Was Martin Luther against reason?

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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’s 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 two 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 Southerland

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Categories: Apologetics, Christianity

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