Dr. James Tour, a scientific science denier

Dr. James Tour is a brilliant and accomplished scientist who takes issue with the Origin of Life scientific community. A war between scientists can be very revealing. One caveat, it’s an hour and a half video but before you get to the meat you have to suffer the awful humor of the host, Eric Metaxas. I’m glad I did because the exposé by Dr. James Tour is fascinating. You might want to start at minute 31:58.

A conversation between Dr. James Tour and Socrates in the City host Eric Metaxas on the topic “How Did Life Come into Being?” Dr. Tour is presently the T. T. and W. F. Chao Professor of Chemistry, Professor of Computer Science, and Professor of Materials Science and NanoEngineering at Rice University. He is widely regarded as among the leading nano-scientists in the world.

Dr. James Tour: How Did Life Come into Being?

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Stuart Kauffman, Eric Metaxas, and The Captain are atheists. Dr. James Tour said he was a Christian but apparently he converted from Judaism. I mention this because, as a scientist, Dr. Tour refuses to accept the god of the gaps argument and instead says, “more research is needed.”

The standard model, the primordial soup model, posits that it took 50 to 100 million years for atoms to assemble into the primordial life forms, we don’t know how but it happened. The Origin of Life scientific community expects to replicate this event in the laboratory. Dr. Tour gives good reasons for saying it can’t be done. Then they get into a fisticuffs match like often happens in science like Newton vs, Leibniz about calculus and Bohr vs. Einstein about something or other, god playing dice?

Dr. Stuart Kauffman, my favorite complexity scientist to the rescue. In his book At Home in the Universe: The Search for the Laws of Self-Organization and Complexity, talks about ‘order for free,’ how with energy from the sun local entropy will diminish. Evolution says that it’s random mutations, the good ones survive while the bad die out.

Marry the three, the primordial soup, order for free, and random mutations, give them 50 to 100 million years, and it just might happen. A statistician could come up with a probability number for it to happen. It did happen but scientists don’t have 50 to 100 million years to fiddle in the lab to replicate it. Of course, if they admit it, they can’t get grants that expect results ASAP.

The Captain


Not likely. To come up with a probability number you have to have either historical data of a procedure which repeats (and this hasn’t), or some concept of how the original process works (and we don’t.)

We don’t know what ingredients are necessary, in what quantities, for how long, at what temperatures, or most anything else about it. We have a tiny few experiments where we create certain enzymes with electric shock, but that is roughly akin to telling a cave man that a car is assembled with nuts and bolts. We have a lot more to learn before we could even begin to assess a probability.


Is he a “scientific science denialist” or just another really smart scientist in his field but doesn’t recognise where his smarts end and others’ begin. A “lane drifter” more than a denialist.

Far enough outside of my knowledge base for me to not know enough to be aware whether an opinion of mine might be wrong…so I’ll go with my usual heuristic.

Does he claim…

…“everyone else” ( in the actual field) is wrong

… “contrarian” points of view (like his) are a victim of Cancel Cultural/grant de-funding.


Very interesting video and thanks for posting, Denny. I wish Metaxas would have asked Tour to define “prebiotic relevance” specifically. Asked him to define everything else but failed on that point.

Regardless of that miss, it was a very interesting discussion. I wasn’t aware how far away we really are when it comes to the organic chemistry.

Thanks again.


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Since the Miller-Urey experiment i the 1950s we’ve know lightning in a methane ammonia atmosphere could create amino acids. But it looks like the early atmosphere didn’t have enough methane and ammonia. Turns out solar flares can make amino acids in the early atmosphere and the young sun had a lot more flares than today.


Indeed the early atmosphere was different from ours and maybe even the Sun emitted a different mix of particles but consider 50 million years vs. a lifetime working in a lab, it’s 6 order of magnitude more time. Consider that oceans are many orders of magnitude greater that petri dishes, another 6 order of magnitude? Pure chance would have the time and space to spawn a lifelike molecule. No such advantage for modern researchers. Consider how many of our inventions were fortuitous, like the discovery of penicillin and vulcanization.

Returning from holiday on September 3, 1928, Fleming began to sort through petri dishes containing colonies of Staphylococcus, bacteria that cause boils, sore throats and abscesses. He noticed something unusual on one dish. It was dotted with colonies, save for one area where a blob of mold was growing. The zone immediately around the mold—later identified as a rare strain of Penicillium notatum—was clear, as if the mold had secreted something that inhibited bacterial growth.

For the next few years he [ Charles Goodyear] worked with Nathaniel M. Hayward (1808–65), a former employee of a rubber factory in Roxbury, Mass., who had discovered that rubber treated with sulfur was not sticky. Goodyear bought Hayward’s process. In 1839 he accidentally dropped some India rubber mixed with sulfur on a hot stove and so discovered vulcanization.

Give chance a chance!

The Captain