Dr. James M. Tour of Rice University confesses he simply cannot grasp what everyone at Scienceblogs and the Panda’s Thumb and Richarddawkins.net just knows to be true. Because science.
I will tell you as a scientist and a synthetic chemist: if anybody should be able to understand evolution, it is me, because I make molecules for a living, and I don’t just buy a kit, and mix this and mix this, and get that. I mean, ab initio, I make molecules. I understand how hard it is to make molecules. I understand that if I take Nature’s tool kit, it could be much easier, because all the tools are already there, and I just mix it in the proportions, and I do it under these conditions, but ab initio is very, very hard.
I don’t understand evolution, and I will confess that to you. Is that OK, for me to say, “I don’t understand this”? Is that all right? I know that there’s a lot of people out there that don’t understand anything about organic synthesis, but they understand evolution. I understand a lot about making molecules; I don’t understand evolution. And you would just say that, wow, I must be really unusual.
Let me tell you what goes on in the back rooms of science – with National Academy members, with Nobel Prize winners. I have sat with them, and when I get them alone, not in public – because it’s a scary thing, if you say what I just said – I say, “Do you understand all of this, where all of this came from, and how this happens?” Every time that I have sat with people who are synthetic chemists, who understand this, they go “Uh-uh. Nope.” These people are just so far off, on how to believe this stuff came together. I’ve sat with National Academy members, with Nobel Prize winners. Sometimes I will say, “Do you understand this?”And if they’re afraid to say “Yes,” they say nothing. They just stare at me, because they can’t sincerely do it.
I was once brought in by the Dean of the Department, many years ago, and he was a chemist. He was kind of concerned about some things. I said, “Let me ask you something. You’re a chemist. Do you understand this? How do you get DNA without a cell membrane? And how do you get a cell membrane without a DNA? And how does all this come together from this piece of jelly?” We have no idea, we have no idea. I said, “Isn’t it interesting that you, the Dean of science, and I, the chemistry professor, can talk about this quietly in your office, but we can’t go out there and talk about this?”
If you understand evolution, I am fine with that. I’m not going to try to change you – not at all. In fact, I wish I had the understanding that you have.
But about seven or eight years ago I posted on my Web site that I don’t understand. And I said, “I will buy lunch for anyone that will sit with me and explain to me evolution, and I won’t argue with you until I don’t understand something – I will ask you to clarify. But you can’t wave by and say, “This enzyme does that.” You’ve got to get down in the details of where molecules are built, for me. Nobody has come forward.
The Atheist Society contacted me. They said that they will buy the lunch, and they challenged the Atheist Society, “Go down to Houston and have lunch with this guy, and talk to him.” Nobody has come! Now remember, because I’m just going to ask, when I stop understanding what you’re talking about, I will ask. So I sincerely want to know. I would like to believe it. But I just can’t.
Now, I understand microevolution, I really do. We do this all the time in the lab. I understand this. But when you have speciation changes, when you have organs changing, when you have to have concerted lines of evolution, all happening in the same place and time – not just one line – concerted lines, all at the same place, all in the same environment … this is very hard to fathom.
I was in Israel not too long ago, talking with a bio-engineer, and [he was] describing to me the ear, and he was studying the different changes in the modulus of the ear, and I said, “How does this come about?” And he says, “Oh, Jim, you know, we all believe in evolution, but we have no idea how it happened.”
Smells like quality science. And before the usual science fetishists leap in to assert the obvious and declare: “yeah, well, that doesn’t prove God exists,” I will readily admit that it does not. But, (and here is the point), it does prove that there are very rational reasons to doubt the unevidenced assertion that “evolution is a fact”.
As I have repeatedly pointed out, I am an evolution skeptic, not an evolution denier. I do not judge the truth of the belief by the behavior of the believer, although if I did, the behavior of the evolutionary true believers would be sufficient to convince me that the existence of unicorns, fairies, and leprechauns combined is considerably more likely than fish magically turning into monkeys over time due to beneficial mutations taking advantage of the multitude of changes in the water.