The rivalry between Jack Shepherd and John Locke was a central drama in the earlier seasons of Lost and it’s not always clear who ultimately won. The series was known for its strong cast of characters and compelling mysteries, while also exploring powerful philosophical themes about science and faith. Jack, a spinal surgeon before Oceanic 815, and Locke, a paraplegic who arrived on the island suddenly able to use his legs again, presented opposing views on the matter. Jack’s strenuous relationship with his father had drilled science and logic into his head from childhood, while Locke’s miraculous recovery forced him to believe that something good was finally happening to him, and that he would have to follow it.
The second season’s premiere was titled “Man of Science, Man of Faith,” as their conflicting views had begun to divide up their camp. A power struggle played out between the two of them, with Jack consistently trying to unite the survivors while Locke would undermine his efforts, gaining followers in his plan to stay on the island. It was difficult to know who to trust as viewers, as Jack always seemed more rational and had the best intentions for the survivors, while Locke spoke of a higher calling that seemed plausible on the mystical island of Lost, and was sometimes rewarded for trusting in his dreams and intuitions.
John Locke believed in his intuition until the end, and Lost season 5 revealed that he had been brutally betrayed and murdered by Ben Linus. After the Oceanic Six escaped the island in season 4, the mysteries thickened even further as the island’s electromagnetic properties began to start moving it through time. Locke, who had finally gained leadership of the Others, had to leave the island to bring them back. Ultimately, it was his death that persuaded Jack to return to the island after three years. Despite a plot twist making it seem like Locke had been resurrected, he was truly killed, culminating his miserable life with a murder.
Before his death, Locke’s time on the island did come with some victories. Although hurdles, such as Boone’s death, almost caused Locke to lose faith, Locke was ultimately right about the hatch. The first major conflict between him and Jack was about whether the button had to be pushed. While this conflict later transitioned to Locke wanting to stop pushing it, he was initially right about its importance, despite making the mistake of changing sides. The button and the hatch were very real, and very dangerous. While it did have scientific properties that made it so, Locke’s faith and trust in the island’s guidance were right.
Ultimately, Locke was right that the island was a special place. Had he trusted Jack by telling him about his paralysis being gone, it’s possible he could’ve persuaded him without having to die. The island did, in fact, have ancient, mystical properties, and the survivors had been brought there for a reason, as he insisted. John Locke was one of Jacob’s candidates, as were Jack and the others. They had been specifically chosen to come to the island to defend it. John Locke’s vulnerability allowed him to see this from the beginning.
After seeing John Locke’s body in a casket at the end of Lost season 4, Jack changes forever. He realizes something much larger is at hand, and that leaving the island for the uncomfortably purposeless world they had returned to was a mistake. Most of season 5 and season 6 see Jack trusting his intuition and becoming the force for the island he was meant to be. In the Lost finale, Jack is the hero who sacrifices himself to not only save the island, but also send his friends home safely as he always intended to, denoting a key difference between him and Locke.
The difference between Jack and Locke’s leadership is that Jack puts his fellow survivors before himself, and has earned their trust since the day Oceanic 815 landed in Lost’s pilot episode. Jack is, at his core, a man who wants to make things right, despite not always being successful. John Locke’s faith derives from a self-centered purpose, and frequently manipulates others to gain power, as he believes everyone is meant to stay on the island. The power Locke receives from his sense of purpose gives him an authority that he wrongfully believes he can use to control others.
Jack’s faith is costly, at first, severely damaging his relationship with Kate, and causing Juliet’s death. Jack is seen at his lowest points, even seeming crazy at times, as he begins to believe Locke’s faith may have been right. However, in the final battle with the Man in Black, Jack utilizes his rational, scientific mind to outsmart him. He realizes he must use Desmond’s electromagnetic properties to remove the stone from the source in order to kill the Man in Black, then wills himself to replace the cork and prevent the island’s destruction.
The importance of this theme in Lost isn’t that faith triumphs over science, or vice-versa. It’s that they must coexist. While Jack may win, in a sense, over Locke, as he ends up being the hero of the story, he must utilize Locke’s faith to get there, making the grander question far more ambiguous and up for the audience’s interpretation. They aren’t the only characters to represent this dynamic, either, as the DHARMA initiative and the Others also create the science/faith paradigm, with clear pros and cons on both sides.
While not all supernatural elements of the show can be explained by science, the central, mystical, power on the island can also be described by the hypothetical scientific term, electromagnetism. The island’s properties have scientific functions, such as time travel in Lost and manipulating metal, as well as non-scientific functions, such as black smoke monsters and purgatories. This lack of clarity is important. The viewer can decide their own explanation for the events of Lost, leaning in one direction or another, or trusting in a balance between science and faith.