The Banana Fallacy
The banana fallacy is a specific teleological argument for theism based on the form and function of natural objects – specifically in this case it’s the banana. According to Ray Comfort, the banana is “the atheist’s nightmare”; as he considers its ease of use, nutritional value and “colour-coding” to be irrefutable proof of intelligent design. In its usual presentation it is humorously foolish. So much so that Comfort has since taken to using it as a joke himself (and claiming that it always had been a joke or “stand up routine”), in contrast with the quite serious tactic he originally used.
The video exhibiting the banana’s design characteristics was made by Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron some time in the 2000s for their Way of the Master series – it’s effectively been disowned by them since, so is hard to trace the actual original. The full version opens with an appraisal of the design aspects of a soda can; these include pointing out the outer casing to contain the liquid, the size which is designed to fit the hand, and the ring-pull that gives you easy access. This is a small subtlety, and not essential to understanding the full, yellow thrust of the banana, however; it’s merely a comparison to try to prime the audience and make them more receptive to enjoying the “design” aspects when experiencing a banana. The point is that coke can was designed with these features in mind, therefore, so was the banana.
The argument for the banana being designed is based on the following characteristics:
*The banana is shaped to fit into the human hand.
*It comes with a protective, non-slip surface to hold, which is also biodegradable and sits “gracefully” over the human hand.
*It is curved towards the face for ease of consumption and does not squirt in one’s face during the act.
*There is a “pull tab” at the “top” for easy access.
*It has a simple colour code to show ripeness: Green; too early. Yellow; just right. Black; too late.
Ironically, these features do point to an intelligent designer, but it certainly isn’t God.
The important fallacy of the argument is that it ignores the fact that the banana has been intelligently designed—by humans, through artificial selection. This is incredibly common for most, if not all, fruits, vegetables, and even animals that we use for food or to improve their utility to us in terms of ease of cultivation or taste. The banana was first domesticated around 8,000-9,000 years ago, probably in Papua New Guinea. To say that bananas are naturally designed to be the perfect food for humans is, at best, wishful thinking.
There is nothing natural about the banana as we know it today. The banana in the form that Comfort uses to illustrate his point is quite different from its wild predecessors – specifically, it’s a seedless triploid, an asexual clone bred through banana tree “pup”. It is only through human cultivation that it has managed to survive this long despite a complete lack of natural, sexual propagation. The wild banana, the predecessor of the cultivated fruit favourite, does reproduce sexually, pollinating their flowers in the usual way and having the botanical equivalent of sex. These wild bananas are small, dry cacao-pod-looking things loaded with inedible seeds and hard flesh. The soft, yellow flesh of the edible varieties is the result of collective mutations cultivated thousands of years ago. But this selection has rendered the fruits of these plants completely sterile, and so unable to survive in a wild “natural” state.
While the design aspects of the banana are pretty clear, Ray never mentions that bananas only grow between 30 degrees north latitude and 30 degrees south latitude. In fact, many cultures outside of the tropics never saw a banana until well into the twentieth century. Even today, many people have never seen a banana—Jesus certainly wouldn’t have. So, if bananas are really such perfect examples of God’s handiwork, if they are such a perfect food for humans, then why do they only grow in the tropics where so many people have no easy access to them?
Also, there are people who just don’t like eating bananas. If they were the perfect food, presumably everyone would want to eat them.