Why are So Many Chemists Creationists?

I have plenty to report on the American Chemical Society taking place this week, but my weekly column deadline looms, so for now I’ll just offer this provocative statement by Eugenie Scott, who is executive director of the National Center for Science Education. She spoke Tuesday at an all-day seminar devoted to communicating controversial areas of science.


In an engaging talk, titled, “It’s not just about the science” she noted that a disproportionate number of chemists denied evolution when compared with scientists in other disciplines. (Scientists on the whole are of course much less likely to be creationists than members of the general public). She said she thought the elevated incidence of creationism in chemistry had to do with the fact that chemistry doesn’t have a historical component, and so chemists think differently from other scientists.

I would modify that to say some chemists can get away with the type of magical thinking that can lead to creationism.  It is possible to believe in supernatural entities, and even use them to fill gaps in scientific knowledge, and still do good work in some sub-fields of chemistry, engineering and other technical disciplines. In an earlier column we heard from a physical chemist who was also a creationist. Such people can be good, competent contributors to American competitiveness. They’re still wrong.

She was followed by Caltech chemistry professor Nate Lewis, who used a historical component to help the audience understand the possible consequences of radically altering our atmosphere’s carbon dioxide. It will take thousands of years for the earth’s atmosphere to revert to the state it was in before the industrial revolution, he said.

His talk, titled “Where in the world will our energy come from?” ended on a pro-chemistry note. Finding an efficient and affordable way to store and distribute solar energy is a chemistry problem, he said, and if chemists don’t solve the problem nobody will.

Whoever does solve it can even be forgiven for believing in creationism.  

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