Friday, May 04, 2007

Engineers: Do They Deserve The Bad Rap?

So, there's been a lot of talk across the scientific blogosphere -- particularly blogs dealing with evolution -- about how engineers tend to accept creationism at a much higher rate than scientists. The fact that many of the mouthpieces for the intelligent design creationism movement are engineers doesn't help things much.

The main theory of why engineers tend to be suckers for creationist arguments is that their work is primarily focused on design, in designing buildings or power plants or airplanes, or in analyzing existing designs, and that they therefore see design everywhere and thus fall for the Argument from Design almost as an occupational hazard. (A similar argument is made in regards to medical doctors).

I'd like to defend engineers. After all, engineers are trained in logical thinking and making decisions based on evidence, right? And, though I don't work as an engineer anymore, I have an engineering degree and have worked as an engineer and don't like my brethren besmirched.

But I don't think I can defend them. Because I have found that many, if not most, engineers tend to be logical and use critical thinking skills in their field, but abandon them like a case of gonorrhea in every other area. They say the most amazingly illogical, flawed, and poorly-reasoned things. They ignore logical arguments in favor of whatever their preferred belief is and are impervious to evidence.

Just like everyone else.

In fact, I would be willing to bet that engineers don't actually buy into creationism or other crazy ideas at a rate any higher or lower than other comparable groups, like scientists. If this is true, then why are they so castigated in the evolution community?

I suspect that it is because engineers think they apply the same critical reasoning skills outside of engineering as they do within engineering. They think they are more qualified to make judgments even outside of engineering and thus think their opinions are better than others'. As such, I think this breeds a certain arrogance that causes engineers to be more likely to forcefully voice their opinions and be willing to defend them to the death, no matter how little sense they make.

As such, I suspect that a study would find that engineers are not just better represented in the creationist community than those in some other professions, but also in the pro-science community. However, I suspect that, like doctors, engineers on the creationist side, the facts being against them and needing to employ any rhetorical trick to try to win arguments, are more likely than those in some other professions to argue by authority and say, "Well, I'm an engineer, and as an engineer..." to try to legimitize their craziness.

Creationist engineers aren't the problem. It's the 'creationist', not the 'engineer,' that drives the craziness.


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