Engineer, Heal Thyself


The University of Minnesota Mascot, Goldie Gopher.
Biological engineers at the University of Minnesota tend to be creationists. The main professor who teaches this subject is a creationist and he teaches a creationism seminar on a regular basis. He helps run and organize a Christian student group that has a pledge of faith for members. The bio-engineers student group uses a gopher (our school symbol) standing in the Leonardo position ala the Discovery Institute.

Yes, you read that right. The symbol of the student group for biological engineering is a take-off of the Discovery Institutes's symbol, but using our dumb gopher.

I just noticed this the other day while walking around aimfully on the campus. I'll try to haul a camera over there at some point and get a shot for you.

Anyhow, there is a belief among those of us who are involved in the Evolution-Creationism debate that says that engineers are more likely to be creationists than other individuals in the broader group of scientist/mathematicians/engineers. This idea was embodies some years ago in what is now known as The Salem Hypothesis, originally proposed by Bruce Salem. At Talk Origins, this is defined as follows:

Conjecture that an education in the engineering disciplines forms a predisposition to {SciCre} viewpoints. Due to longtime t.o. regular {Bruce Salem}. New SciCre or {TAE} posters whose credentials include EE, CSE, ME, or other brands of engineering are noted as "data points for the Salem Hypothesis".

PZ Myers has blogged about this, and I believe he generally accepts it as a reasonable hypothesis. In discussing it on his blog, he points to the following example:

Electronic Engineering Times is a venerable trade weekly. ...

With amusement, I came across a series of letters [in the journal] about "Intelligent Design" ...

Jack Atkinson of Alabama penned a letter, "'Particles to man' evolution is only a theory-an absurd one", in response to an article about problems in science education in America.. Jack felt that curtailing the teaching of evolutionary theory would in no way affect the future science and technology careers of students. ('Cause that's how they roll in 'Bama.)

Read the rest of this very interesting post here.

I think there is something to the Salem Hypothesis, but we need to remember to emphasize the term "exposed to" in this very carefully worded construct. Exposure does not mean conversion, or even contamination. I know a number of engineers and most of them are not creationists. Except the Civil Engineers. About two thirds of them are creationist Republican yahoos.

There is a discussion on this topic, sort of, over here at Sciencewoman's Blog.


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The Salem hypothesis is an old chestnut from It was proposed by a fellow named Bruce Salem who noticed that, in arguments with creationists, if the fellow on the other side claimed to have personal scientific authority, it almost always turned out to be because he had an engineering…
I had the strangest afternoon yesterday. I went and picked up Julia at school and brought her back to the U. My plan was to attend the retirement party of an honored colleague, Phil. The first strange thing was hanging out for fifteen minutes or so with my 13 year old Daughter at the University…
I don't say this lightly, but Saletan is one of the more dishonest pundits out there -- I've read multiple columns by this guy where he lies with numbers and fudges the evidence to fit his preconceptions, and this is no exception. He's once again arguing that creationism is compatible with science…

I wonder if that last observation is related to the fact that Civil Engineering majors at a university I once attended were unanimously referred to as "Dumbcivs".

Has anybody broken down the data to determine if the really good engineers--real scientists, who develop better understanding of materials and processes--are less likely than the cookbook engineers to be creationists?

There was a paper put out by Oxford University in February that gives some evidence for the Salem Hypothesis. I wrote about it here and Tyler of PowerUp wrote about this issue here.

Very interesting theory. As a mechanical designer with only a high school diploma I've always been surprised as to how utterly hostile some engineering folk are to the idea of evolution. While I was working on afternoons in Reading, PA I would have a Scientific American or any other number of magazines or books that I read working so far from home ( I live in Ann Arbor. MI) and people would pass my desk and immediately argue with me about the odds are so high that random actions could ever cause life to form that the Universe would have to be trillions of years old and then it could never happen. OH NO Not without a GAWD. I would try to leave this alone (I grew up with fundamental Southern Baptists) but they insisted on assaulting me with angry calls of how I was going to burn in hell. They also asked a Hindu co-worker how he couldn't believe in GAWD and I broke in "But he believes in about a hundred thousand GAWDS."
Today I'm in Augusta, GA (been working here since July 07) and continuously hear I'm going to hell (nice place just north of Ann Arbor) and the one I love "If there's evolution made man from monkeys....why are they still monkeys? Gotta eat something. I answer." I think a lot of engineers are deluded into thinking that if a simple thing like a car has to be designed (not a simple think) by an engineer (yeah. Like most engineers could do a lick of designing.) how could life come out of nowhere..
how.. how.. how....
Please stop the noise...
If the universe had an intelligent designer
Then their would be have to be an intelligent engineer
And a intelligent bureaucratic methodology to assure the correct implementation of an intelligent Sales department quoting to intelligent customers who were intelligently designed by an intelligent designer who had an intell....

Sorry for the rant.
But I'm in Augusta
Georgia....Where the governor prays for rain.
Need Beer.

By LionDancer (not verified) on 13 Jun 2008 #permalink


My advisor's former advisor is now a professor in that department. I don't think he's crazy, but I guess I've never talked to him about it.

As for academic engineers who actually do real science, I can say from my experience that none I've met have espoused such nonsense. But it's not a topic that comes up often between chemical engineers. No one in my department, professor or grad student, believes that nonsense, I know.

Interesting. As a computer scientist (which is really a field closer to "engineer" than "scientist" in the majority of cases), I've felt that what I've learned in computer science is, if anything, an argument against creationism. Or at least an argument against an omniscient god. My reasoning is: I can create very complex systems -- including simulations of virtual worlds -- and though I may be "all-powerful" with regard to designing these worlds, I generally have no idea what the final outcome of running the simulation will be.

So I've never really understood why omniscience necessarily follows from omnipotence.

(I realize this isn't quite on-topic, but it vaguely is :))

As a computer engineer who has been working in the area for three decades, I can't help but wonder where the creationists are. I haven't met any creationist engineers during my career. At least none that are public about it.

Maybe it is an American problem. I've always lived in Europe.

By Lassi Hippeläinen (not verified) on 14 Jun 2008 #permalink

I take mild offense at the practice of painting engineers with the creationist brush. I am an engineer - one of the "cookbook" variety (manufacturing engineer/polymers to be exact)- and I am in no way a creationist.

I say mild offense because I can see creo tendencies in some of my co-workers, possibly because engineers tend to prefer a mechanistic, deterministic world view, ususally one that they can control themselves...

Just don't assume all engineers - even cookbook engineers are creotards just because the majority of those you've met happen to be. Remember, it could very well be an example of 'confirmation bias'.

By Blaidd Drwg (not verified) on 14 Jun 2008 #permalink


The reason is elementary: the Discovery Institute and other ID proponents leave out the Triune God, Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Hence, Richard Dawkins can make the case for �aliens� seeding the earth.

The Quest for Right, a series of 7 textbooks created for the public schools, represents the ultimate marriage between an in-depth knowledge of biblical phenomena and natural and physical sciences. The several volumes have accomplished that which, heretofore, was deemed impossible: to level the playing field between those who desire a return to physical science in the classroom and those who embrace the theory of evolution. The Quest for Right turns the tide by providing an authoritative and enlightening scientific explanation of natural phenomena which will ultimately dethrone the unprofitable Darwinian view.

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Introducing the scheme of coincidence, which by definition, "is the systematic ploy of obstructionists who, in lieu of any divine intervention, state that any coincidental grouping or chance union of electrons and protons (and neutrons), regardless of the configuration, always produces a chemical element. This is the mischievous tenet of electron interpretation which states that all physical, chemical, and biological processes result from a change in the electron structure of the atom which, in turn, may be deciphered through the orderly application of mathematics, as outlined in quantum mechanics. A few of the supporting theories are: degrading stars, neutron stars, black holes, extraterrestrial water, antimatter, the absolute dating systems, and the big bang, the explosion of a singularity infinitely smaller than the dot of an �i� from which space, time, and the massive stellar bodies supposedly sprang into being.

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The Quest for Right.

I work at a research facility at a high-ranked university. The staff mechanical engineer is a YEC. The faculty adviser for the campus IDEA club (now disbanded) was an engineer.

Blaidd Drwg, please do not take offense. The Salem Hypothesis does not say that most engineers are Creationists, but that most Creationists who claim to be scientists are engineers.

By ivy privy (not verified) on 14 Jun 2008 #permalink

Isn't a creationist BioEngineer really 'playing god'?

Anyways, learning about complex adaptive systems and learning theory can trounce creationism in at least some cases. Some more hard-core CS types get this, but most engineers don't.

Engineers are certainly not all creationists, but there is nothing about becoming routine engineer which would lead one to question pre-held creationist beliefs.

I think you run into more engineers with these viewpoints based on the simple fact that there are more engineers in general than most of the other sciences and mathematics. Percentage-wise, I'm not convinced there is much difference.

I am sure there is a huge difference in %!!!!!

re: Joseph, of the silken coat: "I'll believe some-one who was there at the beginning,
Dude: I WAS there at the beginning, and I will be there at the end--but any dumbass who believes that there is an old man in the sky is an,,dumbass. Why? Because I WAS there.The thing on the clouds is an amorphism without basis.
You on th other hand mightg well be a traveler in search of a field guide, and Steph, et al are more than willng to help you out...

By Napoleon Dworkin (not verified) on 14 Jun 2008 #permalink

The Salem Hypothesis as defined at Talk Origins is crap.

"Conjecture that an education in the engineering disciplines forms a predisposition to {SciCre} viewpoints."

There is zero evidence in favor of this. The so-called "data points" are merely the results of confirmation bias on a self-selecting group of creationists. The Oxford paper doesn't support the Salem hypothesis. It shows a definite religious slant, which could explain why engineer creationists seem to pop up frequently, but that is entirely different from saying that an engineering education "forms a predisposition" to creationism. If you use religious beliefs as a proxy for creationism, you're going down the road of arguing that an engineering education makes engineering students more religious. And you've only found a correlation between religious beliefs and creationism, not an engineering education and creationism.

I am willing to bet engineers are much less likely to be creationists than the general population. Which is what counts, isn't it? If someone gets around to doing a study that shows that, you could argue that an engineering education reduces predispositions to creationism. Polls of doctors have shown that there are even doctors who are creationists, at a lower rate than the general public but at a higher rate than biologists. Is it an extraordinary claim to say that engineers would be similar?

(PZ Myers' post I'd say has a much better Salem Hypothesis.)

By Citizen Z (not verified) on 15 Jun 2008 #permalink

Joseph sez:
"Created or evolved?
I'll believe some-one who was there at the beginning,
God, who does not lie.

"Ears that hear and eyes that see? the LORD has made them both."
Proverbs 20:12

Yes, well, the Bible, like every other book, was written by Men, and Men do lie. How do we know Jesus rose from the grave? Men told us. How do we know he raised Lazarus from the dead, multiplied loaves and fishes, calmed the waters of the Sea of Galilee, and so on? Matthew, Mark, Luke and John told us. Not God: Men.

Now, if these Men had given us physical evidence, that would be another matter...

By Tom Buckner (not verified) on 15 Jun 2008 #permalink

I'm a civil engineer and former Xian fundie. Now I know the truth: evolution works and earth is way (billions and billions LOL) old! There could be some truth here but statistics would help tell the tale...

As a computer scientist (which is really a field closer to "engineer" than "scientist" in the majority of cases),

I once had some moron fundy, when I said that contra his claims, very few scientists were creationists, interrupt me to tell about how he had personally converted a "scientist" -- ie. computer science. I didn't get a chance to tell him that CS is not a science, in any sense relevant to the cre/evo debate (and that my M.Eng. in Systems & Computer is basically CS, minus the more esoteric math and language stuff).