In 2006, Christian activist Kirk Cameron starred in a propaganda video which includes, in part, a one-minute segment with Ray Comfort on how the banana is proof of God's existence. Calling the sweet, yellow fruit the atheist's nightmare, Ray Comfort rattled off a list of the banana's unique features that prove it must have been intelligently designed to make it convenient to eat.

These features include a comfortable shape, non-slip grip outer peel (the inner side of the peel famously being a different story), convenient opening tab, and "perforations", which I can only assume refers to the 5 ridges along which the banana naturally peels, since bananas certainly do not have actual perforations. And of course the color of the peel is a natural indicator of its ripeness.

Oddly, Mr. Comfort opens the banana from the wrong end. Since bananas ripen from the other side, the stem is only a convenient opening tab at or past its peak ripeness. It makes a much better handle anyway, so when you open a banana from the correct end, it's not only much easier to peel but you also have a little hand-hold to grip while getting that last delectable bite out of the bottom.

God did not make that banana

Unfortunately for Mr. Comfort, the humble fruit which he holds in his hand is not the banana one would find growing wild in the jungles of their native Malaysia. In fact, his Cavendish banana is just as much a product of human intervention as it is of nature. Far from being a perfectly designed fruit for human consumption, the modern banana is the direct result of the United Fruit Company looking at wild bananas and saying "That's not very good, but I think we can fix it."

Indeed the Cavendish banana is United Fruit's second banana masterpiece, after the Gros Michael (or Big Mike) banana. Wild bananas were originally small, about the size of a human finger. They also came in multiple colors, were filled with annoying, hard seeds, and weren't anywhere near as soft and sweet as the bananas found in typical North American produce sections. These bananas, in fact, can't even exist in the wild.

The modern banana is a result of years of selective breeding to create a specific cultivar with all the desirable properties magnified and all the undesirable properties minimized. Perhaps the most extreme example of human tampering is the fact that the Cavendish has no seeds. Fruit is supposed to have seeds, that's the whole point of fruit. Animals are supposed to eat them, walk away, and unknowingly plant the seeds with a nice, fresh load of fertilizer somewhere else. The banana is just one of a number of fruits that modern botanical science has managed to breed without seeds, other examples include the Navel orange, the seedless watermelon, and the seedless grape. These plants are entirely unable to reproduce naturally. They require human intervention to take cuttings and transplants to ensure their continued existence. For our efforts, we get a homogeneously soft, sweet fruit with nothing to chew around or spit out.

The problem with seedless fruits, however, is that they are all genetically identical clones of each other. The Gros Michael banana went extinct specifically because of this: a fungus called Panama Disease spread throughout the world's banana plantations and killed them all in the 1960s. Monoculture farming encourages catastrophes like this in the first place, but when all the affected fruits are genetically identical clones, there's very little that can be done about it. Furthermore, without the ability to reproduce with seeds, they can't even try to mutate and adapt to become more resistant to the disease, they can only chug along with the same genetic lineage they've always had.

What I'm saying here is that the Gros Michael banana is a human-bred, intelligently-designed fruit that went extinct specifically because it couldn't take advantage of the benefits of evolution.

The Cavendish banana, the specific cultivar that Ray Comfort displays to the viewer, was selected to replace the Gros Michael because it was second-best. Almost as sweet, it has a thinner peel that bruises more easily and requires greater care in shipping. And due to either gross incompetence or wishful thinking, the assumption that it might be more resistant to Panama Disease turned out to be false, and there are indications that it might be in danger of going extinct as well.

God did not make all fruits easy to eat

The main push of Ray Comfort's banana hypothesis is that if a fruit is convenient for us to eat, God must have made it that way because he wants us to eat it. Therefore, the fruits that God wants us to eat would all be convenient for us to eat. Even if we ignore the fact that evolution made fruits convenient for animals (sometimes specific animals) to eat, because plants spread their seeds by encouraging animals to eat their fruit, we must face the fact that many fruits are decidedly inconvenient to eat. Granted, it would be very easy to simply say that God obviously doesn't want us eating those fruits or He would have.

But such a knee-jerk argument has an unavoidable flaw. While the banana was unknown to the writers of the Bible, being a native plant of Southeast Asia, and therefore never mentioned, we simply can't ignore the fact that the pomegranate is. The pomegranate is mentioned multiple times, and frequently described as a part of elaborate decorations on important buildings. It's even one of the seven foods that God specifically calls good in Deuteronomy 8:8. Clearly if God wants us to eat any fruit, it's the pomegranate.

Then why is the pomegranate so hard to open? According to the footnotes in my Catholic Bible (which is the best Bible), the pomegranate was used so extensively as decoration because it is a symbol of hospitality. Well, clearly, any host who would go through the trouble of digging out all those finicky little arils is dedicated to your comfort and enjoyment. This is in stark and direct contrast to several of Ray Comfort's points; specifically that the banana is easy to peel, easy to eat, and doesn't squirt its juice at you when you open it. Why he made that last point specifically I will probably never know, but I can't seem to open a pomegranate without it squirting its infamously staining juice at me at least once. If the banana is the atheist's nightmare, the pomegranate is the fundamentalist's.

Every time I slice a pomegranate open and begin the laborious process of separating the sweet, tangy arils from the bitter pith, I can't help but chuckle at the idea that God might have done this on purpose to annoy me.

http://www.alternet.org/workplace/120187/bananas:_a_parable_for_our_times/
http://www.banana.com/


drownzsurf tells me that pseudoscientist Erich von Däniken made a similar banana error in The Gold of the Gods, in which he writes:
How did this plant [the banana], which is so vital for the nourishment of mankind, originate? How did it make its way round the world, seeing that it has no seeds? Did the "Manu," [alien astronauts] of whom the Indian saga tells, bring it with them from another star — as an all-round foodstuff?

Log in or registerto write something here or to contact authors.