APOLOGIA is a column in which I address issues having to do with faith, science, and ethics, and in which I try to use careful reasoning and evidence to seek what's true. Undoubtedly I will end up disagreeing with at least a few people. And probably I will make a mistake here and there. My hope is that I will show respect to those with whom I disagree, that I (and others) will learn from my mistakes, and that we'll get closer to what's true, good, and beautiful. - Hendrik van der Breggen
January 02, 2014
Ducks, Hate, and Logic (part 1)
Hendrik van der Breggen The Carillon, January 9, 2014
Ducks, Hate, and Logic (part 1)
been written about duck-hunter Phil Robertson, the patriarch of Duck Dynasty (an extremely popular A&E
television show), and his alleged "anti-gay" comments in Gentleman's Quarterly (GQ magazine). Robertson
stated publicly, albeit bluntly and explicitly, that the Bible says same-sex
sex is morally wrong—i.e., it's a sin, among other sins, including bestiality,
heterosexual fornication and promiscuity, greed, drunkenness, slandering, and swindling.
that Robertson is not the most polished and sensitive communicator (his words
are sometimes coarse, though, it seems to me, not as coarse as some of the GQ
interviewer's words), and while risking the appearance of flogging a dead horse
(an apt expression, from what I can gather about Duck Dynasty culture), I would
like to address the objection that Robertson equated or compared same-sex sex
to bestiality. As one gay commentator complained, Robertson is equating the
commentator's sexual partner to a dog, and thus Robertson diminishes the
humanity of persons who engage in gay sex—and thereby Robertson incites hatred
much help from philosopher of law Robert P. George, I will argue that the
objection is false.
begin, let's consider the following as context to help us interpret Phil Robertson's
remarks charitably as well as accurately.
who describes himself as a "Bible-thumping" Christian, is clearly aware
of the Bible's contents relating to same-sex sex. Also, Robertson issued this
statement of clarification, which echoes his comments in GQ and nicely summarizes
Jesus' teachings on love: "I would never treat anyone with disrespect just
because they are different from me. We are all created by the Almighty and like
Him, I love all of humanity. We would all be better off if we loved God and
loved each other."
his discussion with the GQ correspondent about humanity's turn away from God and
America's need for repentance, Robertson says this: "Everything is blurred
on what's right and what's wrong… Sin becomes fine."
correspondent then asks: "What, in your mind, is sinful?" To which Robertson
answers: "Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there.
Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and
Robertson's phrase "morph out from there" is not wholly clear, but,
given the context, which will become clearer below, it's reasonable to think that it means something along the lines of changing/ transforming/ moving/
expanding/ extrapolating in accordance with what's relevantly similar. What is
relevantly similar will become clearer below, too.)
immediately adds (paraphrasing 1 Corinthians 6:9-10): "Don't be deceived.
Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual
offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won't
inherit the kingdom of God. Don't deceive yourself. It's not right."
true, then, that Robertson equates or compares same-sex sex with bestiality? I
think the answer is No.
Robertson puts homosexual sex in a list of sins which includes bestiality. But,
we should notice, to include an item in a list is not to equate the members of
that list. Also, to set out a list is not necessarily to liken the members of
that list in all major respects. All members of the list may be sins, but it doesn't follow that all are wholly equal or equally grievous.
then, is the significance of Robertson's list? It is reasonable to interpret Robertson's
list to be merely a part of a reductio ad
(In a reductio
ad absurdum argument, one teases out logical implications from a position,
implications that are false or absurd, and these count against the truth of the
position under examination.)
University professor of jurisprudence Robert P. George explains:
I've understood [the] argument about [Phil Robertson] 'comparing' homosexual
conduct with bestiality, I don't think I can agree with it. I myself, like most
philosophers working in moral and political philosophy, often challenge claims
to the moral legitimacy of X (which an interlocutor is defending) by arguing
that if one accepts X then there is no ground of principle for rejecting Y,
which one's interlocutor would not want to accept. It's in the form of the
reductio ad absurdum, and has never, so far as I am aware, been regarded as an
invalid or illegitimate (much less unethical) form of argumentation.
sounded to me as though [Robertson] was saying that once you embrace the basic
liberal (which he regards as relativistic) position on sexual ethics (where the
only norms distinguishing morally acceptable from unacceptable conduct are
those forbidding coercion and deception) just about anything goes: same-sex
conduct, sex with animals, promiscuous sex, and so on.
his own rough way, I suspect that he is pointing out that Christian teaching
[e.g., as found in Corinthians and in Leviticus] does not accept the reduction
of sexual morality solely to norms against coercion and deception. Even
consensual sexual activity, when it is intrinsically or de facto non-marital,
is contrary to scripture … and sinful. I myself don't see anything
disrespectful or illegitimate about this." (Robert P. George, Facebook
discussion, December 19, 2013.)
incidentally, the Apostle Paul, the author of the Corinthians passage Robertson
paraphrases, uses other forms of the reductio ad absurdum argument elsewhere in
Corinthians, and so the reductio ad absurdum interpretation is strengthened even
further. See the entry "Reductio Ad Absurdum" in New Dictionary of Christian Apologetics, edited by W. C.
Campbell-Jack and Gavin McGrath [InterVarsity Press 2006], 602-603.)
to what some critics allege, it's reasonable to think that Robertson did NOT
equate or compare same-sex sex with bestiality. To think that he did suggests
that these critics are not aware of the logic at hand.
to say, to paraphrase C. S. Lewis's wise old professor in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: "Logic! Why don't they
teach logic in schools these days?!"
be a year in which there is less hate and more love—and more logic.
(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is associate
professor of philosophy at Providence University College.)