James Tour: Creationist Organic Chemist

We found this at the website of Pat Robertson’s Christian News Network (CNN). Their headline is Renowned Chemist Says Evolutionists Do Not Understand the Origin of Life.

Oh dear, a “renowned chemist” is revealing our deepest secret. Or is he just making a fool of himself? Or maybe CNN is simply getting carried away? Let’s find out. We’re told:

A prominent chemist who was recognized this year as one of the 50 most influential scientists in the world says most scientists do not understand how evolution could explain the existence of life.

Aaaargh!! To begin with, the origin of life, although it’s certainly an interesting unsolved problem, is not part of the theory of evolution, which describes the behavior and development of life after it exists. And who is this renowned scientist that CNN is touting? They say:

Dr. James Tour is a well-known professor at Rice University, specializing in chemistry, nanoengineering, and computer science. Over the last 30 years, Tour has authored over 500 research publications, and he was recognized as one of “The 50 Most Influential Scientists in the World Today” by TheBestSchools.org. Tour has also received awards and recognitions from the American Chemical Society, Thomson Reuters, Honda, NASA, and others.

Wikipedia has a writeup on him: James Tour. He seems to be a competent organic chemist. But it also says this:

In 2001, Tour signed the Discovery Institute’s A Scientific Dissent From Darwinism, a controversial petition which the intelligent design movement uses to promote intelligent design by attempting to cast doubt on evolution. To those who “are disconcerted or even angered that I signed a statement back in 2001” he responded “I have been labeled as an Intelligent Design (ID) proponent. I am not. I do not know how to use science to prove intelligent design although some others might. I am sympathetic to the arguments on the matter and I find some of them intriguing, but the scientific proof is not there, in my opinion. So I prefer to be free of that ID label.”

He had also said that he felt the explanations offered by evolution are incomplete, and he found it hard to believe that nature can produce the machinery of cells through random processes. On his website, he writes that “From what I can see, microevolution is a fact” and “there is no argument regarding microevolution. The core of the debate for me, therefore, is the extrapolation of microevolution to macroevolution.”

This is bizarre. He insists that he’s not a slavish follower of the Discovery Institute’s nonsense, yet he dances the micro-macro mambo, which we described in Common Creationist Claims Confuted. He’s obviously some kind of creationist, but he follows his own path — a creationist beaker keeper.

This illustrates something we’ve said before: A creationist can be an architect, engineer, dentist, inventor, or a number of other things — even, as in this case, an organic chemist. But they function in those occupations by using knowledge, skills, methods, and technologies that are clearly non-biblical. Most importantly, their creationism — as an imagined cause or mechanism — can’t be investigated, so it never leads to anything of scientific value. Okay, let’s return to the CNN story:

In a video released in late 2012, Tour explained that he has had extensive experience studying the origin of life. “I will tell you as a scientist and a synthetic chemist,” Tour said, “if anybody should be able to understand evolution, it is me, because I make molecules for a living, and I don’t just buy a kit, and mix this and mix this, and get that. I mean, ab initio, I make molecules. I understand how hard it is to make molecules.” Despite his experiences and expertise, Tour admits that he does not understand how evolution could account for life’s existence.

He’s misusing the word “evolution,” which — as we’ve already said — doesn’t account for life’s existence. But he’s correct that nobody has yet succeeded at synthetically generating life. We’ve discussed that in The Origin of Life — Miraculous or Mundane? Then they quote Tour again:

“I don’t understand evolution, and I will confess that to you,” he says in the video.

Yeah, we can see that. CNN continues:

Is it okay for me to say, ‘I don’t understand this’? Is that all right? I know that there’s a lot of people out there that don’t understand anything about organic synthesis, but they understand evolution. I understand a lot about making molecules; I don’t understand evolution. And you would just say that, wow, I must be really unusual.”

It’s okay to say that. But what can’t be said — at least not logically — is “I don’t understand this, therefore Oogity Boogity!” Here’s more:

“Let me tell you what goes on in the back rooms of science — with National Academy members, with Nobel Prize winners,” Tour stated. “I have sat with them, and when I get them alone, not in public — because it’s a scary thing, if you say what I just said — I say, ‘Do you understand all of this, where all of this came from, and how this happens?’

The answer he inevitably receives, Tour explained, is: “no.”

Egad! The deep dark secret is out! Darwin is doomed! Well, maybe not. Skipping quite a bit, here’s another excerpt:

After recognizing that evolutionists are “collectively bewildered” by life’s origins, Tour joined nearly 900 other scientists in signing A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism, which states: “We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged.”

Whoopie! Here’s the stunning conclusion of the article:

If evolution cannot account for life’s existence, then how did life originate? Tour says the most reasonable answer is simple. “I believe fundamentally that God created us all,” he told the Houston Chronicle.

Okay. That’s what he believes. All he needs to do now is accomplish something of scientific value based on that belief. Nobody’s ever done it before, but maybe Jimmie Tour will be the first. We shall see.

Copyright © 2014. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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24 responses to “James Tour: Creationist Organic Chemist

  1. “A prominent chemist who was recognized this year as one of the 50 most influential scientists in the world says most scientists do not understand how evolution could explain the existence of life.”

    Evolution also doesn’t explain the precession of Mercury’s orbit or whether or not gravitational waves can be focused as gravitons. In other words, Tour’s speculation merely reveals that he doesn’t really know what evolution is, nor how it works.

    He sounds more like a highly competent and well trained and highly specialized technician than a scientist, his academic titles notwithstanding.

  2. michaelfugate

    Reminds of the late great chemist Phil Skell at Penn State who basically said the same thing and signed the dissent document. He knew nothing about evolution by the way.

  3. This is old, old news. At least two years, maybe three stale. All of the statements attributed to Tour were made years ago. Of course, it’s from Pat Robinson so who cares?

    Since 2012 Tour’s been somewhat quiet on the subject. Why? Because several evolutionary biologists took Tour up on his offer to have “evolution explained” to him. Arrangements were made, but Tour backed out. Why? Because the discussion was going to be recorded and Tour was going to be publicly exposed for the creationist fraud he is. This entire incident was documented and Tour’s flounce is public knowledge. Ever since Tour’s bluff was called he’s been very quiet on the subject.

    Think about it for a moment. Tour is a respected chemist at Rice University. There are scores of biologists and chemists RIGHT THERE ON CAMPUS who could explain the ins and outs of evolution over lunch at the faculty cafeteria. If Tour is so interested why hasn’t he availed himself of his campus colleagues? Simple. Tour isn’t interested. He’d prefer to wallow in his creationism and complain. Finally, Tour’s imaginary conversation with members of the Academy is just that, total fabrication. What a jerk.

  4. Yeah, Tour may be a good organic chemist but he’s a lousy biochemist. I’ve seen organic chemists that know very little about biochemistry. All he has to is read the literature. We can make replicating RNA molecules from the basic nucleotides in the testtube. They can evolve in the testtube. This is why the concept of the RNA World arose in reguards to the origin of life. Read! Read!

  5. Creationists love to trot out people like Tours who are willing to prostitute their own academic credentials and to make (unsubstantiated) claims about what other scientists, allegedly trembling in fear of the Darwin Police, have whispered to him in dark corners.

    It doesn’t matter to them that such claims are vapor, any more than it does that the origin of life and its subsequent evolution are separate, even though related, questions.

    And I suspect that if and when scientists create life in the laboratory (they’re very, very close, if they haven’t already crossed the line–viruses have been synthesized), creationists will first say it isn’t alive, then that it’s an abomination unto the Lord–and then the lab will have an “accident.”

  6. Eric Lipps says:

    And I suspect that if and when scientists create life in the laboratory (they’re very, very close, if they haven’t already crossed the line–viruses have been synthesized), creationists will first say it isn’t alive, then that it’s an abomination unto the Lord–and then the lab will have an “accident.”

    They’ll also say that because it was deliberately done in a lab, it was intelligently designed.

  7. Charles Deetz ;)

    I have seen a lot of politicians lately doing the ‘I’m not a scientist’ mambo to duck creation and climate change questions. This guy is a [deleted] scientist, yet he uses the same excuse.

    Personally, I can see how he is trapped like most Americans are when being surveyed about evolution … there are parts that are not well explainable, therefor maybe a god had something to do with it. He thought he could make this dance publicly, and he found how hard the mambo is.

  8. michaelfugate

    It’s the “I don’t know what I am talking about, but I will talk about it any way” line. Pretty much every syndicated op-ed falls under the same category.

  9. Another “I don’t understand the subject…therefore I know it ain’t true.”

  10. If someone wants to believe in God, it’s no business of mine.
    If someone wants to believe a god whose only purpose is as an explanatory factor for something that occurred billions of years ago, fine by me.
    If someone doesn’t want to talk about how that explanatory factor explains anything, who am I to complain?
    But if that someone expects me to be interested, there is going to be a disappointment.

  11. …when I get them alone, not in public — because it’s a scary thing…

    Translation – “I am going to make something up that no one can ever fact-check.”

    This is exactly the same as the DI’s claim that there are many scientists who question evolution but are afraid to speak out (or sign their list) for fear of being Expelled! In other words, the DI invents a lie, i.e. that the absence of support for the ID is not due to lack of scientific credibility, but rather to an evil Darwinist cabal that prevents their scientific credibility from being acknowledged.

    I believe Tour has come up with a similar lie – to create the impression that his creationism has support from fellow scientists.

  12. oops.. did not close the italic after “Expelled!”. Aargh.

    [*Voice from above*] All is well, my son.

  13. “CNN” = “Cable News Network” to most people; not “Christian News Network”.

  14. He is not alone among fine chemists who believe (or at least don’t disbelieve) ID. See, for example Fritz Schaefer, whose books and papers about quantum chemistry in my office are dog-eared and marked up. Brilliant guy.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_F._Schaefer,_III Many believe that, like Henry Eyring, his outspoken religious beliefs are the reason he’s been passed over for Nobel honors. I don’t think that’s a totally crazy notion.

  15. Doctor Stochastic

    He seems remarkably narrowly informed for a chemist-cum-computer-scientist. (Been there, done that, got the sheepskins.)

  16. And who knows which beer made pitcher Mel Famie walk us?

  17. Douglas, you’re one of the few who get it. 😉

  18. Sadly 🙂 Something to do with being old……

  19. Mel Toast wrote:

    Henry Eyring, his outspoken religious beliefs are the reason he’s been passed over for Nobel honors. I don’t think that’s a totally crazy notion.

    Yes, it is a crazy notion. And paranoid. And delusional. And wrong. And unsubstantiated. And willfully ignorant. Should I continue or does Mel Toast get the picture? I rather doubt it.

  20. Diogenes Lamp

    “He is not alone among fine chemists who believe (or at least don’t disbelieve) ID.”

    There are no prominent living chemists who are proponents of Intelligent Design. Skell is long dead, and neither Tour nor Schaefer call themselves proponents of Intelligent Design.

    Tour does peddle unverifiable, apparently fabricated or imagined stories about how scientists admit in private that there’s no evidence for evolution– the sort of BS that creationists peddle, but for Tour the appeal may be the conspiracy theory angle– and some people are hypnotized by the belief “the experts are hiding a secret history!”, a belief that needs no evidentiary support and that cannot be undermined by evidentiary opposition.

    Schaefer calls himself a “proponent of Jesus”, not of ID, and IIRC, he did not sign the Dissent from Darwinism petition. SFAIK, the only member of the National Academy (US) to sign the DFD petition was Skell, and he’s long dead.

    By comparison, everyone named Steve with a Nobel Prize in hard sciences has signed the pro-evolution Project Steve petition.

    Nice try at argument from authority, but strategically foolish– we win at that.

  21. I’m a layman with no training or particular talent certainly no match for a mind like that of James Tour.
    I read The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins, it was not easy but it was convincing. Evolution is not an easy subject but it is a convincing explanation of how life got from the first replicators to complexity.
    Richard Dawkins makes a noble effort to explain using the laws of chance how the first replicators came into existance, so that special selection could start. Of course you could say it was all planned by a creator and that is what Robert Chambers does in Vestiges the speculative book that cleared the way before Darwin. Chambers was too frightened to put his name to this book which shows th oppressive climate of the time.

  22. The whole truth

    Yep, Tour and the others who signed the “Scientific Dissent from Darwinism” don’t understand evolution and evolutionary theory. For example, there’s more to evolutionary theory than “Darwinian Theory”.

  23. From my long experience of chemists (I’m one), I think that they’re more particularly susceptible to such irrationality, sort of a Dunning-Kruger thing. In the olden days, sometimes even now, practically no knowledge of any other field was necessary or taught. One didn’t need to know any biology or biochemistry, even sometimes any physics. And it attracted a lot of men who have never displayed much curiosity about the rest of the world.

    Synthetic organic chemists, especially back in the day, were particulary known for hubris and thinking they knew everything.

    And, any honest NSA or Nobel would stare at such a question and honestly admit that no, they don’t “understand all of this, where all of this came from, and how this happens.” That doesn’t mean that they know nothing about it.

    Rice doesn’t mention that they’ll then slowly back away.

  24. Biokid suggested that Tour read, if he wants to know how evolution works. I’d add, specifically with respect to abiogenesis, that he read Addy Pross’ book What is Life? subtitled How Chemistry Becomes Biology.