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What If Godwin's Law Doesn't Apply?

Godwin's Law states that, given enough time, someone in an online discussion is going to compare someone to Hitler or the Nazis.  Somewhat of a tongue-in-cheek "law," it ultimately is a description aimed at avoidance.  The use of language such as, "You're just like Hitler," is disturbing when it is thrown around like a cheap blanket, but what if there was some action, practice and/or attitude to which the reference was fairly applied?  What if the inherent point of Godwin's Law in such a circumstance doesn't demonstrate the absurdity of such comparison, but rather cheapens the evil of such an action, practice and/or attitude?  Should Godwin's Law be invoked in discussions regarding abortion?

Introduced in 1990 by Attorney Mike Godwin, Godwin's law has some implications worth noting.  Firstly, the use of Hitler/Nazi references - what Leo Strauss dubbed reductio ad Hitlerum (a play on reductio ad absurdum) - is generally deemed to be the final move of a losing party; if you can't engage or win in civil argument/debate without the ad hominem attack on your opponent, you obviously don't have a very strong position or argument to make.  While I think this corollary is generally true, it leaves open the possibility that the law may be misused.  

Secondly, the law seems to hinge on a fundamental assumption.  Hitler, the Nazis, and their supporters must be the worst examples of humanity's capacity for evil, no?  At a minimum, they seem to be synonymous with the term Evil, and perhaps the only example we as a culture are currently willing to accept as a concrete demonstration of the same.  I am not, and never would, argue that the Third Reich was anything but, and I am grateful for the expulsion from Eden so that no one - including a crazed, cracked Austrian - could inflict such horror in perpetuity.

But.

I recall from my college years the infamous Milgram Experiment, conducted by Stanley Milgram at Yale University.  In this work, Dr. Milgram was testing the human capacity to do evil on orders.  Initiated just after the onset of the Nuremberg Trials and the Israeli trial of Adolf Eichmann, most in the West were aghast that anyone could perform such heinous acts and - after the fact - defend themselves on the basis of simply doing what they were told.  While some of the results have been disputed, what Milgram discovered was that even "good Americans," is it were, acted in a similar fashion; most participants were ultimately willing to take actions they believed to be causing extremely painful and even life-threatening electric shocks on the basis of nothing more than a lab-coated administrator advising them of the importance of their compliance.

What shocked me then still shocks me today: The biggest complaint about the study at the time was that it was inducing emotional distress in the participants; they might not like to know they had a similar capacity for evil demonstrated by so many Nazis.  Despite the fact that most of the actual participants reported being thankful for this knowledge, the psychological/academic community didn't see it this way.

Nevertheless, what seems to emerge is that the capacity for me to do evil is no different than the capacity of the Nazis to do evil.  Here we have a major problem with Godwin's Law.  If we are talking about ad hominem argument - attacking the person - the comparison seems fair, regardless of context.  But for the Grace of God, I could have been one of those men in Nuremberg arguing that I was just obeying orders.  Give me unfettered power, unanchored ethics, and a cult of personality, and I have the capacity to become just like Hitler himself.  Alternatively, if the attack is merely on the actions taken by someone, then it ceases to be ad hominem, and is no longer per se an invalid line of argument.  Either way, Godwin's Law seems to be largely irrelevant, except when cited in bad faith with the sole purpose of trying to quash a dissenting view. 

For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. (Matthew 15:19)

But.

In practical application, this probably matters little.  Given our universal tendency for self-justification, we seem more than happy to conclude that Hitler/Nazi = Evil, so provided we aren't trying to swallow up the world while torturing and exterminating Jews, Gypsies, disabled, etc., we are okay.

But.

All told, the Nazi war crimes caused the death of perhaps as many as 12,000,000 people.  If this number were expanded to include the total number of deaths in WWII, this number grows to somewhere between 50-80 million.  Since the US Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade (1973), over 59 million babies have been aborted in the U.S. alone.  In Canada, the latest statistics available show that almost 25% of the pregnancies each year end in abortion.  Global figures dating to 1980 scream of an evil never before seen: in the last 35 years, over 1,400,000,000 (1.4 Billion) babies have been killed.  That's more than the current population of China.

But.

"It's a choice, not a child!"

But.

No -- It's not a choice; it is a living human being being knit together in the womb by the Creator of the Universe.  "It's women's health!"  No -- It's slaughter.  Similar to the professional/academic responses to the Milgram Experiment, we see the lengths to which we are willing to go to avoid seeing the evil inside.  We have butchered the equivalent of almost 20% of the world's population under umbrellas of sexual freedom and central government planning.  There was life, now there is no life - but don't you dare call it killing.

But.

The U.S. Federal government and 38 individual states call it just that - in certain circumstances (See, e.g.Unborn Victims of Violence Act, 18 USC §1841.)  These laws deem the unborn human life for criminal prosecutions such as homicide.  As a result, in such a jurisdiction, one could be convicted of a homicide (the taking of a distinct human being with the right to life) for the shooting of a pregnant woman which resulted in the death of the child - even if the mother was on her way to a clinic for an abortion.  Granted - the wording and application of these statutes is such that there is no legal conflict between them and abortion rights; however, on a real-world level, the child either is or isn't a living human being, not both, and certainly not either/or based exclusively on the intentions of the mother at any given time.

But.

Don't you dare compare it to the Nazis!

One of these is incidents of mass-killing is arguably more evil than the other.  Those who wish to deploy Godwin's Law as a means of censorship may need to rethink whether the comparison goes too far, or falls too short.  I am certainly not trying to diminish the horror of the Third Reich, but I don't care to be quieted for suggesting the global abattoir of abortion deserves as much attention.

For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well. - Psalm 139:13-14 (ESV)

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All content on this site is believed to be consistent with Biblical teachings and also with historical and current understanding in the areas of science, logic, mathematics, philosophy, and history.  However, Sensus Dei encourages all readers of the information contained on this site to always test everything against the infallible Word of God.

May God richly bless you as you utilize this site to deepen your understanding and appreciation for all He has done.

-Glen Torhjelm, Executive Director