Thursday, November 13, 2008

Musings on Ray Comfort’s “Banana Argument” (the Atheist’s Nightmare)

Ray Comfort is a strange, strange man. And if you’ve never heard of him before, I assure you that he is someone who can bring you plenty of amusement.

He is an evangelical, fundamentalist Christian preacher, and he has a ministry called “The Way of the Master” which has a hilarious TV-show under the same name. The most famous clip to ever come out of that TV-show is his “banana argument” against the validity of an atheistic world view.

The clip can be seen here, and I suggest that you watch it, if you by some chance haven’t seen it yet and want to be amused. The argument put forth is silly beyond words and, to someone dirty-minded like me, the video is filled with so much unintentional(?) sexual innuendo that I can’t help but laugh.

Many people have very, very well debunked his statements about the banana as a perfect proof of God’s existence, but I will make a short note on that before moving on to my main point.

Comfort argues that certain characteristics of the banana are proof positive that God designed it and that evolution is bunk. He claims that this is obvious, since bananas are good for people to eat, they fit perfectly in the human hand, they are easy to open, easy to eat, easy to digest and you can see on the outside if they are ready to eat or not. He calls them the “atheist nightmare” because this is truly a testament to a perfect and benevolent God, designing wonderful yellow treats for us.

Of course that argument is stupid, mainly because of one, very important thing: bananas didn’t look anything like that when humans first found them.

The “original” banana was short and stubby and filled with large, hard seeds. It didn’t “fit perfectly in the human hand” and it wasn’t easy to eat. The reason we have the much friendlier bananas of today is that humans cultivated bananas and selectively bred them to the now so familiar form.

This was done through a process of “artificial selection”, which is something that is very closely related to natural selection, that integral part of evolution. So Comfort really, really shoots himself in the foot by trying to use bananas to disprove evolution.

But let’s not dwell on the fact that it’s a stupid argument. Let’s instead ask ourselves “What if he was right? What if I get convinced that the banana requires a deity capable of creating and designing life; what would that tell me?”

To someone like Comfort the answer seems obvious. He spends his time trying to convince people that his particular brand of fundamentalist Christianity is the Truth, and arguments like the banana argument is how he does it.

So, to Comfort the sentence “There appears to be a god of some kind, capable of designing a banana” automatically equates to “The designer is the God of Judeo-Christian tradition, Jesus of Nazareth is the son of this almighty God, he was born of a Holy Virgin, died on the cross for our sins, rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, and the only way to a decent afterlife is to accept him as your personal Lord and Savior”.

To me, this is something of a large leap. A huge leap, one might say. “Holy logical leaps, Batman!” one might even say, if one has a tendency to reiterate old jokes.

Normally people are very good at spotting leaps like that. But some people seem to shut of that part of their logic when it comes to the particular religion that they favor.

If I said “When I was walking through the forest yesterday I heard rustling sounds that I couldn’t identify. Clearly this was the sound made by tiny, tiny unicorns grazing in the underbrush!” most of you would think I was kidding, crazy or both (and of course I am both). My conclusion of unicorn-caused ruckus would be seen as a huge leap without any logic behind it by almost anyone.

Of course it is possible, albeit incredibly unlikely, that the sounds really are caused by miniscule, horned equines, but it would be unbelievably strange of me to assume that this is the case, without any further evidence for it. It might as well be tiny, tiny elephants! Or something mundane like the wind or a rodent…

The statement “there was a sound I couldn’t identify” says nothing about the existence of undersized animals of any kind, and people generally understand this perfectly well.

But somehow it is seen as more logically sound to assume the divinity of Jesus based on nothing but a “proof” of a designer, even though the statement “there is a designer” says nothing about who or what this designer is and nothing at all about this Jesus character. But people like Comfort still act as though they have proved their particular version of their particular religion just by some inane statement about how good bananas are to hold and eat… I find this terribly amusing.

Of course, Ray Comfort also shoots himself in the foot a second time at the end of the famous clip, when he says “Seriously Kirk, the whole of creation testifies to the genius of God’s creative talent” (or something very close to it, the last word is kind of garbled in the clip I saw).

What Comfort implies is that fruit designed to be easily eaten by humans is proof of God and he says that we see this in “the whole of creation”, but if that is so he really fails to explain things like coconuts and pineapples. I would assume that they are also part of the whole of creation, they are also very good for (most) humans to eat, they are tasty to most humans and they are freaking difficult to eat, especially if you have no tools.

If we had a perfect, benevolent and loving God who created everything, as the one that Ray wants us to believe in, I would expect everything that is good for humans to be equally easily eaten. As it is, with coconuts and all, even if Ray’s argument did hold any weight, it wouldn’t seem to favor a single, all-powerful God. It would instead seem to favor a specialized banana-making god, and I am certain that he doesn’t believe in any of those.

And of course this is the problem with many similar arguments that people use when they try to convert people to their religion. Even if their arguments are sound, they generally point towards nothing other than some, unknown deity or something else unknown. The arguments never explain how they would “prove” the existence of some particular deity.