Dr. Craig Visits an Amazing Laboratory!
Dr. Craig tours the labs of one of the most important chemists in the world! What did he discover?
Dr. Craig Visits an Amazing Laboratory!
KEVIN HARRIS: Professor James M. Tour is one of the ten most cited chemists in the world. Dr. Craig, you and Jan had a chance to spend some time with him.
DR. CRAIG: We did!
KEVIN HARRIS: Let’s talk about some of the interesting work that he does. Then we are going to get into an article written about him.
DR. CRAIG: OK. We met James Tour in France about a year ago at a conference at which we were both speaking. He invited us when we were in Houston teaching at Houston Baptist University to stop by his lab at Rice University where he works. This October we took him up on the offer. We drove over to Rice University and met him there. He took us on a tour of his multiple laboratories. I’ve got to tell you – it was really amazing! I thought that this would mainly be computers and high tech sort of things. But these labs were just sort of a chaos of cobbled-together tubes and pipes and wires and instruments. Honestly it looks like something out of a Frankenstein movie! There were beakers and flasks all over the place hanging on the walls and wrenches and big tools. Not little delicate things! Heavyweight chains and stuff hanging from the ceiling. Then all this equipment. We’d say, How much did this cost? He said, Oh, this machine is about $300,000. We went through one lab after another.
KEVIN HARRIS: I wonder what his kitchen looks like?
DR. CRAIG: It makes you wonder. This lab looked like chaos. It was just so festoon with stuff that was going on, and all these graduate students that work for him – many of them from China – who are carrying out these high tech experiments in nanotechnology.
KEVIN HARRIS: He is a nanotechnologist.
DR. CRAIG: Yes. They work with these molecular machines. They just do amazing things that have important applications.
KEVIN HARRIS: And they are tiny.
DR. CRAIG: Right. This is microscopic. Well, not even microscopic. It is atomic and molecular. He says, We will make a film here that is only one atom thick. I said, How can you possibly assemble a film that is only an atom thick? If you did anything it would tear, right? And he said, You float it on a water base or on an oil base and that is how you do it. That is how small the stuff is that he works with.
KEVIN HARRIS: He works on nanocars, nanoelectronics, nanostructures, carbon nanovectors which are used in medicine.
DR. CRAIG: Yes.
KEVIN HARRIS: These have practical uses.
DR. CRAIG: Yes. He shared with us some of the stunning medical progress that they have been able to make in doing things. For example, using this special nanosubstance they’ve developed, they can help nerves to heal themselves very rapidly. They do experiments with rats. I said, Who does this with you? He said, We have surgeons that work with our lab. These surgeons take rats and they severe their spinal cords. If you can imagine, these rats are immobilized because their spinal cords are severed. Then they take Tour’s nanosubstance and they apply it to the nerve ends. He says the idea was to see if this would help the nerves grow back together. He said, We had hoped that maybe it would help the rats to be able to move about a little bit and gain some mobility in their limbs after having their spinal cord severed. He said, After three weeks the rats were running around in their cages. In just three weeks the spinal cords had come together again so that these rats were fully mobile. They are developing technologies that can target cancer cells and go in and kill just that cell because they’ve got these little nano-devices that do this.
What made this really poignant was that Tour is a friend of Nabeel Qureshi and his wife Michelle who are now in Houston at M. D. Anderson fighting against advanced stomach cancer. Nabeel has stomach cancer. I said to Jim, Couldn’t you use this technology to help someone like Nabeel? He said, Oh, yeah, if I wanted to get arrested because it has not yet been approved for use in human beings. They can use this in rats but it has not been done in human trials. This technology is still merely promissory. There is great hope that in the future huge medical advances in cancer treatment and in spinal injuries and things like that will be achieved through the kind of work that Tour is doing.
In fact, he shared with me, There are people outside of this country who are using this kind of technology to explore whole-body transplants. That is a euphemism for a head transplant! You would take a person’s head and brain and transplant it onto a different body. He says, We can do that, but it is illegal in this country – in the United States. They can use these nanodevices to make the nerves grow together again and so to give a person a new body. Can you imagine what this would mean for a quadriplegic person? Think of a person like Joni Eareckson who is completely paralyzed in her arms and legs and torso. She could get a head transplant onto a normal female body, say of a young woman killed in a car accident. Think of the transformation in her life that would result. Tour says, Of course this raises all sorts of ethical questions, but those sorts of questions have always been asked about advancing medical technology. He thinks that this is the wave of the future. As bizarre as it sounds, this is the kind of implication that his work in nanotechnology has.
KEVIN HARRIS: This article from Uncommon Descent talks a little bit about the fact that Professor Tour isn’t an intelligent design theorist per se but he is sympathetic to it. He dissents from Darwinism in a lot of areas apparently. He says, I’m just telling you, I’m with the top scientists in the world and nobody understands macroevolution. What is that saying?
DR. CRAIG: I think it is important to try to understand what he means. In the article you are citing he says this,
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.
He seems to be calling into question, I think, the explanatory mechanisms of genetic mutation and random selection as sufficient to explain evolution above the species level. He says,
I simply do not understand, chemically, how macroevolution could have happened. Hence, am I not free to join the ranks of the skeptical . . . Does anyone understand the chemical details behind macroevolution? If so, I would like to sit with that person and be taught, so I invite them to meet with me.
His approach here is very modest. He just says, I don’t understand the explanatory mechanisms that would account for macroevolutionary change. If you understand it, please sit down with me and explain it to me. I am ready to be taught. I am ready to learn.
KEVIN HARRIS: He says,
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.
Ab initio meaning?
DR. CRAIG: From the beginning.
KEVIN HARRIS: He says, “I don’t understand evolution, I will confess that to you.” Neither does anybody else. Don’t anybody fool you.
DR. CRAIG: In this article he tells anecdote after anecdote of how he has met privately with members of the National Academy of Science, with top chemists and others, and asked them, Do you understand how this happens? He said, They all say, “No, I don’t understand it either.” But they can’t admit this publicly. I think what he is challenging here is the explanatory adequacy of the current paradigm. I think it is important to understand that this isn’t to deny the fact of macroevolution. What it denies is that we have an adequate explanation of it in Darwinian evolutionary theory. The mechanisms that contemporary evolutionary theory posit for macroevolutionary change, he says, don’t seem to be adequate or at least he doesn’t understand how they account for the postulated change.
KEVIN HARRIS: I think maybe the theistic implications of this are obvious. Is that what we are saying here?
DR. CRAIG: I don’t know. Intelligent design theorists would say that the best explanation would be design – that there is some sort of intelligence behind the evolutionary process that causes biological complexity to arise. Any account which fails to take into consideration the notion of intelligence will ultimately be explanatorily inadequate – it is going to leave these kinds of unanswered questions that Tour is so puzzled by.
KEVIN HARRIS: Obviously, Bill Dembski and the Discovery Institute are very interested in what he is saying here. How do you think they are applying it to their work in intelligent design?
DR. CRAIG: I think they see in Tour an ally because intelligent design theorists like William Dembski, Michael Behe, and others are very skeptical of the explanatory adequacy of the mechanisms of random mutation and natural selection to explain macroevolutionary change. Someone like Behe is quite willing to affirm, yes, there is common descent. Macroevolution has occurred. But he thinks that the mechanisms that are postulated by current theory are explanatorily inadequate. Similarly, Dembski is willing, at least for the sake of argument, to concede common descent, but his challenge is to give adequate explanatory mechanisms for this happening. They would see Tour, I think, very much as an ally here because of his skepticism about the adequacy of these postulated explanatory mechanisms.
KEVIN HARRIS: I’d like to get you to reflect on just your thoughts as a philosopher and as a Christian and as a theologian, after you had this tour with James Tour, what you are reflecting on as far as God’s grace in allowing us to make progress and things like that.
DR. CRAIG: I think that is a really good point. I think some Christians have the view that the way God helps us is by miracles. He is going to provide a miraculous healing of Nabeel Qureshi of his stomach cancer. I think what Tour’s work suggests is what God has done is made a rational cosmos governed by natural laws and given us minds to probe this natural world and to develop technologies that will enable us to bring about healing, for example in medical advances through amazing but natural mechanisms. So if you’ve got a plumbing problem and you pray, God, help me, he is going to send you a plumber, not just sort of weld your pipes magically or miraculously. If you’ve got an electrical problem, he’s going to give you an electrician. Similarly, if you’ve got a medical problem, it may well be that God will send you a doctor or someone like a James Tour who has developed these marvelous technologies to help us develop cures for dreaded diseases like cancer. That doesn’t by any means imply that God never intervenes miraculously. Not at all. But it is to, I think, underline the importance of Christians being involved in science, in medicine.
KEVIN HARRIS: Participants with God.
DR. CRAIG: Yeah, participating with God and unraveling the mysteries and marvels of creation.
 Total Running Time: 16:43 (Copyright © 2017 William Lane Craig)