Anthropomorphism or True Empathy?

Photo: Tobias Baumgaertner

A photographer named Tobias Baumgaertner spent three nights with a little penguin colony in St. Kilda, Melbourne Australia and was able to snap this photograph. We see a slightly taller black penguin with his flipper on the back of a smaller silver penguin. Thanks to a volunteer on site, Baumgaertner was able to learn more about these penguins.

“A volunteer approached me and told me that the white one was an elderly lady who had lost her partner and apparently so did the younger male to the left,” Baumgaertner wrote. “Since then they meet regularly comforting each other and standing together for hours watching the dancing lights of the nearby city.”

He wasn’t allowed to use any lights and the penguins kept moving their flippers, but his tenacity finally paid off.  “The way that these two lovebirds were caring for one another stood out from the entire colony,” he shared. “While all the other penguins were sleeping or running around, those two seemed to just stand there and enjoy every second they had together, holding each other in their flippers and talking about penguin stuff.”

While it’s a romantic story it may not be entirely accurate. Earthcare St. Kilda, a non-profit that manages the colony, wrote that the penguins might actually be related. They identified the penguin on the right as a pre-molt adult and the penguin on the left as a juvenile that may be the offspring of the adult.

Stories like this seem to always offer us two alternatives: to see God’s handiwork or to see life as nothing more than science and random events. If you do check this out you will of course see many rightful cautions about “anthropomorphic” bias we may have. After all, our perspective is that of a human. It would be wonderful if we could somehow truly understand what these two penguins were actually thinking and saying to each other.

To me, the beauty of this is that we can’t know for sure. And, just like all other areas of faith and hope we are left with the free will of making that choice. I hope you choose to see this as heartwarming as I do.

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