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Finally, an Origin-of-Life Scientist Debates Skeptic James Tour

Justin Brierley is a very thoughtful radio and video debate host in the U.K. His program, Unbelievable?, recently hosted a conversation on the origin of life that included University of Glasgow chemist Lee Cronin. As Brierley reports, he was flooded with requests afterward for a rematch, this time with skeptical synthetic organic chemist James Tour at Rice University.

Readers of Evolution News will be familiar with Tour, who spoke last year at Discovery Institute’s Dallas Conference on Science & Faith and who contributed a chapter to the new updated and expanded book from Discovery Institute Press, The Mystery of Life’s Origin: The Continuing Controversy. Now Brierley has brought together Tour and Cronin for a debate that is substantive, combative, and enlightening:

Professor Tour corrects some mischaracterizations of his thought in the last program, and one wild oversimplification of the origin of life, as it is taught in high school, to which Cronin seemed to give a stamp of approval. Tour describes attempting to “track” Cronin’s discussion, watching the earlier debate four times over, and asking Cronin for additional information. Tour has a way with vivid images:

I was trying to track with him and then when he said there’s a paper on this and he was kind enough to send me this paper, I with great enthusiasm went to that paper because I wanted to see. And you know, I feel like I was told this is gonna be the greatest show on earth and I went in there and there was an old poodle standing on his hind legs. I mean there was nothing. This is just an autocatalytic reaction.

“Narrative” and “Ideology”?

He does compliment Cronin for his courage, though. Most others have run from this debate. Professor Cronin is the

first origin-of-life scientist willing to speak to me in a public forum. Others have spoken to me in private…and I think that is telling in and of itself. The community is avoiding me in the sense that they’ll avoid a discussion with me on the very topics in which they are publishing. And it’s not that I haven’t tried to speak with them.

Cronin uses the words “narrative” and “ideology” to characterize Tour’s approach. But it seems to me that Cronin has that exactly backward. Questioning simplistic “narratives” about the origin of life and puncturing “ideology” on the subject are what Jim Tour is doing. When Tour gets done, the narrative we all learned in high school biology class is in shreds on the floor. It would be an educational experience to read his chapter in The Mystery of Life’s Origin and then consider this helpful conversation as a commentary about his scientific skepticism.

If you missed Jim Tour’s presentation at the Dallas Conference in 2019, he was on fire. Find it here: