God in the supermarket

Long time readers of this blog will recall the famous banana argument for the existence of god put forward by an evangelist named Ray Comfort, accompanied actor by Kirk Cameron. The design of the banana is so exquisite, he said, that it could not have evolved according to Darwinian natural selection. He asserted that the existence of the banana was the ‘atheist’s nightmare.’ (This clip has to be seen to be believed. Move the cursor to the 3:25 minute mark to get to the good stuff.)

Well, another ‘atheist’s nightmare’ has surfaced, this time to show why life could not have originated naturally by the action of energy on inorganic matter. The evidence? To appreciate it, you have to move from the fresh fruit section a few aisles over to where the peanut butter is.

(Thanks to MachinesLikeUs.)

Oddly enough, the argument used in this video is the very same ‘absence of evidence is evidence of absence’ argument that I wrote about before, but used incorrectly. There is so much wrong in how this reasoning is used here that one scarcely knows where to begin.

But what I would like to warn the person in the video who is making the case based on peanut is that this kind of argument can be fatal, not for atheists (unless they get a heart attack and die from laughing), but for religious beliefs, because it falls into the trap of ad hoc thinking which can be so easily demolished.

From back when religious believers realized that they could not assume that the idea of god was obviously true and needed some supporting evidence, they have cast around for things that they thought ‘proved’ some religious idea. Initially they have sought to provide evidence of things that could not have occurred except for the action of god.

First it was “Look, the human being! It is so perfect that it has to have been created in the image of god.” Then later it was “Look, the eye! It’s so perfect it cannot have evolved!” And when that fell apart, it was intelligent design creationism with its more sophisticated “Look, the bacterial flagellum!” Now it is degenerating to “Look, the banana!” and even “Look, its Skippy extra smooth peanut butter!”

The flaw is that the proposers of these ideas never seem to explore the implications of their ideas and this is where they differ fundamentally from the scientific approach. All scientists realize that any idea to explain anything has consequences that extend well beyond the thing being immediately explained, and that these consequences must be investigated.

Charles Darwin’s idea of evolution by natural selection is quite simple and the main argument can be stated in a few hundred words. But his groundbreaking book On the Origin of Species consists of nearly 500 pages where he carefully explores a huge number of the possible consequences of that idea, looking both for corroborating evidence and for weaknesses in his theory. He examines animals, birds, insects, fish, and plants from all over the world, looking for patterns. It is an exhaustive and encyclopedic effort, of which I will write more later.

The person making the peanut butter argument has obviously not thought things through. If he thinks that finding an organism in a peanut butter jar or in any other processed food item is evidence of how life originated without god, then he has lost the case because I think almost everyone has at some time bought some item of food that seemed to be ‘spoilt’, i.e., contaminated by some bacteria. We put this down to a fault in the manufacturing process. It is not unknown for foreign matter to creep into food products, and court cases resulting from such events are legion. But for this person, such an event would be a sign of life being created by the action of energy on matter, without the need for god.

I wish it were that easy to show how life originally came into being. Then all scientists would have to do is fan out into the world’s supermarkets and systematically examine each jar of processed food to see if any living organism is found. But instead scientists continue to do it the hard way, in the laboratories, under controlled conditions.

POST SCRIPT: Evolution in cartoons

Here’s a quick summary of Darwin’s ideas from The Simpsons.

And while we’re at it, here’s a compilation of religion related clips from The Family Guy.

And here’s another clip from The Simpsons.


  1. says

    Dear Writer,
    I agree with your post in general though its contents are not entirely new to me. I have but one concern about both believers and atheists alike which I find slightly amusing.
    While the believer’s conclusions reside in the notion of faith which is devoid of logical reasoning, the atheist himself relies on the infallibility of his own powers of empirical investigation.
    Consider this: is not evolution an on-going process to which human beings are subject? We as a species cannot therefore be perfect, since according to the theory of natural selection, nothing really is. If the species is not perfect, the logical sequence leads us to believe that the products and constructions of this species are also imperfect.
    Human beings and the science they have created (yes, the same science you seem to believe in with understandable passion and base your arguments entirely upon) remain within a transitory vacuum, since human beings are bound to evolve into a more intelligent and perceptive species. It grows ominously clear that Science as it now exists cannot necessarily be accepted as truth. I speak not of the constant amendment of scientific truth as we develop as a species, but rather the complete overhaul of science as we know it when human beings evolve into a more advance species.
    Thus, every atheist is utterly dependent on the fundamental presumption that science as a human product leads to empirical truth. Sounds like faith to me.
    Thank you for reading.

  2. Anonymous says

    I must confess I did not follow the clips or the post in great detail. However, ADD, are your own observations on the fallibility of the human mind in discovering truth subject to the content of your own observation. How do you know what you’re saying about humans is true?

  3. says

    Incidentally I don’t, and I am comfortable with the idea that I am wrong. I was only attempting to highlight the internal contradiction between evolution and the empirical truth of science, which is a product of a species still in the process of evolving.
    It is logically untenable to argue that science leads to truth while believing that evolution is also true, since evolution implies an imperfect status quo.
    Thank you for reading.

  4. says

    Archangel, your logic is flawed.
    Just because we are not perfect doesn’t mean we haven’t evolved enough to understand the physical world around us or the scientific method.
    Science merely explains the observable physical world. The only faith I need, is that I exist and I’m not part of a Matrix or dream.
    If humans didn’t exist on this planet, and lets say dolphins or bonobos were the most intelligent animal here, it wouldn’t change the laws of gravity or stop evolution….it would just mean that no one on the planet would be writing things down on paper.

  5. says

    AJ, thank you for that insightful response. My argument depends not merely on logical coherence but rather on the relative inadequacy of human perception. Who are you to assume that we have in fact evolved enough to understand the physical world around us or the scientific method? The monkey seems to be praising his own tail.
    Thank you for reading.

    P.S – a friend of mine hits the nail on the head – “science and religion are just two competing models, merely two distinct frameworks of reference…”

  6. says

    Science explains the physical world. Religion speculates on a spiritual world.
    I can confidently say that we have evolved enough to understand the physical world through science. Gravity exists. We can make predictions based on the reality that gravity exists.

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