Evolution Icon Evolution
Intelligent Design Icon Intelligent Design

James Tour Offers Three-Year Challenge to Lee Cronin to Demonstrate Legitimacy of Assembly Theory

Photo: James Tour, via YouTube (screenshot).

Rice University chemist James Tour recently lectured on the aftermath of his debate at Harvard University with University of Glasgow professor of chemistry Lee Cronin over the state of research into life’s origin. During the debate, Cronin promoted his Assembly Theory as a key tool in addressing life’s origin. Tour in a recent lecture offered a three-year challenge to Cronin. If Cronin can demonstrate that Assembly Theory provides any insight into life’s origin, Tour pledged to remove all his videos critiquing origins research and never publicly discuss the topic again. 


The three-year challenge is an extension of Tour’s 60-day challenge to ten leading origins researchers to demonstrate that they have meaningfully addressed any of the most fundamental challenges to explaining life’s origin through natural processes. None of the experts even attempted to argue that anyone’s research had achieved any significant results. The ten were all invited to Harvard to respond to Tour’s critique of their field, but none accepted except Cronin. And Cronin would not participate unless Tour agreed to several restrictions

Tour was not allowed to speak during the dinner conversation unless he was asked a question. Tour also had to stop speaking if he was interrupted, and he could not interrupt anyone else who spoke. Despite these restrictions, the outcome of the debate illustrated why the other nine experts were wise in not showing up. 

Tour demonstrated why no one has any understanding of the most fundamental challenges in explaining how life originated. Tour also predicted that Cronin would not even discuss the chemistry.  At this point, Cronin could have adjusted his talk to prove Tour wrong by explaining how he or others have progressed even a tiny bit in addressing at least one of the cited problems. Yet as predicted, Cronin did not discuss any chemistry or other relevant topic. Instead, he presented his Assembly Theory, which offers no explanation for any stage in an origin-of-life scenario. 

The Danger of Drinking and Tweeting

During Tour’s recent lecture, he described his continued interactions with Cronin. Of particular note, Cronin expressed great displeasure over Tour quoting his October 28, 2021, tweet where he stated that “Origin of life research is a scam.” On Twitter a scientist asked Cronin why. Cronin responded by stating “because no one is really trying to actually answer the question or think[s] it can be done.” 

After Tour publicly quoted Cronin’s assessment of the field, Cronin responded by claiming he was speaking “tongue-in-check.” Later, Cronin stated that “he had too much to drink” before he stated his view. Eventually, he explained his statement, presumably while sober, as follows:

The scam is: if we just make this RNA, we’ve got this…Let’s now make this other molecule. And how many molecules are going to be enough? …go back to Craig Venter, when he… said, “I’ve invented life.” Not quite. He facsimiled the genome from this entity and made it in a lab…But he didn’t make the cell. He had to take an existing cell that has a causal chain going all the way back to LUCA. [The last universal common ancestor, LUCA, is not the first life on Earth. It’s the latest ancestral form to all existing life.]…But it’s remarkable that he could not make a cell from scratch. And even now today, synthetic biologists cannot make a cell from scratch. Because there’s some contingent information embodied outside the genome in the cell….So, there’s lots of layers to the scam.

Tour also described how Cronin did not agree with the questions included in his 60-day challenge. Instead, Cronin believes research should start with a cell and then study how evolution refined the information. Cronin’s comments inspired the three-year challenge for Cronin to demonstrate how his theory could provide any insight into life’s origin, starting wherever he desires. Based on recent critiques of Assembly Theory, the public has little to fear about losing access to Tour’s content.

Hector Zenil Smackdown

Cronin has generated a great deal of hype around Assembly Theory, suggesting that it represents a monumental scientific breakthrough, as illustrated by several headlines:

The exaggeration of the importance of Assembly Theory has resulted in concerned responses by such experts as data scientist Hector Zenil who is an associate professor at the School of Biomedical Engineering & Imaging Sciences at King’s College London. Zenil is a world-class researcher in computational analyses of biological systems, so he is as qualified as anyone to assess the relevance of Assembly Theory to research into life’s origin. Zenil felt so disturbed by the excessive hype that he appeared on Tour’s podcast to expose Cronin’s extreme negligence in so grossly misrepresenting the significance and originality of his theory. 

In the interview, Zenil explained how Assembly Theory is nothing more than an outdated compression algorithm. It not only provides no insight into life’s origin, but it offers nothing of value in any field of science. In his article “The 8 Fallacies of Assembly Theory,” Zenil summarizes his assessment as follows:

We argue that the authors’ marketing and promotional activities, deployed in service of what we think is a fallacious concept and a poorly examined methodology, are unfortunate and scientifically irresponsible.  

Cronin’s lauding of Assembly Theory was the best that the mainstream scientific community had to offer in response to Tour’s grim assessment of the state of origins research. Given the theory’s vacuous nature, the public has a right to hear the truth that the best description of scientists’ understanding of how life could have emerged through natural processes is clueless.