Some Comments from YouTube Watchers of the Tour-Farina Debate

I have gathered a number of comments about Farina’s performance, from various people who might be expected to champion it:


10 hours ago

I’m an atheist, however, Farina’s smug and snide attacks on Tour throughout this debate, disgusted me. I may disagree with Tour’s mission, however, no one can ignore his considerable contribution to science.


7 hours ago

I do not share religious convictions of Prof. J. Tour, but he comes out as a real scientist in this “debate”. Come on, how can it be a fair debate with a guy that doesn’t even understand the titles of the papers he is bringing in support of his position. And I have to say that this debate was ruined by Mr. Farina’s rudeness and unwarranted aggression.


17 hours ago

Am I the only non-religious person that finds Tour much more convincing than Dave? This debate made me further convinced. The problem with Dave is that strangely, as an educator, he in no way tried to educate James Tour, but only attack and slander him, he has zero class, and from a psychology standpoint, seems like he does nothing but dodge and deflect, which would suggest he doesn’t have a deep understanding of the subject, but merely a surface level one, a true scientist wants people to understand the truth, and would carefully address Tours questions concisely and on a deeper level. I really wish James could debate anyone other than Dave on this subject, I feel like nothing was really cleared up tonight, in my opinion Dave was terrible.


13 hours ago

I’m am atheist and this was embarrassing to watch. Dave claiming that James doesn’t know how to read papers, while not citing barely anything beyond the titles of a bunch of papers. I think that disrespecting the audience and claiming to know what they do and don’t know was the worst move of the entire debate. It shows that he’s arguing emotionally.


19 hours ago

Hi. I’m an atheist and I attended in person. Now I have not the slightest clue about the relavence of many things brought up during the debate. Like I have no clue about the 2,5 vs 3,5. I can say that Dave’s constantly calling Dr. Tour a liar and also insulting the audience was not helpful. Dr. Tour’s screaming wasn’t helpful either. But if I had to pick a winner I am afraid I would give it to Dr. Tour.


20 hours ago

Not gonna lie, I was really rooting for Dave, but…I can’t even make it through the opening. This is disgusting. This is just a personal attack, no science in it.


12 hours ago

Even if you’re not religious and you’re an actual scientist you had to have been embarrassed by Dave’s behavior and performance, I know I was.


Hi Eddie
I hope Dave learns from this.

As an educator he should come across as being able to do unbiased critical thinking. The ad hominem attack against Tour and the attendees was clearly not a good look and many of the attendees were on to his fallacious tactics based on what you cited.

Your point being, other than to confirm that debates are not a good teaching tool for laypeople?



Comments are not a reliable guide to anything. Most people do not post comments on these debates.


Dave was unnecessarily rude.

Also, by Tour’s own criteria of ‘clueless’, Dave successfully demonstrated we are not clueless on abiogenesis.

He was a jerk, but he still brought the goods.


From a rhetorical perspective I have to agree that I really disliked Dave’s approach to the debate. Even if he is convinced Tour is dishonest as opposed to just passionately misguided, he should have enough social awareness and basic understanding of human psychology to understand it accomplishes nothing to stand there saying that in a debate. At the very least we know how much respectful dialogue matters to Tour and his fans.

It convinces nobody and is probably more likely to turn people off who might otherwise have been at least somewhat receptive to argument and evidence. Such people do exist, even if they are relatively rare. Sadly all he did was the worst instance of preaching to the choir. Why even have a debate then if you have basically already made up your mind that nobody could be reached? I think debates are as worthless as they can be, but if I am going to show up for one I’m going to do my damned best to do what I think is the job most likely to succeed. Dave certainly didn’t do that.

On matters of scientific substance, of which there was way too little from both parties other than, respectively:
“I dislike this paper because of assumption X”
“Then how about this paper Y did you read that?”
I think the debate was way more muddled and difficult to score because it’s hard go gauge what was really said. I would not have taken Dave’s approach of mostly just citing papers.

Are we clueless about the origin of life? On that as a debate topic, you give the actual clues you do have. A clue about the origin of life is something that connects life as we know it to aspects of the prebiotic environment. That would be aspects of life that now exists, that we can trace through evidence and reason to something abiotic, or occurring on the prebiotic Earth. We have a few such clues. Dave didn’t give them.

Not doing so is a massive oversight on Dave’s part.

If we asked a single audience member who witness the debate, do you think anyone can remember what clues Dave gave to the origin of life? I can’t myself, because he gave none.

He cited papers detailing hypothetical pathways to certain biomolecules, while experimentally demonstrated, make assumptions of debatable prebiotic plausibility. And yes they are debatable, they are debating them in the origins of life field. When Tour says there have been people within the field who have offered these same criticisms before him, he’s right. He mentioned the late Robert Shapiro, and A. G. Cains Smith, who wrote books about it. He’s right to do that. There are people within the field today who are active in the field, as experimentalists and theoreticians in, working on the origin of life, who would entirely agree that many of these synthetic pathways have questionable prebiotic plausibility. Three people who people around here should know are Nick Lane, Larry Moran(okay Larry Moran is not a researcher in the origins of life, but is a very competent biochemist who has expressed considerable skepticism of the same ideas and papers Tour does), and David Baum. There are others. These people aren’t idiots, or IDiots. James Tour is not an idiot either. I think he’s wrong, passionately misguided. But he’s not an idiot.

I heard essentially no references to actual clues we do have about the origin of life. There are precious few, but exactly because there isn’t actually zero they are worth giving. Had Dave given them we could score the debate as an outright win on substance even though it was an obvious and total rhetorical failure.

No amount of things that we don’t yet know about is going to take make the few clues we do have, suddenly not count.

This is also what I see as the biggest problem with Tour’s approach from the perspective of substance. That we might not know the answers to his handpicked list of problems with much certainty at all (and that many of the pathways proposed in the literature have entirely debatable prebiotic plausibility) does not mean we are clueless. But I think Tour and the people who are fans of him need to understand this point, as I think that is the biggest weakness in his case. He does after all run around and say that we are clueless, and he agreed to have that as a debate topic, so he presumably really believes that. And that just isn’t true.


I finally got around to watching the debate.

Here’s the rough notes that I wrote live as I watched, with some conclusions at the end. I kind of would have liked to write something more comprehensive but I’m pretty tired and busy with other stuff so this is the best I’ll manage:

Tour’s opening statement is quite shouty, but maybe that’s just how he speaks. As an opening statement I guess it does its job. Of course I have objections but I’m sure they’ll discuss these points in the course of the debate.
Dave’s opening statement was definitely too harsh. Some relevant points were raised, but could have been done in a much gentler manner. I’m sure the audience must have been taken aback.

Tours first question about how amino acids can be joined up into peptides in prebiotic conditions: Dave cites several papers, eventually landing on Singh et al 2022 in JACS
James says this paper used aminonitriles, not amino acids (lacking side chains)
My reading suggests a more relevant point would be that they used amino amides coupling with peptide nitriles to form peptides (getting the right product but not in the way James asked - coupling together two unaltered amino acids directly).
I don’t know enough about chemistry to see who really was right on this point though.

Dave’s first question was quite direct - why did Tour lie in saying that the primordial soup model in all the textbooks talked about says “molecules in a puddle or in a pond, lightning strikes, molecules form, those molecules form into slithering creatures and they come out of this point”?
Tour’s answer is to say that we don’t know what was happening in the primordial soup, and then changes the subject back to saying we’re clueless about how to make polypeptides, then when Dave presses him to answer the question again he basically says that the textbooks really do teach about the primordial soup model, so there.
It should be pretty obvious to everyone that Tour’s statement about “slithering creatures” was a silly straw man, so I can see why he wouldn’t want to defend it.
It’s similar with the point about Tour claiming the “origin of life community” was comprised of just “a dozen research groups around the world working on this. That’s it.” A lazy and dismissive exaggeration for no other purpose than to try and denigrate the field.

Next up from Tour - polynucleotides. How can 3’-5’ coupling between nucleotides form in prebiotic conditions to the exclusion of 2’-5’ coupling and branching?
Dave cites this 2013 paper: Functional RNAs exhibit tolerance for non-heritable 2′–5′ versus 3′–5′ backbone heterogeneity | Nature Chemistry
Which shows that fractions of 10-25% 2’-5’ linkages are not too detrimental to RNA functions. Rather than the modern 100% 3’-5’ linkage fraction being the result of prebiotic chemistry, they suggest this was something that evolved as ribozymes led to the selection of more stable or better replicable RNA molecules.
Tour objects to this paper saying that they don’t use 2’-5’ fractions of 30-70%, actually saying “if you have .1% you’re OK”, implying that they used a fraction of 0.1% in the research paper. He admits a few minutes later that he hasn’t actually read that paper, surprisingly. As I pointed out earlier, they used fractions of 10% and 25% to get functional RNAs - quite plausible fractions. Unfortunately Dave doesn’t find those numbers of the cuff either, so Tour might appear to the audience to have won this point, especially as Tour started repeatedly shouting “you can’t make RNA, there’s no life!”

At 56:00-56:30 we get a quiet admission from Tour that dipeptide formation has been shown in prebiotic conditions “(only) for half of the amino acids”. His objection is that it hasn’t been shown for the amino acids with a carboxyl side chains or an amine side chain. These are aspartic acid, glutamic acid, lysine, arginine, and histidine. 5 out of 20, so the remaining 15 aren’t “half”, but 75%.

Polysaccarides. I think this section was really weak for Tour. He jumped from asking about how polysaccharides could form prebioticially, never really conceding the point that the ribozymes/enzymes are proposed to have preceded polysaccharides, then claiming that we can can’t even get simple sugars like glucose and ribose prebiotically because they wouldn’t be pure, instead mixed in with other molecules.

Homochirality. Again I feel like tour rambled about not much of anything for the first half of this section, and then objected that some of the experiments used to demonstrate principles used stringent setups that weren’t simulations of prebiotic conditions.

Specified information. Tour quotes Lee Cronin as saying that there is some contingent information outside the genome in the cell, which is why synthetic biologists can’t make a cell from scratch. Tour seems to interpret this almost as a statement with religious implications, like a soul or something, but it seems more likely to me that Cronin was simply saying that the molecules already present the cell the synthetic genome was injected into are relevant to the function of the cell being able to start up. This seems trivially true - you can’t just inject a DNA genome into a lipid micelle and expect anything to happen - at the very least proteins need to be present in order to begin transcription and translation. This is in a modern context though, and not particularly relevant to the origin of life (as Dave points out), because no one is proposing that a modern-type DNA genome came together randomly - earlier stages including catalytic RNAs would have evolved to the point where different functions were delegated to different molecules, and then inherited in rounds of cell replication.

Around 1:28:00 Tour emphatically and repeatedly says that no fully self-replicating ribozymes exist, saying something about no one ever showing more than 10% of the sequence being replicated without enzyme. Dave doesn’t quite manage to deal a knockout here, but Tour really does appear to be completely wrong. The Lincoln and Joyce paper that Dave cites indeed demonstrates the full self-replication of RNA sequences. The only relevant caveat is that this was replication through ligation reactions between smaller oligonucleotides, not quite taking a ribozyme and putting it into a pool of fire nucleotides and getting the ribozyme to replicate. However, this ligation of oligonucleotides seems pretty prebiotically plausible and relevant to me.

Other comments:
The moderator seemed pretty biased in Tour’s favour, defending him on his misreading of the ribose-borate spectrum, then questioning Dave about exactly how functional the RNAs in the Szostak paper were, and even seemingly attempting to raise the argument about stereochemistry on Tour’s behalf.

At times Tour is practically spitting with rage, really seeming quite crazed (e.g. 51:00, 57:45)

I knew this debate would be a bit of a mess going into it, after reading the discussions about it here and elsewhere. Maybe it’s because of these rock-bottom expectations that I actually found myself relatively pleasantly surprised at Dave’s performance. Obviously I think he came on too strong with accusations of Tour being a liar etc, especially in his introduction, but compared to the often unhinged Tour, for most of the debate Dave was actually quite calm and collected, trying to keep the discussion on point to the research he was citing. Both he and Tour contributed to the shouty back and forths that often achieved little, but I feel like Tour was actually the major contributor here, changing the subject and screeching in lieu of clear explanations of his points.

If I was a Tour fanboy I think I would be really quite embarrassed by his performance. He admits this was his first debate but still, his behaviour really didn’t befit his distinguished title and credentials. I was also a bit disappointed in Dave, but nowhere near as much. He also has the excuse of being a youtuber rather than “serious academic”.


It’s pretty clear how Tour came across:

M Dug
3 hours ago (edited)
Rule one: shout Rule two: encournage your audience to expect chalky scribbles in response to your challenges. Rule three: expect that nobody spots that your interlocutor has put up a mountain of peer reviewed references while you have none.

Adam Smith
4 hours ago
James Tour yelling ‘It’s over!’ repeatedly about research he hasn’t read That sums up creationist science perfectly.

5 hours ago
James Tour debate tactics: (1) Draw some chemistry mechanism on the blackboard that nobody asked for and doesn’t explain anything (2) Point the chalk at Dave and scream at him to do something with it, whatever that is (3) When Dave shows recent scientific literature disproving you, just scream that he didn’t do something with your blackboard diagram (4) Write “clueless” beside each of your pre-written topics like you were going to do anyway, no matter what Dave said (5) Did I forget screaming? Make sure to tack on the screaming. You’re welcome!

4 hours ago
I glanced at the comments and saw everyone complaining about how James shouts, but I honestly didn’t expect him to have a full on hysteria. Pounding at the board, shouting “go! go! go!”? Does he think that science gets done purely on the boards or something?

3 hours ago
They should’ve made James’ microphone a bit quieter ngl. It seems like he has hearing problems and can’t hear that he’s shouting! I hope he recovers soon

Hamma Lammadingdong
2 hours ago
I thought Tour was going have an aneurysm. Good lord! What adult PhD screams like that at a debate?? An absolute embarrassment. While I thought Dave could have started with a less personal attack type of stance, Tour’s histrionics coupled with his gish-gallop and constant interruptions was a dead giveaway that he had nothing substantial to contribute. He was just trying to block Dave from getting out a complete sentence. Also, The debate question was a terrible choice IMHO, and Tour immediately tried to redefine the term “clueless” to his advantage. Dave could have immediately pointed out that dishonest tactic and continued to hold Tour to the actual debate topic, “are we CLUELESS…?” as in, we have not one single clue. Because if we can demonstrate one single clue then, we cannot be clueless. Anyway, Dave was brave to take this guy on.

Theresa Ramseyer
2 hours ago
Does James always yell and act like this? I couldn’t have him for a teacher.

3 hours ago (edited)
imagine being a full grown old man and still yelling like a child when you dont like things?

4 hours ago
Does Tour really interact with his own students this way? I thought he was going to crawl on the floor, frothing at the mouth any moment.

Stephen Luttrell
2 hours ago
I don’t know anything about chemistry, especially this chemistry, but I do know when someone is deflecting, and someone is Gish galloping, and when someone spends five minutes shouting over you when it’s your time to be answering a question and then when it’s their turn to answer a question gets mad when you try to clarify something. I am watching a grown ass man supposedly a professor, have a tantrum on stage.

Anyone detect a theme?


As I explained in the related discussion, I originally tried to post this on Friday night, right after the debate, but because of some technical problem with the software, it did not appear until today. So when I posted it, I thought I would be adding something new for discussion. However, in the parallel discussion which was posted days earlier than mine (even though mine was probably sent in earlier), it seems that I was preaching to the converted, i.e., that almost everyone here already agreed that Dave was:

and that Dave was:

So it turns out that I needn’t have posted the idea with so much documentation. Sorry for the redundancy.

By the way, I agree with virtually everything in Rumraket’s most recent long post. It is balanced and judicious. I even agree that Tour should not say we are “clueless” about the origin of life. Clearly that is an exaggeration for rhetorical purposes on Tour’s part. We do have some “clues” even if there is nowhere near a tightly sketched scenario. For the debate question to be a serious one, it should have been something more like, “How Far Are We from a Plausible Account of an Unguided Origin of Life?” Then Tour could have said “Not very far” and Dave could have said, “Farther than Tour thinks.” And then they could have got down to discussing data, instead of insulting and shouting at each other. A good educational opportunity for the lay audience was wasted, and probably very few people learned anything from the exchange.


Confirming this. Moderators have a very different view now, and this post just got approved today. I’m not sure if the problem is with the new Discourse setup or if it exists between screen and keyboard. :wink:

1 Like

Without reopening the video:
A/pre-biotic peptide condensation
A/pre-biotic sugar formation
A/pre-biotic RNA extension

There were others.


Those are possible chemistries.

There is nothing in extant life, or phylogenetically inferred early life, or in the fossil record, that connects it to those reactions.

They’re thus not actually clues about the origin of life. They’re reactions that could have hypothetically happened, but we strictly have no idea whether they ever did, much less do we know if they really have any relation to how life did originate.

1 Like

Um, did you mean to say “ close” rather than “far” each time?


I find it extremely unlikely that any of the chemistry of first life would be particularly similar to the chemistry of modern life. Not least of all because modern life uses proteins to do almost everything. If the expectation of abiogenesis work is that it be limited to the pathways of modern life, it’s doomed to failure.

You might as well say that flintknapping isn’t a clue to the first tools because it doesn’t involve a 4 axis CNC mills.

This standard of evidence invalidates abiogenesis as a possible field of study. Not ‘practical’, it is literally impossible to reach that standard with abiogenesis research. We could get so good at abiotic chemistry leading to life that an alien crawls out of an experiment and shakes our hands, and we still couldn’t say what reactions did or did not occur in the origins of our life.


I agree, but it doesn’t have to be for us to be able to make a connection. Take the example of why ATP is the universal energy currency when any of the other nucleotide triphosphates could in principle serve the same role. There is an explanation for that fact of extant life found in abiotic chemistry. Chemistry that does not occur in any cell.
The phosphorylation of the monophosphates of the other nucleosides do not occur under a very broad range of temperature, pH, mineral and metal catalysts presence, and so on, while AMP uniquely gets phosphorylated with Fe+3 as a catalyst. The phosphorylation of AMP using Fe+3 as a catalyst does not occur in cells. That isn’t how cells phosphorylate AMP.

But extant cells and the earliest stages of cells we can reconstruct, all do use ATP as their energy currency, instead of the other nucleotides. The fact that the abiotic reaction then does proceed with AMP instead of the other nucleosides explains why cells would use ATP. That is now an explanation found in an abiotic condition not found in extant cells, for why cells would use ATP instead of the other nucleotides, as the abiotic chemistry implies that is the only one that would have been available (or at the very least, the one most readily available) however and whenever these phosphorylation reactions first evolved.

That’s a massive clue right there. It’s something found in cells, the use of ATP over other similarly suitable compounds, explained by a simple abiotic reaction not found in extant cells. A fact of life now has an explanation found in abiotic chemistry.

That explains with an example, how something can be a clue that connects something about present life, to the abiotic environment, without us needing to posit the same chemistry that occurs in cells took place in the abiotic environment.

There are other clues of a similar nature, concerning what amino acids are most plausible to have been produced in abundance in abiotic settings, and which ones are most frequently used in the earliest proteins. Then there are clues about the gradual evolution of the genetic code, and the pathways of biosynthesis of the amino acids. These lines of evidence converge on a similar set of amino acids. That’s a gigantic clue about the origins of the first peptides and proteins right there. A deep connection between phylogetic inferences of early life, and the chemistry of the abiotic environment.

There are also clues about the RNA world found in extant cells. That is, there are facts about extant life best explained by the hypothesis that there was a stage in life’s early evolution where the primary genetic material and the roles of some enzymes, was made of RNA and ribozymes, respectively. Before, or at the very earliest stages of the genetic code’s evolution.

There are ways of elucidating this evidence and explaining how it is evidence, how it is predictions that were confirmed by later observations and experiments. These are also clues, if not directly to the abiotic environment, they’re clues to much simpler stages than any life that now exists. So they are clues that connect extant life, to no-longer-existing simpler life. Something that is on the pathway in increasing complexity from the abiotic environment, and towards the complexity of the last universal common ancestor. We thus have evidence that life went through such a period.

If the “origin of life” is supposed to be the explanation for how we got to cells of a complexity approaching that of prokaryotic cells, the fact that you can even given any evidence of stages of life that are nowhere near that is remarkable and therefore worth giving.

Dave could have presented that too. To pick one off a hat: the peptidyl transferase center is structurally symmetrical, originally leading some to infer that it evolved as a duplication of a single RNA molecule. This immediately gave rise to a hypothesis that there must be a single molecule of RNA which, when duplicated, can self-assemble into an active ribozyme with the structure similar to that of the peptidyl transferase center. This experiment was done. Someone made the ribosomal active site with a small 63 nucleotide RNA string that, which present in two copies, self-assembles into a ribozyme that catalyzes peptide bond formation.

It has remarkable similarity to tRNA. This is evidence once upon a time these two, today radically different things (the giant ribosomal machine and the transfer-RNA molecule), was one and the same small molecule. There was an observation, it led to a hypothesis, the hypothesis was experimentally confirmed.

Yes, and I would. The mere act of flintknapping itself isn’t a clue to the first tools any more than me being able to toss sticks at birds is a clue to the first competitive sport. Finding flint tools is.

That you can work flint into a tool is what you can say to someone who says there’s no way ancient people’s could have made tools. Then you can say, sure they could, they could have done it like this. But you can’t say that the fact you can do that is a clue to how they first started actually doing it. That’s why finding those actual flint tools is so damned important. That real actual flint tool found in some dig is, after all, considerably more forceful both logically and rhetorically, than what you can do. It means we really can say something about how ancient peoples actually lived. Sure, much else about their lives we are forced by the lack of conservation of evidence, to be inferred in terms of relative plausibility. But we can actually still say some things on the basis of direct evidence.

Not in the slightest. I haven’t said the field of abiogenesis must proceed under the burden of explaining everything that actually happened in every little detail. When it comes to the past and deep time, of course we will always be constrained by things that was destroyed by time.

What I am saying is simply mindful of what it means to say something is a clue to the origin of life. A conceptual possibility is not a clue to a murder, any more than a conceptual possibility is a clue to the origin of life.

There’s a difference between what actually happened, and what could have happened. Totally agree. But then it is all the more forceful to be able to give clues to what really did happen when and if we can. Even if there are very few of them.

A threatening text message on the victim’s phone received days our hours before the murder is a clue. Someone coming up with a story about how some person could theoretically have killed the victim isn’t a clue. It might take the form of a working hypothesis, but that hypothesis is not itself a clue.

The butler could have done it. Many others are possible. He could have, we can’t rule it out, but if we don’t have any evidence he did then the mere conceptual possibility isn’t a clue. We don’t know if he did because we lack the clues necessary to connect him to the murder in some way. And the same goes for a whole host of people we can’t rule out could also have been involved. You can do work to piece together a story about how the butler, or someone else could have done it, but until you find evidence of that, the hypothesis isn’t a clue.

But nobody is saying we need to find out how, in every detail, life actually did originate. And I would join anyone in denouncing as irrational people who demand we need to give accounts at that level of detail “otherwise it’s all just mindless faith” or whatever.

I haven’t said that and it follows from no statement of mine that anyone is under such a burden.

Nobody has to give a total account of life’s actual origin for us to be able to say, with good reasons, that we still have clues about it. That would be an absurd burden of proof. You can still provide the clues though.

At the very least we can make physical, geological, and astronomical simulations, that will be able to constrain a whole host of parameters with respect to the formation of the planet, the nature of the earliest atmosphere, it’s mineral and geological evolution, and so on. In light of whatever facts we can extract from this, we will also be able to say which among this whole host of possible chemistries are more or less plausible to have occurred.

That will likely still narrow things down to a range of models, but even such a narrowing of the scope of possibilities is a way of getting closer to what actually happened instead of merely what could have happened.

Edit: Just to add, you seem to have misunderstood me saying that these hypothetical chemistries aren’t clues to the origin of life, with saying it’s research not worth doing or that they’re not worth bringing up in response to people who say either it’s not possible or that we’re clueless. I think that’s a really deep misreading of what I wrote.


From where I sit, both parties got what they wanted–a face to face scream fest. These gentlemen are two sides of the same coin–obnoxious, verbose and self-absorbed. Being locked in a room with the two of them would be a version of hell not unlike that portrayed in Sartre’s play No Exit.

I am confident that someday we will figure out the OoL question. But we need to acknowledge that it is the toughest problem there is to crack thus far and it could take millennia. After all, we’ve only known of the existence of DNA for 70 years.

I am equally confident that we are not going to get there with these dog and pony “debates” held for the amusement of the public and the aggrandizement of the participants…


This being a planned debate appearing on Tour’s channel, I have to think the outcome is just as Tour intended it to be. It’s a show, not a debate.


Your entire post is beautifully expressed. I agree completely and would only add the importance of moving protons across barriers as a major clue to the origin of life.


I think Tour did not intend to get as angry and impatient as he did; his opening 10 minutes were calmer and more controlled than his performance in the last half of the debate. I think he planned to come off as the calmly superior chemist instructing the inadequately educated, hot-headed hobbyist. But by the end Tour was sounding like a grouchy old man who would tolerate no disagreement. I don’t think that’s the impression he planned to leave his audience with.

I do think he predicted that Dave would not be able to drop his props and carry on a chemistry discussion entirely on his own, so I think he probably did plan to offer Dave the chalk, expecting that Dave would beg off; I think that aspect of the debate was planned as a show. However, unlike some here, I thought that was legitimate. If the whole discussion had turned into an examination and critique of possible prebiotic reactions on the blackboard, I certainly would have learned more than I did from the way things proceeded. A solid hour of “This paper proves it beyond a doubt!” followed by “No it doesn’t” is not very illuminating.

Ooops! I changed direction between question and answer! Yes, I meant to say:

“For the debate question to be a serious one, it should have been something more like, ‘How Far Are We from a Plausible Account of an Unguided Origin of Life?’ Then Tour could have said ‘Very far’ and Dave could have said, ‘Not as far as Tour thinks.’"

But what you suggested would have worked as well.

If that happened without the slightest help of experimental nudging, that wouldn’t matter, for the purpose of destroying ID. Most versions of ID would be finished if life was produced by any unguided pathway, whether it was the one that historically produced life on earth or not. Certainly Meyer, Wells, and Nelson, all of whom appear to argue that there had to be (not just was, but had to be) actual “intervention” of mind in the world of matter to get life started, would all be wrong. The only version of ID that could survive after that would be something like Denton’s. ID would then be limited to claiming that the fundamental properties of the chemical elements made life virtually certain to arise (naturalistically) sooner or later in a vast universe, and that would push design back from the “origin of life” to “the fine-tuning of the elements for life”. It would be the death-knell for any “interventionist” conception of life’s origin.

But we’re far away from observing the origin of life via any unguided pathway, so not even interventionist versions of ID have yet been ruled out. We have almost certainly ruled out an interventionist creation of life as recently as 6,000 years ago. But that only rules out Ken Ham creationism, not ID. Even a crudely interventionist creation of life 3.5-4.0 billion years ago is still a live (no pun intended) possibility. Whether Tour privately imagines a crudely interventionist scenario, I cannot say, but supposing he does, current scientific understanding cannot demonstrate that he is wrong.

1 Like