Sunday, August 21, 2005

March of the Tuxedos

It is indeed hard to believe but in the midst of all the sleaze and tease movies that are part of the regular junk food called summer movies there is a National Geographic documentary which is drawing large audiences this summer--- March of the Penguins. Narrated by Morgan Freeman and filmed by a French crew who obviously had more courage than sense staying in Antartica for months at a time, even in -80F weather, this remarkable movie makes a rather remarkable if indirect argument for 'intelligent design' of God's creation and creatures. It is amazing that we have persons in our culture who can look at skyscrapers and have no trouble concluding that it must have been made by an intelligent being, but look at far more complexly designed things like penguins or humans and come to the conclusion that their existence and behavior patterns are the result of random chance. Go figure.

This movie is exquisitely filmed and seeks to chronicle a full year in the life cycle of a penguin. As it turns out the film is all about love--- or at least about the urge to procreate and prolong the species even in a brutal environment. Had Darwin visited Antartica where it is never, or almost never above 0 degrees, it would have given new meaning to his phrase survival of the fittest.

Emperor penguins are remarkable creatures who walk, waddle, and glide on their bellies for over 70 miles just to mate, and then another seventy miles to eat, and then back again to feed their young, and then a respite for the summer months when they swim and eat to their hearts' content. Turns out they live on an academic year schedule, and though they are sea creatures they spend most of their year walking to and from the breeding ground. Furthermore they go some 3-4 months at a time without eating in the winter time, but they also do not hibernate. Bears have got nothing on these creatures.

In addition to all this they are monogamous (on a year by year basis) and seem capable of showing considerable affection, and emotion towards their mates or young. The movie vividly portrays the love and sacrifice displayed by these creatures in order that their offspring may survive and thrive. You don't have to be a nature freak or a tree hugger to enjoy and even be moved by this movie.

When you witness the toughness and adaptability of these creatures it reminds one of just how fragile human beings are when it comes to their physical form and its vulnerabilities. We couldn't last five hours under the conditions these creatures live through day in and day out, without all kinds of extra clothes and support systems. We are by no means the physically fittest creatures, and yet we have survived. It is worth pondering why.

William Faulkner when he won the Nobel Prize for literature once affirmed: "I believe that humankind will not merely survive, but will in fact prevail." But why should this be so, and why should we have this sort of faith in humankind, if we are not created in God's image and God has not been watching over us and helping us survive even our own worst mistakes and follies considering how vulnerable we are compared for example to far more adapatible and rugged critters--- like for example alligators, or even cockroaches?

Perhaps above all else, this movie reminds us that all creatures great and small face many of the same basic challenges on our planet, the challenge to find food, to live, to procreate, to love, to survive, to sacrifice for others that we care about or are related to. We are all part of the same life cycle and eco-system, and there are things we can learn from watching Emperor penguins that could help us "live long and prosper".

And if it is indeed true that humans were set on this earth to tend this garden and use it without abusing it, then there is certainly one lesson that stands out so clearly from a movie like this--- all other creatures other than humans kill almost solely for food and yes occasionally as retaliation for being attacked or harmed. They do not kill for sport, they do not kill for fun, and most strikingly they do not under any normal circumstances kill their own species. They do not foul their own nests.

Perhaps after all, humans are not in all ways the most intelligent creatures on earth. Perhaps the sage knew what he was saying when he urged us to observe the lesser creatures and learn-- "four things on earth are small, and yet they are extremely wise---ants are creatures of little strength, yet they store up their food in the summer; rock badgers are creatures of little power and yet they make their homes in the safety of rocky crags; locusts hasve no kings, yet they advance together in ranks; as lizard can be caught with the hand, yet it is found in king's palaces." (Prov. 30.24-28).

Go see this movie, and take your children, and so "teach your children well".


Mack Johnston said...

Great comments on a really good movie. Anything that can keep the attention of my four youngest kids (5-12) - especially Crazy Maggie the Five year-old) is a winner in my book. Also, I was glancing through your blogs and didn't find any comments on Eschatology. You had a great talk last Fall in Atlanta in Bill Craig's class and I was wondering if you could recommend some good sources for the Eschatological view you advocated? Thanks MJ

Ben Witherington said...

Sure, have a look at my Jesus, Paul, and the End of the World (published by Inter Varsity Press), and for the critique of Dispensationalism see my new book which comes out in November The Problem with Evangelical Theology.

Alan S. Bandy said...

I too was moved and inspired by this remarkable movie, but I never thought to use it as an example for intelligent design. I have been searching for a way to use this movie as an illustration of biblical truth. Thank you for your great review (also your review of Alexander was very accurate).

Stephen Thomas said...

"...other creatures other than not kill for sport, they do not kill for fun..."

Apparently you've never owned any outdoor cats. Many times have I seen them abuse and kill birds, mice, rats, bats, bugs, etc. without ever taking a bite out of them. It's like watching a cartoon.

Ben Witherington said...

The territorial instinct of animals such as cats or dogs is very strong. Anything that is invading their turf they take umbrage at. But they are not killing just for sport or fun. Sometimes they kill a bird and bring it to the back door to show they are doing their job of policing the yard. That is a very different matter.

Mark Daniels said...

Your review only adds incentive for me to see this film, Ben. Thanks!

Mike Todd said...

My wife and I saw this movie last night! As I sat there I had a similar but different response. I was thinking about some of my capital "E" evangelical friends who hold that all of creation is simply a resource for our use. Then I saw these penguins doing their thing, year after year, regardless of whether or not any of "us" were even aware of them.

I think God was having a lot of fun the day he came up with these creatures!

rem said...

When we Evangelicals take a pot shot at a secular notion, scientific or cultural, we ought to take aim at the real thing and not some distorted straw man.

Witherington writes, “It is amazing that we have persons in our culture who can look at skyscrapers and have no trouble concluding that it must have been made by an intelligent being, but look at far more complexly designed things like penguins or humans and come to the conclusion that their existence and behavior patterns are the result of random chance. Go figure.”

But the fact of the matter is “Darwinism is not a theory of random chance. It is a theory of random mutation plus non-random cumulative natural selection.” (See Dawkins, “Climbing Mount Impossible” p. 75. rem

Cyndee said...

Yep, saw this one! It was so fun to actually get to "be there" to see their struggle, loss and victory in life and love. A few times I was a bit embarassed as to the intimacy of it all. Mostly I was in awe at God's creativity and splendor in the beautiful creatures. Besides all that... Morgan Freeman's voice is a calming, fatherly one, to say the least. The whole thing was well done!! Thanks for this review as well. I'm new to your blog, so I just read this one today!!


Humean said...

It's commonly remarked that evolution presents a history of cruelty, survival of the strong & so forth. What's less remarked (if ever) is the nobility of natural selection in its effects on the development of community. Watching "March of the Penguins" suggested to me (for the first time, at least in any emotionally powerful way) that the process of evolution could be a "worthy" tool for the use of a good God.

You would almost think you're watching a training film for how to be an extraordinary parent, except that the stars of the film aren't people, they are "lower life forms" with tiny brains and no reasoning power. They love and sacrifice for their children because natural selection has rewarded them for their lives of deep commitment to the success of the ensuing generation. It's simple and elegant: "success" in the evolution game means, strictly and unpoetically speaking, passing along one's genetic makeup; but one of the best ways to accomplish this is to take exceptional care for one's offspring, even to the point of complete self-sacrifice; indeed, any penguin who cares too much for his own life to sacrifice it for his child is a guaranteed "loser" in this game. It is, of course, the same with us.