Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Oranges and Toy Poodles

The other day, I saw a commercial for some orange juice or another, and one of the lines in it was something to the effect of, "We'd like to take credit, but Mother Nature did most of the work."

No, she didn't. This is one of the biggest misconceptions, I think, in modern society, and leads to some pretty bad ideas, such as the idea that "nature provides" what we need and that "natural" things like "organic" fruits and vegetables are inherently better than anything tampered with by humans.

But, the fact is, virtually nothing humans eat, plant or animal, is "natural." Take tomatoes, for instance. In their wild, natural state, tomatoes are hard little things with very little flesh or juice. They came to be the tomatoes we all know, much fleshier than necessary to protect and nourish their seeds, through human intervention. Humans bred and selected for fleshy, juicy tomatoes. Nature didn't give us tomatoes as we know them. Our ancestors did.

By the same token, nature didn't just make oranges in a way that happened to be a perfect hand fruit for humans. The orange juice company was, in part, honest when it said it couldn't take credit. But it attributed credit to nature that more properly should have gone to our ancestors, and thereby propogated this Edenic myth that so many believe.

This myth is so powerful that theists, Christians in this case, use it as proof that god exists! They say, "Look at the banana. It is the perfect hand fruit. It is curved to fit easily in the hand and even comes with its own wrapper to peel back. How could this have happened naturally? Obviously, someone must have made bananas to be perfect for humans to eat. God." They got the first part right: The modern banana isn't an accident. But the modern banana never existed in nature and therefore no supernatural being is needed to create it. Humans didn't create the banana, but they did create the version of the banana that happens to be so perfectly suited for our needs.

To look at the banana and make that argument is like looking at a toy poodle and saying, "Look at this little guy! He could never survive in the wild. He's perfect for picking up and carrying around. He's perfect for being a pet for a human. That couldn't be an accident. God must have done it."

But this argument makes no sense at all, since there aren't any toy poodles in the wild and never were. All dogs are descended from wolves that humans domesticated and bred to create breeds like the toy poodle, just as humans domesticated and bred the fruits, vegetables, and livestock that so many now think are "natural." And a toy poodle is to a wild wolf as the banana in the supermarket is to the wild banana.

But this is just another example of how ignorance leads to fallacious, and oftentimes dangerous, beliefs.


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