Duck Commander Phil Robertson is in the public eye again. God truly knows I love him. I really do. I love Duck Dynasty. It’s hilarious. I admire the candor of Phil Robertson and his willingness to call things as he honestly sees them. Honestly, most of the time he’s right when it comes to the essence of his message. In this case, since he’s utilizing an apologetic argument in a public forum, I’d like to examine the argument and his delivery and see if he was doing the argument justice. Below is a transcript of what he said.
“I’ll make a bet with you. Two guys break into an atheist’s home. He has a little atheist wife and two little atheist daughters. Two guys break into his home and tie him up in a chair and gag him. And then they take his two daughters in front of him and rape both of them and then shoot them and they take his wife and then decapitate her head off in front of him. And they can look at him and say, ‘Isn’t it great that I don’t have to worry about being judged? Isn’t it great that there’s nothing wrong with this? There’s no right or wrong, now is it dude?’
Then you take a sharp knife and take his manhood and hold it in front of him and say, ‘Wouldn’t it be something if this [sic] was something wrong with this? But you’re the one who says there is no God, there’s no right, there’s no wrong, so we’re just having fun. We’re sick in the head, have a nice day.’
If it happened to them, they probably would say, ‘Something about this just ain’t right.’”
Well, that’s quite an example. An atheist family being brutally raped and murdered is very politically incorrect to imagine in a public setting. However, Phil has never been one for abiding by the rules of the tyrannical PC police. If Phil wants to say it, you better believe he’s going to say it! Some of the article titles published by public media outlets that have reported on Phil’s comments have been titled, “Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson Attacks Atheists at a Florida Event Using Rape”, “Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson condemns atheists at prayer event”, “Phil Robertson’s Appalling Atheist Fantasy”, “Duck Dynasty’s’ Phil Robertson Imagines Brutal Attack on Atheists in Graphic Speech.” Oh boy. I’m afraid many of the ‘journalists’ may be contextually challenged when evaluating Phil’s remarks in their entirety. Or they may be entirely focused on misleading their audience. That’s a possibility too.
It seems that many in the media don’t like Phil. His appearance seemingly reeks of ignorance. That dirty disheveled hair, camouflage clothing, and a Bible in his back pocket, are immediate red flags for the modern day secularist. These red flags translate into a target on the back of Phil Robertson’s head. Everyone seems to be looking for Phil to slip up and say something controversial so they can nail him for it publically. For example, Phil commented on his opposition to sexual sin to GQ which caused quite the controversy with A & E and the public at large. In the end, A & E realized that Phil was worth the cultural liability and kept him on Duck Dynasty. Smart move A & E.
However, regardless of Phil’s redneck appearance and his often unorthodox way of turning a phrase, was Phil’s message valid or was it fallacious? That’s what I’ll be examining.
Phil’s fictional scenario of two guys breaking into an atheists’ home and proceeding to do awful things to the atheist family was meant to illustrate that the atheist would consider what the criminals did was objectively wrong. As Phil said, the atheist would say, ‘Something about this just ain’t right.’ All people, atheists and theists alike, wouldn’t go through a tragedy that Phil described and feel like what happened was morally permissible. We would all acknowledge how morally bankrupt such actions would be, which was Phil’s point. He’s not saying that atheists can’t acknowledge objective morality despite what the secular media has been irresponsibly repeating. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. One of the primary points of the illustration is to acknowledge that atheists are capable of acknowledging objective morality. However, the main premise of his fictional tragedy is that the atheist doesn’t have the philosophical framework to make sense of how objective moral values and duties existence at all.
The moral argument goes like this,
- If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist
- Objective moral values and duties do exist
- Therefore, God exists
Many prominent atheists have conceded as much. Below are a couple examples of such admissions,
Richard Dawkins describes in River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life,
“In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference. . . . DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is. And we dance to its music” (p. 133)
Atheist William Provine, a scholar of the history of evolutionary biology at Cornell University, said in a debate with Philip Johnson,
“Let me summarize my views on what modern evolutionary biology tells us loud and clear — and these are basically Darwin’s views. There are no gods, no purposes, and no goal-directed forces of any kind. There is no life after death. When I die, I am absolutely certain that I am going to be dead. That’s the end of me. There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning in life, and no free will for humans, either”
Atheist philosopher Michael Ruse wrote in Evolutionary Theory and Christian Ethics,
“The position of the modern evolutionist is that humans have an awareness of morality because such an awareness of biological worth. Morality is a biological adaptation no less than are hands and feet and teeth. Considered as a rationally justifiable set of claims about an objective something, ethics is illusory. I appreciate when someone says, ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself,’ they think they are referring above and beyond themselves. Nevertheless, such reference is truly without foundation. Morality is just an aid to survival and reproduction, . . . and any deeper meaning is illusory” (pp. 262-269)
When looking at what Phil said in its proper philosophical context, he’s absolutely right. Under an atheistic worldview, a heinous criminal could say without being objectively morally wrong, ‘Isn’t it great that I don’t have to worry about being judged? Isn’t it great that there’s nothing wrong with this? There’s no right or wrong, now is it dude?’ The existence of objective morality is a tremendously convincing argument for God. One of the biggest advocates for this argument was C.S. Lewis, and the argument personally had a transformative affect on his conversion to Christianity from atheism. In the classic Mere Christianity, Lewis wrote,
“My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?”
So many unbelievers fall into this pit of confusion about morality. They think the existence of injustice is positive proof of the nonexistence of God, but where do they get the notion of objective justice? Oddly enough, they couldn’t have an objective standard of morality without God, which defeats the purpose of their complaint that God is unjust. As Christian apologist Frank Turek rightfully says, “atheists have to steal from God to fight against Him.”
Many people are turned off by it. Some are turned on by it. Personally, I recognize Phil’s rough personality and don’t look too deep into his seemingly abrasive message to draw hasty conclusions that may not be right. Many perceive his delivery as a little too abrasive and harsh, and I would sympathize with some of those people on some of the comments (including this one) that Phil has made in the past. However, Phil has made it excessively clear in all forums that he loves God and he loves his neighbor. While some people may take Phil’s words out of context to support a political agenda against him, I would challenge anyone to advance an honest case against Phil Robertson that accurately illustrates that Phil is a hateful, narrow-minded, intolerant, bigot.
Does that mean that I would have approached the very same situation with the same gruffness as Phil? I personally take a softer approach. While I feel that Phil is generally knowledgeable about the topics he speaks on, I feel that his messages sometimes gets lost in transit because of the gruff delivery. His candor sometimes becomes a liability rather than an asset to his ministry. While I can see how it can serve as both, it would be wise for Phil to proceed forward with caution and clarity when using controversial illustrations that are highly susceptible to being twisted and warped to suit a negative PR campaign against him and his enterprise.
Phil is a good man, but he is undoubtedly gruff. He doesn’t pretend to be a soft touchy-feely preacher. If you want to hear the raw unfiltered truth, Phil is your guy. However, does his candor mute his message? Sometimes yes. Unbelievers are going to be upset at the way he delivered this example. Why? Because it specifically focused on an atheist family! The atheists were victims of the crime in his scenario which made atheists feel somewhat victimized. That’s what motivated the aggressive and misleading article titles about this situation that I referenced earlier. Obviously, as I explained earlier, an honest examination of Phil’s remarks would invalidate the legitimacy of the misleading articles attempting to disparage Phil for using this illustration.
In the end, we must be careful about what we say and how we say it. Maybe instead of using an “atheist family”, Phil could have just referenced a “family” and examined how impotent the atheistic worldview is in condemning the objective evil in this fictional tragedy. The family doesn’t necessarily have to be an “atheist family” in order to effectively make the point. In fact, there are many other ways to illustrate the very same point, likely to a greater and more fulfilled ends. We should strive to deliver truth without compromising compassion, and sometimes Phil can deliver a message that is lopsided towards truth without the components of compassion that are necessary when evangelizing to the lost. Regardless of his candid delivery, Phil is a brother in Christ and we should pray for the success of his ministry.