Recently, I watched lectures from a recent Science and Faith Conference that occurred at Park Cities Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas. I sent the lectures to my STEM women advisors to get their opinions. It was unanimous that Tour’s talk on origin of life research was the best. So let’s see his bio, then we’ll take a look at his lecture.
James M. Tour, a synthetic organic chemist, received his Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry from Syracuse University, his Ph.D. in synthetic organic and organometallic chemistry from Purdue University, and postdoctoral training in synthetic organic chemistry at the University of Wisconsin and Stanford University.
After spending 11 years on the faculty of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of South Carolina, he joined the Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology at Rice University in 1999 where he is presently the T. T. and W. F. Chao Professor of Chemistry, Professor of Computer Science, and Professor of Materials Science and NanoEngineering.
Tour’s scientific research areas include nanoelectronics, graphene electronics, silicon oxide electronics, carbon nanovectors for medical applications, green carbon research for enhanced oil recovery and environmentally friendly oil and gas extraction, graphene photovoltaics, carbon supercapacitors, lithium ion batteries, CO2 capture, water splitting to H2 and O2, water purification, carbon nanotube and graphene synthetic modifications, graphene oxide, carbon composites, hydrogen storage on nanoengineered carbon scaffolds, and synthesis of single-molecule nanomachines which includes molecular motors and nanocars.
[…]Tour has over 650 research publications and over 120 patents.
As he explains in the lecture, his research has frequently been used in the private sector to solve real world problems.
Rice University chemist James Tour almost defies description in a video now up of his amazing presentation at Discovery Institute’s 2019 Dallas Conference on Science and Faith.
At one point he asks for a show of hands of fellow synthetic chemists in the (large) audience. It turns out there are a couple and he demands that they stand up and call him a liar if anything he says isn’t true. His message is an alternatively scathing and hilarious indictment of claims from the origin-of-life studies community. Dr. Tour’s work in nanotechnology, an ulta-ultra-painstaking field, provides the backdrop for his demonstration that origins scientists don’t have the slightest idea how the first life was somehow naturally synthesized by blind, mindless forces.
The field hasn’t advanced an inch in 60-plus years. “Everyone’s clueless on this but no one wants to admit it.” Great scientists writing in the highest profile science journals are “lying to you” when they assert otherwise. “Show me the chemistry” of abiogenesis, he says. “It’s not there.”
Jim Tour is without parallel. Truly, I’d love to hear from our materialist critics how they would answer any of this.
At the conference, Tour’s lecture was accompanied by other great lectures on the origin of the universe and also the Cambrian explosion by Dr. Stephen C. Meyer. Jay Richards spoke on fine-tuning and habitability. You can find the links to those lectures on the Discovery Institute YouTube channel.
What we liked about the lecture by Dr. James Tour was that he did not dumb down the content for a church audience. I was sending screen captures of his slides and short video clips to my best friend Dina while I watched it. I was very excited to see someone so accomplished in his research and entrepreneurship being honest with the laypeople in the church. And I loved the church for letting him speak like a scientist. I didn’t understand everything he was saying about the science, but I always understood the point he was trying to make.
Let this lecture encourage to raise your children to focus on science, math, engineering and technology, because you can clearly see the value that we have in Dr. James Tour. We need hundreds more scientists who go to the best schools and make a difference.
I really hope that some of the younger Christians will understand the importance of making scientific evidence for a Creator and Designer more widely known. Learn the areas of science where God’s existence can be detected, and put the time in learning how to make those arguments.
What does science tell us about God?
– the discoveries of Copernicus made humans less significant in the universe
– the discoveries of Darwin should that humans are an accident
– but this all pre-modern science
– what do the latest findings of science say about God?
Evidence #1: the origin of the universe
– the steady state model supports atheism, but was disproved by the latest discoveries
– the oscillating model supports atheism, but was disproved by the latest discoveries
– the big bang model supports theism, and it is supported by multiple recent discoveries
– the quantum gravity model supports atheism, but it pure theory and has never been tested or confirmed by experiment and observation
Evidence #2: the fine-tuning of physical constants for life
– there are over 100 examples of constants that must be selected within a narrow range in order for the universe to support the minimal requirements for life
– example: mass density
– example: strong nuclear force (what he studies)
– example: carbon formation
Evidence #3: the fine-tuning of our planet for habitability
– the type of galaxy and our location in it
– our solar system and our star
– our planet
– our moon
It’s a good lecture explaining a couple of basic arguments for a cosmic Creator and Designer. If you add the origin of life and the Cambrian explosion (Stephen C. Meyer’s arguments), then you will be solid on the basic scientific arguments for a Creator and Designer of the universe.
If there is one thing that science fiction is good for, it’s for popularizing the phrase “carbon-based life”. Everyone has heard that carbon is essential for life. But do you know why carbon is so important? And did you know that the reaction that produced the carbon in our universe is actually fine-tuned, and therefore evidence for a Creator and Designer of the universe?
Now he starts off with a discussion of how the mass density of the universe needed to be fine-tuned in order to produce elements heavier than hydrogen from the (only) hydrogen that was present at the creation event. I’ve talked about that reaction previously, but I won’t repeat that here. Nucleosynthesis is one of the most important chemical reactions in science, and something every Christian should know and understand well enough to explain it.
You can’t make complex embodied intelligent creatures such as ourselves out of only hydrogen and helium, but you can’t make a life permitting universe without some hydrogen and helium. For one thing, you can’t have liquid water without some hydrogen.
But the element carbon is the center hub of all of the molecules inside of us that allow for the storage and processing of information necessary for life. And it turns out that the reaction that creates carbon from elements lighter than carbon is fine-tuned to an amazing degree.
But cosmic mass density is not the only thing that must have been exquisitely fine-tuned for the universe to contain any carbon. The nuclear resonance (or energy) levels for helium, beryllium, carbon, and oxygen also had to be exquisitely fine-tuned for carbon to exist. Here’s how that happens.
Stars fuse carbon and oxygen from helium through a series of reactions known as the triple-alpha process, in which three helium nuclei are combined to make one carbon nucleus. In the first step in this process, two helium nuclei (with 2 protons each) fuse together to make beryllium (which has 4 protons). Next, a helium nucleus fuses with a beryllium nucleus to make carbon (which has 6 protons). Then, some carbon nuclei fuse with helium nuclei to make oxygen (which has 8 protons).
The only reason that the triple-alpha process produces any carbon or oxygen at all is because in the first step, the ground state energy level (i.e., the state of an atom when all of its electrons are at their lowest energy levels) of the beryllium-8 nucleus (containing 4 protons and 4 neutrons) almost exactly equals the ground state energy level of two helium-4 nuclei (2 protons and 2 neutrons each). In the second step, the ground state energy level of a beryllium-8 nucleus plus a helium-4 nucleus almost exactly equals the energy level of an excited state of a carbon-12 nucleus (6 protons and 6 neutrons). In the third step, the ground state energy level of a carbon-12 nucleus at 7.65 million electron volts is just slightly larger than the ground state energy level of an oxygen-16 nucleus (8 protons and 8 neutrons) at 7.12 million electron volts.1
If it were not for the near equivalences or resonances of the nuclear energy levels of two helium nuclei relative to a beryllium nucleus, and of a beryllium nucleus plus a helium nucleus relative to a carbon nucleus, the universe would contain very little or no carbon and very little or no elements heavier than carbon. Life would be impossible.
Furthermore, unless the difference in the nuclear energy levels between a carbon nucleus and an oxygen nucleus were precisely 0.53 million electron volts, the universe would contain either a lot of carbon and no oxygen or a lot of oxygen and no carbon. Either way, physical life would be impossible in the universe.
In the early 1950s, astronomer Fred Hoyle and physicist Willy Fowler were the first to understand how critical the relative nuclear energy levels of helium, beryllium, carbon, and oxygen were for making life possible in the universe. Commenting on the highly fine-tuned nature of these nuclear energy levels, Hoyle wrote in an article he published in Engineering & Science,
A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with the physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion beyond question.2
The article continues to explain that there is an additional problem of carbon fine-tuning related to habitability.
The carbon formation problem is one of the best examples of fine-tuning, and as you can see, it’s even admitted by atheists. It’s not the easiest one to explain (because resonance levels are not familiar in every day life), but it’s worth knowing about all three of the fine-tuning topics in the post.
Keep in mind that the more science has made progress, the more fine-tuning problems we have discovered. The trend is very bad if you are a naturalist. But very good if you are a theist. Evidence matters, and scientific evidence is the best kind of evidence.
I highly recommend watching the lecture, and looking at the slides. The quality of the video and the content is first class. There is some Q&A (9 minutes) at the end of the lecture.
intelligent design is concerned with measuring the information-creating capabilities of natural forces like mutation and selection
Darwinists think that random mutations and natural selection can explain the origin and diversification of living systems
Darwinian mechanisms are capable of explaining small-scale adaptive changes within types of organisms
but there is skepticism, even among naturalists, that Darwinian mechanisms can explain the origin of animal designs
even if you concede that Darwinism can account for all of the basic animal body plans, there is still the problem of life’s origin
can Darwinian mechanisms explain the origin of the first life? Is there a good naturalistic hypothesis to explain it?
there are at least two places in the history of life where new information is needed: origin of life, and Cambrian explosion
overview of the structure of DNA and protein synthesis (he has helpful pictures and he uses the snap lock blocks, too)
the DNA molecule is composed of a sequence of bases that code for proteins, and the sequence is carefully selected to have biological function
meaningful sequences of things like computer code, English sentences, etc. require an adequate cause
it is very hard to arrive at a meaningful sequence of a non-trivial length by randomly picking symbols/letters
although any random sequence of letters is improbable, the vast majority of sequences are gibberish/non-compiling code
similarly, most random sequences of amino acids are lab-proven (Doug Axe’s work) to be non-functional gibberish
the research showing this was conducted at Cambridge University and published in the Journal of Molecular Biology
so, random mutation cannot explain the origin of the first living cell
however, even natural selection coupled with random mutation cannot explain the first living cell
there must already be replication in order for mutation and selection to work, so they can’t explain the first replicator
but the origin of life is the origin of the first replicator – there is no replication prior to the first replicator
the information in the first replicator cannot be explained by law, such as by chemical bonding affinities
the amino acids are attached like magnetic letters on a refrigerator
the magnetic force sticks the letters ON the fridge, but they don’t determine the specific sequence of the letters
if laws did determine the sequence of letters, then the sequences would be repetitive
the three materialist explanations – chance alone, chance and law, law alone – are not adequate to explain the effect
the best explanation is that an intelligent cause is responsible for the biological explanation in the first replicator
we know that intelligent causes can produce functional sequences of information, e.g. – English, Java code
the structure and design of DNA matches up nicely with the design patterns used by software engineers (like WK!)
There are some very good tips in this lecture so that you will be able to explain intelligent design to others in simple ways, using everyday household items and children’s toys to symbolize the amino acids, proteins, sugar phosphate backbones, etc.
Proteins are constructed from a sequence of amino acids:
Proteins sticking onto the double helix structure of DNA:
I highly, highly recommend this lecture. You will be delighted and you will learn something.
Here is an article that gives a general overview of how intelligent design challenges. If you want to read something more detailed about the material that he is covering in the lecture above related to the origin of life, there is a pretty good article here.
There is a good breakdown of some of the slides with helpful flow charts here on Uncommon Descent.
Dr. Graham Oppy, the moderator, is a well-known atheist philosopher. He let Dr. Krauss speak for 21 minutes and 40 seconds, which is why my summary of Krauss is so long.
After careful consideration, I decided not to be snarky at all in this summary. What you read below is what happened. There may be some small mistakes, but I will fix those if people tell me about them. I also included some quotes and timestamps for the more striking things that Dr. Krauss said.
The debate itself starts at 4:50 with Dr. Craig’s opening speech. He does use slides to show the structure of his arguments.
Dr. Craig’s opening speech. (4:50)
The kalam cosmological argument:
God is the best explanation of the origin of the universe
The Borde Guth Vilenkin theorem supports the absolute beginning of the universe
Even if our universe is part of a multiverse, the multiverse itself would have to have an absolute beginning
Speculative cosmologies try to challenge the Big Bang theory, but none of them – even if true – can establish that the past is eternal
Only two types of things could explain the origin of spece, time, matter and energy – either abstract objects or minds
Abstract objects do not cause effects, but minds do cause effects (we do it ourselves)
A mind is the best explanation for the origin of the universe
The unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics:
The underlying structure of nature is mathematical – mathematics is applicable to nature
Mathematical objects can either be abstract objects or useful fiction
Either way, there is no reason to expect that nature should be linked to abstract objects or fictions
But a divine mind that wants humans to understand nature is a better explanation for what we see
The cosmic fine-tuning for the existence of intelligent life
There are two kinds of finely-tuned initial conditions: 1) cosmological constants and 2) quantities
These constants and quantities have to be set within a narrow range in order to permit intelligent life
There are three explanations for this observation: law, chance or design
Law is rejected because they are put in at the beginning or matter – they don’t emerge from matter
Chance must be rejected, because they odds are just too long unless you appeal to a world-ensemble
We do not observe what the world ensemble hypothesis predicts that we should observe
Design is the best explanation for finely-tuned constants and quantities
The existence of objective moral values and duties
Our experience of morality (values and duties) is that it is objectively real and incumbent on us
When someone goes into a classroom and shoots at innocent children, that is objectively wrong
On naturalism, moral values and moral duties do not exist – they are conventional and variable by time and place
The best explanation for the existence of objective moral values and duties is that God exists
The historicity of the resurrection of Jesus
There are three widely-accepted facts that are best explained by the resurrection hypothesis
1) the empty tomb, 2) the post-mortem appearances, 3) the early church’s belief in the resurrection
Naturalistic attempts to explain these 3 boilerplate facts fail
The best explanation of the 3 minimal facts is that God raised Jesus from the dead
The immediate experience of God
Belief in God is a “properly basic” belief – rational even without arguments because of experience of God
Seems to be saying that logical arguments can prove false things “it’s nonsense”
Dr. Craig distorted a podcast that some group made on pain receptors
Dr. Craig’s faith is so strong that it causes him to distort what this group said
I will not be summarizing everything that was said, just a few main points.
The segment from 52:18 to 57:12 about the Vilenkin e-mail on the BVG theorem is a must-see. Krauss is standing up and gesticulating while Craig is calmly trying to quote a paper by Vilenkin that shows that Krauss is misrepresenting Vilenkin. Krauss constantly interrupts him. After a while, when Craig exposes him as having misrepresented Vilenkin and gets him to admit that all current eternal models of the universe are probably wrong, he quietens down and can’t even look at Craig in the face.
Craig: The e-mail says any universe that is expanding, on average, requires a beginning
Craig: There are two models – Aguirre & Gratton and Carroll & Chen – where there is a period of contraction before the expansion
Craig: The two models are the ones cited in the e-mail that Dr. Krauss showed
Craig: In the very paper by Vilenkin that I cited, he says that both of those models don’t work
Krauss: (agitated and interrupting) Vilenkin said that they have to make an assumption about entropy that they have no rationale for
(as Craig starts to talk Krauss makes an exaggerated, disrespectful gesture and sits down in a huff)
Craig: Yes, an unwarranted assumption means that they don’t have EVIDENCE for their theories being correct
Krauss: (agitated and interrupting) “All the evidence suggests that the universe had a beginning but WE DON’T KNOW!!!!!!!” (raising his voice)
Craig: I’m not saying that we know that the universe had a beginning with certainty
Craig: I am saying that the beginning of the universe is more probably true than false based on the evidence we have
Craig: And you agree with me about that – you think the universe had a beginning
Krauss: (agitated and interrupting) (Unintelligible)
Moderator: One at a time
Craig: In your Vilenkin e-mail slide, at the end of the paragraph where the two models are mentioned that Vilenkin specifically shows…
(I am guessing that Craig is going to ask why so much of what Vilenkin wrote has been cut out of the e-mail that Krauss showed)
Krauss: (agitated and interrupting) Because it was technical…
Moderator: Lawrence! Hang on a sec!
Craig: He specifically shows that these models are not past eternal, and that they require a beginning just like the others…
Krauss: (agitated and interrupting) We can do the math if you want
Craig: Now wait. I couldn’t help notice that there on your slide there was a series of ellipsis points indicating missing text…
Krauss: (agitated and interrupting) “Yeah, because it was technical!”
Craig: “I wonder what you deleted from the original letter”
Krauss: (agitated and interrupting) “I just told you!”
Craig: “Now wait. Could it have been something like this: (reads a quote from Vilenkin) ‘You can evade the theorem by postulating that the universe was contracting prior to some time. This sounds as if there is nothing wrong with having contraction prior to expansion. But the problem is that a contracting universe is highly unstable. Small perturbations would cause it to develop all sorts of messy singularities, so it would never make it to the expanding phase.’
Craig: “That’s Vilenkin.”
Krauss: “In this paper, that’s absolutely right”
Krauss: But it’s ok for theories to assume things that we know are wrong – they are still good theories – it’s unknown
(Craig turns away and looks through his papers)
Craig: “Isn’t it true that the only viable quantum gravity models on order today involve a beginning – have a finite past?”
Craig: “Well, can you give us one then”
Krauss: (talks about a variety of possible eternal models) “In my experience in science, all of them are probably wrong”
Krauss: “You know most theories are wrong, which is why, you know, it’s hard”
I noticed that a huge number of atheist web sites are taking the Vilenkin quote that Krauss used out of context, like this one and this one. There are probably a lot more of them like that, which I think is interesting. That’s why we have these debates, I guess. To set the record straight about who accuses people of being dishonest, and who is actually dishonest.
Krauss tried to argue that he had explained the fine-tuning with the Higgs particle, but Dr. Craig said that only applied to the cosmological constant, not all the other examples of fine-tuning. Krauss said that it wasn’t impressive that this universe permitted life and that “It would have been much more surprising if we evolved in a universe in which we couldn’t live”. Krauss argued the fine-tuning was only for “Life like us”. But Dr. Craig explained that the fine-tuning is what allows us to have the basics of any kind of life, like slow-burning stars, chemical diversity, etc. – things that are required for basic minimal life functions in any living system. Craig said that he was working with the current physical laws of this universe (F = ma, etc.) and that he was looking at what changed if we changed those even slightly. Krauss tried to say that if he changed things like the mass of particles then the strength of forces would change. (But the forces aren’t laws!) Krauss argued that the cosmological constant would be even better for life if it was zero, and Craig said that the life permitting range did include zero, but that the range of life-permitting values was narrow.
Craig reponded to the mystery religions charge, the charge that the evidence for the minimal facts is too late/too weak, the charge that grief visions explained the evidence better, and Hume’s argument against miracles. Craig brought up the early creed from 1 Cor 15:3-7 and explained to Krauss that it was 5 years after the events, and that Jewish standards of oral transmission were strong enough to ensure that the creed was reliable, and most of the eyewitnesses would still have been alive.
Audience Q and A: (1:21:09)
The first topic is the grounding of morality. Krauss agrees that there is no objective morality and no objective moral oughts. He also said that that standards of behavior are arbitrary, and that they change over time and they are adopted for promoting social order. Dr. Craig pressed the point that science itself would collapse without ethical values. It assumes them, but cannot ground them.
The next topic was free will. Krauss is a determinist. Craig asked him how he could reconcile moral responsibility with determinism.
The next topic was the effectiveness of mathematics. Krauss didn’t have an explanation for it and didn’t think it needed one. Then they got into whether the Genesis has been verified by science and whether it is meant to be taken literally.
The next topic was whether philosophy makes any progress. Craig gave the example of verificationism being rejected as too narrow, and self-refuting. Krauss: “I’m going to come to the defense of philosophy for the first time”. Craig: “That’s amazing!” Krauss said that science provides new knowledge. Craig said there were some things that could be known apart from science.