Wednesday, April 05, 2006

March of the Penguins

On the evening before I left for Turkey, I finally got to see the documentary -- March of the Penguins -- that caused all the buzz when it appeared last year in the cinemas. Spectacular photography, and a story that would touch the heart of a stone: the procreational habits of the emperor penguins of Antarctica.

I was astonished to recall how the religious right took up the film as a parable of family values and intelligent design. Those poor penguins who stand shivering over their egg through the Antarctic winter must surely wonder -- in their dim bird brains -- why the Designer did not think of a more intelligent way to ensure the survival of their species.

In the February 23 issue of Nature, biologist Marlene Zuk sees March of the Penguins as a perfect illustration of blind Darwinian selection. And as for "family values," she points out the prevalence among penguins of promiscuity and homosexuality.

It turns out that some species of penguins are even into prostitution; females provide sexual favors for males other than their mates in exchange for stones with which they build their nests.

All of which suggests just how silly the culture wars have become.

One rather wishes the parablists of the Christian right would leave the hapless penguins alone and worry more about why red states lead the nation in such family-value indicators as divorce and teenage pregnancy.