Richard Dawkins is wrong: Martin Luther was not against “Reason” or “Logical correctness”

Richard Dawkins in his book “The God delusion” demonstrates a very poor understanding of Theology and matters of religion. This can be understood in part through his references to the Protestant Reformer, ‘Martin Luther’.

In his chapter “The roots of religion” (Page 190) Dawkins appears to argue that Christianity is against logical reasoning, which is a fallacy in itself and something that any decent Theological faculty would certainly disagree with Dawkins on and prove it by their works. Dawkins apparently quotes Martin Luther and offers a certain quote; “Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has; it never comes to the aid of the divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God”

Luther wrote in Latin and German and it is hard to define the quote itself due to variant translations and Dawkins offers no confirmation of which translation of Luther he is using, but it most likely comes from ‘Table Talk’ which was not actually written by Luther himself, but was written by students of Luther who are said to have written down what Luther said to them. But anyone who knows about the life and character of Luther will know that Luther’ views often changed. However, it is clear from the context of this passage that Luther is referring to ‘Faith alone’ being sufficient for salvation and not coming to believe in Jesus as savior through human reasoning. It is ‘faith alone’ and when human reasoning stands before the initial response of faith towards Jesus, it becomes an enemy of faith, for it prevents a soul coming to faith. Thus, Luther is not saying for one moment that when a person comes to faith, that reasoning through issues of faith and religion is an enemy of faith, but that when it stands before the coming to the cross, it then becomes an enemy of faith.

What Luther is saying can be explained in simple terms of illustration; I could say that the mind is the worst enemy of swimming, for a child learning to swim often does not want to swim through fear, which is from the mind. For a child who will not learn how to swim does so because he or she is afraid to get into the water through fear in the mind, thus you could say that ‘the mind is the greatest enemy that swimming has, even though we know that when a person learns how to swim, the mind is the greatest asset the swimmer has. Thus, if we take this understanding and apply it to Luther’s quote, we see that reason which stands in the way of taking the step of faith towards believing in Jesus, is in fact the enemy of faith, for it prevents people from believing in Jesus as savior, because of doubt and human reasoning.

Thus, the quote given by Dawkins is problematic when used wrongly in his argument, since Dawkins offers no real footnote in his work or any advice on contextual issues regarding Luther’s theology. It must be interpreted according to what Luther believed and not what Dawkins thinks Luther believed. One other problem which indicates a lack of research on Dawkins behalf is that he refers to a website which is not authoritative and thus he cannot even claim to have researched such a basic Lutheran book as ‘Table Talk’. Thus, it is clear that Dawkins has not read Luther correctly or understood Luther’s theology, if he had he would review what Luther meant by that statement and he would give a book source from either the complete works of Luther in German or in English or a single volume of Luther’s works, which Dawkins does not.

The problem is that Richard Dawkins is quoting a selective passage, not presenting any context or reason why or if this was said by Luther. Luther certainly stood at the Diet of Worms in 1521 and said, “Unless I am convinced by scripture and by plain reason…I cannot and I will not recant”. Note the words, “plain reason” thus, we must conclude that Luther was not against ‘Plain reason’.

This is also confirmed in Luther’s book, “The Bondage of the will” which was written against the views of the humanist and Oxford scholar Desiderius Erasmus. Luther states on (P 138) “We should speak according to a definite rule, in sober and proper terms; for what is wanted in teaching is simplicity and logical correctness, not the high-flown figures of a rhetorical persuasive.” (The Bondage of the will. Martin Luther. 1V. (i) P 138. Translated by J.I.Packer & O.R.Johnston)

This begs the question; Is Richard Dawkins an accurate scholar or able to deal with Theological matters?

I must state that after 2 degrees in Theology I see Richard Dawkins and his ideas about Theology akin to that of a primary school child to that of a University graduate and really, his fundamental error is that he has stepped over from science to Theology, thus he is dealing with Theological issues which I have proved he is not capable of doing.

Simon Peter Sutherland

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  1. #1 by nicholas on December 18, 2012 - 10:24 PM

    Well stated

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  3. #3 by Henry on June 5, 2015 - 1:51 PM

    Apologist. Moron.

    • #4 by Jack on April 6, 2016 - 3:37 PM

      Ad hominem. Incompetent.

  4. #5 by Paul George on December 27, 2015 - 11:34 AM

    If a woman becomes weary and at last dead from bearing, that matters not; let her only die from bearing, she is there to do it. Sermon Von dem ehelichen Stande (1519), p. 41 — as quoted in The Ethic of Freethought: A Selection of Essays and Lectures (1888) by Karl Pearson, “The Sex-Relations in Germany”, p. 424

    Luther describes Jews as a “base, whoring people, that is, no people of God, and their boast of lineage, circumcision, and law must be accounted as filth.”Luther wrote that they are “full of the devil’s feces … which they wallow in like swine,”and the synagogue is an “incorrigible whore and an evil slut”.In the first ten sections of the treatise, Luther expounds, at considerable length, upon his views concerning Jews and Judaism and how these compare against Christians and Christianity. Following this exposition, Section XI of the treatise advises Christians to carry out seven remedial actions. These are –

    for Jewish synagogues and schools to be burned to the ground, and the remnants buried out of sight; for houses owned by Jews to be likewise razed, and the owners made to live in agricultural outbuildings; for their religious writings to be taken away; for rabbis to be forbidden to preach, and to be executed if they do; for safe conduct on the roads to be abolished for Jews; for usury to be prohibited, and for all silver and gold to be removed and “put aside for safekeeping”; and for the Jewish population to be put to work as agricultural slave laborers.
    https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Martin_Luther

    Would like your comments on the above please Simon. Whether it’s Latin or German or English the sentiments expressed above seem pretty clear to me. Your defence?

    • #6 by Simon Peter Sutherland on January 8, 2016 - 4:22 PM

      Thank you for your comment and quotes.

      It is generally stated that Martin Luther had some views which were incorrect and from my perspective Luther had views I would not agree with.

      The sermon quote, concerning the woman “dead from bearing” I would not agree with that opinion. If it was said in 1519, Luther was still under the influence of the Roman Catholic church at that point and had not broken away from it. I have never met any Christian who would say that.

      In the quote concerning the Jewish people, he appears to reflect opinions concerning Jew’s who reject Jesus as Messiah, of which Jesus Himself was pretty harsh with them (See Matthew 12: 34, 23: 33 & John 5)

      The quote where Luther says the Jew’s “boast of lineage, circumcision, and law must be accounted as filth.” he was probably referring to St.Paul:

      “Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ.“ Philippians 3: 8

      “Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God.” 1 Corinthians 7: 19

      Luther was a product of his time and while that does not excuse some of his views, I would not seek to excuse them. I certainly do not think they are mandate or a position Christians take. There are many views I have read from Luther concerning opinions towards the Jewish people of his day. Many of which reflect his opinions concerning the Jewish people in Germany at his time. However, Luther could not have been ‘anti-semitic’ since Jesus Himself was Jewish as were the Apostles and Biblical authors. Paul was a Jew and he wrote;

      “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3: 28

      I think, even if Luther had opinions that were wrong, it does not mean he was wrong when he was right. In other words, if a man is right about some things, he is right about them. If he is wrong about some things, he is wrong about those. Neither being right or wrong casts a shadow upon the things that a man is right about.

  5. #7 by hisxmark on July 11, 2016 - 8:58 PM

    “Reason is the Devil’s greatest whore; by nature and manner of being she is a noxious whore; she is a prostitute, the Devil’s appointed whore; whore eaten by scab and leprosy who ought to be trodden under foot and destroyed, she and her wisdom … Throw dung in her face to make her ugly. She is and she ought to be drowned in baptism… She would deserve, the wretch, to be banished to the filthiest place in the house, to the closets.”

    “Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has; it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but — more frequently than not — struggles against the divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God.”

    “Reason must be deluded, blinded, and destroyed. Faith must trample underfoot all reason, sense, and understanding, and whatever it sees must be put out of sight and … know nothing but the word of God.”

    “There is on earth among all dangers no more dangerous thing than a richly endowed and adroit reason… Reason must be deluded, blinded, and destroyed.”

    “Reason should be destroyed in all Christians.”

    “Whoever wants to be a Christian should tear the eyes out of his Reason.”

    “To be a Christian, you must “pluck out the eye of reason.”

    Maybe Luther never said or wrote those things? Because, of course, what you don’t want to be true isn’t true.

    • #8 by simonpetersutherland2013 on July 12, 2016 - 9:53 AM

      Thank you for your response.

      Firstly, can you please provide a source for your quotes?

      • #9 by hisxmark2014 on July 12, 2016 - 10:38 AM

        No, firstly: Do you deny that Luther said or wrote those things?
        If you don’t deny that, there is no point in providing chapter and verse. If you do deny that he wrote or said them, and I show that he did indeed, how will you respond? Are you going to double down by retreating into philosophical or theological double talk? Are you going to excuse Luther as “a man of his time”? I am not going to waste time attacking a position that you are simply going to abandon or claim you never held.
        Having dealt with religious delusions and denial before, I am somewhat wary of wasting time and effort documenting information that will simply be ignored or dismissed.
        And, just to be clear, I regard a degree in theology with the same respect I would grant a degree from Hogwarts or Trump U.

      • #10 by simonpetersutherland2013 on July 12, 2016 - 5:28 PM

        Thank you for your response.

        Unless you are willing or able to present a source for this material, there really is nothing to accept, deny or talk about.

      • #11 by xon on December 14, 2016 - 7:43 PM

        A simple search on the web would give you all the quotes and their references:

        “Reason is the Devil’s greatest whore; by nature and manner of being she is a noxious whore; she is a prostitute, the Devil’s appointed whore; whore eaten by scab and leprosy who ought to be trodden under foot and destroyed, she and her wisdom … Throw dung in her face to make her ugly. She is and she ought to be drowned in baptism… She would deserve, the wretch, to be banished to the filthiest place in the house, to the closets.”
        [Martin Luther, Erlangen Edition v. 16, pp. 142-148]

      • #12 by simon peter sutherland on December 22, 2016 - 12:39 PM

        Thank you. Yes, we know the quote is there, but the point mentioned in the article is that Dawkins failed to provide a source for the quote.

        As for the meaning behind the quote, we have to look at Luther’s thinking process. For example; when did Luther write or say that? Did always hold to an opinion or did he later change his views?

      • #13 by hisxmark2014 on December 22, 2016 - 7:23 PM

        That Dawkins did not provide a citation is beside the point if the quote was accurate. And the quote says what it says, and if it means something else in context it is up to you to point it out.

      • #14 by simon peter sutherland on December 23, 2016 - 11:26 AM

        I do not see it as “beside the point” that he failed to provide proper sources concerning a Theological topic. Theology demands sources and if a contributing person fails to provide them he is not taken seriously.

        Likewise, I have not said that that quote does not mean what it says but that Luther’s thought process progressed. His views changed. Likewise, I have taken into account that the German has not been quoted either. Likewise, I have shown in the above article that Luther did not disagree with “plain reason”. His trial at Worms and other writings express this.

    • #15 by Coco on July 16, 2017 - 9:19 PM

      I wished I could play mouse in this discussion a little longer!

  6. #17 by Adam on August 21, 2016 - 2:33 AM

    Yes he was you *******

    • #18 by simonpetersutherland2013 on August 21, 2016 - 1:53 PM

      USER: Adam. Foul language is not permitted on this website. Any further comments containing bad language, cyber bullying or personal attacks and insults will not be approved.

  7. #19 by hisxmark2014 on December 24, 2016 - 12:21 AM

    The title you chose was: ‘Richard Dawkins is wrong: Martin Luther was not against “Reason” or “Logical correctness”
    Your argument is that Dawkins was wrong. You can claim that he quoted Luther incorrectly, or that he misunderstood. Since the quote is widely available, and attributed to Luther, it is up to you to show that Luther didn’t say it, or that he retracted it, or explained it, or that it was a mis-translation of the German.
    N.B. Just because a statement is not cited, or is unsubstantiated does not mean it is wrong.
    If Luther changed his opinion, or his thought processes progressed, then you should indicate this with data supporting your assertion. If the quote was out of context, then you should provide the context.
    This is, however, not really about theology. It is about what Dawkins said. You did not claim in your title that Dawkins failed to cite correctly by academic standards. You claimed he was wrong.
    Perhaps your simplest alternative is just to say, “Luther was wrong.” That would be a position easier to defend.

    • #20 by simon peter sutherland on December 24, 2016 - 10:19 AM

      Thanks for your comments.

      In response, here is a quote from the above article: “Luther certainly stood at the Diet of Worms in 1521 and said, “Unless I am convinced by scripture and by plain reason…I cannot and I will not recant”. Note the words, “plain reason” thus, we must conclude that Luther was not against ‘Plain reason’.

      This is also confirmed in Luther’s book, “The Bondage of the will” which was written against the views of the humanist and Oxford scholar Desiderius Erasmus. Luther states on (P 138) “We should speak according to a definite rule, in sober and proper terms; for what is wanted in teaching is simplicity and logical correctness, not the high-flown figures of a rhetorical persuasive.” (The Bondage of the will. Martin Luther. 1V. (i) P 138. Translated by J.I.Packer & O.R.Johnston)”

      I’ll be happy to speak to you again about this matter, in the New Year.

      • #21 by hisxmark2014 on December 24, 2016 - 6:29 PM

        So, Luther said one thing when he was on trial, and quite another when he was not. I suppose that was the “reasonable” thing to do. I think we’re done.
        Happy new year!

  8. #22 by Carleton Wu on September 13, 2017 - 4:49 PM

    1)”I do not see it as “beside the point” that he failed to provide proper sources concerning a Theological topic. Theology demands sources and if a contributing person fails to provide them he is not taken seriously.”
    If the quote is accurate, then you should grapple with the underlying question. If the quote is inaccurate then you should demonstrate its inaccuracy and be done with it- no point in debunking a quote that isn’t accurate.
    But refusing to debate at all until sources are cited- and then moving backwards to a next prepared line of defense- is a transparent delaying tactic deployed by someone less interested in reaching the truth of the matter than in ‘winning’ the debate (ie reaching the conclusion most satisfactory to them personally regardless of whether it’s actually supportable or not).
    2)Observing that Luther thought different things (either at different times due to changes in viewpoint, or even at the same time due to a certain amount of inconsistency/dissonance) does not invalidate the existence of one set of viewpoints. It certainly doesn’t allow for you to pick the more personally satisfactory set of viewpoints and dismiss the others.”Luther always disparaged reason” is as unsupportable as “Luther never disparaged reason”.
    3)In the original post you pretend that Luther had a single coherent position that you were able to deduce- in comments, where more evidence piles up against this position (evidence that you were almost certainly familiar with), you retreat to observing that Luther said many things, and you like some of them ergo those are the ones that should be considered truly valid. In light of the quotes in the comments that you implicitly acknowledged (by retreating to the many-positions defense) your initial post is fundamentally dishonest.
    3)”I have not said that that quote does not mean what it says but that Luther’s thought process progressed. His views changed.”
    This was not your original argument at all. Your original argument was that Luther had a single position, deducible from his writings, and that Dawkins had misunderstood or misrepresented this singular position.
    I must state that I see your feints, stonewalling, and misrepresentation of both yours and others’ positions as akin to a surly teenager to that of a seeker after truth and really, your fundamental error is that you lack the requisite courage to challenge your own convictions out of an apparent fear that they cannot stand exposure to such a test.

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