Author Topic: The Salem Hypothesis: Do Engineers Tend to Hold Particular Beliefs?  (Read 682 times)

Recusant

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The Salem hypothesis has at least a couple of different forms. Its original proposer, Bruce Salem, describes it:

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My position is not that most creationists are engineers or even that engineering predisposes one to Creationism. In fact, most engineers are not Creationists and more well-educated people are less predisposed to Creationism, the points the statistics in the study bear out. My position was that of those Creationists who presented themselves with professional credentials, or with training that they wished to represent as giving them competence to be critics of Evolution while offering Creationism as the alternative, a significant number turned out to be engineers.

[source]

It's been around for well over 20 years now, and is fairly well known. As I mentioned above, it's been expanded beyond the basic idea that Salem came up with; there is a "hard" or "strong" version, which to my mind is less defensible. From RationalWiki:

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An education in the Engineering disciplines forms a predisposition to Creation/ID viewpoints.

In looking at this topic, I came across an interesting paper, "Engineers of Jihad" [PDF], and will quote the abstract (paragraph breaks added):

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We find that graduates from subjects such as science, engineering, and medicine are strongly overrepresented among Islamist movements in the Muslim world, though not among the extremist Islamic groups which have emerged in Western countries more recently.

We also find that engineers alone are strongly over-represented among graduates in violent groups in both realms. This is all the more puzzling for engineers are virtually absent from left-wing violent extremists and only present rather than over-represented among right-wing extremists. We consider four hypotheses that could explain this pattern.

Is the engineers’ prominence among violent Islamists an accident of history amplified through network links, or do their technical skills make them attractive recruits? Do engineers have a ‘mindset’ that makes them a particularly good match for Islamism, or is their vigorous radicalization explained by the social conditions they endured in Islamic countries?

We argue that the interaction between the last two causes is the most plausible explanation of our findings, casting a new light on the sources of Islamic extremism and grounding macro theories of radicalization in a micro-level perspective.

The paper uses some data from a 1984 survey which appears to show a tendency among engineers to hold right wing political beliefs. A table from the paper:


I've only glanced through the paper, and I'm not sure how relevant it is to a discussion of the Salem hypothesis, but thought it interesting enough to merit mention here.

Do you think the Salem hypothesis has any validity? What may be behind the observed phenomenon that resulted in Bruce Salem proposing the hypothesis?

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Ecurb Noselrub

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Re: The Salem Hypothesis: Do Engineers Tend to Hold Particular Beliefs?
« Reply #1 on: June 16, 2016, 09:48:21 AM »
So is it engineering that predisposes some to creationism, or does engineering attract those who are already so predisposed?  I can see the latter being the case, to some degree.  Engineering has answers, solutions, plans, intelligent design, goals, etc.  It's more black and white, in a certain sense.  There is beauty in designing something.  They create things, so it makes sense that some form of intelligence created the entire universe. 

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Re: The Salem Hypothesis: Do Engineers Tend to Hold Particular Beliefs?
« Reply #2 on: June 16, 2016, 01:37:00 PM »
It would be intersting to see how many engineers in countries that espouse a left-wing ideology, even if only nominally, tow the party line so to speak. For instance, are engineers in the PRC more or less likely to identify with the left or right. The same data would be interesting from the former USSR though I doubt any sort of reliable statistics could be gathered at this point given changes in outlook and the small chance any such survey was taken at the time.

I know a small handful of engineers who self-identify as socialists so the profession certainly doesn't rule out left positions!
 

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Re: The Salem Hypothesis: Do Engineers Tend to Hold Particular Beliefs?
« Reply #3 on: June 16, 2016, 04:00:48 PM »
I think whether an engineer is predisposed to believe in creationism or ID depends on a myriad of other factors. How religious are they? Are they scientifically literate? How afraid of death are they? There's a danger of stereotyping here.

However, it is kind of funny that at the uni I go to, which was rated the best in Brazil many times, the most inane and rabid defender if ID is a chemical engineer who teaches there. I don't have the numbers on how many IDers are of those types of professions here but maybe Salem really was onto something.

Humans are a creative species and if some of us created god in their own image, then they project a lot of human characteristics onto that god. I think that to say that an engineer is projecting when they talk of a designed universe is plausible. It's likely that they're biased to see design where there is none, and the universe as mechanistic.

A poet sees the world in a different way, why wouldn't an engineer?
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Recusant

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Re: The Salem Hypothesis: Do Engineers Tend to Hold Particular Beliefs?
« Reply #4 on: June 16, 2016, 04:31:19 PM »
I've encountered something similar in other contexts. A person is promoting a position that has dubious value from a scientific perspective, with an equally questionable scientific basis. They make a point of describing themself as somebody who is "scientifically trained" or something similar, and it turns out that their training and expertise is actually in some engineering field.

This isn't to demean engineers. I've known some very clear-thinking and grounded engineers who have no time for such self-important silliness.

On the other hand, I've encountered at least one person who was trained as a physicist whose assertions about physics are so often off base that at this point I pretty much always do some research to discover whether they're talking out of their nether orifice when they say something about physics. For instance, this person seemed convinced that it should theoretically be possible for a powerful enough rocket to escape from a supermassive black hole.  :shrug:
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Re: The Salem Hypothesis: Do Engineers Tend to Hold Particular Beliefs?
« Reply #5 on: June 17, 2016, 06:37:57 AM »
I took a peek around various forums and sites to see what others say about this. A couple of blogs in particular (I won't post the link b/c they seem to be of religious bent and I'd rather not give them publicity) had comments like this:

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I agree. As someone who also designs funtionally integrated systems for a living, I understand what it means to make “simple” changes in highly integrated code systems. Once you have a firm grap on the nature of the problem, wishful speculations do little to persuade you that ateleological forces can account for such things in nature. Sure, Darwinists can cite “their imaginations as evidence” all day long (to borrow a phrase), but I know firsthand what goes into building systems. Needless to say, I remain unpersuaded.

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I am a software engineering student, of course I’m not an expert :), but I know what does it mean to DESIGN, and what we see in life is programming, software engineering, DESIGN!

Don’t take my word for it,

“DNA is like a computer program, but far, far more advanced than any software we’ve ever created.”
Bill Gates

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Seems like physicians doubt Darwin based on incredulity. But there’s nothing wrong with incredulity. Incredulity is the thing inside your head that says, “I don’t buy the story you’re trying to palm off. You better prove it, buster.”

It seems that when people who have absolutely no vested interest in the Darwin story learn more about life and it’s systems, they believe the Darwin story less and demand real proof and not just stories. MDs are such a group. It is no surprise to me that great bunches of them are incredulous about the Darwin story.

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As long as we’re using the true scotsman fallacy then I’ll simply rejoin by saying that no truly complex system can evolve without intelligent guidance. So there.

I found this blog entry from a biochemistry professor amusing too:

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Meyer says it's because engineers are better able to recognize design. That's only part of the answer. The other, more important, part is that they don't know how to recognize good science because they're not scientists. They can't tell the difference between engineering and science.
...
DaveScot explains that it's because doctors recognize the cost of mistakes. They know that an error will most likely have bad consequences so they see through the modern concept of evolution and recognize that errors can't lead to improvement. That's only part of the answer—and not a very important part. The real reason is that Doctors aren't scientists so they don't understand science even though they think they do because they passed biochemistry in medical school. That's why so many of them are IDiots.

I've also head that in certain fields, engineers look down on scientists and vice-versa. For example, my wife studied both chemistry and chemical engineering as an undergrad and apparently the two departments hated each other, which was amusing to hear since you'd think they would need to rely on each other too. So perhaps it has to do with engineers thinking scientists are "too theoretical" as well as their incredulity that something could be designed without a guiding force, since they're so design-focued.

This also reminded me somewhat of Vani Hari, aka "The Food Babe", that idiotic woman who peddles pseudoscientific crap about food ingredients and how "unnatural" they are. In particular, this passage from the article:

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Ms. Hari, a former computer science major with no training as a food scientist, nutritionist or chef, has managed to become a flash point.
...
As for those credentials, Ms. Hari said that chemistry shouldn’t be necessary to decipher what to eat. She pointed out that her undergraduate major was actually in the College of Engineering at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, so she took “hard science, oh my gosh, Physics 3, Calculus 3.” Asked how she liked them, she said, “I mean, who likes those?”

Then again, my wife and I both have engineering degrees and think creationism is a load of bullshit, so at least it's not all of us :)
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Ecurb Noselrub

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Re: The Salem Hypothesis: Do Engineers Tend to Hold Particular Beliefs?
« Reply #6 on: June 18, 2016, 05:47:24 AM »
Those statements remind me that it's not just engineers that are attracted to ID but physicians as well.  I work for a health care system, and most of the docs I know believe in some level of design for human beings.

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Re: The Salem Hypothesis: Do Engineers Tend to Hold Particular Beliefs?
« Reply #7 on: June 19, 2016, 07:47:52 PM »
Purpose or design? I don't know of many physicians who believe in some level of intelligent design for humans for what seem to be the same reasons of engineers but rather seem to believe more in purpose, which includes anatomical and physiological purpose. I guess people who deal with death, disease suffering on a daily basis could tend to believe in the "it's all for a reason" and comforting aspects of religion and that's there's a purpose behind every event, good and bad. 

Then again evolutionary biology is not part of medical school syllabi, at least here, so I guess it's also very possible that many are plain old IDers or creationists.  ::)   
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Re: The Salem Hypothesis: Do Engineers Tend to Hold Particular Beliefs?
« Reply #8 on: June 27, 2016, 04:40:24 PM »
I join Firebird and Mrs. Firebird in calling bullshit on this notion. I notice on the above political view chart that Lawyers are seemingly never among the strongly conservative group.  That is a real crock of cow manure. Just look at our senators and representatives in the US congress as well as the state lawmakers that are so predominantly composed of lawyers.

Looking back, I can recall two chief engineers for whom I worked, both were religious men. One of them was way off the deep end. He was adequate for his job but had almost zero creative skill and he was always adamantly opposed to any new idea no matter its' clearly evident advantage. He was simply not a willing thinker. The other guy was not much better at developmental work on the products that our company built. He was less outgoing about his beliefs however. All the while the other engineers that I worked with were almost never interested in Jesus or ID or anything of the sort.  They were more interested in why something works and the cost of building such and such a machine.

I can not imagine those engineering types who have been so thoroughly steeped in physics, and actual causes and effects to believe in supernatural forces.

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Re: The Salem Hypothesis: Do Engineers Tend to Hold Particular Beliefs?
« Reply #9 on: June 27, 2016, 08:14:28 PM »
The Salem hypothesis as proposed by Bruce Salem isn't necessarily saying anything about engineers in general. What he's saying is that when a Creationist claims to have professional qualifications that give them a superior insight into questions regarding evolution as opposed to Creationism, it often seems to turn out that they're actually an engineer. I've encountered this phenomenon often enough to consider it a viable hypothesis, but acknowledge that the saying "the plural of anecdote is not data" applies here.  :sherlock:
"Religion is fundamentally opposed to everything I hold in veneration — courage, clear thinking, honesty, fairness, and above all, love of the truth."
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Re: The Salem Hypothesis: Do Engineers Tend to Hold Particular Beliefs?
« Reply #10 on: June 27, 2016, 09:38:22 PM »
The Salem hypothesis as proposed by Bruce Salem isn't necessarily saying anything about engineers in general. What he's saying is that when a Creationist claims to have professional qualifications that give them a superior insight into questions regarding evolution as opposed to Creationism, it often seems to turn out that they're actually an engineer. I've encountered this phenomenon often enough to consider it a viable hypothesis, but acknowledge that the saying "the plural of anecdote is not data" applies here.  :sherlock:

But it is a curious coincidence.  My job had me working with a lot of engineers, the vast majority of whom where not only religious but devoutly religious and one of whom fit the Salem Hypothesis to a T.
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Re: The Salem Hypothesis: Do Engineers Tend to Hold Particular Beliefs?
« Reply #11 on: June 27, 2016, 10:30:40 PM »
Rationalwiki has an entry on creationist scientists and qualifications.
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