This fellow, Ray Comfort, is using a banana to prove that a "designer" created the universe. The general idea is that only an intelligent force could have created such a naturally convenient item (with a protective wrapper, an easy-to-use "pull tab," perfect shape, etc.) There is so much stupid about this that it would be laughable, if so many people didn't fall for it. The reality, simply put, is that the banana is so "perfect" for human consumption because we've spent seven millennia - longer than just about any other crop - cultivating it to be so. In other words, since we've selected and reselected the best bananas, finally arriving at the one we eat today, the fruit - rather than proving that an unseen hand created it - tells us the opposite: we're the ones who made it what it is, and we used the tools of evolution to do so.
Oh, and also, the other guy in the video is washed-up child star Kirk Cameron, of "Growing Pains." Crediblity achieved.
Watch the video...if you want to read more about Comfort, or the Athiest Test, click below (you'll also find out why peanut butter contains yet another proof of a willful creator of the universe...)
I originally wrote this section as part of the introduction to Banana; it is about my first encounter with the banana-proves-god argument, in the form of a prayer tract that I received on my way to a banana research trip in Belgium. The tract’s author is Ray Comfort, founder of the Living Waters Ministry, based in Bellflower, California. Comfort is a prayer-pamphlet specialist, one of the leading proponents of intelligent design, and author of more than 40 books, videos, and audio programs, including “Intelligent Design versus Evolution – Letters to an Atheist” and “Hell’s Best Kept Secret.” Comfort debated non-believers at the 2001 National Convention of American Atheists.
IT WAS AN ODD STROKE OF LUCK. I’d packed my bags and was heading toward my car on a chilly February morning. The sun wasn’t up yet, and I had an early flight from Los Angeles to Chicago. From there, I’d catch my plane to Belgium and the Banana laboratory. I was feeling a little tentative - there would be a lot of technical information presented to me, and I wasn’t totally confident that my home-schooled crash course in all things Musa would suffice. I was excited, but also anticipating seven days of bewilderment. I trudged to my car, threw my bags into the rear hatch, and walked round to the door.
There was a piece of paper in my windshield. Normally, in my neighborhood, this means a flyer advertising cut-rate auto insurance, or a citation planted by our very aggressive parking patrollers. But this was a booklet, about the size of a playing card, with a blue cover. The front illustration was a collage of three images, each peeking out from behind a row of Greek columns, superimposed over a nighttime starscape.
One of the figures was a Coca-Cola. The other was Albert Einstein. The third was a banana.
The booklet was titled “The Atheist Test.”
This was worth a little delay. I pulled the publication from under my wipers, got in my car, and flipped on the dome light.
The first two pages of the booklet were about the soda pop container. The hundred or so words seemed to mocking the standard scientific explanation of creation. “Billions of years ago,” the tract began, “a big bang produced a large rock. As the rock cooled, sweet brown liquid formed on its surface. As time passed, aluminum formed itself into a can.
The tale continued until, finally, fully formed cola emerges at your local drive-thru. The writer concluded: “You know that if the Coca-Cola can is made, there must be a maker. If it is designed, there must be a designer. The alternative, that it happened by chance or accident, is to move into an intellectual free zone [italics mine].”
Such a place would be the conceptual equivalent of hell.
My trip came only five weeks after U.S. Judge John E. Jones barred the Dover, Pennsylvania school board from teaching “Intelligent Design” as part of its science curriculum; Jones rightly saw the effort as a Trojan horse, whose cargo was the introduction of religious instruction to public schools (the Jones decision is one of the most fascinating scientific and legal documents you’ll ever read, and possibly the best brief introduction to evolution and Darwin’s work that’s ever been written).
Now, I know people who must - if judged by their frequent appearance at 7-Elevens to fill up half-gallon jugs - believe that Coke is Heaven-sent product, perhaps the mythic sikera of the Hebrew bible, which Jerome, the early translator, said meant “every kind of drink which can intoxicate, whether made from grain or the juice of apples, or when honeycombs are boiled down into a sweet and strange drink.”
Coca-Cola is certainly sweet and strange. And doesn’t it intoxicate? Give some to your 14-year-old prior to answering that question.
But what did Coke have to do with bananas?
I turned the page.
There it was.
A single page, with this headline: “The Banana - an Atheist’s Nightmare.”
Beneath the title were two pictures, one of an unpeeled Cavendish, the other half-exposed. The two images were marked with numbers, from one to ten, and were accompanied by statements that corresponded to each of the markings.
Ever since I’d started this project, I’d been dreaming about bananas. In a few of them, I was lost in jungles abundant with the fruit, but even these were never nightmares; I was upset to be disoriented, but happy to be surrounded by bananas. I really think that a single, sentient power created the universe, and I often wonder why folks who do profess such beliefs need to find scientific justification for them. To me, attempting to boil such a power down to nuts-and-bolts makes no sense. A God that is provable can’t be a God. Belief, to me, is true faith, and true faith shouldn’t need to be supported by the rickety scaffolding of spiritual schematics.
The banana pictures were a perfect example of such an attempt to diagram. But in this case, the diagram was correct.
Only the authorship was misattributed.
TEN REASONS THE BANANA WAS DESIGNED - BY SOMEBODY
• ONE (unpeeled banana picture; the fruit curves in a c-shape, and the number is at the exact center of the inside of the curve): “Is shaped for the human hand.”“
• TWO (unpeeled, directly on the fruit's skin): “Has non-slip surface.”“
• THREE (unpeeled, also directly on skin): “Has outward indicators of inward contents: Green - too early, Yellow - just right, Black - too late.”“
• FOUR (unpeeled, at stem on top): “Has a tab for removal of wrapper.”“
• FIVE (peeled, just below point where banana emerges from skin): “Is perforated on wrapper.”
• SIX (peeled, on one of the three sections the peel of the banana has been opened into): “Biodegradable wrapper.”
• SEVEN (unpeeled, very near the tip of the exposed fruit): “Is shaped for human mouth.”
• EIGHT (unpeeled, very top of exposed fruit): “Has a point at top for easy of entry.”
• NINE (unpeeled, pretty much the same position as number seven): “Is pleasing to taste buds.”
• TEN (peeled, inside edge, between stem and center of fruit.”): “Is curved toward the face to make eating process easy.”
The pamphlet then takes on a triumphant tone. “To say,” it concludes, “that the banana happened by accident is even more unintelligent than to say that no one designed the Coca-Cola can.” (If you’re wondering where Einstein fits into this, he’s on the next page, quoted as saying that “a spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe - a spirit vastly superior to man.” This is an oft-repeated quote for those seeking to prove that even a super-scientific genius doesn’t lend credence to anything but a supernatural origin to existence. Other than to say that Einstein was talking about how humbled he felt, the more he learned, and how his increasing knowledge led to a parallel conclusion of humanity’s insignificance, I’ll just note that this book primarily explores biology, not physics, which means I’m in no way obligated - and utterly relieved for it - to debate the father of relativity).
I looked at my watch. I was running late. It struck me as a little bit funny that the banana attributes argued by the pamphlet are peculiarly western. They are all about ease-of-use. The banana is easy to open and handle, with multiple features to simplify consumption. No wonder it was being compared to a soft drink! For us, the banana is a staple - but it gains that ubiquity for exactly the reasons outlined by The Atheist Test. The fruit is supremely user-friendly. To imagine celestial origins for such an item might be a comfort, perhaps; it might allow us to consider other beautifully designed products of farm and field - perfectly pointed, eight-foot Christmas tees; chickens with enormous breasts to sate our desire for white meat; or red, red roses - and believe that there were arrived not through mortal perseverance, but divine providence.
We humanize the banana in the way we describe it. The fruit arrives on “hands.” Each piece is a “finger.” There’s a common-sense visual onomatopoeia to this, but we don’t apply the same standard as extensively to every food product that has anthropomorphic features: celery has a similar form, but comes in bunches and stalks. Artichokes, with their hearts, and heads of lettuce don’t aren’t fully embraced by the naming convention, since they are also composed of leaves, which are actually, in both cases, the petals of the flowers that the vegetables once were.
Our banana is relatively new to us. It is the product of a modern world and modern technology. We don’t see how bananas are grown or transported. They simply arrive, as if by magic, on our store shelves. In parts of the world where the banana is more ancient, the banana is given power - a measure of respect owed by its position as a primary buttress against starvation - but it is rarely placed beyond mortal comprehension. Even when the banana is given God-like attributes, it remains in the service of humans. The Chinese “Banana Maiden” is the spirit of a banana tree, but she also is an identical twin to a young woman, Ts’ui-lien. When the girl is threatened, the maiden sacrifices her one life, allowing the girl to marry and live happily. The banana even occasionally bests God. In an Indian myth, an angry Rama (otherwise a hero in Hindu legend, representing male perfection) curses the banana tree so that it will bear fruit for just one season, and die. The hex is clearly defective, since the banana, under human cultivation, is functionally immortal (the legend, which is thousands of years old, does show that people understood how to grow the fruit). In Africa, the banana of myth is directly connected to mortal existence. Ugandan tribes use bananas in rituals celebrating birth - human placenta was buried under banana trees - along with marriage (eating a specific type of banana ensures fidelity) and death, where the banana accompanies the now non-corporeal spirit to the afterlife.
The banana has been a vessel for Christian devotion in the modern era. Once the Spanish introduced the fruit to the Americas, it became more than just a foodstuff. It was used for sending secret messages, notes pressed into the fruit’s soft pulp through a slit in the tough skin, which was then resealed, probably with banana sap. The most famous of these notes were written by Luis de Carvajal, who was imprisoned in New Spain - modern Mexico - by authorities of the Inquisition, who were conducting a brutal program of ethnic cleansing against Indians, malcontents, and other perceived heathens. Carvajal was one of the most prominent victims of that crusade. He was the son of a provincial governor who was also secretly Jewish - one of many Jews who’d migrated to the New World hoping to escape the Inquisitionary forces that were now hounding them. Carvajal became a leader of Mexico City’s underground Jewish community, performing clandestine circumcisions, bar mitzvahs, and holiday observances. As authorities closed in, Carvajal forwent a chance to escape to Italy, staying to protect his sister, who was the first member of his family to be formally denounced in the Inquisition (Carvajal’s story is told in Martin A. Cohen’s The Martyr: Luis De Carvajal, A Secret Jew in Sixteenth-Century Mexico). One by one, Carvajal’s family are denounced and incarcerated. Finally, in 1595, Carvajal himself is jailed, accused of being a judaizante relapso, or a “relapsed Jew.” Held in the same prison as his mother and three sisters - he can hear they’re screams as they’re tortured - Carvajal secretly composes his last will and testament and stuffs secret notes for his family into banana peels. In one, he attempts to uplift his sister’s spirits: “Dearest Sister,” Carvajal writes, “I cannot begin to tell you the comfort I felt when I saw in my hand the banana with which you, whom I so love and cherish, had held in yours.” In others, he counsels his family to have faith. On December 8, 1596, Carvajal, along with his mother, Francesca, and sisters Isobel, Leonor, and Catalia, were burned at the stake, each professing their belief in a true God to the end.
It could be that Carvajal saw the banana as a gift from heaven, as designed by an unseen hand. In The Atheist Test, the focus is not so much on the fruit as an unlikely medium for messages of deep belief and love, but - more appropriately for our times - as the ultimate convenience food.
Which it is. The first leg of my flight was one of those no-frills journeys, with only a beverage cart. No peanuts. No meal. That meant a pre-flight stop in the terminal’s food court. There were stacked canisters of Pringles potato chips; and there were containers of soda, exactly as the pamphlet described: “A can, a lid, a tab.” There were cups of yogurt with stamped freshness dates. The banana seems like a miracle, because it grows with all these things built in, which is not an easy feat: many bananas are delicious to eat, but can’t be shipped long distance, because they have fragile skins. Other perfectly fine local bananas don’t travel well because they ripen too quickly. The floral stem on the banana zips open quickly, and at least fights the pull-tab to a draw: you can’t cut your foot if you step on a banana peel discarded in the beach parking lot, but other slapstick mishaps are possible (the banana’s skin gives it a unique place in Hindu laws of food purity, which are similar to the Kosher and Halal dietary edicts of Judaism and Islam. According to K.T. Achaya’s A Historical Dictionary of Food, “concepts of ritual purity dictate that bananas [unlike fruits and vegetables with less hardy outer layers] can be bought in the marketplace even after being handled by all and sundry.” It is only after the fruit is brought home and peeled that it is subject to standard ritual practice.)
But as well designed as the banana is, it is not a miracle.
The Atheist Test proves this.
AFTER WE TOOK OFF, I THOUGHT ABOUT THE PAMPHLET. If functionality is God’s driving aesthetic, would did he make a fruit that is definitely mentioned in the bible, the pomegranate, so unwieldy to consume (worth it, of course, as the Song of Solomon notes: “I would cause thee to drink of spiced wine, the sweet wine of my pomegranate.”) But a rebuttal to The Atheist Test doesn’t have to center on theological what-ifs. Instead, it can look at the banana itself - which provides irrefutable evidence of human agency.
I began to scribble in my notebook - it has a yellow cover, as does every pad of paper I’ve used during this project - my refutations of the tract. Every single feature that the test mentions to prove that only God could have designed the banana has actually been designed - by people. Remember, the wild banana is inedible. The Cavendish emerges only through thousands of years of agriculture. The original wild bananas were virtually inedible. Those that could be eaten were taken back to villages and farms by humans. We then bred and chose and selected and selected, year after year, century after century, constantly choosing bananas that were incrementally better than the ones they grew beside. Tough skin, ideal size and shape, perfectly timed-ripening characteristics - all of these things are qualities that intentionally propagated. By people.
But the key debunker of The Atheist Test is this. The banana cannot reproduce on its own. It cannot live without man. The banana we eat today gains its qualities not from an unseen force, but from the very real and painstaking labors of millions of generations of people - the descendants of Cain, in biblical terms. The tillers of the soil. Evidence of God’s existence needs to be found elsewhere. What the banana proves is how rich and deep human history is, how we’ve learned to survive by learning how to learn, by taking the raw materials nature offers us, and refine them, a process that stretches back beyond the reaches of remembered time. They become products, arriving in the present not just as monuments to human sprit and intellect, but as the things that sustained us on our long journey - and continue to do so today.
That would be a good place to end this chapter. But after I finished my counter-list to the tiny pamphlet, I wrote one other thing: an argument that The Atheist Test doesn’t cover.
The thing that makes the banana most human is not how perfect it is - but how flawed.
Like us, it is weak.
Thomas Aquinas would have been pleased to learn that a jar of peanut butter can also prove the existence of God.
And here's a YouTube rebuttal to the "Atheist's Nightmare."