Banana argument

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The banana argument is a variation on the argument from design, saying that some things are the way they are because they were designed especially for our pleasure and comfort.

Contents

Background information

This argument was presented by Ray Comfort as "the atheist's worst nightmare" in the Way of the Master episode entitled "The Beauty of a Broken Spirit—Atheism".

Argument

Way of the Master Version

Ray Comfort with a banana

Ray Comfort on Way of the Master:

"It's my theory of where the soda can may have come from. Billions of years ago, there was a big bang in space. Nobody knows what caused the big bang, it just happened. And from this bang issued this huge rock, on top of the rock was found a sweet, brown bubbly substance. And over millions of years, aluminum crept up the side, formed itself with a can and a lid and then a tab. And then millions of years later, red paint, blue paint, white paint fell from the sky and formed itself into the words '12 fluid ounces - Do not litter'."
"You're saying, 'What are you doing, you're insulting my intellect' - and so I am. Because we know, if the can is made there must be a maker. If it's designed there must be a designer. To believe the soda can happened by chance is to move into an intellectual-free zone... is to have an echo when you think... is to have brain liposuction"
"Behold, the atheists' nightmare. Now if you study a well-made banana, you'll find, on the far side, there are 3 ridges. On the close side, two ridges. If you get your hand ready to grip a banana, you'll find on the far side there are three grooves, on the close side, two grooves. The banana and the hand are perfectly made, one for the other. You'll find the maker of the banana, Almighty God, has made it with a non-slip surface. It has outward indicators of inward contents - green, too early - yellow, just right - black, too late. Now if you go to the top of the banana, you'll find, as with the soda can makers have placed a tab at the top, so God has placed a tab at the top. When you pull the tab, the contents don't squirt in your face. You'll find a wrapper which is biodegradable, has perforations. Notice how gracefully it sits over the human hand. Notice it has a point at the top for ease of entry. It's just the right shape for the human mouth. It's chewy, easy to digest and its even curved toward the face to make the whole process so much easier. Seriously, Kirk, the whole of creation testifies to the genius of God's creation."

List Version

Note that the banana:

  1. Is shaped for the human hand
  2. Has a non-slip surface
  3. Has outward indicators of inward content:
    Green - not ripe enough
    Yellow - just right for eating
    Black - too ripe
  4. Has a tab for easy removal of its wrapper
  5. Is perforated on the wrapper for easy peeling
  6. Has a biodegradable wrapper
  7. Is shaped for the human mouth
  8. Is pleasing to the taste buds
  9. Is curved towards the face to make the eating process easy

The conclusion: obviously the banana was designed by "Almighty God" for the benefit of human beings.

Syllogism

p1. We know that a soda can is obviously designed
p2. Bananas superficially appear similar to soda cans
c1. The banana is designed
c2. The designer is God

Counter arguments

Straw man fallacy: The soda can

In telling the audience certain design features of a soda can, Comfort creates a straw man in his description of the evolutionary process. A soda can lacks the major mechanisms of evolution:

  • A soda can does not have a process of self-replication, and thus its traits cannot be inherited by its children (and, by extension, its children cannot have variations of those traits). Development of inheritable traits is the process which brings about the the change in biological organisms.
  • Inheritable traits are positive or negative based on their impact on an organism's ability to survive and propagate successfully. Even if a soda can had inheritable traits and a process of self-replication, the idea that they would form aluminum sides or the words "12 Fluid Ounces - Do Not Litter" is not consistent with natural selection. Those things are matters of human convenience, not things which impact the survival of a species.

Soda cans are indeed designed. And while there may (arguably) be some superficial similarities between soda cans and evolved organisms such as bananas, soda cans lack the mechanisms which would enable evolution. They are thus not analogous to bananas (or other evolved organisms) for the purpose of his argument against evolution.

The current design of soda cans was not the initial design. For example, beverage cans did not always have a tab to open them - they required a "church key" to punch a hole in the top. The first tab-opening cans opened outward, leaving a sharp metal tab for the user to dispose of. Cans haven't always been made of aluminum - earlier versions were steel, which was far heavier to transport, and far harder to machine. The lip and bottom of the can have been specifically designed to function within automated soda machines. Even designed products have gone through an extensive re-design process akin to biological evolution, with the designer keeping desirable and eliminating undesirable traits.

Argument from design: The banana

Even if one agrees that bananas have some features which are convenient to humans and other animals, the argument that bananas must have a designer is an argument from design. It assumes that natural features which have a superficial resemblance to designed features indicate that the object has been designed.

As the theory of evolution specifically provides an alternative means by which resemblance to design could be achieved naturally, assuming that resemblance to design indicates design makes the argument circular. There is no argument against the theory itself.

Special pleading: The banana is designed

Whether or not the banana even has design features is arguable:

  • Bananas, along with most foods people eat, have been domesticated and bred to have the features we like. We only keep and reproduce banana trees which grow bananas exactly the size and shape that we want, and destroy the rest.
    Natural bananas are much smaller and are full of cherry-pit sized seeds. Musa balbisiana and Musa acuminate, the ancestors of most cultivated bananas are far less well suited to human needs.
    This was possible due to variation under domestication. Ironically enough, the title of the very first chapter in Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species published 150 years ago. Domestication works exactly the same as the natural evolutionary process, except rather than a natural selection criteria, the domestication selection criteria is what best suits the animal or plant breeders purposes. He or she controls the hereditary outcomes of genetic linage by controlling which male and female of the species mate.
    Cultivated bananas are parthenocarpic, which means they have been selectively bred to the point where they are sterile and unable to produce viable seeds. This means that they can no longer propagate without human intervention such as grafting.
  • Despite their supposed "perfect design", most animals don't eat bananas. Macaques may love the convenience of bananas, but they are probably not so excited about the crocodile's most convenient food source.
  • Bananas come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Comfort is careful to say "if you study a well-made banana..." Well, yes, if you only pick up rocks that fit perfectly in your hand, you will notice that all the rocks you have fit perfectly in your hand. If you look at bananas in general, they do not fit Comfort's description.
    • Many species of banana are perfectly edible, yet look completely different.
    • Some species of banana look nearly identical, yet are inedible or barely edible.
    • Many species of bananas do not have the ripeness "indicator" Comfort describes.
  • Bananas don't grow in most areas of the world. Except through modern supply chain, bananas would not be conveniently obtainable by most people.
  • Even if bananas were the perfect food, most plants are not. There's no obvious indication (other than vicarious experience) that blueberries are edible but moonseed are deadly.

And, finally, even if the argument supported the existence of a banana designer, it doesn't show that the designer is supernatural, or that it is Comfort's god. As shown there are natural human designers.

Other counter arguments

  • Even if the argument showed that bananas were designed, it would not prove that there is only one designer; maybe millions of banana designers participated.
  • Even if the argument showed that there once was a banana designer, it wouldn't prove that the banana designer still exists.
  • The argument provides no good reasons to suppose that a naturalistic, non-design explanation for bananas is improbable, let alone impossible.
  • The list of features above smacks of cherry picking to devise a good example. Given the range of variation in fruits and vegetables, the enormous number of possible combinations of their attributes, and the fact that the foods we eat are almost by definition the ones "most suited" for our consumption, it would be extremely improbable that no fruit or vegetable would seem "especially well-suited" for our use.
  • The fact that a banana fits perfectly in our hand might say more about the evolution of hands than it does about bananas. The human hand is very versatile, able to change shape enough to hold a tiny pebble or a large tree branch. Lots of things not designed for our enjoyment also fit in our hands.
  • The number of objects in the universe that are inedible and even dangerous to humans far outweighs the number of objects that are tasty. Is this evidence of a malevolent designer, or none at all? Were the poisonous berries "designed" to kill us?
  • Humans evolved to be able to eat naturally-occurring foods. From this perspective, the argument sounds a bit like Douglas Adams' analogy of a puddle thinking that the hole it's in was designed to fit it perfectly.
  • More animals than humans eat bananas (especially naturally occurring bananas). Perhaps bananas were created for monkeys and humans just knew a good thing when they saw it.
  • Humans eat all kinds of food and not all of it is easy to get at. The coconut is also enjoyed by humans and yet, apart from having a non-slip surface (like almost all natural objects) and tasting good (like most foods humans eat), it holds none of the other properties of the banana. A cow, whose meat some might say is far more delicious than a banana, is fairly difficult to hold in the hand when in its natural form. Like many other foods, cows also require special preparation before eating, otherwise some dangerous diseases can result. The diseases, by the way, come from bacteria that theists would also say were created by God.
  • Some humans are allergic to bananas, casting doubt on the premise that bananas or humans are designed one for the other.
  • This is not an argument for Christianity. If it were designed, the banana could have been designed by Odin, Zeus or any other deity.
  • The "Tab" which is used to peel off the skin is in fact what connects a Banana to the bunch. Indeed, many primates don't even use it to peel off the skin, instead peeling from the bottom up.

Additional notes

Ray Comfort in episode #103 of the Hellbound Alleee show, conceded that this is a bad argument due to the human domestication of the banana.

He has since recanted in somewhat of a notpology, that the argument is still valid as it was God who gave us the ability to domesticate said plants and animals, and furthermore that he no longer uses the banana argument solely because atheists have maliciously removed the argument from its proper context, a segment in which Comfort compares evolution to the spontaneous natural formation of a Coke can over millions of years.

A wild banana, 'as god created'. The ones we have today are the result of centuries of artificial selection by man.

Links

See also

Argument from design Ray Comfort

External links

Reference


v · d Arguments for the existence of god
Anthropic arguments   Anthropic principle · Natural-law argument
Arguments for belief   Pascal's Wager · Argument from faith · Just hit your knees
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Ontological argument   Argument from degree · Argument from desire · Origin of the idea of God
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