January 03, 2008

Another Creationist Goes Bananas: The Fruity Ideas of Henry Borenson

When I log onto Blogger in the morning, I'm greeted by a series of links that shows me blogs here that have been updated in the last hour or so. This morning, one of those links was to a blog entitled Evolution Refuted. I bookmarked it for reference after having coffee. I try not to write anything until I've had my customary three cups of morning coffee as a rule, but checking out the nonsense of an evolution denier helps kick-start my brain, too. It helps prime my neural circuitry for the day ahead which, invariably, consists of some combination of examining the evidence for evolution and designing my own experiments to investigate specific instances in fungi and related organisms. That's what I do these days.

This morning's link was a hoot. In a nutshell, the Evolution Refuted blog is written by a Creationist schoolteacher (if I'm understanding his profile) named Henry Borenson, Ed.D. who, thankfully, appears to teach algebra and not science. The blog seems fairly new, the first entry dating to December 2, 2007.

The thing that most amuses me about the blog is that it's like the Kirk Cameron/Alex Comfort "bananas prove creationism" video on steroids. Borenson is apparently obsessed with fruit; it has convinced him that mutations cannot be the source of variation because, as Borenson puts it:

The theory of random mutation asserts that the innovation occurred on its own "randomly," then it was selected. This would mean that all the "innovations" that led to a rose, a cat, an eye or a hand occurred on their own, by accident. Simply put, it would mean that a series of millions of complete accidents created the wonderful living world we see around us containing millions of species, each of which is perfect and intelligent in its functioning. WHEN YOU LOOK AT IT FROM THIS PERSPECTIVE, IT IS CLEAR THAT TO BELIEVE IN THE NEO-DARWINIAN THEORY OF EVOLUTION IS TO HAVE A FAITH IN THE POWER OF ACCIDENTS TO PRODUCE INTELLIGENT, WELL-COORDINATED, PURPOSEFUL SYSTEMS. SUCH A FAITH, I CLAIM, IS BEYOND THE REALM OF REASON.
Of course, evolutionary biology says no such thing; it makes no claim that living systems are intelligent, well-coordinated or purposeful beyond their ability to survive long enough to reproduce. These properties are the product of applying personal biases to produce a particular valuation of living things. One might as well be saying that the fact that one finds some supermodel sexy is proof that Jehovah created the world.

But let's get back to the fruit for a moment, because it's not often that someone bases nearly all their evidence for a viewpoint on a trip through the supermarket produce section. Borenson's blog is replete with photographs of fruit that he's picked up at his local grocery. We get bananas, plums, grapes, walnuts... all of which, according to Borenson, refute the possibility of evolution. After all, how could a banana be so well-suited to human consumption if not for the work of the Creator? How come scientists can't whip up a walnut from its chemical constituents in the laboratory? Why would oranges have segments if not for Elohim wanting to insure that we got our daily dose of vitamin C?

The reason I find this sort of nonsense amusing is that it could only be produced by someone who not only is entirely ignorant of the natural history of crops but who really has no experience at all with nature. This is someone who has never tried to find something to eat that couldn't be paid for in cash in some store. Anyone who has attempted foraging in the wild learns very quickly that the progenitors of many of the fruits and vegetables at their market aren't at all convivial to our dietary and gustatory needs. The bananas we buy at the store, for instance, are typically of the Cavendish variety, a cultivar produced by a long process of very intentional selective breeding that didn't become popular until well into the last century. The reason it became popular was because of a trait that made it resistant to a disease which nearly wiped out the previously most common cultivar. The ancestral wild banana is not much like these carefully selected crops; it's practically inedible and not at all sweet. In fact, the fruits of wild bananas in Africa often aren't consumed; the leaves and pulp from the roots are more palatable. The fruit itself is a mass of seeds and somewhat slimy pulp that's hard to digest without substantial processing.

In fact, this is often the case with the crops we get in our markets, but we're usually so far removed from nature that we don't know it. When we think of plums, for instance, we think of a nearly fist-sized, pulpy, sweet-when-ripened purple fruit. But plums certainly didn't start out that way; I've eaten wild plums and they're not much like those store-bought varieties. They're a bit larger than a cherry, turn yellow when ripe, and are strongly sour in flavor. As is the case with bananas, plums are indeed the product of an intelligent designer, and that would be humanity. We were the ones who observed variety in the wild fruits, tried eating them, decided what traits we liked and which ones we didn't, and then selectively bred the wild varieties to produce more palatable, easier to grow cultivars. The same can be said for our vegetable crops — you wouldn't bother even attempting to eat the progenitors of artichokes because they're thistles and you'd wind up with a mouthful of spines long before your stomach got full if you didn't have the time and energy to carefully prepare the stuff. Likewise, modern corn looks very little like ancestral teosinte. We came up with corn (I'll call it maize) by selecting small variations that occurred in teosinte and its descendants that ultimately led to what we have today — a crop in which we have insured such tight control over reproduction that it can no longer replicate itself without human intervention.

As to why oranges have segments (in fact all citrus does), the answer is that citrus plants go to phenomenal lengths to protect their offspring. If one examines wild citrus, from which our cultivars descend, one quickly finds that both the rind and the membrane separating the segments are much thicker than the ones we get at the supermarket, plus they tend to be extremely sour due to a much higher ascorbic acid content. Aside from segmentation being a product of the arrangement of the ovules, this is all done to maximize the yield of viable seeds for the benefit of the plant. A thick rind serves as an overall barrier to insects, for example, that might otherwise invade the fruit and so kill nascent offspring contained therein. The membranes between segments are a secondary barrier that work to stop invaders that manage to get into one segment from spreading into others, not only by physical means but by chemical means as well. If you've ever eaten a Chinese grapefruit and bitten into the membrane between segments, you've experienced an unpalatably bitter taste that results from a concentration of nasty-tasting oils which repel not only you but also most other predators. The same is true of the fruit itself; most predators won't bother with something as tremendously acidic as this stuff because if you're large it tastes bad and if you're small it's corrosive enough to kill you. Our modern citrus crops have been selectively bred to thin rinds and membrane and to reduce acidity to the point of edibility; segmentation remains because there isn't a point in trying to breed unsegmented oranges. However, lemons and limes — used primarily for their juice — have been bred over the centuries to nearly do away with segmentation because those membranes reduce the yield of that which we most desire from each fruit. Very few of us, after all, peel and eat lemons or limes. We simply squeeze the juice into our margaritas.

In fact, these principles aren't restricted to the plants humans have come to rely upon. The same is true for animals, as Darwin pointed out in his On the Origin of Species. Domesticated animals have been selectively bred for particular traits. Dogs are a very good example; we've bred them to be compatible with humans so that Fido doesn't end up chewing our throats out while we're sleeping in an effort to assert pack dominance. Nobody in their right mind would invite wolves or African wild dogs into their home and encourage the kids to cuddle up with them because they've been selected in nature to have precisely the opposite traits we'd want. Left to their own devices, canids tend to be aggressive pack hunters who regularly battle one another for dominance. It was by selecting against these traits that we humans intelligently designed the dog breeds we see today that live with many of us.

All in all, Evolution Refuted is an amazingly naive blog produced by an incredibly naive Creationist. I look forward to seeing more of it, though, because Borenson does seem to be managing to distill the typical anthrocentric Creationist arguments down to their essential naivety. It's got the unintentional humor, too, that I so enjoy in bad horror movies. I've already begun thinking of it as an iconic B-Creationist blog in the same way that I think of, say Doctor Gore as an iconic horror B-flick. I plan to follow it for purposes of future amusement because, dammit, seeing a guy write about domesticated fruit as the disproof of evolutionary theory is just too damned funny to pass up.

Sphere: Related Content