So the Christian News Network, has an article entitled “Renowned Chemist Says Evolutionists Do Not Understand the Origin of Life“, and that surprises me because the word, “Evolutionist” is one that tends to be utilised by highly religious folks taking an anti-science stance and is not a word deployed by “renowned chemists”, thus I was curious to take a peek and see.
Here is how it plays out.
First we have the build up in which the author places the “Renowned Chemist” high up on a very very tall pedestal …
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.
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.
Now my immediate go-to thought when faced with such a build-up is to think, “this is going to be an Appeal to an Authority, and if so, then that is a rather common logical fallacy. This is because the things that are true, are true, not because famous person X says they are, but rather because there is independent objective evidence, and when such evidence is lacking then this is a rather common gambit that is often deployed to try and assert a religious claim.
If Mr Tour was an evolutionary biologist and not a chemist, then commenting upon evolution would perhaps be an appropriate thing for him to do, but for him to comment upon something that is not actually his area of expertise makes this a rather obvious fallacious argument from authority.
So what comes next?
In a video released in late 2012, Tour explained that he has had extensive experience studying the origin of life.
Say what! … this article is actually based upon something Mr Tour said on YouTube over two years ago, now that strikes me as very odd and immediately sets even more alarm bells ringing.
So the article then claims …
Despite his experiences and expertise, Tour admits that he does not understand how evolution could account for life’s existence.
Actually no, that is not what Mr Tour claims, all they offer as evidence for that is something that completely blows the above apart. From the viewpoint of his supposed “expertise” he explains that he does not understand evolution at all …
“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.”
To say, “Here is something I don’t understand” is fine, but to then assert, “Therefore god did it” is just making stuff up. So the article suggests that this is his stance, but that does not appear to be factually correct at all.
In 2001, Tour did indeed sign the Discovery Institute‘s “A Scientific Dissent From Darwinism“, a rather controversial petition which the intelligent design movement uses to promote their claims, but when challenged about this, Mr Tour has commented on his blog as follows …
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
So there you have it then, that is his actual position on all of this.
In conclusion, I have these key observations …
- Mr Tour does not utilise the term “evolutionist” at all, that has been rather dishonestly tacked on by the author of the article to just the title to discredit science.
- Mr Tour is not a creationist, but rather is a guy who is sympathetic to the viewpoint and also feels that evolutionary theory may be incomplete. The fact that he is himself deeply religious perhaps explains this emotional sympathy, but he also makes it quite clear that intelligent design claims have no scientific proof
- I can find no evidence that he claimed that evolution does not explain the origin of life. That also is a rather bizarre claim; anybody who knows anything about evolution would immediately realise that it simply explains the diversity of life, and says nothing at all about the origin of life – that is a completely separate topic known as abiogenesis.
The basis of the entire article is a two your old YouTube clip in which a guy who does not understand evolution, and admits that he does not understand evolution, then proceeds to express doubt about the very thing that he clearly says he does not actually understand, and sort of implicitly suggests “therefore god” … but when pressed, will admit that he has exactly zero evidence for the god did it claim, and so dissociates himself from that specific idea. Here indeed we see a smart guy struggling to come to terms with the conflict between scientific facts and religious beliefs. He clearly embraces those religious beliefs for what are most probably cultural and emotional reasons, and yet finds that he now suffers a bit of an inner storm as he tries to align that with what he knows, and so I have nothing but sympathy for him.
My actual criticism here is primarily directed towards the author of the article, Mr Garrett Haley, and not Mr Tour who appears to have been grossly misrepresented. If you would indeed like to see an example of something being magically created out of complete nothingness, then I can perhaps suggest that this article appears to be an example of exactly that.