Nobel Laureate Ernst Chain on Evolution

Author/Compiler: Tihomir Dimitrov (; also see


Nobel Prize: Sir Ernst Chain (1906-1979) received the 1945 Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology “for the discovery of penicillin and its curative effect in various infectious diseases.”

Nationality: German

Education: Ernst Chain graduated in chemistry and physiology from Friedrich-Wilhelm University in Berlin with a Ph.D. degree in 1930.

Occupation: Researcher at the Institute of Pathology in Berlin (1930-33), Cambridge University (1933-35), Oxford University (1936-48) and Istituto Superiore di Sanità in Rome (1948-1961); Professor of Biochemistry at Imperial College, University of London (1961-1973); Chain was a chairman of the World Health Organization.


1. Concerning the Materialistic theory of evolution Ernst Chain (who is a theistic evolutionist) states:

“I would rather believe in fairies than in such wild speculation.

I have said for years that speculations about the origin of life lead to no useful purpose as even the simplest living system is far too complex to be understood in terms of the extremely primitive chemistry scientists have used in their attempts to explain the unexplainable that happened billions of years ago. God cannot be explained away by such naive thoughts.” (Chain, as cited in The Life of Ernst Chain: Penicillin and Beyond by Ronald W. Clark, London, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1985, 147-148).

2. In his speech, which he made at the World Jewish Conference of Intellectuals in 1965, Chain said:

“While we have witnessed astonishing technological progress over the last 4,000 years, human relations have remained essentially unchanged since the time the Torah was written, and have to be regulated by very much the same laws.

For this reason the fundamental teaching of Judaism, as expressed in the Old Testament, and developed by the great sages of the Middle Ages, one unitarian Almighty, benevolent, all-pervading, eternal Divine force, of which the spirit of man was created an image, is for me still the most rational way of accepting man’s position and fate in this world and the Universe.” (Chain, as cited in Clark 1985, 154).

3. In a speech made when he accepted a Doctorate of Philosophy Honoris Causa from Bar-Llan University (Israel), Chain said:

“It must be remembered that, quite apart from the ephemeral nature of scientific theories, pure science is ethically neutral. No value of good or bad is attached to any natural constant, or, for that matter, any scientific observation in any field. However, in our relations to our fellow-men – and this includes, in particular, the applications of scientific research – we must be guided by an ethical code of behaviour, and pure science cannot provide it.

In the search for an ethical code of behaviour we have to look for more lasting values than scientific discoveries or theories. We, the Jewish people, have had the extraordinary privilege to have been given a lasting code of ethical values in the divinely inspired laws and traditions of Judaism which have become the basic pillars of the Western world.” (Chain, as cited in Clark 1985, 146).

4. “I consider the power to believe to be one of the great divine gifts to man through which he is allowed in some inexplicable manner to come near to the mysteries of the Universe without understanding them. The capability to believe is as characteristic and as essential a property of the human mind as is its power of logical reasoning, and far from being incompatible with the scientific approach, it complements it and helps the human mind to integrate the world into an ethical and meaningful whole.

There are many ways in which people are made aware of their power to believe in the supremacy of Divine guidance and power: through music or visual art, some event or experience decisively influencing their life, looking through a microscope or telescope, or just by looking at the miraculous manifestations or purposefulness of Nature.” (Chain, as cited in Clark 1985, 143).

5. In his public lecture “Social Responsibility and the Scientist in Modern Western Society” (University of London, February 1970) Sir Ernst Chain declared:

“As far as my own actions are concerned, I am trying to be guided by the laws, ethics and traditions of Judaism as formulated in the Old Testament, which are, of course, also the basis of Christianity. I am convinced, and have been for many years, that it is impossible to construct a sort of absolute and generally applicable code of ethical behaviour on the basis of scientific knowledge alone, if only for the reason that our knowledge about the basic problems of life is far too fragmentary and limited, and will always remain so.

… We all know that scientific theories, in whatever field, are ephemeral and likely to be shaken in their foundations, and may be even turned upside down by the discovery of one single new fact which does not fit into the existing system. For this reason I do not believe that it is possible to construct an absolute code of ethical conduct and of moral values on the basis of scientific knowledge alone, as this must always remain fragmentary and built on flimsy premises and, therefore, can easily lead to misleading conclusions which may have to be corrected in the light of new evidence.” (E. Chain, “Social Responsibility and the Scientist in Modern Western Society,” Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, Spring 1971, Vol. 14, No. 3, p. 366).
6. Chain described “the divine spark which manifests itself so evidently in the spiritual creation of man” thus:

“Any speculation and conclusions pertaining to human behaviour drawn on the basis of Darwinian evolutionary theories from animal ethological studies, and in particular ethological studies on primates, must be treated with the greatest caution and reserve.

It may be amusing for those engaged in the task to describe their fellow man as naked apes, and a less discriminating section of the public may enjoy reading about comparisons between the behaviour of apes and man, but this approach – which, by the way, is neither new nor original – does not really lead us very far.

We do not need to be expert zoologists, anatomists or physiologists to recognise that there exist some similarities between apes and man, but surely we are much more interested in the differences than the similarities. Apes, after all, unlike man, have not produced great prophets, philosophers, mathematicians, writers, poets, composers, painters and scientists. They are not inspired by the divine spark which manifests itself so evidently in the spiritual creation of man and which differentiates man from animals.” (Chain 1971, 368).

7. “Only one theory has been advanced to make an attempt to understand the development of life – the Darwin-Wallace theory of evolution. And a very feeble attempt it is, based on such flimsy assumptions, mainly of morphological-anatomical nature that it can hardly be called a theory.” (Chain, as cited in Clark 1985, 147).

8. Concerning the Darwin-Wallace theory of evolution Chain wrote:

“It is, of course, nothing but a truism, and not a scientific theory, to say that living systems do not survive if they are not fit to survive.

To postulate, as the positivists of the end of the 19th century and their followers here have done, that the development and survival of the fittest is entirely a consequence of chance mutations, or even that nature carries out experiments by trial and error through mutations in order to create living systems better fitted to survive, seems to me a hypothesis based on no evidence and irreconcilable with the facts.

This hypothesis wilfully neglects the principle of teleological purpose which stares the biologist in the face wherever he looks, whether he be engaged in the study of different organs in one organism, or even of different subcellular compartments in relation to each other in a single cell, or whether he studies the interrelation and interactions of various species. These classical evolutionary theories are a gross oversimplification of an immensely complex and intricate mass of facts, and it amazes me that they were swallowed so uncritically and readily, and for such a long time, by so many scientists without a murmur of protest.” (Chain 1971, 367).