Tuesday, June 16, 2020

#2350: James Tour

A nanotechnologist and Professor of Materials Science and NanoEngineering, as well as Professor of Computer Science, at Rice University, James Tour certainly has reason to be confident about his skills and knowledge in his field of expertise. Unfortunately, that might also be part of the explanation for why he is willing to spew so much nonsense about fields he knows nothing about.

Tour is a signatory to the Discovery Institute’s silly petition A Scientific Dissent From Darwinism, making him one of a very small number of nationally prominent researchers among the signatories as well as the even smaller number of those who seem to have been actually aware of what they were signing. Indeed, even Tour himself has said 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.”

Despite demonstrably failing to grasp the basics of evolution (see below), Tour is nevertheless confident in his analysis: “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. I understand that if I take Nature’s tool kit, it could be much easier, because all the tools are already there, and I just mix it in the proportions, and I do it under these conditions, but ab initio is very, very hard.” Of course, evolution doesn’t make molecules to a specification, so his comparison is irrelevant, but it is very instructive that Tour doesn’t realize that. Now, he did follow the previous claim up with admitting that “I don’t understand evolution, and I will confess that to you.” That hasn’t stopped him from offering his uninformed opinions (“egregious idiocy”) on the topic on numerous occasions – apparently doing so is justified because other synthetic chemistry experts he has talked with don’t claim to understand everything about evolution either (yes, the unstated premises in that piece of reasoning are somewhat hard to identify; more details about Tour’s ignorance here). So, Tour has for instance claimed that he felt the explanations offered by evolution are incomplete, and that he finds it hard to believe that nature can produce the machinery of cells through random processes, which is not what the theory of evolution says but which would also, independently of that fundamental error, have amounted to a reasonably clear example of a named fallacy. Taking a cue from standard creationist materials, Tour also claims that “[f]rom 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.” But of course, like the creationists who apparently supply him with his talking points, Tour offers no suggestion for what mechanism could possibly and magically prevent microevolutionary changes from accumulating into macroevolutionary changes over time – besides, one would think that if his considerations based on his own field were relevant (they are not), they would apply equally well to microevolution. We strongly suspect the issue is, for Tour, not ultimately a matter of science or evidence (Tour is, as you’d expect, a religious fundamentalist). 

He also thinks that brave, maverick scientists who question the consensus about evolution are persecuted in academia by cabals of skeptics. Suffice to say: there are better explanations for why you won’t find respected biologists being confused by the questions that confuse James Tour in the field, but we are hardly surprised that when the competing explanations for his observations are “maybe I am wrong about a field I don’t understand” and “I am correct in my claims about a field I don’t understand but it doesn’t look that way because there is a conspiracy to suppress the scientists who say what I do,” James Tour is the kind of person who opts for the latter.

At least creationists seem to have been very excited to have him onboard. Tour has also contributed chapters to creationist and anti-science books detailing his lack of understanding of the theory of evolution and drawing silly conclusions from that, as well as given numerous talks on religion, prayer and how the theory of evolution cannot explain abiogenesis, which it doesn’t purport to do. He also contributed e.g. to the 2018 Dallas Conference on Science and Faith: Tear Down that Wall on how to get faith to take some control back over science.

Diagnosis: As opposed to the vast, vast majority of the signatories to the Discovery Petition, James Tour is indeed a scientist. He is, of course, not a biologist and willfully fails to understand the fundamentals of evolution, but a modicum of confidence, religious fundamentalism, Dunning-Kruger and general ignorance make for a forceful combo. Currently, he is apparently also being persecuted, insofar as people have criticized him for passing desperately silly and ignorance-fueled judgments on scientists and scientific field he doesn’t understand.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. It really concerns me that a "scientist" actually doesn't seem to understand the method, practice nor mental rigour required to be one. This seems to be disturbingly pervasive. Good work as always. This site is epic. (Repost, typo correction)

  3. Don't talk so flamin stupid.
    What aloadcof Ignorant Troll drivel.
    Just to try and discredit a scientist that has published hundreds of scientific papers. Has three Degrees, and is still working in nano tech.
    What a desperate attempt by Cowardly Trolls.
    You really accuse him of Not knowing how to be a scientist?
    I guess that makes you Einstein������

    1. James Tour has done a lot of good work in different fields. So what? He demonstrably doesn't understand evolution (and even admits so), yet go on to make great and stupid proclamations about the field. Otherwise very intelligent people can have really silly beliefs, and exhibit surprising tendencies toward compartmentalization. James Tour is an excellent example. I do not accuse him of not knowing how to be a scientist. You are just making things up here.

  4. Oh really????
    Where did Tour actually say this???

    Tour himself has said 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.”

    1. He says it here. You are allowed to use google, you know.

    2. I was asking you to tell me where he said the statement.

  5. , Tour offers no suggestion for what mechanism could possibly and magically prevent microevolutionary changes from accumulating into macroevolutionary changes over time – WHAT????

    There is No observational scientific evidence anywhere on earth for Macroevolution.
    There are Not Multi millions of Transitional Fossils, and any Honest scientist would Admit this.
    There are Huge gaps between All the major Life form Families.

    1. You are completely missing the point. Tour accepts microevolution, so he already accepts adaptive selection over variations in populations based on genetic variations. He thus accepts the basic mechanism of evolution. That raises an obvious question for any (non-young-earth) creationist: If you accept the basic mechanism, what on Earth prevents microevolutionary changes from accumulating over millions of years? If the genetic composition of a population of lizards can change over a few generations, what prevents the population from undergoing major changes over a hundred million years? What, exactly, stops the slippery slope here? If you accept microevolution, then you also need some mechanism to *prevent* microevolution to turn into macroevolution over sufficient time. But none is offered. Are there perhaps some magic part of DNA, hitherto undiscovered by mainstream science, that blocks it?

      Of course, the rest of your reply is silly, too, even apart from completely missing the point. The fossil record offers tremendous evidence for evolution. You don't need "multi millions of Transitional Fossils", and "Huge gaps" really doesn't suggest that the fossil record, as we have it, doesn't provide excellent evidence for evolution. I am not sure you really understand what "observational scientific evidence" means - it doesn't mean that you need to eyewitness evolution (though we do that, too, e.g. the famous Lenski experiments), but that the observations you make are the ones your theory predicts and not others (no rabbits in precambrian geological strata, for instance).

    2. Wow you really are brainwashed with your preconceptions aren't you.
      I believe in Micro adaptations within species.
      But There is No evidence for Macro evolution.
      If you want to say there is, you need to produce Fossil evidence of All the Transitional links to show progressive changes over millennia, from one Family to another.
      Good luck with that.

      And who says there are No rabbit fossils?
      They just haven't found them yet.
      Unless of course, you can just lift up each Sedimentary layer like a carpet. And look underneath.

    3. You most definitely do not observe Evolution.
      You mistakenly call Adaptation, Evolution.
      Macroevolution doesn't exist, and is not observable.
      As You well know, by your statement , what is stopping Microevolutionary changes accumulating into Macro evolutionary changes over millions of years.
      This is an admission that it hasn't been observed.
      " Microevolution" as You call it, is simply adaptation within Genetic parameters within Family groups,There is Not an infinite number of adaptations that can occur in Every single life form on earth.
      Dogs have Hundreds of variations within their Family.
      Whereas Horses have far fewer variations.
      My point is Dogs are dogs, cats are cats, Horses are horses, and because of Genes and DNA coding, including programmed cell death and coding repair within the genome, by the body itself.
      There are No Half species or short neck giraffes, Or short nose elephants.
      Whales are whales and not a big cow that went for a swim.
      On that score alone, what did the whale mate with, before it learned to swim? Or in other words, there would have to be 2 of them.
      What happened to all the Transitional creatures between whatever it was and whales?
      Please don't tell me bird feathers Evolved over millions of years.
      Because I will ask you, where are all the Half bird fossils?
      There should be Millions.
      Which dinosaur became birds?
      What a joke😂
      If you knew anything about aircraft design or avionics, and aerodynamics. You would know that just like the Eyeball, Birds would have to be Fully functional or they would get eaten waiting for their wings to grow.
      Sadly in the field of Palaeontology there is Much to be concerned about.
      Like the Chinese market of so called new fossils or missing links.
      Truth is sadly at a premium in some fields.
      At least James Tour admitted he didn't know how to prove intelligent design.
      Would you Evolutionists Ever admit, you don't really know?
      You can use observational science in the present.
      But when it comes to looking back at the past, that is by definition Forensic and Most of the time You can't find the Bodies.

    4. The thousands of transitional fossils that are in museums and various universities are the ones that show transitions between reptiles and mammals, fish and amphibians, homo erectus and homo sapien, crustaceans and insects and so on. Miacis is the common ancestor of both dogs and cats. Eohippus is the common ancestor of both horses and deer. Cambaytherium is the common ancestor of rhinos and cows. You claim to be an expert on evolution and you don't even know what they teach in the 6th grade.

  6. besides, one would think that if his considerations based on his own field were relevant (they are not),

    Wow so only A biologist or a Paleontologist or an Anthropologist or geologist can comment on Evolution.
    Not a Chemist, or Physicist, or What??
    So now it depends on group consensus if your even listened too.
    Woe betide anyone who breaks ranks then.

    Well done genius.. whoever you are.
    You just made the best case to Prove beyond a shadow of a doubt.
    That Science is prejudice against ID and creationist ideas.
    Even though you can't disprove his talk on the complexity of life.
    Why because YOUR not clever enough.
    How does it feel to hate clever people??
    Did you have a bad time at school??

    1. Reading comprehension much? The considerations Tour makes based on his own field, like his attempt to draw lessons based on designing molecules to a specification, are irrelevant to the theory of evolution. No one is saying that chemists or physicists or nanotechnologists cannot contribute (though they better make an attempt to actually read up on and understand the field to which they are trying to contribute ; otherwise the chances of making any valuable contribution is slim, as Tour illustrates). What is being said is that *James Tour*'s considerations are irrelevant, which they are, as we have shown (at least if you bothered to follow the links that would give you more details.)

    2. I have read the link to the statement James Tour made.
      Very informative. Especially the Fact that you were quite selective, on which parts you cherry picked, to make out That James Tour didn't believe in Creation. Also that he Honestly admitted that he didn't know how to prove intelligent design.
      The Fact that he was Honest about his lack of knowledge on the specifics of Biological evolution.
      Was conveniently overlooked.
      Your generally condescending attack in his lack of understanding of the subject, makes you appear ignorant of His speciality area of science.
      If all life on earth is Cellular organic life, then in my opinion James Tour has a speciality that is Fundamental to the understanding of All life on earth.
      I notice that you cannot refute his points on how information is encoded in RNA and DNA and has to be there BEFORE any simple cellular structure of any kind can develop.
      As I said I believe his field of research and specialism is an underpinning Fundamental foundation to understanding anything about biological life on earth.