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 Basics
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 Fallacy
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.

Credit: RationalWiki

For three decades, archaeologist Anabel Ford has been exploring and studying the ancient Maya site of El Pilar, but until now she has never encountered anything like the ‘Citadel’.“We discovered a completely new component of the greater site that does not meet with any traditional expectations,” said Ford. “It shares nothing in common with Classic Maya centers: no clear open plaza, no cardinal structure orientation, and curiously no evident relationship to the major Classic site of El Pilar, little more that 600 meters away.”


What Ford was describing was an unseen building, or associated complex of buildings, that was recently only detected by remote sensing technology—more specifically, a laser application known as LiDAR, or Light Detection and Ranging—in this instance an airborne remote sensing technique utilizing a helicopter employing laser technology to penetrate the thick vegetation and forest canopy that overlies and enshrouds objects and structures. It is a way of ‘seeing through’ the forest to reveal things otherwise invisible to the naked eye.LiDAR helped to produce a remarkable map of El Pilar, revealing unexposed Maya architectural and other human-made features that, although still hidden from the naked eye, fit an often-seen pattern. This new set of structures, however, was something new. 


Dubbed the “Citadel” because of its location perched atop a ridge with the appearance of fortifications, it contains concentric terracing and four ‘temples’, each about three to four meters high. Unlike the other structure complexes, it seems by placement to have been isolated from the rest of greater El Pilar.“The complex stretches from south to north across nearly a kilometer of terrain dramatically shaped into the hill with evident design and purpose,” states Ford. “The enormous complex presents a mystery.  What is its origin?  When was it built? How was it used? Why was it isolated?”

El Pilar lies below a thick jungle canopy

LiDAR image showing the core area of El Pilar

LiDAR detail view of the newly discovered Citadel detected east of the main temples of El Pilar. Citadel is on the right.

In a quest to find answers, Ford will be returning to the site in 2015, this time to do some ‘ground-truthing” and excavation.  It will involve preliminary excavations to gather information about the nature and use of the constructions and terraces.  

“Much can be resolved about the context by identifying the dates of construction,” states Ford, “but this requires identification of the construction sequence, collection of contextual diagnostic ceramic artifacts, and carbon samples for C14 dating.”

Ford hypothesizes that the Citadel, if it is a Classic period site, may have been designed and used for purposes separate from the Classic period site of El Pilar nearby, but she suggests two other contending possibilities: It could be an early, Preclassic (before 250 BCE) construction, before the organization of buildings on plazas became standardized during the Classic period (200 – 1000 CE); or it could be a later construction of the Postclassic period (after 1200 CE) when defensive locations were common. This would explain the massive terracing and the higher, ridge-top location.

“These hypotheses can be tested in a single excavation season and the essential dating will be answered,” she continues. “The function of the site and its associated terraces and temples may not be fully clarified in one season, yet there is no doubt we will have a better sense of the place after the investigations.”

Spread across the imaginary line between western Belize and northeastern Guatemala, El Pilar is considered the largest site in the Belize River region, boasting over 25 known plazas and hundreds of other structures, covering an area of about 120 acres. Monumental construction at El Pilar began in the Middle Preclassic period, around 800 BCE, and at its height centuries later it supported more than 20,000 people. Ford, who is the Director of the BRASS/El Pilar Program at the MesoAmerican Research Center of the University of California, Santa Barbara, has taken a “hands-off”, highly selective conservation approach to investigating the site. With the exception of a fully exposed Maya house structure, most of the structures at El Pilar have remained completely conserved by design, still covered in their tropical shroud. The Citadel excavations will open a new chapter in the research at El Pilar.

Above and below: Most of the El Pilar structures remain enshrouded in foliage, a natural strategy for conserving its remains.

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Anecdote of the day: today my professor told us that, while he was in Lappland researching the Saami, his hand got stuck to the frozen car door handle and in order to free himself he had to pee on it.
I love Cultural Antrhopology so much.

this is a really excellent article discussing the ideas we have of racial categories as concrete and 100% data-quantifiable qualities, and how they’re basically total bullshit in most cases. it also discusses the idea that the ways we think of race in general may not be at all accurate to the human social experience, and that a more complex view is required. 

it is not, fyi, denying the existence of race, or the histories of oppression and subjugation related to race, just to make that clear in case someone wants to get all RACISM IS OVER here. race is very real. it is a social construct. social constructs are real, even when they’re simply ideas. you know what other things are socially constructed ideas? currency. beauty. languages. and so on. what this discussion is exploring, and what most anthropologists these days are also exploring, is the idea that we view race much too simplistically, based around fables and misinformation we’ve retained from the early days of old white dudes measuring skulls for intelligence levels and temperance fucking brennan glancing at a bone and declaring it an asian female or whatever. instead of retaining these perspectives, the idea now is to consider ethnocultural categories, and the ways in which perceptions of belonging to one group or another are conceived, and how they play out both within and without the group. anyway! if you’re interested, check it out.


the oldest Roman wall in Britain?
Source: http://www.thecolchesterarchaeologist.co.uk/?p=18585

Today (9th March), there was a very exciting development here at Roman Circus House. On Friday, a very large item of archaeological material was brought here from the Colchester Museum Service stores. Today, with the help of our neighbours, we were able to bring it safely into the circus centre. We are planning to conserve the item and install it as part of the displays here. The item is a large fragment of early Roman wall which the Trust uncovered on our site at Culver Street in Colchester town centre. Part of the wall fragment was revealed in 1981, under a baulk, and the whole fragment was excavated………. Read More at http://www.thecolchesterarchaeologist.co.uk/?p=18585

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Unnatural History by Ellen Jewett

on Etsy, DeviantArt

Natural history surrealist sculpture,” is what sculptor Ellen Jewett calls her creations which are a mixture of both plants and animals. Her work references many different sources such as medical illustration, anthropology, and stop-motion animation.“I find my sculptures are evolving to be of greater emotional presence by using less physical substance,” she shares. She prefers to not work in any  toxic mediums like paints, glazes, and finishes. “This, unavoidably, excludes most of what is commonly commercially available, and has sent me on a journey of unique material combination and invention.”

I just learned in anthropology that when Catholics were trying to covert Native Americans, that every week the Native Americans would draw their religious symbols on the walls of the churches they were forced to go to, and then every week the church officials would paint over them in white paint, so basically America has always dealt with cultural representation by white-washing

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fourty meters up, and surrounded by angry bees pacified by the smoking wet leaves he carries, mongonjay, a member of the bayaka tribe of the jungles of the central african republic, hunts for honey suspended by fraying vine.

"when climbing big trees, you have to empty your heart of fear," he says. "if you have fear you will die. many of my friends have died doing this." 

bayakan fathers like mongonjay are considered “the greatest dads in the world,” and not just because they risk life and limb to provide their families with honey. bayakan fathers cuddle and play with their kids five times as often as fathers from any other society, and spend almost half their time within arms reach of their kids.

when the mother is not present, bayaka fathers will soothe their hungry, crying babies by having them suckle on their nipples until she can return. most male mammals do not have nipples, and some evolutionary biologists believe that human males have retained theirs for this very reason. many anthropologists believe this nurturing fatherly behaviour was once the norm for humans.

the bayaka, however, now face extinction as forty years of excessive industrial logging has forced most to abandon the sustaining forest they’ve called home for thousands of years and replace it with a life of poverty and disease (particularity malaria and cholera), where they are viewed as “not truly human, a people without civilization” by most across equatorial africa.

they suffer “appalling socioeconomic conditions and a lack of civil and land rights,” states a recent study conducted by the rainforest foundation. according to the WWF, it would only take $2 million to secure enough rainforest for future generations of bayaka to retain their traditional lifestyle.

photos by timothy allen for the bbc documentary human planet. video of the climbing scene can be seen here. see this short documentary and an article from smithsonian magazine for more.

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The rock art of Tassili n’Ajjer, the Sahara Desert, Algeria.

Tassili is a stunning mountainous region located in the central Sahara, and is the home to over 15,000 engravings and paintings which are thought to date from about 10,000 BC to the first centuries of the present era. Tassili would have been more climatically suitable for human occupation during prehistoric times, and the remains of burial mounds, lithics, and habitations have also been found.

Having grasped international attention since 1933, these stunning paintings stand as a testament to, and provide a record to the lives of, the inhabitants of Tassili who lived in this landscape for thousands of years. They provide us with a kind of ‘history book’, documenting climate change, the evolution of human life, animal migrations, extinct species, and the like.

The rock art has been divided into 5 different periods. The first has been termed the ‘naturalistic period’, which features depictions of the savannah and fauna, followed by the ‘archaic period’. Up next is the ‘Bovidian period’ (about 4000-1500 BC), which is when the majority of the rock art dates to. A renewed naturalistic aesthetic becomes apparent in the art, with significant examples of scenes of daily life and representations of bovine herds (note image #4 of this post in particular). The 4th period is the ‘Equidian period’, which is notable for coinciding with the area’s progressive desiccation (extreme drying), and the disappearance of the many species it caused. Finally, during the early Christian era, we have the ‘Cameline period’, where we see the appearance of dromedary (also known as the Arabian camel). As the appearance of dromedary suggests, Tassili’s climate was now hyper-arid.

Photos courtesy of & taken by Patrick Gruban. UNESCO’s write up on the site was of use when writing up this article.

Surviving at any cost: guilt expression following extreme ethical conflicts in a virtual setting

Studying human behavior in response to large-scale catastrophic events, particularly how moral challenges would be undertaken under extreme conditions, is an important preoccupation for contemporary scientists and decision leaders. However, researching this issue was hindered by the lack of readily available models. Immersive virtual worlds could represent a solution, by providing ways to test human behavior in controlled life-threatening situations.

Using a massively multi-player zombie apocalypse setting, we analysed spontaneously reported feelings of guilt following ethically questionable actions related to survival. The occurrence and magnitude of guilt depended on the nature of the consequences of the action. Furthermore, feelings of guilt predicted long-lasting changes in behavior, displayed as compensatory actions. Finally, actions inflicting immediate harm to others appeared mostly prompted by panic and were more commonly regretted. Thus, extreme conditions trigger a reduction of the impact of ethical norms in decision making, although awareness of ethicality is retained to a surprising extent.

Read more

Image: Zombies by Willuknight