Chemistry and Christianity | Interview with Dr. James Tour

We met with Dr. James Tour to discuss his Christian faith, the importance of living authentically, ways that students should conduct themselves both personally and professionally, and much more. Enjoy!

Chemistry and Christianity | Interview with Dr. James Tour
"What I've learned in the university is that if you talk a little bit about Jesus, people will try to silence us, but if we talk a lot about Jesus, they would leave us alone."” – Dr. James Tour

Rice University professor, Dr. James Tour shares how his strong Christian faith has allowed him to become a profoundly influential nanochemist. He gives insight into how his faith affects his relationship with his colleagues and his perspective of chemistry. Dr. Tour gives advice to young students about both professional and daily life. He emphasizes the importance of creativity and living authentically. Follow along as Dr. James Tour talks with students Karina Macosko about chemistry, Christianity, and more.

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Interview with Chemist, Dr. James Tour

Interview Transcript

(Editor’s Note: The following transcript has been lightly edited to improve clarity.)

0:00:18.0Being a Christian

Karina Macosko: Hi, my name is Karina Macosko from Academic Influence, and I am here with Dr. Tour, and today is gonna be sort of a different interview because we don’t usually consider or ask somebody’s faith, but yours has so profoundly impacted your career that we wanna ask…

how did you become a Christian and how does that affect your everyday life in your career?

James Tour: I come from a Jewish home, and I got saved my freshman year in college, I met a young man with The Navigators Campus Ministry, and I gave my life to the Lord as a freshman, November 7th, 1977. And I have forever, forever... That was the best decision that I ever made.

And I remember the day that I gave my life to the Lord, I was all alone in my room, I was following the pattern that this young man had taught me, and it was several months later, and I was all alone in my room and when I gave my life to the Lord. The Lord just stood in my room, and I was so impacted by that, and I shall forever, forever praise Him.

And I started meditating on the Bible every day, I remember, I asked this young man, I said, "How can I keep this closeness with the Lord?" And he said, "If you read your Bible every day, you’ll stay close to the Lord, if you don’t, you won’t."

And I have not only read, I have meditated on the Bible every day, I start in Genesis Chapter 1, Verse 1, and I read through to Revelation Chapter 22, and I pick up where I left off the day before, and I just... When I get done, I start again, I’m in no hurry, and I say, "Lord, teach me where I’m at and instruct me." And I just love the Lord.

0:02:16.0Science and faith

Karina: Well, that is so incredible. And as a scientist, I think a lot of people think of science and faith as kind of conflicting things…

but how have you found that to be throughout your career?

James: I haven’t seen any conflict, it’s really hard for me to understand the conflict that people go through, now I take every word in the Bible as true, it doesn’t mean I take everything literally.

In fact, Jesus reproved His disciples for taking everything literally when he said, "Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees," and they were upset that they had forgotten the bread and they’re arguing about this, he said, "Look, I’m not talking about that," but I would take every word as being true, this is God instructing. And so I’ve never seen a conflict.

"So when I see things in science, I'm just in awe of the way God constructed these things, and God does this, for me it is just pure joy. So I don't see any conflict with science and faith…"” – Dr. James Tour

So when I see things in science, I’m just in awe of the way God constructed these things, and God does this, for me it is just pure joy. So I don’t see any conflict with science and faith, not for me, and especially when I consider biological systems.

We’ve had biological projects in my group for over 20 years, and this, it is just amazing when I see what happens in biochemistry and the complexity of this thing, I just am amazed the way God has set this up, so it really... There’s no conflict for me.

Karina: Well, that is so incredible.

And what do you think about with your colleagues, do you often find that you’re conflicting over ideologies, or how is that in your daily life?

James: Well, not so much with my colleagues, not so much with chemists, the conflict comes with people who aren’t chemists, who really don’t see what I see, they don’t even understand the complexity of this thing and they think all of this could have just happened by itself.

That’s where the problem is, chemists who see what I see, when we sit alone, there’s a lot less controversy in this, and so now that’s when we’re talking about scientific things, if we’re talking about things of faith, certainly they don’t embrace all of the things that I come up with and people try to have me silenced over the years, because I’m so bold in my faith and bold in sharing where I wanna see at least one person a week come to salvation to Jesus.

Yeah, but what I’ve learned in the university is that if you talk a little bit about Jesus, people will try to silence us, but if we talk a lot about Jesus, they would leave us alone. And it’s true. They don’t even wanna get me started.

0:05:15.0Advice

Karina: Well, and I think that this is such a great interview to have, because a lot of people coming up, they kind of see this as two different things…

and so if you were talking to the young people today who often come to our website, what advice would you have for them going forward, if they are showing in their faith or maybe they’re not so much, what advice would you have for them?

"My advice would be to obey the pattern of scripture and what it teaches us, the Bible says over and over again, the blessing that will come if we daily meditate on the word of God…"” – Dr. James Tour

My advice would be to obey the pattern of scripture and what it teaches us, the Bible says over and over again, the blessing that will come if we daily meditate on the word of God, in Joshua Chapter 1, verses 8, 9, 10, 11. What happens?

In Psalm 1, all of Psalm 1, Psalm 112 verse 1 and 2, Psalm 119, particularly verse 97 through 100-101, these portions I’ve meditated on over and over again, and they talk about the blessing that comes by every day meditation.

Now let me tell you what every day means, it means every day, there is no promise for three days a week, there’s no promise for a couple of times a week, it is every day in the Word of God, so I wake up every day very early to spend time with the Lord.

When I had children, I had to wake up early, to be up before they got up, to spend time alone with the Lord in the Word of God, praying and reading the scriptures, and I read slowly, pensively, deliberately. I don’t try to get through the whole Bible in a year, if God wanted me to do that, he would have said, get through the Bible in a year.

I just wanna hear him speak to me through the word of God, and I pray, "Lord, speak to me through this passage," this morning, and he does, and he brings light and I may spend a week meditating on the same paragraph, that’s okay, I’m in no hurry, I just wanna be saturated, and so that’s what I will encourage them to do, to really believe the scriptures, and then to pray that the Lord gives you creativity, like in Exodus Chapter 1.

"…it's not how smart you are, it's how creative you are."” – Dr. James Tour

You will learn about Bezalel, he’ll give you enormous creativity if you ask of him, God is the one who grants creativity, and creativity goes way beyond being smart, I was never the smartest student, I was never, never close to having the highest IQ or the best grades on standardized exams, in this business, it’s not how smart you are, it’s how creative you are.

And creativity is something that is just dropped upon us by God, Jesus is the best in every way he has lived his life here on Earth, He died for our sins, he rose from the dead, I believe, truly, in the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ, he lives. The Bible says he lives to make intercession on our behalf, that means Jesus intercedes for us.

And then Jesus tells us what we have to do, so that he takes up residence in our lives. He says, "If anyone loves me... " This is in John Chapter 14, "If anyone loves me, he will keep my commandments and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our abode with him."

This is the treasure. He and his father, he says, "We will come to him." Who’s the we? That’s he and his father. That’s the whole context of the verse. He and his father will make their abode with us. The Holy Spirit is already with us. If we’ve given our heart to him, he and his father make their abode with us.

In John Chapter 12, it says, "If anyone serves me," Jesus said, "If anyone serves me, let him follow me," and he was on his way to the cross. "Where I am there shall my servant also be, and if anyone serves me, the Father will honor Him." The father will honor him.

Imagine the God of Heaven and Earth honoring you. If you will serve Jesus, and I urge you not to trash your family for your career, not to trash your relationship with God for your career, ’cause you’re cutting off your life support, not to trash your spending time with the Lord because of your studies.

Keep God first. And look, I did this as an undergrad, every day, I was in the word of God, and I studied more than anybody I know, I really did, because I had to, because I wasn’t as smart as everybody else, I studied more than anybody that I know, but I was always starting out the day in the Word of God, all throughout my career to this day, not only do I spend time in the morning in the word of God, is I will break around noon time, and I go to the chapel on campus and I fall down on my knees and pray, I’ve had that practice since I was an undergrad, through undergraduate school, graduate school, postdoc, throughout my 33 years as being a professor breaking at midday to spend some time in prayer with the Lord, and because I believe it.

And Daniel, it says of Daniel that he would, three times a day, he would get down on his knees, and he would spend time with the Lord, three times a day, and that’s what I try to do, three times a day, get down on my knees and spend time with the Lord.

And when I say I get down on my knees, I really mean it. Not that you have to do that. But that’s the pattern that Daniel had. He had a lot of pressure not to get down on his knees and pray because he risked his life by doing it. I figure I can do it too. That’s just what I do. And that’s my life.

0:10:50.5A blessing

Karina: Wow. And I love that you bring up that story, because my next question was gonna be…

have you found it difficult to be in the field of science, to be a scientist and have such a strong faith?

James:Have I found it difficult? No, I found it a blessing. It’s such a blessing. Is there a little bit of controversy sometimes? Sure. But it’s not even persecution.

I can’t even claim persecution, it says in Hebrews, "You’ve not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood." I have never shed blood for my faith, I’ve wanted to.

Somebody said they were gonna punch me in the nose when I was doing open air preaching as an undergraduate on campus, and he never did, and so I’ve never shed blood, so I can’t even say that I’ve undergone persecution, if people said things that have hurt my feelings. Sure.

But that’s not persecution in the biblical sense, I just got my feelings hurt. So, you know what, I suck it up and I get up and I go on. And people are gonna say things, but they’re not gonna stop me, I love it.

So controversy, yeah, things come. Jesus said, "Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and say all manner of evil against you falsely on account of me, rejoice and be glad for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Woe to you if all men speak well of you."

That’s what we gotta worry about, if all men are speaking well of us, "Woe to us," Jesus said, He said, "Blessed are you, when men revile you and persecute you and say all manner of evil against you falsely on account of me."

So if I’m persecuted, in that sense, if people say things about me because of my testimony of Jesus, I’m blessed, I mean, God in heaven, he is like, "Let me go bless this guy some more, somebody ridiculed him, let me go bless him some more."

And I’m telling you, this is my career, just blessed over and over again by my blessed Lord Jesus, whom I shall praise forever and ever, I love him so much and forever is not long enough to praise Jesus for what he’s done in my life.

0:12:56.9Sign off

Karina: Wow. Well, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me. It was really interesting hearing how this has weaved together because I think you have such a unique perspective on your field and just the world as a whole. So thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me, it was really a pleasure.

James: Thank you, Karina.