Creationist penguins

Who knew? Apparently, the superb documentary March of the Penguins has become a hit amongst creationists. Why? Because they think — as the Science section of the New York Times reports today — that the sheer tenacity of the penguins, and their ability to thrive in a hostile environment, points inexorably to the hand of God. As Andrew Coffin writes in his film review at World Magazine:

That any one of these eggs survives is a remarkable feat — and, some might suppose, a strong case for intelligent design. It’s sad that acknowledgment of a creator is absent in the examination of such strange and wonderful animals. But it’s also a gap easily filled by family discussion after the film. Talk of evolution is minimal, as is much scientific discussion of onscreen events, with Mr. Freeman’s narration focused more on the poetic than Discovery Channel — style details.

It’s a pitch-perfect example of the surreal tautologies that creationists use to explain away evolution: If something appears to have been designed, then it clearly must have been. It reminds me also of something a friend once said: That people who believe intensely in Providence, karma, or the hand of God in everyday affairs, are creepily similar to schizophrenics who believe that they can spot meaningful patterns in the white noise of daily life. (“Four traffic lights in a row all turned red just as I approached! I’m being warned not to complete my journey!”)

One of the great gifts of science is that it helps us break through how reality appears to work, and lets us figure out how it actually does work. But Coffin would rather explore the workings of the universe via “family discusssion” than, oh, reading about the actual work of real scientists who carefully test their theories to make sure they fit the facts.

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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