Argument from banana

By Sean Carroll | May 2, 2006 9:36 am

Kevin Schnitzius pointed me to this video, which has been around for a while but was recently mentioned by the Disgruntled Chemist. Skip to about the two-minute mark to get some deep insight into the creationist mindset, which Tara from Aetiology (which has since moved) accurately dubbed the “argument from banana.”

Argument from banana
You really do need to see the video, but I’ll spill the beans for the impatient: bananas are the quintessentially designed object. Not only do they fit snugly into a human hand, they even have ridges to allow for a tighter grip, a built-in color-coding that lets us know when they’re ripe, and — my favorite — a convenient pull-tab at the top for easy peeling! What better proof for the existence of God could one need?

I do wonder what they make of the Durian. Perhaps the Designer has a sense of humor?

Update: If you want to know more (perhaps your faith in naturalism has been shaken?), the video comes from a series called The Way of the Master, featuring Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort. It purportedly shows in 70 countries, and has been awarded honors by the National Religious Broadcasters association.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Humor, Religion, Science and Society
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  • citrine

    I could make a similar argument for the existence of the domestic cat as a pet. It’s clean, doesn’t need to be given a bath or taken for walks, it is small and light enough to sit on just about anyone’s lap – from that of a 3 yr old to a nanogenarian. It stays still on said lap most of the time, contentedly purring while keeping the human warm. It needs very little food and it can keep itself amused with common household objects for a long time. What better pet can a human have?

  • janet

    That’s hilarious. I wonder how he’d respond if asked why there are varieties of banana that don’t fit his specs.

    By the way, am I supposed to know who those guys are?

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/sean/ Sean

    Janet, I don’t think you should feel bad about not knowing who these guys are.

  • A condensed matter theorist

    I heard about this crazy banana argument. However, we now have a means to put intelligent design to the test. I claim that bananas are not designed to be peeled by their stem. In fact, it is much easier to peel them from the opposite end. Don’t believe me? Try it. I think there was a thing in Slate about this a while back but I can’t recall the link. The claim there was that all the other banana-eating primates know about this except for us.

    I suppose they could just argue that the stem is actually designed to be a handle. Oh well.

  • jbCharleston

    Oh yes. That “pop tab at the top” is the wrong way to open one anyway. Open it from the flower end. Much easier. Monkeys know this BTW. Does that make them smarter than the creationist?

  • http://quthoughts.blogspot.com Joe

    Interestingly, religious bigotry doesn’t seem to count as a sin.

  • http://www.pieterkok.com/index.html PK

    Speaking of cats, Georg Lichtenberg presented the following “proof” for the existence of God: He must exist, because the two holes in the fur of a cat are exactly where its eyes are.

  • http://ktheory.com/ Aaron Suggs

    During the photo montage of serene nature photos with the God-as-builder/painter voice-over, I’d love for them to show nature at some of its less graceful moments. Perhaps clips of the birth of a giraffe, insects eating their young, mosquitos spreading malaria, etc.; with a voice-over about God’s engineering and design prowess.

    The sex life of bonobos would be funny on multiple levels as well.

  • Dan

    I found it hilarious at first, then somewhat depressing after seeing the lenght of the clip and thinking of people actually buying these arguments.

  • CanuckRob

    It astounds me that people like those shown in the video are so incapable of critical thinking. I can only suppose that they had no non-religous schooling and that they were brain washed at an early age to beleive such silliness.

    As far as having them deal with things like the Durian, bonobo sex life, and why churhes get struck by lightning at the same rate as any other building it will never happen. (would be very funny if it did) The creationist mindset is to ignore all data that does not support the pre-existing belief.

    And while monkeys are not smarter than creationists at least they don’t deny the evidence that it is easier to open the banana from the flower end.

  • http://vacua.blgospot.com Jim Harrison

    If the solar system had been designed, the year would have an even number of days. Therefore there is no God. Next question.

  • Cynthia

    I love it! After viewing this banana clip, I must conclude that our Pristine Designer has one dirty mind! On a more positive note, Our Almighty Designer’s obsession with oral sex might become motivation for a large wave of Creationists to convert to Atheism. Kirk Cameron/Ray Comfort – what a brilliant strategy to combat the ID movement!

  • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/ Uncle Al

    Try opening a macadamia nut. Did God design tool steel nutcrackers? Divine infinite wisdom has a pan-global explicitly poor track record of separating latrines from wells. Test of faith!

    If Moses’ Ten Commandments had ferrous metallurgy outlined on their converse sides, the Bronze Age Israelites would have had a leg up on the Hittites. Getting biblical pi correct past one significant figure would have been telling. Yahweh’s little jokes.

  • jw

    Of course, the banana was designed. It’s even named after the genetic engineer who produced it (sometime in the 22nd century if I recall correctly). See Jasper Fforde’s The Eyre Affair.

  • http://pantheon.yale.edu/~eal48 Eugene

    Since the durian is the national fruit of Malaysia, I feel honour bound to rise to its defense.

    While not as well-endowed in the anthropic sense as the banana, it has its qualities :

    (a) Like the banana, it has a ripe/not-ripe toggle. Ripe durians automatically drop from their trees, which means that you walk in a durian orchard during harvesting season with a helmet.

    (b) It has a quality gauge, namely its smell. The more pungent it is, the better tasting it is.

    (c) It’s thorns are natural transport aid. You can pile a hill-worth of them in an open back truck, and they do not slide off each other.

  • michaeld

    For more details on the banana argument see chapter 2 here.

  • Sam Gralla

    Fascinating video. They certainly have developed a good strategy for your run of the mill atheist. And, of course, they’re right that atheism is just as much a faith as any religion (but not right that the logical complement of atheism is christianity). If people realize they’re agnostic rather than atheist, they should just stick to agnosticism. It’s the only really scientific viewpoint, in my opinion. What do the atheists here say to their “proving an absolute statement” argument?

  • http://alun_clewe.livejournal.com Jeff Nuttall

    I think there was a thing in Slate about this a while back but I can’t recall the link.

    I knew I’d seen a link to that Slate article somewhere recently, but it took me a while to find it. Turns out it was in this post on slacktivist.com. (Not a blog I read regularly, but one I happened to read that day.) The Slate article in question is here, though there are a couple of other interesting tidbits in the comments to the slacktivist.com post, too.

  • http://alun_clewe.livejournal.com Jeff Nuttall

    Sam Gralla – But the strict meaning of “agnostic” is, or originally was, not just someone who is undecided on the issue of the existence of god, but someone who explicitly believes that it is completely impossible to ever know whether there is a god or not. Which is just as much an absolute as specifically believing that there definitely is or isn’t a god, and is no more scientific.

    Of course, nowadays most people don’t use “agnostic” in that sense. But not everyone uses “atheist” in the strict sense you’re referring to, either. Regarding the “prove the absolute statement” bit, I’ve heard many atheists explain that it isn’t that they believe there absolutely, positively, cannot be a god, but that they have seen no reason to believe in a god, and in light of Occam’s Razor think it more likely that there isn’t one. In the absence of compelling reason to believe, disbelief is the default. So in that sense, they mean by “atheist” more or less what you mean by “agnostic”; it’s pretty much just a semantic issue. You may quibble that the word “agnostic” would more accurately represent their standpoint, but the fact is, as I’ve noted above, that that isn’t really what “agnostic” means either, in the strict sense, and there just isn’t a simple word that really encompasses the meaning in question.

  • tom fish

    Sean, you left out the most important part: helping to peddle this crap is none other than Growing Pains child star Kirk Cameron!

  • http://www.crookedtimber.org Kieran

    The sun comes up in the morning right around the time I’m about ready to go to work, too. Convenient, well-thought-out design. It’s like the iPod of the Solar System, only bigger.

  • Redshift

    I assume, then, that creationists only eat foods that are designed for human handling and consumption. I mean, grain has to be ground into flour and then baked into bread, pasta, or some other confection, so clearly it’s not designed for human consumption. Then there are foods that are poisonous or unpleasant until cooked, or that don’t have a not-ripe/ripe/spoiled indicator. Clearly the Designer didn’t intend for us to eat those.

    Good luck with that all-banana diet!

  • http://kasperolsen.wordpress.com Kasper Olsen

    I saw this video and ….. God it was funny! 😉 I really liked the argument that God must exist because those who don’t believe in him will say that he does not exist. And that there must be a designer since some person/being must have designed a building, a car, or whatever.

    Never heard the “banana argument” before, actually. It was truly convincing. But in reality, I would prefer using the “beer argument”, or the “burger argument”. Any other strong arguments??

  • Samantha

    I recently flew back to LA surrounded by Pentecostalists (the movement started here and they were all coming for meeting). Being ignorant of Pentecostalism, I had no idea the extent to which they believed in pre-destination – that everything happens because it is ordained by god. This sentiment pervaded every sentence (they were a rowdy bunch) and at first amused but then finally horrified me because it explained why such Christians (for the record, my fellow passengers seemed like perfectly nice, albeit very excited people) can justify doing nothing about, for example, homelessness in cities.

  • http://quthoughts.blogspot.com Joe

    Samantha: It is only fair to mention the fact that there are a large number of religious (some Christian, some not) organistations which do extremely good charitable work. In Dublin, where I am originally from, the St. Vincent de Paul Society do a lot of work with homeless people, so it seems unfair to bring this up as an example.

  • Emile

    The best proof of the existence of God that I have seen is that exp(i*pi) = -1. I have added my own corollary: del-squared phi = 0 shows that God is merciful.

    Cheers

  • Cygnus

    Awesome! But seriously, jeez, the atheists they interviewed, seemed worse than the bozos running the show. I mean,

    If you research the bible like you reasearch for your academic paper

    Do these people have no capability for intelligent thought?? Maybe someone should tell them about emergent complexity?

  • janet

    Sam Gralla: It is physically possible for there to be tigers in my house, have no incontrvertible empirical evidence that there are no tigers here. Nevertheless, I am certain that there are no tigers in my house. If somebody asked me to prove that there were no tigers in my house, I’d laugh.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/sean/ Sean

    There is no absolute proof of any empirical claim — silliness of astrology, non-existence of the Easter bunny, non-existence of malevolent demons stealing odd numbers of socks from the laundry — and ordinarily we understand this, accepting a combination of overwhelming evidence plus a preference for simple explanations. But for whatever reason, people chicken out when it comes to God, and pretend that we either need a proof or shouldn’t draw any conclusions.

  • http://www.amara.com/ Amara

    Personally, I like the eggplant argument!
    (hilarious video, thanks Sean)

  • Samantha

    Hi Joe!

    I tried to write my comment carefully – but of course it is never careful enough. I have no evidence that my fellow passengers would look at someone homeless and argue that it is God’s will that a person be homeless, but it is a logical extension of the extent to which they appeared to believe that everything (and I am talking, everything) is pre-destined by God. And, I would add, it would explain something that has greatly puzzled me: why so many in the Christian right in the US appear comfortable with our current economic policy. Which to my eyes (C of E educated) would appear to be the antithesis of “Christian values”.

  • http://spatulated.wordpress.com/ Spatulated

    Sean, i’d like to say, good point. Also, just to add nothing to this article, creationists are hilarious. I wish i knew more science so i could argue with them, so far my favorite argument against design is that the bladder is pourly located so that when you need to pea the most, the most blood is rushing to your privates, creating a terribly akward situation when going to the bathroom.

  • chris
  • http://quthoughts.blogspot.com Joe

    Samantha, don’t worry about me, I just thought I should mention that, so that no-one reading through the comments got the impression that religion=bad people, since it is often the case that many very religious people are extremely charitable.

    I think you comment about the Christian right brings up an interesting point. I think their alignment is an artifact of the 2 party system in the US. If you are sufficiently convinced that, say, abortion is murder, then you are faced with the voting for a party whose financial economic you find distasteful, or with a party you consider to be murders. If there were more major parties, I think that the Republican voters would split into two camps. Financial conservatives in one group and religious groups in the other.

    I should point out, in case anyone gets the wrong idea from this post, that I am very liberal (at least by US standards, and UK standards from recent experiences, though PK might give me a run for my money) and also an atheist, so I wouldn’t be voting Republican anyway. That, and I’m not a US citizen, so there is no danger of me voting there.

  • Cynthia

    Amara – thanks for sharing this engineering feat by the Almighty Designer: an eggplant with a banana-like appendage. Using the ID argument, I would like to see Cameron and Comfort try to explain this one.

  • http://thegreenbelt.blogspot.com/ The Ridger

    My uncle and my brother – both of whom were staunch Republicans – have quit the party over Bush and his failed economic policies and his destruction of what they see as “true conservative values”. It might happen yet, a Republican schism. We can only hope…

  • Thomas

    “Christians” are just silly. If you want to really find something that shows that there is an intellectually rigorous side to Christianity you have to turn to the Roman Catholics, for example, to people like Stanley Jaki from Seton Hall.

    Jaki wouldn’t agree with very much said here. This banana agrugment about teleology is just dumb. It is like the old idea that the nose is for holding up one’s glasses.

    My advice to the whole group: step out of the magic circle- stop performing acts of faith and your faith will go. But it’s not as simple as Dennett makes it seem.

  • Sam Gralla

    Jeff: You make good points. I like that definition of an agnostic. I often argue that line, but if we cannot in principle ever interact with a God, he effectively doesn’t exist, and I’m back to being an atheist. Maybe the truth is I’m just undecided–I’m waiting for Sean’s combination of overwhelming empirical evidence and a preference for simple explanations.

    Sean: Presumably you believe the statement “there are no malevolent demons stealing odd numbers of socks from the laundry” because there is no evidence for demons and we have a simple compelling alternative explanation (misplacing socks) that passes empirical tests (you sometimes find the sock, or learn where it went). In the case of a statement like “there is no god who made the universe”, I’m not sure what the simple compelling alternative explanation for the making of the universe would be. If asked to explain the making of the universe, I think an atheist would not answer, or call it a malformed question. It is for this reason that “is there a creator” and “are there sock-stealing demons (SSDs)” are simply not analogous. And even if the atheist had an alternative explanation for the making of the universe (please provide one–I’m drawing a blank), do we really repeatedly “find socks” to make us believe it? Of course, there are pleanty of things we can point to in the world to lead us to believe that there is no God, but nothing like finding socks. Similarly, there are things we can point to in the world that lead us to believe there is a God, but again nothing totally compelling. It is just in the nature of metaphysical questions that evidence won’t be of the usual physical nature, and therefore deserves special treatment (and perhaps chickening out).

  • Sam Gralla

    Oh, and for what it’s worth, I do not consider a banana even uncompelling evidence for God =)

  • Thomas Larsson

    Eugene, with my very poor knowledge of bahasa melayu, I can only say this: Saya tidak suka makan buah durian.

  • http://www.amara.com/ Amara

    Cynthia, You’re welcome. I buy my vegetables from a man with a vegetable truck who comes around my neighborhood 3 times a week. I asked for one melanzane (eggplant), and he absent-mindedly reached into the melanzane box and pulled out that one. Seeing the look on his face when that particular eggplant appeared in his hand was almost worth the effort of moving to Italy.

  • Hiranya

    Sam Gralla – I’m just curious. Even if we don’t (yet) have a definitive “naturalistic” explanation for the origin of the Universe, why is therefore “God made the Universe” *any* sort of explanation for its origin? Why can’t I ask “Who/what created God”? Doesn’t this just lead to a infinite chain of “Who made X” questions, with no answer *ever* possible? I have never managed to see the logic behind this type of “reasoning”. If you accept this type of reasoning I would love to hear your explanation of why you find it a compelling way of arguing something.

  • http://www.pieterkok.com/index.html PK

    One way of getting theists on their knees is to ask what God is: What is it that you want me to believe in? I do believe in Love, Forgiveness, and all that, but God seems to encompass something more. Every possible answer (e.g., “creator”) gives rise to more questions. It will always end in “having faith”. And then you say: “So you want me to believe in something that you cannot describe and for which there is no compelling empirical evidence? That’s just silly!”

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/sean/ Sean

    Sam, you are shifting the goalposts. Earlier you referred to “proving an absolute statement,” and it’s important to first dispense with that straw man. The evidence we use to make decisions about “is there a God?” is of exactly the same form as for deciding whether there are sock-stealing demons, as they are equally metaphysical and supernatural constructs. In neither case is absolute proof required.

    What conclusion you come to on the basis of that kind of reasoning is a different question. I have a very simple and compelling explanation for the origin of the universe — it wasn’t created, it simply exists. Hard to imagine something simpler than that. For more details see my atheism paper.

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  • http://www.libertypages.com/clark Clark

    Penn Juliett of Penn & Teller did a great rant on this over at his radio show (downloadable as a podcast)

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  • Sam Gralla

    Hiranya: I’m not arguing for the existence of God, but you certainly could ask who made God, and the answer you would get from a theist would most likely be the same as our atheist just gave for the universe: “it wasn’t created; it simply exists.” Any belief system has to have something that just exists, (unless it wants an infinite chain or something) for the reasons you mentioned.

    Sean: “Are demons stealing my socks” is a very different question from “is there a God”. I’ll avoid the word metaphysical, however, because I’ve gotten in to many unproductive arguments before about what it means. But if you want to argue by analogy with “is action X performed by demons”, you need to ask “is action Y performed by God”, not is there a God at all. I picked for action Y the creation of the universe because this thread was about creationism, and because that is a property that would distinguish an all-powerful God from a lesser demon. Then I tried to demonstrate that the question is actually not analogus in this case because action Y is unstestable by scientific means (this is what I call a metaphysical action). ‘It just exists’ may satisfy you (it certainly satisfies religious people for their God), but it is not a scientific explanation, unless ‘it just exists’ is a scientific explanation for a banana (these inquiries are all analogous, right?). “Demons stole my socks” can be falsified by science just as “God stole my socks” can be, but “God made the universe” cannot be, because we have no alternative scientific explanation for creation. That’s why it’s a different question altogether, and I use a different word for it (metaphysical).

    I scanned the paper and it looks great. I’ll read it when I get a chance (and maybe write a response), but that won’t be during the lifteme of this thread. Thanks for keeping up the conversation!

  • Hiranya

    Sam Gralla – thanks for your reply (I am not from a culture which postulates a creator god at all so I don’t have much of a clue why people buy into this idea). So from what you say, whereas the atheist would say “the universe just exists”, the theist would instead make a huge extrapolation outside the natural experience of the physical universe to postulate a supernatural being, and say that “there exists a supernatural being, and he/she/it created the universe”. The theist seems to me to require a hugely more faith-based assumption/axiom for the existence of the universe than the atheist.

  • http://spatulated.wordpress.com/ Spatulated

    i liek the way you think hiranya

  • Paul Valletta
  • Paul Valletta

    Hey L..if the banana fits?..wear it!

  • Sam Gralla

    Well Hiranya, theists generally don’t think they’re just extrapolating. They think they’re following evidence–mostly scriptural (e.g. Mark writes about miracles he eyewitnessed; if you trust him then the miracles actually happened), but also personal (the change in their life when they began to believe, generally) and anecdotal (similar stories about others).

  • Sam Gralla

    Sean: I read your paper, and enjoyed it. The carefulness with which you address these often-muddled issues is highly commendable and thoroughly refreshing. At the risk of provoking a further paper, however, I’d like to ask question: what does the materialist have to say about apparent free will? You carefully avoided this topic, even though human agency is arguably the leading candidate for a “class of phenomina that act without regard to any patterns we can discern”. Would you share your thoughts on this? I promise I won’t argue with you =)

    -Sam

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/sean/ Sean

    I’ve never seen any human behavior that was inconsistent with the Standard Model of particle physics, so I’m not sure what there is to explain. Of course we’d like to understand how complex behavior arises from simple underlying rules, but the same could be said for hurricanes or star formation. We’re not all that special.

  • http://www.dcorfield.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk/blog.html David Corfield

    I wonder how long it will be before an ecological creationist explains how perfectly arranged is the amount of oil in the world that it will run out just this side of the tipping point into ecological catastrophe.

  • Cynthia

    David Corfield – talk about hitting the proverbial nail on the head… thanks for bringing up this most insightful comment!

  • Hiranya

    Sam Gralla – thanks, that’s interesting. So you think that theists adopt this world view out of emotional, subjective considerations (I am not saying this is an invalid choice – I have nothing against anyone’s spiritual beliefs unless they try to force it down the throats of anyone not of the same belief system; but arguments like this are not something that’s subject to logical, empirical analysis). This doesn’t explain people like the banana guy though, who appear to find empirical “evidence” for their worldview by pseudoscientific claims about the physical world. i.e. there appears to be a need in these people to see empirical evidence for their beliefs in the physical world, but not a critical faculty to examine that evidence in the manner of the scientific method. I find this very hard to understand.

  • http://arunsmusings.blogspot.com Arun

    It is very hard to examine one’s own consciousness/awareness in a scientific manner.

    Also I’m not sure whether expecting there to be a state called nirvana or moksha is any less a leap of faith than expecting there to be a God.

  • http://itsalljustaride.blogspot.com John

    All silliness aside, this video did inspire me to figure out for myself exactly where this arguement falls apart, not that it takes a genius or even a moron to see through the B.S.

    The problem is in equating the world as a finished product of some creator (a building, a soda can, etc) instead of a process (Nature) that stretches infinately in both directions. Creationists don’t see this as a problem because of course to them there was ta-dah! CREATION! Bam, there, its done, God’s going to get some lunch and then take a dump.

  • http://itsalljustaride.blogspot.com John

    Oh, and Im not sure, but Im willing to bet that that banana he was holding has been subject to its own fair share of genetic engineering of some sort. The prospects for irony compel me to search….

    a quick search does not reveal much, but as a domesticated plant the arguement that God created the banana in its pure perfection as it is now is not true.

  • Tim

    According to BoingBoing, monkeys and other primates open bananas from the other end, choosing to ignore the God-designed “pull-tab.”

    http://www.boingboing.net/2006/01/21/peeling_bananas_from.html

  • Sam Gralla

    Well, that’s how we know we have souls and they don’t. They’re just that dumb. I bet they drink coke by puncturing the side of the can with their anuses!

  • http://www.veganerd.blogspot.com veganerd

    i am rather fond of this banana argument. ive been using it for years to get girls to touch my penis.

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  • DarWins

    I beleive in a creator, it’s the Unicorn, Or is it HobGoblins?, or is it the Werewolf.

    You can’t PROVE that Werewolf dosent exists. You can only say that you DONT KNOW if he exists or not.

    Well, I have a book that said Werewolf DOES exists, and he died from a sliver bullet for ME!

    And I can feel the Werewolf in my heart, I let him in my life and I pray to him daily. I dont want to live in a world without Werewolf.

    Infact – I have an EQUAL amount of proof for his existence as Christians do for Jesus.

    ACCEPT Unicorn..er I mean Zeus..Ooops.. I mean Werewolf, he is the true savior!!!!

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Cosmic Variance

Random samplings from a universe of ideas.

About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] cosmicvariance.com .

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