Penguins and Sex
Stephen Jay Gould in his book ‘Rocks of Ages: Science and Religon in the Fullness of Life’ (Random House 2001)concludes that science defines the natural world and religon our moral world.
In an insightful piece published last week in the Sunday Times Andrew Sullivan considers how penguin biology has become part of the morality wars in the US with the religious right hailing a movie about penguins as “passionately affirming traditional norms like monogamy, sacrifice and child rearing.”
But, Sullivan writes:
According to “The Auk,” the scholarly journal of the American Ornithologists’ Union, emperor penguins make Liz Taylor look like a lifetime monogamist. Their mate fidelity year to year is 15 percent.
… According to the Auk, “in Emperor Penguins, the tendency to divorce occurred only when females returned earlier than their previous mates. Most Emperor Penguin pairs formed within 24 hours after the arrival of males, which were outnumbered by females.” Memo to male emperor penguins: If you get to the breeding grounds a day late, forget about it. She’s already moved on.
It gets worse. Some penguins are – wait for it – gay. Of course, any fool could have told you that. They’re invariably impeccably turned out, in simple and elegant tuxedoes with a very discrete splash of color; and you can’t tell the boys from the girls.
This is a major problem for zoos, hoping for baby penguins. In Berlin’s Bremerhaven zoo, zoo-keepers were frustrated for years wondering why their penguin couples weren’t producing any eggs. After DNA testing, they found out that three of the five pairs had the avian equivalent of “civil partnerships.”
Gay marriage has apparently been around a lot longer than many of us believed. So they brought in four, er, birds from Sweden to try and wean the gay penguins into reproducing. No word yet on progress.
But German gay groups were outraged. How dare the zoo try and re-program gays?
And Sullivan concludes:
Alas, for all the, er, mounting evidence that homosexuality and promiscuity and trans-genderism exist in the natural world, it’s a little stupid to use this material for political purposes. How do I put this gently to both the social right and the p.c. left? We’re not penguins. We’re not chimps. We’re not even those merrily promiscuous bonobo monkeys. We’re humans. And even our “natural” mating habits – moderate monogamy and some homosexuality, according to all the best science – do not tell us anything about morality as such.
… Not everything is political. And not everything is about us.