to him, we must not forgo of our reason—we must only believe what is in accord with reason:
Revelation must be judged of by reason. He, therefore, that will not give himself up to all the extravagances of delusion and error must bring this guide of his light within to the trial. God when he makes the Prophet does not unmake the Man. He leaves all his Faculties in their natural State, to enable him to judge of his Inspirations, whether they be of divine Original or no. When he illuminates the Mind with supernatural Light, he does not extinguish that which is natural. If he would have us assent to the Truth of any Proposition, he either evidences that Truth by the usual Methods of natural Reason, or else makes it known to be a Truth, which he would have us assent to, by his Authority, and convinces us that it is from him, by some Marks which Reason cannot be mistaken in. Reason must be our last Judge and Guide in every Thing. I do not mean, that we must consult Reason, and examine whether a Proposition revealed from God can be made out by natural Principles, and if it cannot, that then we may reject it: But consult it we must, and by it examine, whether it be a Revelation from God or no: And if Reason finds it to be revealed from GOD, Reason then declares for it, as much as for any other Truth, and makes it one of her Dictates. Every Conceit that throughly warms our Fancies must pass for an Inspiration, if there be nothing but the Strength of our Perswasions, whereby to judge of our Perswasions: If Reason must not examine their Truth by something extrinsical to the Perswasions them selves; Inspirations and Delusions, Truth and Falshood will have the same Measure, and will not be possible to be distinguished. (Essay; Book 4; Chapter 19: “Of Enthusiasm”; 14)
However, Locke is willing to accept the occurrence of a revelation if there is an evidence that a miracle has taken place:
We see the holy Men of old, who had Revelations from GOD, had something else besides that internal Light of assurance in their own Minds, to testify to them, that it was from GOD. They were not left to their own Perswasions alone, that those perswasions were from GOD; But had outward Signs to convince them of the Author of those Revelations. And when they were to convince others, they had a Power given them to justify the Truth of their Commission from Heaven; and by visible Signs to assert the divine Authority of the Message they were sent with. (Essay; Book 4; Chapter 19: “Of Enthusiasm”; 15) 
Locke proceeds to offer examples of Biblical miracles that he believes have happened and must be accepted by all as truth. The idea that miracles can be taken as proof of divine revelation is problematic, but Locke has not addressed this problem.

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