Pharyngula

The pumpkin argument

John Holbo has uncovered an old argument against atheists, one that might have oozed languidly from the fermenting brain of Ray Comfort. But no! This is from a 19th century book of poetry! I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Ray steals it soon, though.

Basically, it’s an invented disagreement. An imaginary atheist argues that in a well-designed universe, large oak trees ought to bear pumpkin-sized fruit, while little ground-hugging shrubberies out to have acorn-sized fruit. This is easily dismissed by the poet by having an acorn fall on the atheist’s head.

Fool! had that bough a pumpkin bore,
Thy whimseys would have work’d no more,
Nor skull have kept them in.

It even has an illustration of a weeping atheist, which John thinks might look like me, back in my youth in 1792, when I hadn’t grown the beard yet and was fond of tricorn hats, and was always being pelted with acorns by puritans.

Comments

  1. #1 Glen Davidson
    February 17, 2009

    One answer: Coconut palm.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/6mb592

  2. #2 DaveL
    February 17, 2009

    One answer: Coconut palm.

    Clearly a result of The Fall. ;)

  3. #3 IST
    February 17, 2009

    (insert obligatory Python reference in response to 1 and 2)

  4. #4 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    February 17, 2009

    Pumpkin trees? pfffffft

    I want Hog trees.

  5. #5 JStein
    February 17, 2009

    I love people who don’t understand evolution. It makes me gleeful.

  6. #6 Julian
    February 17, 2009

    So the atheist says, “god isn’t likely because the universe isn’t proportional” and the puritan response, “the universe is perfect, shutup!”

    Touche, puritan; touche.

  7. #7 Holbach
    February 17, 2009

    Ray Comfort can easily fit into the analogy of having a head as big as a pumpkin and a brain the size of an acorn. Now what can we make of this? He would probably rhapsodize that he needs all those layers of pumpkin pulp to protect the impenetrable skin of that acorn. But what the hell, how does he utilize this set-up in relation to what he can demonstrate with a banana?

  8. #8 www.10ch.org
    February 17, 2009

    “One answer: Coconut palm.”
    Not to mention the fact that trees themselves fall sometimes.

  9. #9 Twin Ion Engines
    February 17, 2009

    Coconuts have nothing on durians in the lethal falling object category.

    Oddly, I know this story – I think probably from childrens’ literary magazine ‘Cricket’. I had either forgotten the atheism angle (or more likely) it had been completely glossed over.

  10. #10 Tyro
    February 17, 2009

    Durian.

    They’re like the poet’s pumpkin except with whacking great spikes for extra damage points.

  11. #11 Qwerty
    February 17, 2009

    The bumpkin says, “The pumpkin’s carved!
    ‘Tis evidence of design.
    God made it so convenient.
    It hangs upon the vine.”

    The Atheist smashed the pumpkin
    And made the bumpkin cry!
    Along with twenty blackbirds
    He baked it in a pie.

  12. #12 Mike Caton
    February 17, 2009

    Dammit Tyro, I was just about to post “durian” and you beat me by two minutes.

    http://luckyatheist.blogspot.com

  13. #13 Godandahalf
    February 17, 2009

    And durians have a noxious gas attack if you get too close.

  14. #14 jholbo
    February 17, 2009

    Thanks PZ! In defense of the poet: she died in 1720, so at least her ignorance of Darwin is pardonable, if not her unreasoning hostility to pumpkin trees.

  15. #15 Jack
    February 17, 2009

    Why is it that religious arguments against atheism almost always seem to rest on putting words in atheists’ mouths?

  16. #16 prosaica
    February 17, 2009

    My father taught me the following prayer:

    Be blessed, Thou Creator of the Universe, for in Thy infinite wisdom Thou made cherries grow on trees and pumpkins on the ground, made pidgeons fly and cows walk.

    This was usually mentioned whenever a family member was shat upon by a bird. My father is a very religious person, but he also has a sense of humour.

  17. #17 E.V.
    February 17, 2009

    Why is it that religious arguments against atheism almost always seem to rest on putting words in atheists’ mouths?

    What is a ideologue without a straw man?

  18. #18 BdN
    February 17, 2009
  19. #19 Kemist
    February 17, 2009

    I know many farmers who would snicker derisively at that argument, asking that poor schlob to go and try to find a pumpkin growing on its own in nature.

    Perfect universe, hey ?

    I does not take one whole minute to refute that stuff, and then they have to resort to teh Falls of the coconutz (which, as we know it, were eating by T-Rexes), which makes the universe not so perfect anymore, meeester. (how can they even think these things without their brains crashing down with a “does not compute; initiating self-destruct sequence”)

    Would they make up their minds before opening their traps ? Is the universe perfect or not ?

  20. #20 Sastra
    February 17, 2009

    Basically, it’s an invented disagreement. An imaginary atheist argues that in a well-designed universe, large oak trees ought to bear pumpkin-sized fruit, while little ground-hugging shrubberies out to have acorn-sized fruit.

    “Invented disagreement” indeed. Where the heck would a theist have gotten the idea that atheists think that a universe designed by a wise and loving God “should” have pumpkin trees? It’s not like any atheist argument I’m familiar with, back then or now.

    No, I take that back. I wonder if the writer thinks that The Argument from Evil — that a universe designed by a wise and loving God would not have so many cases of apparently pointless suffering in it – is just like saying that pumpkins ought to grow on trees. But a world where innocent people (and animals) undergo horrendous evil for no apparent purpose is like pumpkins growing on the ground. If you just think the thing through, you can see that it’s all done for our benefit.

    You can’t second guess God. He’s always one step ahead of you…

    Silly.

  21. #21 Cuttlefish, OM
    February 17, 2009

    Methinks this ?God? is strangely made
    For something of such worth,
    An introspective theist said
    As plucked he up a single blade
    Of grass, from off the earth:

    Behold, quoth he, this tiny thing,
    This single blade of grass,
    Enough to make Walt Whitman sing?
    They grow in millions every spring
    Unnoticed as we pass.

    But God counts every single leaf,
    Each hair upon your head
    (For bald men, he just counts their grief)
    The reason that we know? In chief,
    It?s what the Bible said.

    But where is God when good men die
    In wars, fought in His name?
    He counts the grass?He can?t deny
    He hears the wounded moan and cry?
    He sits there, to His shame.

    He mustn?t think; he mustn?t doubt,
    This theist on the lawn;
    His worship must remain devout;
    One thought that he might do without
    And poof?his God is gone.

    He cannot help but smile and nod
    It feels so good; so right.
    He?d looked upon the face of God
    And found it merely a façade?
    And now he?s seen the light.

    http://digitalcuttlefish.blogspot.com/2009/02/theist-and-blade-of-grass.html

  22. #22 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    February 17, 2009

    Pumpkin trees. Somebody found the magic mushrooms.

  23. #23 Ryk
    February 17, 2009

    The funny part is that aside from the whole “gods will” thing it is more in character for a theist to think big pumpkins belong on big trees. Religion generally looks for casual connections like “big pumpkin belongs on big tree” or “thunder sounds like chariot wheels so thunder must be a gods chariot and that god must be throwing a lightning hammer.” or “people who eat pork and shellfish sometimes get really sick and die therefore god must hate people eating these things.”
    Science looks for causal connections. For example “It is possible for pumpkins to grow large because they are on the ground and the vine doesn’t need to support their weight.” or “Pork and shellfish must in some cases carry pathogens that are harmful to humans.”
    Only a theist could have thought up the pumpkin in a tree bit. An atheist may have wondered why pumpkins don’t grow on big trees but would not have expected that they should.

  24. #24 rob
    February 17, 2009

    ‘Twas brillig, and the slithy atheists
    Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
    All mimsy were the borogoves,
    And the mome raths outgrabe.

    “Beware PZ Meyers, my son!
    The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
    Beware the Jibjab bird, and shun
    The frumious Dawkinsnatch!”

    Holbo took his vorpal pumpkin in hand:
    Long time the manxome foe he sought?
    So rested he by the Old Oak tree,
    And stood awhile in thought.

    And as in uffish thought he stood,
    PZ Meyers, with eyes of flame,
    Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
    And burbled Evo-Devo as he came!

    One, two! One, two! and through and through
    The vorpal pumpkin went snicker-snack!
    He left PZ perbafflexed, and with his vorpal pumpkin
    He went galumphing back.

    “And hast thou confuted PZ Meyers?
    Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
    O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
    And Halbo chortled in his joy.

    ‘Twas brillig, and the slithy atheists
    Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
    All mimsy were the borogoves,
    And the mome raths outgrabe.

  25. #25 Brownian
    February 17, 2009

    Geez, Cuttlefish. Go a little easier on God with respect to evil. Remember, He didn’t make evil–it’s somehow a necessary and logical result of our eating shellfish, wearing mixed fibres, and letting women have a say in household matters.

    Then again, there’s a real puzzler for the ID scientists–explain how it is that God so fine-tuned the universe that the smallest change in certain physical constants would’ve led to a universe incapable of supporting James Dobson and still he exists, yet get a tattoo or burn yeast or honey in a grain offering to God and it’s total fucking chaos: Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies! Rivers and seas boiling! Forty years of darkness! Earthquakes, volcanoes…. The dead rising from the grave! Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together…mass hysteria!

  26. #26 Alyson Miers
    February 17, 2009

    Let me see if I can parse this:

    1. Atheist says the universe isn’t well-designed.
    2. Because there are wee acorns growing on huge trees and gigantic pumpkins growing on the ground.
    3. Whereas, if there were a creator God involved, we’d have pumpkins hanging from oak trees and acorns growing on low shrubbery.
    4. An acorn falls off its twig and lands in the atheist’s eye, which hurts him.
    5. Therefore, God.

    You know, I actually think today’s religious apologists make more sense.

    The flow chart for this kind of thinking would look something like: head –> ass

    The great irony in this kind of (il)logic is that I think it’s much more sensible to have large fruit growing low to the ground, and small pods growing high on large trees. It just goes so much better with gravity.

  27. #27 Grenangle
    February 17, 2009

    We have the Bunya Bunya pine ( Araucaria bidwillii ) in Australia. They have to fence them off when they fruit as it’s nut will kill pedestrians and damage cars.

  28. #28 KI
    February 17, 2009

    In Georgia, there are oak trees with acorns so big they leave dents on cars parked outside. Not quite the size of pumpkins, but as big as a small gourd.

  29. #29 Moderately Unbalanced Squid
    February 17, 2009

    I fervently believe that the FSM, in all his noodly goodness, ate all the pumpkins from the pumpkin trees, thus rendering them extinct before we could discover them. This explains why his pasta is orange.

  30. #30 Ryk
    February 17, 2009

    Vine growing pumpkins on the other hand being better evolved to avoid the grasp of noodly appendages avoided being decimated and therefore prospered. It makes perfect sense now thanks.

  31. #31 SteveM
    February 17, 2009

    4. An acorn falls off its twig and lands in the atheist’s eye, which hurts him.
    5. Therefore, God.

    The argument is that God made acorns little so that they would not kill you when they fell. If it weren’t for God’s benevolence, pumpins would grow in trees and there would be carnage when they ripened.

    I’m convinced.

    Lisa: see this rock? I could tell you this rock repels tigers since you don’t see any tigers around here.
    Homer: Lisa, I want to buy your rock.

  32. #32 arekksu
    February 17, 2009

    well i’m convinced.

    allah be praised!

  33. #33 David Johnson
    February 17, 2009

    “An imaginary atheist argues that in a well-designed universe, large oak trees ought to bear pumpkin-sized fruit, while little ground-hugging shrubberies out to have acorn-sized fruit. This is easily dismissed by the poet by having an acorn fall on the atheist’s head.”

    Thus showing that the universe is at best *badly* designed and most likely not designed at all!

    Or, IOW, not made by a god…

    …this may not be the point he was trying to make.

  34. #34 Die Anyway
    February 17, 2009

    PZ sed: “An imaginary atheist argues that in a well-designed universe, large oak trees ought to bear pumpkin-sized fruit,…”

    Puts me in mind of this quote:
    “If there really was a God, pigeons would enjoy eating cigarette butts.” – - Martin Willett

    Besides, in a *well* designed universe, pumpkins would taste better and be edible without cooking.

  35. #35 nothing's sacred
    February 17, 2009

    The logic seems akin to saying that, if a drop of rain falls on an atheist, that proves that God exists because the atheist wasn’t struck dead by lightning.

  36. #36 Sili
    February 17, 2009

    If there is no god, then explain this miracle:

    We’re using the Winter holiday to clean the shelves in the library at the community college (i.e.< (/em> I have no holiday, myself). Which book do you think was the biggest one that I’ve had to handle today?

    Yes! “Invertebrate Anatomy”!

    If that is not a sign, then I don’t know what is.

  37. #37 plum grenville
    February 17, 2009

    And as in uffish thought he stood,
    PZ Meyers, with eyes of flame,
    Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
    And burbled Evo-Devo as he came!

    “Burbled Evo-Devo as he came!” That’s beautiful, rob! I think Pharyngula could use 2 poets laureate.

  38. #38 Daniel de Rauglaudre
    February 17, 2009

    It comes from Jean de La Fontaine (1621-1695)’s fable “Le Gland et la Citrouille” (The Acorn and the Pumpkin). But in his version, it is not a question of an atheist, but of “un villageois” (a villager).

  39. #39 Paulino
    February 17, 2009

    Besides the coconut that poet never heard of the cannonball tree http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Couroupita_guianensis
    “Like coconut palms, the trees should not be planted near paths or near traffic filled areas, as the heavy nut is known to fall without notice”

    nor of the jackfruit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jackfruit
    “The fruits can reach 36 kg (80 lbs) in weight and up to 90 cm (36 in) long and 50 cm (20 in) in diameter”

  40. #40 Eyeoffaith
    February 17, 2009

    To Sili @ #36. I bet your book on Invertebrate Anatomy had a spine!! :)

  41. #41 'Tis Himself
    February 17, 2009

    back in my youth in 1792

    Young, punk kid.

  42. #42 George
    February 17, 2009

    Really!

  43. #43 George
    February 17, 2009

    I have another for #1 Glen D;

    Durian
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Durian

  44. #44 MH
    February 17, 2009

    Fool! had that bough a pumpkin bore,
    Thy whimseys would have work’d no more,
    Nor skull have kept them in.

    As the acorn bounced harmlessly off the atheist’s head (thank you God!), a mosquito was injecting plasmodia into his bloodstream (damn you Satan!).

    If Ray Comfort ever uses the ‘acorn argument’, we’ll know for sure that he’s ‘pulling a poe’.

  45. #45 Defaithed
    February 17, 2009

    Hey, PZ! I don’t know if you noticed, but John Davison’s “deadline” for the planetary discrediting of “prominent atheists” ? he means you and Dawkins specifically! – has come and gone this month.
    http://www.defaithed.com/blog/atheists_discredited

    Are you feeling discredited? May we now all pelt you with acorns? Please? : )

  46. #46 John Morales
    February 17, 2009

    Defaithed @45, good one!

  47. #47 Ramiro Quai
    February 17, 2009

    My grandma taught me a better and shorter one, in Spanish. Basically, a sparrow soils a man hat, and the man thanks God for not having made oxen capable of flight.

    Andando por un caminito
    entre naranjos y flores
    me ensuciaron el sombrero
    los gorriones

    en vez de haberme enojado
    bendije de Dios las leyes
    que si volaran los bueyes
    como me hubieran dejado!

  48. #48 Ty
    February 17, 2009

    “Hey, PZ! I don’t know if you noticed, but John Davison’s “deadline” for the planetary discrediting of “prominent atheists” ? he means you and Dawkins specifically! – has come and gone this month.”

    Has he moved to Australia yet?

    BHO won the white house, and the Dems control both houses in congress.

  49. #49 Smidgy
    February 17, 2009

    An imaginary atheist argues that in a well-designed universe, large oak trees ought to bear pumpkin-sized fruit, while little ground-hugging shrubberies out to have acorn-sized fruit. This is easily dismissed by the poet by having an acorn fall on the atheist’s head.

    Surely, if, as various theists argue, the world was designed by God for the convenience of humans, both pumpkins AND acorns would be on low-hanging shrubs – simply so we could harvest them easily?

  50. #50 Ty
    February 17, 2009

    “Surely, if, as various theists argue, the world was designed by God for the convenience of humans, both pumpkins AND acorns would be on low-hanging shrubs – simply so we could harvest them easily?”

    To make it really convenient, there should be easy to harvest pumpkin pie trees.

  51. #51 Wowbagger
    February 17, 2009

    Has he moved to Australia yet?

    Don’t even joke about that. We managed to export Ken Ham; we certainly don’t want the weapons-grade stupiditdy of JAD messing up our nice (if you don’t count the burnt-to-a-crisp parts or the sodden, flooded parts) country.

    To make it really convenient, there should be easy to harvest pumpkin pie trees.

    Oh, they had those in Eden before the Fall. The T-Rexes used to enjoy a nice pumpkin pie after they finished eating the coconuts their huge teeth were obviously created to husk.

  52. #52 ShadowWalkyr
    February 17, 2009

    My wife and I both independantly summed it up the same basic way: “What a crappy poem.”

  53. #53 Abey George
    February 17, 2009

    What about coconuts!

  54. #54 SteveL
    February 17, 2009

    … one that might have oozed languidly from the fermenting brain of Ray Comfort.

    Way to turn a phrase, Professor! You should seriously think about writing a pop science book. It will sell.

  55. #55 Menyambal
    February 18, 2009

    I am reminded of a poem from the Ozarks:

    “If a chigger was bigger,
    as big as a cow,
    with a digger as big
    as a sub-soiling plow,
    tell me, picnic-er,
    where would you be now?”

    I’m voting for durian as the scariest fruit–those spines are wicked. I once had a durian roll across my bare foot–taking one to the head would be fatal. (BTW, if you wait for durian to fall off the tree, the nasty taste is overpowering. Get ones that have been lopped . . . by an experienced, other person.)

  56. #56 FrodoSaves
    February 18, 2009

    Coconuts? Durians? Jackfruit? Ha! Remember when giant sloths used to grow in trees?

  57. #57 lovable liberal
    February 18, 2009

    A creationist koan! Atheist grasshopper was enlightened!

  58. #58 Rrr
    February 18, 2009

    #16 prosaica and #47 Ramiro Quai reminded me of this 14-minute movie
    De Düva (The Dove)
    . “1968 parody of Ingmar Bergman, with a young Madeleine Kahn in the cast, and co-directed by George Coe. Quite amusing.” I must agree. It features a weird kind of Polish-Swedish Chef spoken dialogue, fortunately subtitled. B/W, of course, and a bit gloomy and shaky for realism. Brilliant!

  59. #59 Yaacov
    February 19, 2009

    “Birdy, birdy in the sky,
    don’t go doo doo in my eye,
    boy I’m glad that cows don’t fly!
    birdy, birdy in the sky.”

    from my childhood, (back in the Cretaceous).

  60. #60 Negi
    February 19, 2009

    This reminded me of a talk I recently attended about the Banach-Tarski paradox. The lecturer said, “You have a pumpkin, you split it into six very specific parts and put them back together and then you have two pumpkins! Irrelevant but funny?

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