Saletan vs. Myers on Nye vs. Ham

It's time to get caught up on a few things. The Nye/Ham debate attracted reams of commentary, some of it sensible, some not so much. Two of the sillier entries came from William Saletan over at Slate He's very worked up about Bill Nye's claim that creationism poses a threat to our scientific future. Saletan writes:

Ham presented videos from several scientists who espoused young-Earth creationism. One said he had invented the MRI scanner. Another said he had designed major components of spacecraft launched by NASA and the European Space Agency. If the spacecraft guy had botched his work, said Ham, you’d have heard about it. That’s true. In fact, it’s a perfectly scientific way of testing the perils of creationism. Can creationists function in science and technology? Manifestly, some can.

The reference to the fellow who said he had invented the MRI is to Raymond Damadian. I did a post on that whole issue way back in 2004.

Saletan is very keen on this point. He comes back to it later:

You can be a perfectly good satellite engineer while believing total nonsense about the origins of life. That doesn’t mean we should teach creationism in schools or pretend it’s a scientific theory. But it does mean we can live with it as a compartmentalized fetish. Believe whatever you want to about monkeys, Noah, and the Garden of Eden. Just don’t let it mess with your day job.

It is trivially true that it is possible to hold crazy ideas in one branch of science while doing good work in another. But is that really the refutation of Nye's point? Some people smoke their whole lives but don't get cancer. Does that imply that cigarette smoking is not a public health problem?

The threat that Nye was describing was about public education. If we teach a generation of children Ham's version of science then, yes, that is a threat to our scientific future. That threat is not mitigated by the fact that a few kids will stumble on to the real thing and go on to be scientists despite their upbringing. I don't think Saletan disagrees with that, since he is clear that he does not want creationism taught in school. But what is his point, then?

I do think I have some basis for thinking that teaching Ham's view, that science is the servant of religion and must submit its conclusions to the religious authorities for approval, has a deleterious effect on society. After all, that was the dominant view in Christiandom for quite some time, and there's a reason that period in our history is known as the Dark Ages. The issue wasn't simply rare cases like Galileo, where the Church actually came down on someone. It was the chilling effect of the Church's constant policing of acceptable and unacceptable thought. That was precisely the attitude that needed to be weakened before the scientific revolution could occur.

Moreover, we could note that evangelical Christianity is all but nonexistent among scientists. That certainly suggests that there is some tension between science and evangelicalism. When you consider that Ham's fundamentalism represents the most extreme version of evangelicalism, I am not optimistic that ignoring Ham and his ilk is really a sensible policy.

That's what Nye was talking about, and I think Saletan knows it. As for Saletan's point that creationism is just a harmless, compartmentalized fantasy, I fear he is just completely delusional. During the debate, Ham showed a few videos of actual scientists who endorse his lunacy. From this, Saletan concludes that creationism is harmless. But the people in those videos are not the day-to-day reality of what creationism is all about. Let Saletan go to a conference of religious home-schoolers, or let him go to the churches that preach this nonsense relentlessly, and then see how confident he is in his argument when he comes back.

The creationists are not interested in compartmentalization. They are interested in making sure their children do not stray from the fold, lest their souls be placed in jeopardy. They are also interested in using the tools of government and education to force everyone to live by their views. It is central to their view of things that “the world”, by which they mean everyone outside their own subculture, is so irredeemably evil that the most important thing in life is to ignore everything you hear from non-fundamentalists. And this is a view shared by a distressingly large percentage of the U. S. population, and which is the dominant view in many parts of the country. This is not a harmless worldview that resides safely compartmentalized in the minds of a few people. It is instead precisely the threat that Nye described.

Anyway, Saletan wrote a follow-up post in which he reiterated the same vapid points. I would not have thought it worth linking to, but for some of the pushback Saletan's columns have received. You see, as silly as Saletan was, some of the replies were even worse. And while it pains me to say it, two of the very dumbest replies came from one of my favorite bloggers: P. Z. Myers.

In his first post he starts off sensibly enough by challenging Saletan's claim that creationism is safely compartmentalized. But he starts going off the rails with this:

Impractical as this sounds, science isn’t about jobs. Nye is making a huge mistake tying understanding science to strictly utilitarian and immediate ends, and that may be a consequence of his background as an engineer.

Let me rephrase it to make the flaw in this argument obvious. What if we were talking about art?

Art is clearly important for a healthy society — it’s how we see and think about ourselves, it’s how we express human values, it’s fundamentally part of being human. It’s also an effective and powerful way to challenge preconceptions and make our culture better. But it doesn’t pay. And corporate art tends to be bland pablum that does nothing to fulfill the essential functions of art.

What on earth is P. Z. talking about? How does arguing that art is valuable without being profitable expose a flaw in Nye's argument about the practical utility of science?

I'm a pure mathematician. I obviously don't think that immediate, practical usefulness is the only measure of an activity's value. But I don't get offended when people point out that mathematics pursued for its own inherent interest routinely ends up being very useful indeed. That, yes, it often leads to the production of better widgets? I have frequently made that point myself, especially when addressing audiences who don't think math is beautiful.

But P. Z. really ramps up the crazy farther on:

So here’s Nye asserting that the measure of the importance of science is how well it trains you to do a job, and here’s Saletan basically agreeing with him on the purpose of learning about science, and disagreeing with Nye by claiming that learning bad science isn’t going to have any impact on your work prospects, because he thinks The McJob is what science is all about. Not only is he building a fallacious case for science, he’s essentially throwing art under the bus along with it.

A pox on both of them. Nye is good at communicating a passion for science, but fails to note the conflict when he pretends that science is about being a better, more employable widget maker for Big Widget, Inc. Saletan is just a cynical contrarian twit who isn’t even aware that his cocky excuses for the corporate status quo are the opposite of contrarian or challenging or provocative. They're simply sad.

I'll leave Saletan to fend for himself, but as a criticism of Nye this is beyond stupid. Is he seriously attributing to Bill Nye the view that science is valuable only because of how well it might train you to do a job? Or that Nye does not think art has value? How does P. Z. get anything like that out of anything Nye said?

There is an annoyingly common, pseudo-intellectual argument that science, by explaining the mechanics of natural phenomena, robs nature of its beauty. Scientists quite rightly rebel against this. Knowing, for example, that rainbows are the result of light refracting through water droplets in the air does not in any way diminish the beauty of a rainbow. Quite the contrary. People who take an interest in science can enjoy a rainbow at several different levels.

P. Z.'s argument here is the equally foolish flipside of the argument. Emphasizing the immediate and utilitarian ends of science in no way suggests you are denying less obviously practical benefits. During the debate, Nye quite sensibly pointed out that evolution vs. creationism is not an abstract question, but instead impacts concerns that are relevant to our day to day lives. I can't even imagine how P. Z. managed to twist that into, “science is about being a better, more employable widget maker for Big Widget, Inc.”

But it gets worse. Replying to Saletan's second essay, in which he referred to the videos of engineers in Ham's presentations, P. Z. wrote this:

Do you see the lie? He eases into it so artfully; these are guys who made “contributions to science and technology” drifts into “you can be a perfectly good engineer” and then he wraps it up by noting that the engineers in Ham’s claims practice science.

Engineers can practice real science, but an engineer is not the same thing as a scientist. I agree that creationists can be perfectly good engineers, but how can you trust the scientific acumen of someone who insists that the earth is only 6,000 years old? That says right there that they have no respect for the evidence. How can Saletan ignore Ham’s bogus distinction between historical and observational science, in which he flatly rejects any possibility of inference about the past from the present? This creationism is utterly incompatible with biology, anthropology, geology, astronomy, climate science, geochemistry, cosmology, and any other science that deals with cause and effect and history. These sciences apparently do not matter to Saletan, as long as engineers make satellites and doctors do surgery.

Oh for heaven's sake! Engineers are scientists. Full stop. Are you really that desperate to deny that a creationist could ever make a contribution to science that you will sink to this level of insult and idiocy? (Yes, it is insulting to suggest that engineers are not scientists.)

As for the rest of the paragraph, does P. Z. not understand that a person can have a blind spot in one area while being perfectly sensible in another? Should creationists not be allowed to serve on juries because, you know, they have no respect for evidence? Can we really not grant that evolution, as important as it is, is not the only thing going on in science?

And while it's hardly the most important point, let us note further that not all of Ham's videos were of engineers.

This sort of extremism really bugs me. Isn't it enough to point out that creationism is scientifically ridiculous, that it's leading lights are shameless propagandists, and that if it ever becomes mainstream in education it will do serious harm to our scientific future? Must we go to the absurd extreme of denying that any creationist has ever made a contribution to science?

Saletan's essays were silly, but P. Z.'s were even sillier.


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In the Spring of 2010, evangelical Bible scholar Bruce Waltke, in speaking about the overwhelming evidence for evolution, said “To deny that reality will make us a cult, some odd group that is not really interacting with the real world.” In response to this, Ken Ham, president of Kentucky’s…
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Some engineers are not scientists. And sadly, many engineers seem to get caught up in various forms of anti science behaviour - climate change denial, of evolution denial

By William T (not verified) on 26 Feb 2014 #permalink

Question to Jason:
Are the creationists science deniers, other than religious restraints? Serving on a jury (criminal or civil), would they refuse to be swayed by important science based evidence?
Without any science background, I can see a person failing to understand subtleties in an argument, or is this just a straw-man?

Excellent summary of the commentaries, Jason.

if you will forgive my pedantry, I will say that the 'Church suppressing science was called the Dark Ages' is History's equivalent of 'If evolution is true, why are their still monkeys?'. And using that line of argument, even as a side note, shows an ignorance of European history.

The idea of a Dark Ages in Europe left history around the same time as aether left science. And the Church didn't really get full control over European intellectual thought until the end of what we consider the Dark Ages anyway.

By Ashley Moore (not verified) on 26 Feb 2014 #permalink

Oh, good to see that I'm not the only one who gets irritated by people's constant inability to tell the difference between the Dark Ages and the High Middle Ages... The "Dark Ages" (although that term is really no longer in favour) were the period in between the fall of the Western Roman Empire and the rise of literate, centralised Christian states in the late first millennium. They are characterised by a resurgence of paganism, a sparsity of written historical sources (due to very low levels of literacy), and the collapse of centralised authority, and they end sometime around the 9th or 10th century. They were precisely the period when "Christendom" was in retreat and disarray (in northern and western Europe anyway, which is the only area where the term means anything at all). The Church wouldn't have less influence over the intellectual life of Europe until the late 20th century. (And arguably not even then, in many places.)

There's nothing more annoying than to read an ivory tower academic thumbing his nose at engineers and industry scientists by not practicing "pure science". Yet PZ Myers has not had a substantial non-academic job since earning his degrees, and his contribution to the corpus of scientific knowledge is miniscule and derivative.

He will not be remembered for his scientific output, but for his notoriety as an internet troll.

The Nye-Ham debate was broadcast on CSPAN a few days ago. The importance of understanding what Nye said is becoming more important.

Jason’s comments were less than collegial. My experience tells me that when a person starts to use insulting language, that person has nothing more to contribute. Let’s stay collegial.

I suggest, again, the audience is the Christians who are not creationists. Creationists are true believers, a small part of the audience, and are unlikely to be swayed. Christians are a large part of the audience and they do need to be swayed. Insulting the Church or equating the Creationists with Christians even by inference is counterproductive.

The early Catholic Church adopted Aristotle’s science. Galileo argued for a revolution in thought against the Aristotle’s system. This is much like we need a Theory of Everything today. A few (2 I think) Popes before Galileo adopted a much more tolerant view to promote trade with Greek Christians and Moslem countries. This was the Italian Renaissance. The Pope in Galileo’s time was faced with invading Ottoman Turks in the east and the apparent success of the Spanish in ejecting the Moors in the west. The Pope sided with the intolerance of the apparent Spanish success. Galileo was not a nice man. Galileo’s peers turned him into the inquisition. Copernicus’s book was on the bookshelves before the shift to intolerance. Galileo’s treatment was only the signpost. The intolerance caused the flight of science to the north.

I have seen the argument that the Church wanted only a slower shift in science rather than the radical change Galileo was promoting. I don’t think so. Intolerance like the intolerance of the Creationists wants no change especially in the source and persons of authority.

Churches and art have their uses in society by keeping the society together. We should not ignore or belittle this very important contribution. As we have seen during the dark ages when science declined because the support structure of science (the universities) declined, the Church eventually formed the base of a re-emergent science. Not the other way around.

I note the engineers Ham presented had little to do with evolution. They were engineers. That is they applied existing knowledge to make something. These are not the scientists who are searching for a new model to replace existing models. The criteria are prediction and usefulness. I’m reminded of an experience of teaching Saudi pilots to fly. The earth is flat (according to their Imams) but calculating courses as if the earth was round works.

Some people smoke their whole lives but don’t get cancer. Does that imply that cigarette smoking is not a public health problem?....

[much later] ...does P. Z. not understand that a person can have a blind spot in one area while being perfectly sensible in another?

To be fair, I think PZ would probably support your smoking analogy. It makes a subtly different point than your second comment, and in fact the two are somewhat inconsistent. The smoking analogy says there is a reasonable probability that holding theistic beliefs will negatively affect one's science down the road. That theistic scientists can be reasonably expected to "pop" or "explode" (in terms of doing bad science) because they can't contain the tension between inconsistent systems forever. Not 100% of them of course, but the analogy kind of implies that enough theistic scientists will 'pop' that one could empirically study the population of scientists and identify theism as a contributing cause to scientific failure, just as smoking causes cancer.

OTOH your second comment implies that compartmentalization is reasonably stable. That just because someone is irrational in one area does not lead to an expectation that this irrationality will bleed over into everything they do.

Personally, I favor the latter hypothesis. I think the former hypothesis ignores the fact that there are literally millions of theistic scientists, greater than 99% of whom never ever pop, and only a tiny fraction of those millions who do. The "like smoking and cancer" hypothesis depends heavily on ignoring the extreme preponderance of misses (i.e., the events that it predicts will happen, but don't), in the case of theistic scientists. IOW, the former conception of how science and religion interact predicts the lifetime behavor of theistic scientists wrongly much, much more often than correctly.

"It was the chilling effect of the Church’s constant policing of acceptable and unacceptable thought."
Far worse. None of the smart christian guys - the church fathers, Augustinus of Hippo, Thomas of Aquino and the other scholastics - doubted this standpoint. As a result the level of scientific knowledge at the beginning of 16th century wasn't any higher than at 200 BCE, with the exception of a few technological improvements. The advance in math was due to import from Arabia and India.

@3 AM: "And the Church didn’t really get full control over European intellectual thought ..."
Well, between 600 CE and 1000 there wasn't any intellectual thought in Europe to control (with the exception of Ireland, where intellectual thought was killed off by the Vikings).

@4 Dunc: "They were precisely the period when “Christendom” was in retreat"
This is nonsense. Britain got rebaptized before the 7th Century, (what would become) The Netherlands and Belgium in the 8th Century, Germany and West-Poland not later than the 9th Century. Christendom reached Denmark half 10th Century, Hungary and Kiev would follow before the end of the Millennium. All these centuries christendom marched on in Spain and Portugal as well, driving the muslims back.
If christendom was ever in retreat then in Britain and The Netherlands between say 400 and 550 CE.

Well, between 600 CE and 1000 there wasn’t any intellectual thought in Europe to control (with the exception of Ireland, where intellectual thought was killed off by the Vikings).

That's ahistorical nonsense. The Vikings and the Anglo-Saxons had metallurgy that wouldn't be equalled until the Victorian period, and all of the northern European cultures of the period had rich and sophisticated oral traditions. They just didn't write stuff down. You can't read Y Goddodin or Beowulf in the original languages and seriously tell me that "there wasn’t any intellectual thought" involved in their composition and oral transmission.

Still the criticism on "The Dark Ages" is correct, not because it puts christianity in a bad light, but because it's impossible to give it any sensible meaning. In South-East Europe for instance the Roman Empire just continued and became the Byzantine Empire (its inhabitants kept on calling themselves Romains). Spain became islamic. Scandinavia, Germany and Eastern-Europe never had had "Enlightened Ages". France and Italy remained literate to at least some extent. Ireland flourished until the Vikings came.
That leaves us with Britain and The Netherlands. The latter seem to have been depopulated in the 5th Century and Britain was remote anyway.
Scientific stagnation is not a good argument either, as it began about 200 BCE - well before the birth of Jesus.
The only option left is equating "the Dark Ages" with the Migration Period. Problem is that the Franks already in 250 CE penetrated as far as Tarragona, Spain and that the last migration is from 1066 with Normans entering Britain (from France). The last attempt is from the Mongols in the 13th Century.

Britain got rebaptized before the 7th Century

"Britain" didn't even exist as a politcal or cultural unit in the 7th century, and the notion that a couple of proto-kings accepting baptism reflects a widespread adoption of Christianity is simply false. Heck, in the 7th Century, there were still major pitched battles being fought between Christian and pagan tribal groupings. And that's before we get to the period of the Danelaw, which was very definitely not Christian prior to the baptism of Guthrum in 878.

"The Vikings and the Anglo-Saxons had metallurgy that wouldn’t be equalled until the Victorian period, and all of the northern European cultures of the period had rich and sophisticated oral traditions. "

Wait, all the recent revisions by the Templeton-inspired centers at Oxbridge telling us that Christianity is solely responsible for science are wrong?

By Michael Fugate (not verified) on 26 Feb 2014 #permalink

Regardless of how dark or non-dark the dark ages actually were, I think its fair to say that "[when] science is the servant of religion and must submit its conclusions to the religious authorities for approval, [this] has a deleterious effect on society."
To the extent that discovery and invention did continue in the middle ages, it happened when proto-scientists were allowed to do their thing without religious strictures (be they pagan, islamic, or christian) on their research.

Proto-scientist, I like that. If only Ibn Sina had had a Pee Aitch Dee, think what he could've done.

It wasn't meant as an insult or to imply any superiority by modern folk. I only meant that these were generally individuals operating on their own, using a variety of methodologies, in a time before science as an institution had started up. But if you prefer, I'll happily take it back and say I was wrong to use such a term.

Hmm as an ex electronics engineer and current software engineer Im actually not offended by the engineers are not scientists comment. I'd say software engineers aren't scientists and electronics engineers are both part scientist and part artist. Engineering as a discipline implies that certain decisions MUST be made , even in the absence of data - science is content with I don't know.

By deepak shetty (not verified) on 26 Feb 2014 #permalink

Several posts are arguing whether science or religion is fixated on their truths.

The philosophy mankind needs to advance is tolerance.

Both can be intolerant or intolerant. When religion is tolerant and dominates, mankind advances as in the Italian renaissance and in Moslem countries in the middle ages. Science can also be intolerant as we are beginning to see in the socially acceptable practices of the elite of today (see Arp’s “Seeing Red” and the pressure of the mankind caused global warming paradigm). Protestants in the 17th and 18th centuries were tolerant that gave us the industrial revolution, the US, and an unprecedented increase in scientific knowledge. .

I think the problem with ID is as Nye argued and Ham showed. ID is intolerant.

By John (not verified) on 27 Feb 2014 #permalink

In reply to by deepak shetty (not verified)

To the extent that the "theism and science get along" argument holds true, I think Myers's point (however arguable it is) becomes even more important, not less.

For the sake of argument, let's say all theistic scientists can in fact do their science "just as well" as an atheist. So what's left for Gnu Atheism to be concerned about? Well, for one, there's a lot of huge philosophical and political issues with theism in general and creationist fundamentalism in particular. A narrow focus on jobs naturally ignores that. (Everyone in this conversation seems to agree that such a focus is a bad idea; the only question is whether Nye was guilty of such.)

That said, I think Myers went (understandably?) overboard on Nye. Economic practicality speaks best in exposing that particular audience to the relevant realities, so of course Nye went in that direction. I don't intend that as some dismissive suggestion that Bible-belt people only care about McJobs. Rather, my point is that in order to buy the "wonder of the universe / human thirst for knowledge" argument for embracing consensus biology and rejecting alternatives, you kind of already have to be on our side of the line in the first place! Creationists and their sympathizers don't consider the Bible and/or YEC as lacking in either philosophical or truth-seeking value, obviously...

... although at some level they do conceptualize of truth in different terms (such as the nonsense about "historical science" and the presumption of the Bible's literal truth), even if they'd like to suppose that it all harmonizes in the end.

Some of the more knowledgeable young-earthers live with interesting cognitive dissonance (for example, Todd Wood), and occasionally have to go so far as to avow faith in spite of the apparent facts. I'm not sure whether they deserve more respect or less for this conclusion, since it simultaneously demonstrates loyalty to reality in substance (by acknowledging the weight of evidence) but disloyalty in principle (by basically rejecting the whole scientific enterprise at its root).

By contrast, the mid-level creationists simply allege a widespread "evolutionist" conspiracy to alter millions of perfectly YEC-sensible facts. This, again, could be argued as either a more or less worthy route. Of course, there's probably not much point ranking the distinctions within such a mess as creationism.

Are engineers scientists? I'd call that a continuum question without a binary answer.

A huge amount of science is engaged in highly practical work, not just for ultimate "public consumption" but intra-field problem solving, along the lines of "How do we find out X?" or "How do we measure Y?" The more I think about it, the more I realize that that's the substance of many, perhaps most, scientific breakthroughs. (We can examine these molecules up close using this chemical concoction! We can clean the fossil with this new technique! We can compare disparate temperature data with this formula!) In a way, you could say most scientists are engineers, at least some of the time.

But perhaps the average engineer doesn't spend their time discovering the "out there" stuff so much as solving problems (sort of "isness versus oughtness"), so there's an argument against such labeling.

Of course, as with so many semantic questions, what's really going on is a status-signalling game, like when physicians say that dentists or surgeons aren't "real doctors" with an implication of rank. Maybe engineers aren't scientists at all, but it would be completely ridiculous to consider that a matter of "inferiority", especially considering the practical overlap I mentioned two paragraphs ago (and the larger sense in which science depends very much on the breakthroughs of engineers).

I am an engineer -
the problem with religious people
(not just fundamentalists)
is that they KNOW the CORRECT WAY

This is true for their faith and it tends to overflow into the rest of their life and work

As an engineer I KNOW -
"The Best Way We Have Come Up With So Far"

I need to be able to drop that when some smart Alec comes up with a better way

That is difficult enough for a heathen like me, the religious people I have worked with have really struggled with that, especially at the start of a project when you really don't know how it is going to come together

By duncan cairncross (not verified) on 26 Feb 2014 #permalink

I was surprised but pleased to hear that engineers are scientists, since I are one (old engineering joke). I have worked with some who couldn't integrate a polynomial, and one who, with a two-year associate's degree, ran creep-rupture tests for decades and discovered some important principles of rupture life.

The last contracting job I worked on, we had to determine what was causing some turbine parts to gall in service, and evidence pointed to a new lubricant which the factory had begun using a few years before the problem started to be noticed in field inspections. We designed an experiment using bolts and nuts at different stress levels in a high-temperature autoclave to test our hypothesis and confirmed it. So I guess that was semi-scientific.

Anecdata: the main reason I quit a long-time job with GE and took up contracting was I got tired of trying to work with another engineer, who once he got an idea in his head, took it as gospel and refused to consider any evidence to the contrary. He happened to be a devout Christian. Maybe that was coincidental and his arrogance was the problem, but everything seemed black and white to him, and he got angry if you tried to change his mind.

We all know that creationism is complete bullshit. But, we should "debate" it every time we can. Ignore the "debate". Just give a lesson in science. Show lots of pix of spiral galaxies, colliding galaxies, clusters of the galaxies. Maybe note that the bible doesn't mention "galaxies" anywhere. Many of these people have never been exposed to real science, just treat it as a teaching opportunity.

[You can be a perfectly good satellite engineer while believing total nonsense about the origins of life]

...No wonder... even Jesus, whether real or fictional, had the capacity to manipulate physical matter!!!

...Just as the decimated person has the capacity to decimate...

Maybe note that the bible doesn’t mention “galaxies” anywhere.

I've read some accounts of people who deconverted on the basis of the Bible's exceedingly narrow scope of interest, and the corresponding huge swath of unmentioned reality (hey, even the absence of the Americas prompted Joseph Smith to find some golden tablets about them).

But I don't think that works for most people. Believers usually just say "How is it a problem if the Bible doesn't mention this or that?", because they're not trying to make an honest "prediction" (in a quasi-scientific sense) of what a book by the universe's creator might actually be expected to discuss. All that matter is if it isn't actually disproven. Since it contains enough outright falsehoods to do so, that can be (in some cases) a more effective route. But it depends on the person.

In this particular context, all that matters to me is that people are able to understand the evidence for evolution and why it fits together, especially if they can demonstrate some real curiosity about how scientists think (ie, not "They're just trying to make everything prove their evolution story"), just as I am always curious about the thinking of creationists (which I have to admit does look a lot more like simple bias to me, with rare exceptions). If they can really get that far, then they can either become Todd Wood (in one case out of every dozen million), or a soft-conspiracy believer (as in "The Darwinists aren't evil, they just have the wrong model"), or a theistic evolutionist, or (ideally) an atheist.

The only option off my table, the one that makes me most disappointed, is the one taken by most creationists and quasi-creationist, who basically don't think about this stuff at all. Heck, a sizable portion ofthe USA simultaneously figures that the Earth was made thousands of years ago (since that seems Christian and Biblical and stuff) and that dinosaurs lived on Earth millions of years ago (because dinosaurs connotes "ancient").

no, man, engineers are not automatically scientists by virtue of being engineers. Most are not. "Dealing somehow with technology" is not science.
At a minimum, to be a 'scientist', I'd say one has to:
1. make original observations of natural phenomena
2. interpret those observations with use of accurate logic
3. publish these results and interpretations.
All three. Teachers are not scientists, even if they have scientific training or once did science, physicians are not sceintists unless they are actively doing research, not just practicing medicine, and engineers are not scientists unless they are doing science; learning new things. You don;t have to run experiemnts or even test hypotheses but observations, logical interpretation, and dissemination via publishing are necessary and sufficient.

By Sven DiMilo (not verified) on 27 Feb 2014 #permalink

"At a minimum, to be a ‘scientist’, I’d say one has to:
1. make original observations of natural phenomena
2. interpret those observations with use of accurate logic
3. publish these results and interpretations."

As an engineer I often do (1) and (2)
Instead of (3) - publishing- I use the results to make physical changes in the world
I don't need people to "peer review" my conclusions - the real world does a pretty good job of checking to see if I was correct or not
"observations, logical interpretation," - check
"dissemination via publishing" - why is this necessary??
What is wrong with just making the damn thing??

By duncan cairncross (not verified) on 27 Feb 2014 #permalink

It might be appropriate to designate most engineers as applied scientists in that they apply known scientific principals (e.g. Newton's laws) to their everyday work. Scientists, on the other hand, are concerned with finding new scientific principals (e.g. relativity, quantum mechanics).

By colnago80 (not verified) on 28 Feb 2014 #permalink

I want to comment on the Engineer issue here. If I knew that an engineer I was considering to hire thought that it was scientifically true the earth was 6000 yrs old. I would not hire this person. Full stop. They cannot be trusted as an engineer. Either they are ignorant of basic science and facts - thus not qualified as an engineer or they deny these facts for personal reasons - again not qualified as an engineer. I cannot trust an engineer that will ignore data and facts based on a belief.

Now if they say, they understand the science and the facts we observe. But god must have created the world as is to look old but it must be 6000 yrs old to conform to beliefs, well now we have a starting point.

"Scientists, on the other hand, are concerned with finding new scientific principals (e.g. relativity, quantum mechanics)."

Don't agree with this
- they also serve who do the confirmation, collect the data, and generally find things out

99.999% of scientists don't "Find new scientific principles"

By duncan cairncross (not verified) on 02 Mar 2014 #permalink

"The creationists are not interested in compartmentalization. They are interested in making sure their children do not stray from the fold, lest their souls be placed in jeopardy. They are also interested in using the tools of government and education to force everyone to live by their views. It is central to their view of things that “the world”, by which they mean everyone outside their own subculture, is so irredeemably evil that the most important thing in life is to ignore everything you hear from non-fundamentalists."

Ignorant. And intolerant. I'm a creationist Presbyterian Reformed Christian with four higher-education degrees, one of them in secondary education. I am homeschooling my children. My eldest sings opera in German, French and Italian, as well as performing in a New England youth-opera company with numerous heathens and pagans, such as those that evidently frequent this board. She's hardly sheltered or caged at home. I created my own anaerobic-fermentation system a decade ago, which we use for our family and now ship worldwide. I much prefer God's design of anaerobic-fermentation than the idiot belly-button woo-woo crowd thinking they can achieve good results using any cheap mason jar or open-crocks. My eldest daughter should be a senior in high school, but because of the solid-foundation she learned from me (better than the gov't schools!) about good, solid scientific methods, she'll be completing her second year of college, pulling straight A's in microbiology and chemistry. I've surrounded myself with PhD microbiologists, food chemists, food researchers, biochemists, ad nauseum, and if any of them exhibited the ignorance, closed-minded, snarky attitudes of this group, I'd quickly move on to find others of a more sound, decent, respectful nature. I agree about Mike Adams and other scammers and sharks, but it sure takes a lot of wading through vomit on this site to find a few solid, well-spoken comments.

By Katie Milford (not verified) on 02 Mar 2014 #permalink

Hi Katie

Sorry but I simply don't believe you - I think you are some poor deluded soul making things up

By duncan cairncross (not verified) on 02 Mar 2014 #permalink

We need definitions of scientist and "doing science." I am an engineer but I would agree I am not a scientist. Because I would define scientist as someone that does work on advancing the state of the art in a scientific field for most of their time. Now some of the research engineers I work with are definitely scientists by my definition.

Now when I was working as an engineer I did science sometimes. Maybe 20% of my work would have qualified. Now I am management, alas, still like getting my hands dirty so to speak.

I do take exception with Larry Moran. Engineers do not only work in IT or construction. I do not know an engineer in an IT department - but I do not know many IT people.

I also take exception with PZ. A creationist cannot be a competent engineer. In the sense that denying science is a very slippery slope. What trust can a manager have in someone that denies scientific evidence - not much. Where does denial begin and end.

I agree with Nye (I think). A person working in sciences (engineering too) needs a robust knowledge and a scientific curiosity to be effective in their work. It is completely wrong to say I can program an airline reservation system and do not need to know evolution. Full stop. If you deny some science you are less competent in any other area. Full stop. I would not trust you.