For all the talk Christians engage in about faith and how believing despite a lack of evidence is part of what it means to be a Christian, there’s quite a few of them out there that will jump at any chance to quote a scientist — any scientist — who might provide some argument in their favor.
So it is that the folks at Christian News Network came to publish the following article: Renowned Chemist Says Evolutionists Do Not Understand the Origin of Life. In it they describe Rice University professor Dr. James Tour as follows:
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.
Clearly he’s a Big Deal, though I’m not sure why anyone thinks getting an award from TheBestSchools.org is worth bragging about as it appears to be Yet Another College Ranking website that’s popular mostly among religious institutions.
Still, that’s not the point! Awards! He’s gotten several awards for knowing that of which he speaks! Clearly then we must take him seriously when he says things like:
“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.”
Well, that depends. Has Dr. Tour actually studied evolution? This is an important question because the article then goes on to say:
Despite his experiences and expertise, Tour admits that he does not understand how evolution could account for life’s existence.
Here we run into the first problem: Evolution doesn’t try to account for life’s existence — that would fall under abiogenesis and is a separate field of study — Evolution just describes the processes that take place after it showed up.
But let’s get back to that question I asked a moment ago. Has Dr. Tour spent any time studying the Theory of Evolution? The article seems to indicate that he hasn’t:
“I don’t understand evolution, and I will confess that to you,” he says in the video. “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.”
Right up front he’s admitting he doesn’t understand the theory. Though don’t lose faith in him just yet:
However, Tour says he is not the only one who does not understand how life could have arisen through natural, unguided processes.
“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.”
“Every time that I have sat with people who are synthetic chemists, who understand this, they go, ‘Uh-uh. Nope.’” Tour said. “And if they’re afraid to say ‘yes,’ they say nothing. They just stare at me, because they can’t sincerely do it.”
Oh my goodness! Someone who doesn’t understand Evolution knows other people who aren’t studying it that also don’t understand it! That surely must prove it’s a lie, right?
Well, no. Not really. It just means Dr. Tour and some of the other scientists he hangs out with don’t understand the theory. The fact that he seems set on it explaining the origin of life, which the theory doesn’t do, would probably go a long way to explaining his lack of understanding.
The article is based roughly on an hour and a half lecture Dr. Tour gave in late 2012 on the subject of Nanotech and Jesus Christ at Georgia Tech which you can watch on YouTube by clicking here.
I don’t dispute that Dr. Tour knows his organic chemistry and is clearly an expert on nanotech, but that doesn’t mean he’s an expert on Evolution or should be expected to know much about it. The Christian News Network article also goes on to quote from one of his blog posts in which he pretty much says his understanding of Evolution is, at best, as a layman. Here’s the big the article quotes:
Fair says there is an important distinction between microevolution and macroevolution—the former is clearly observable and repeatable, but the latter has never been witnessed.
“From what I can see, microevolution is a fact; we see it all around us regarding small changes within a species, and biologists demonstrate this procedure in their labs on a daily basis. Hence, there is no argument regarding microevolution,” he wrote in a blog post. “The core of the debate for me, therefore, is the extrapolation of microevolution to macroevolution.”
There’s an important bit from the very start of the entry, however, that they decided to leave out:
Assuming that I have something significant to contribute to the evolution vs. creation debate, many ask me to speak and write concerning my thoughts on the topic. However, I do not have anything substantive to say about it. I am a layman on the subject. Although I have read about a half dozen books on the debate, maybe a dozen, and though I can speak authoritatively on complex chemical synthesis, I am not qualified to enter the public discussion on evolution vs. creation. So please don’t ask me to be the speaker or debater at your event, and think carefully about asking me for an interview because I will probably not give you the profound quotations that you seek. You are of course free to quote me from what is written here, but do me the kindness of placing my statements in a fair context.
Dr. Tour considered this important enough that he placed it at the very start of his blog entry. He goes on to say that he’s often cited as a proponent of Intelligent Design and he’d really wish people would stop doing that.
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.
The rest of his blog post outlines a couple of the issues he has with macroevolution and why that makes him skeptical of it and, overall, it’s pretty reasonable. He does go on to claim that there is some persecution of scientists who express skepticism of macroevolution, but refuses to cite specific examples of such.
What’s interesting to me about the Christian News Network article is that it’s author, Garrett Haley, seems so intent on portraying Dr. James Tour in the very way he has asked not be to be portrayed. He’s taken a few choice quotes to try and suggest that Dr. Tour is out to prove Evolution wrong when all he’s really said is that there are parts of it he’s skeptical of and that his understanding of the theory is not sufficient that he should be considered any kind of an expert on it.
I’m not sure why Mr. Haley seems to think that finding a scientist who is a Christian and who has doubts about a scientific theory he doesn’t personally study should be newsworthy. There are lots of them out there. Hell, the field of Engineering is rife with creationists for some reason. The fact that these people are out there isn’t evidence that the theory is false. It just shows that people who haven’t studied it much may have trouble trying to understand it.