On September 13, the New York Times ran an article that discussed how the documentary March of the Penguins was a big hit among some groups because of the lessons it imparted. A reviewer in World Magazine thought that the fact that any fragile penguin egg survived the Antarctic climate made a “strong case for intelligent design.” Conservative commentator Michael Medved thought the movie “passionately affirms traditional norms like monogamy, sacrifice and child rearing.”
Penguins are not people, despite their natty appearance and upright ambulation. Their traditional norms include waddling around naked and regurgitating the kids’ lunch. But it would be as absurd to castigate them for those activities as it is to congratulate them for their monogamy. Besides, the movie clearly notes that the penguins are seasonally monogamous–like other movie stars usually reviled by moralists, the penguins take a different mate each year. And there are problems with them as evidence of intelligent design. While caring for the egg, the penguins balance it on their feet against their warm bodies; if the egg slips to the ground for even a few seconds, it freezes and cracks open. A truly intelligent design might have included internal development, or thicker eggshells, or Miami. Finally, penguin parents take turns walking 70 miles to the sea for takeout meals. The birds have to walk.
From tribulations to trials. On September 26, I sat in a federal courtroom in Harrisburg, Pa., where a lawyer said for almost certainly the first time ever, “Can we have the bacterial flagellum, please?”