What I would ask Tour

OK, so I am not going to be doing any videos, and I don’t expect to ever have any discussions with Tour. But, if I was going to be a part of tonight’s discussion, here are a couple of points I would press Tour on.

When pressed on the age of the earth (for example, in this video - go to the 45 minute point), Tour typically states that he doesn’t know, because he cannot properly vet measurements made by others (physicists, geologist, etc.) who work outside of his field. However, he is wont to present as an apparent contradiction in estimates of the age of the earth the alleged discovery in dinosaur fossils of red blood cells and collagen (he claims fossils are full of the latter - continue to the 46 or 47 minute point of the same video to hear his opinions on these matters). Given Tour’s philosophy when it comes to geology and astrophysics (fields he states he cannot or will not vet), could Tour describe the vetting he did that led him to accept the claims of the existence of red blood cells and collagen in fossilized dinosaurs?

Tour tends at times to swerve into a sort of Gish gallop, suggesting that he has a number of arguments that render the field of OOL research as hopelessly untenable. One of the things he mentions is, loosely speaking, “probability”. He will mention Dembski in the same breath as probability, suggesting to me that he is referring to the work of Dembski, Axe, Behe, et al. that concerns the “probability” of finding functional polypeptides in a larger sequence space. Again, given Tour’s philosophy when it comes to geology and astrophysics, how has Tour vetted the claims of Dembski, Axe, Behe, et al.? Assuming that he has done a thorough job, how does he address the many, many critiques and experiments that suggest that Dembski, Axe, Behe et al. are wrong when it comes to the supposed rarity of function in sequence space?


I’d ask him why he’s so obsessed with the hype going on in the origin of life field, as opposed to the hype going on in his own.


Dare I ask … what presentation is this?

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David Klinghoffer just can’t help himself:

Dr. Tour is highly skeptical that theorists have got it all figured out about how life arose from non-life on a barren early Earth through known material processes alone. Farina attacked him and his “idiot followers” repeatedly for that.

Ehh no, Dave Farina has not attacked Tour or his idiot followers for being “highly skeptical that theorists have got it all figured out about how life arose from non-life on a barren early Earth through known material processes alone”.

Quite a misleading statement. If we really had figured that out, the field would have ended. There would be no more research to do.

Even Dave Farina has been explicit in saying we haven’t got it all figured out, and he has not attacked anyone for merely stating that they are skeptical of such a grandiose claim.


Apparently Tour is streaming the debate live on his youtube channel. I went and took a look and it’s a circus. I generally think debates are worthless but this one is unusual in how much of a circus it is.

Tour is doing what I would expect him to do, demand details about specific reactions he thinks are hard to do prebiotically, and Dave responds by citing papers that don’t really do what Tour wants them to show. I think both are being stupid. The only response one needs to Tour is to demand how he knows that reaction he is so obsessed about is required for the origin of life, it’s no use citing papers that do chemistry Tour isn’t interested in.



Agreed. You nailed it. It was painful to watch.

However, I will say that it really helped me to reach a conclusion about the question of the title: “Are we clueless about the Origin of Life?” No, we are not! (And I say that as someone who probably shares much in common with Tour theologically.) I was very impressed at how much progress has been made since I last gave serious attention to the topic in the 1990’s. I had no idea that so many of the sub-topic issues/questions had been addressed.

I was also impressed that a live debate could contain so many great citations (from Dr. Farina’s side) where I could stop the video and read the text and cogitate on it before going ahead. Farina did a good job of paging back in the slides to bring up the paper which related to what he was saying in reply to Tour—even if it didn’t always answer what Tour asked.

I really appreciate you summarizing it in that concise way because, even though I am purely an amateur on this topic, I came away with the same impression—but I couldn’t really trust my instinct on that. So thanks for the confirmation.

And this is gold:


Sometimes I found the moderator the most confusing of all. For example, I thought sure that I understood the terms endergonic and exergonic until the moderator provided quick definitions—which completely confused me. So I had to pause and do a quick lookup of the terms. And, indeed, I did remember them correctly.

Another painful moment was at the very end when Tour thought he was making a coup de grâce by saying [I think I got this right] that there had been seventy years of Nobel Prizes since the Miller-Urey experiment and yet none of the awards had honored an OOL researcher. I think Farina said, “So what?!” My thought exactly. Bizarre.


Yeah the moderator wasn’t good at all, but in fairness I think both Dave and Tour were shouting over each other so much it was no sense even trying to get clarifications on anything. In fairness to Tour I think Dave started it and Tour just went along and did it back. Terrible.

There was never really any time to get clarifications or insight with that format.

While on that topic I really do have to wonder what Tour was hoping to achieve by constantly baiting Dave to go and draw the coupling reaction for peptide bond formation between his two handpicked amino acids on the blackboard? What on Earth would that show?

Assuming the particular bond he demanded to know how formed had been shown experimentally it strictly doesn’t matter whether we even know how that coupling reaction occurs (there is chemistry we know occurs because we can show it occur, but we don’t understand how… so what?), much less does it matter whether Dave Farina has it memorized to draw on a blackboard. What matters and the only thing that matters, assuming that reaction is critical to the origin of life(which we don’t know), is that it can be shown experimentally to occur. So that whole schtick about drawing on blackboards was pure theatrics from Tour.

Similarly silly is the demand that Dave take time to read details from one of the papers(the one about the functional RNAs made of mixed 2’ and 3’ backbone linkages) and then complain and accuse him of being clueless when he doesn’t have the contents memorized to regurgitate on the spot. Come on!


Um, 1989 Nobel Prize in Chemistry?


On another note I had to detach my palm from my face after I instinctively smacked them together when I heard James Tour declare that only 1 in 1090 random protein sequences fold, and that folding is critical to function. And that you need at least 100 amino acid long polymers to have any function.

That is just false. All three of those claims are just demonstrably, provably, empirically false. Unambigously so. Those claims are COMPLETE FABRICATIONS. Tour appears to have completely and uncritically swallowed the work of people like Douglas Axe and Brian Miller. He has been thoroughly misled. He should NOT trust those people.


And 2009? The one that Meyer, Dembski, and Wells lie about?

Holy crap. It would take enormous selection (or design) to make random peptides NOT fold. And, unfolding is critical to some functions.

Peptide hormones have no function?

Maybe he hasn’t been misled, though. Maybe he likes the celebrity associated with crossing all the way over to the crazy, lying side.


Yeah so Dave shows an example of where Tour has claimed peptide bonds can’t form in water. And I mean he really did make that claim so Dave is right to show it and then debunk it.

Tour then responds by essentially changing his story, moving his goalposts, and demanding to be shown how peptides made of specific amino acids can be made to link up without making linkages through the side-chains, in water, without enzymes.

And it’s not that it is a bad question to ask by Tour in the first place(can we get such peptides to form on the prebiotic earth, without side-chain linkages, and if so how?), it’s just that to pretend that’s what he meant all along really is to move the goalposts.

On a related note, side-chain linked polymers can fold into protein-like globular structures, and perform functions, so is the specific type of reaction selectivity Tour suddenly is so obsessed about actually even required? We don’t know. Probably not. So called cross-linking or “hyperbranching” polymers have been shown to be able to adopt structures and perform catalytic functions like enzymes do.


I’m somewhat challenged in processing what I saw tonight. In terms of actual substance, I really do not follow OoL much, but there are some papers Farina brought up hat seemed interesting and pertinent. Tour brought up bootstrapping issues that did not rise to showstoppers. I though Farina held the scientific high ground. But the debate was more reality TV than enlightening. People though Farina would bring his obnoxious game and he did not disappoint right out of the gate. But he kept his cool and looked relaxed. Tour started with a gracious tone, but wound up loud and defensive, and moved around like a windmill in a tornado.

All told, it was mostly an ugly spectacle. In the history of science there have been many controversies and deeply held differences, and eventually these are resolved to consensus, but I cannot think of a solitary one that was ever settle at a live debate. If a debate is going to be worthwhile, I think that there must be at least some degree of good faith and humanity between the participants. Why share a platform otherwise?


Did Farina pick this up? If he didn’t, either Tour will never mention it again, or his next debate opponent will be shooting fish in a packet of frozen cod fillets.

What I learnt today: The shortest known functional protein contains just 11 amino-acids.


Can I raise you oxytocin at nine amino-acids?


Oh alright.

Glycine, the simplest amino acid, one amino acid, a monomer, is a weak catalyst of peptide bond formation. The dipeptides and tripeptides of glycine (gly-gly and gly-gly-gly) are also weak catalysts of peptide bond formation. The reaction is thought to be autocatalytic:

Other di and tri-peptides have been shown to be catalysts:


Indeed it was. Joshua S. introduced me to Tour several years ago (before an event) and we conversed a bit. He seemed like such a calm, mild-mannered sort. Like somebody’s academic grandpa. So I was taken aback more than once last night—especially when when he would scream that OOL research is nothing but a scam.

If one is going to accuse an entire field of scholarship to be nothing but utter fraud—and also claim that you had to take your refutation of the scam to Youtube and pop-level personal appearances because “discrimination” kept your detailed take-down out of the peer-reviewed journals—you’d better have posted your scholarly expose online so the academy can check your work. Put up or shut up.

Tour’s strawman claim that biology texts describe wriggly creatures emerging from a primordial soup seemed like something Kent Hovind would say. When Farina objected, I thought that Tour would at least fall back to, “Yes, it is hyperbole. But I’m exaggerating to make a point.” [I wouldn’t be satisfied by that excuse but I did think that Tour would eventually concede and say it.]

Farina’s language and street-fighter schtick grew wearisome for me. I understand that Tour’s arguments became infuriating but I don’t think Farina’s race to the dirt helped in any way. But I suppose I’m of a different generation.

I am appreciating this thread. Your various posts have filled in some important gaps in my understanding of the topics of the debate.


I don’t know anything about chemistry, but if there are so many ways for all of these molecules to hook up, they’d have made the first protocell already. Farina claims all the paths are known and there’s many of them [yet no one knows what that destination is]. It’s laughable.

I did look up the quote from Lee Cronin that Tour referred to. It’s amusing because he uses a car analogy (I’ve heard Tour use it a few years ago), and says the Ool scientists are just looking at a car [a designed object] and then claiming to have made a door or steering wheel. He says no one actually believes in what they’re doing. No one else is trying to build a protocell from scratch like he is. He also declares he has faith there’s life in the universe elsewhere. This guy really believes in his religion.

Except when he started swearing at the hecklers, so the elderly ladies left. I was amazed that his debate directly reflected his videos about Tour and his comments section where he ridicules people who disagree. It’s kind of impressive actually he felt no pressure to act professionally. I thought perhaps it was an act. Nope, that seems to be how he really is.


He says it, and on those specific points his words are to be considered infallible. Anything else Lee Cronin says on the origin of life is of course just mindless faith and bs(oh and hey, I’m glad you can suddenly see the issue with that), but when he says those things it’s divinely inspired. Can’t be wrong. He can’t be just trying to be provocative, like to rile people up, draw attention to himself, etc. Nope. Lee “oracle of secret facts when convenient but otherwise delusional when not” Cronin.