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Monday, January 08, 2007

Why Are So Many Engineers and Physicians IDiots?

Stephen Meyer on Engineers and ID is an answer the the question of why are there so many engineers who believe in intelligent design, and why are there so few scientists. 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.

The Cost of Mistakes address the observation that a higher percentage of doctors fall for ID compared to scientists. 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.

Engineers and doctors play with science but they are not trained to be scientists. They are not biologists. They are not geneticists. They are not experts in evolution. It's about time we recognized that the vast majority of people who believe in intelligent design don't understand the first thing about science and how it's supposed to be done. That's why a higher proportion of non-scientists (doctors, lawyers, accountants, engineers, politicians) are IDiots.


  1. There are those trained (educated?) to be scientists who believe in ID, and they obviously do not understand the first thing about science (see, e.g.,

    Belief in ID appears to me to come down to motivation more than it does choice of profession between sciences, medicine, and engineering. Because even the most fundamental formulation of ID consists of argument against the possibility of various features occurring via evolution (i.e., that evolution cannot create "irreducible complexity" or "specified complexity") rather than argument for a clearly laid out alternative mechanism, it is not necessary (nor, it appears, possible) to have a scientific explanation *of ID* rather than *against evolution*.

    No, "design" is not an alternative *mechanism*. When does the Designer incorporate the necessary genes for development and flip the switches that control their activation/deactivation? Or is the switch-flipping programmed by the Designer in advance - at conception; at a species' initial appearance; some other time? Are mutations mistakes of the Designer or deliberate changes? Changes for what purpose - do species have "model years" like cars? Unless it has the capacity to respond with evidence to these sorts of questions, on which one can find any number of publications doing precisely that for evolution, ID cannot be said to have proposed a clear alternative mechanism.

  2. A mathematician, a physicist, and an engineer were all given a red rubber ball and told to find the volume.

    The mathematician carefully measured the diameter and evaluated a triple integral.

    The physicist filled a beaker with water, put the ball in the water, and measured the total displacement.

    The engineer looked up the model and serial numbers in his red-rubber-ball table.
    I'm sure there could be equivalent jokes using an Evolutionary Biologist, a Paleontologist, and a Doctor. But they probably would not be very funny...

    1. obviously have no idea the schooling that an engineer undertakes (including 6-7 courses in calculus which would mean they`d calculate it like the mathematician did, an applied methematics and an algebra, nevermind all of their other courses in the sciences and applied sciences which I realize doesn`t make them scientists but still). I know it`s just a joke, and I actually did laugh, and it`s true to an extent that they have tables and graphs for everything you can think of. But that`s for efficiency - not for inability to solve it in ways they`ve been trained. I gotta loosen up!

    2. Engineers take computational courses that are cookbooks (Calc 1-3, DE, and Prob/Stats for engineers), they do not take any real maths until they are required to take one or two cognates in graduate school, and then they whine if they have to take a undergraduate junior or senior level maths course from the maths department, so then the engineering department teaches a maths for engineers course for them that is liking any analytical content, just more recipes. Engineers are not scientist, they are technologists using predefined recipes given by mathematicians and physicists.

    3. Hmmm that`s odd - I could have swore I took 6 calculus courses including DE plus stats plus applied mathematics plus algebra. But I guess I only took 4.....though I realize not all schools are the same. Our professor Dr. Trim wrote the textbook and it was an awesome one that explained it incredibly clearly, and not as a cookbook but to understand thoroughly. Previous calculus courses, in high school, were like cookbooks throwing formulas at you. He also happened to be hilarious but that`s beside the point. OBVIOUSLY we`re not going to take the number and depth of mathematics that someone who is in a 4 year course in mathematics would take. If by `real maths` you mean math that is not useful for designing everything you have around you and maybe even IN you (biomechanical medical devices) or now on Mars, then okay but know that they do teach the theory and development behind the formulas as opposed to what I understand is taught to technologists.

      I never said engineers are scientists despite their bachelor of science degrees - just like they`re not mathematicions or plumbers or police officers. Conversely, mathematicians are not physicists or engineers, and physicists are not mathematicions or engineers. This is also all obvious. I was only referring to the fact engineers are trained in enough mathematics, a total of 8 if you include stats and applied math for mechanical engineers or 9 for electrical as they got a 7th calculus course) to not have to rely on tables and graphs which is only for efficiency. We use calculators and slide-rulers before that for the same reason.

  3. the vast majority of people who believe in intelligent design don't understand the first thing about science and how it's supposed to be done

    These folks typically get a weekly lecture on Creationism and allied fields. Presumably the last time any of them gave a thought to scientific methods was when they were in college. It's hardly surprising that they believe what they're told, that's the essence of marketing. Christianity is way better at it than science is.

  4. After a career in engineering I have to say I agree with your idea. As for your dig that we "play with science," well, somebody has to put science to use from time to time so scientists can have the luxury of having the time and material they need to do science.

  5. Thanks, Larry: that pretty much sums up my thoughts on the old "Salem Hypothesis" (including that it applies to doctors as well).
    (BTW, your Meyer link points to Sandwalk, not to the UD article).

    Moreover, I don't think these IDist engineers even understand "design" as an abstract process as well as they implicitly claim to. Look at the comments over at UD: a bunch of engineers going: "Gee whiz, life is so complicated it looks designed to me", with a lack of rigour that, if applied professionally would guarantee that their first bridge would come crashing down.

  6. For what it's worth, I'm an engineer by training, though I don't buy into ID because I trust the scientists that DO actively study and understand evolution. The evidence is there for evolution. I'm not arrogant enough to pretend I can out-science the scientists by denouncing evolution, although I do try to understand as much as I can just to be scientifically literate. I see an embarrassing level of hubris in fellow engineers that can be rather annoying. In my experience, engineers generally hate to say "I don't know" while I bet scientists love saying "I don't know, let's find out."

  7. "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."

    As I am trained as both engineer and physicist, and have a previous theory, I will take a swing at the engineer model.

    My feeling is that a lot of kooks are engineers, something that they were known for in society way before the web. Many ID engineers seems to belong to the kook group, though it could well be that there are two overlapping groups.

    My model is on the kooks. Part of the social reason behind that engineer are known as kooks is that some engineers are creative entrepreneurs. The failures can be spectacular.

    "Engineers and doctors play with science but they are not trained to be scientists."

    Here is another part. But it is not that simple. Engineers have diverse schooling.

    On the practical side, some have shared quite a lot of lab courses with physicists. When starting research, one gets especially acquainted with methods of particular fields but I can't say that it is much different. I have met some engineers that have had a good empirical approach to their (admittedly mostly practical) problems.

    On the theoretical side, it is much the same. At least in Sweden there isn't any special study of science methods. So again it is more of a difference in volume and quality.

    That said, having met many engineers, those with low schooling may indeed have a less informed or even peculiar view of science.

    "a bunch of engineers going: "Gee whiz, life is so complicated it looks designed to me", with a lack of rigour that, if applied professionally would guarantee that their first bridge would come crashing down."

    This is supportive of the main mechanism I believe in. Many engineers have to venture into fields they haven't met before and quickly produce results. A successful method is the shot-gun approach (I believe that, and origami, is why some japanese mechanic constructions looks as they do :-), with a few ad hocs along the way as mental coat hangers for the results.

    "In my experience, engineers generally hate to say "I don't know" while I bet scientists love saying "I don't know, let's find out.""

    In small scale engineering for consumers there is seldom need to test models outside the area of immediate application. A result of the enforced "can do" attitude is a lot of hubris. Unfortunately, this translates less well (read: not at all) when engineers takes this approach into areas where they don't get feedback from tests. Presto: (ID) kooks!

    "Salem Hypothesis"

    I don't get this at all. Engineers seeing design and naively believing by analogy in a designer?! Doesn't the hypothesis makes the same mistake itself, reason by naive analogy between engineers work and what some of them believe? :-) (I note that it is said to be often used for its humor value. I can see why.)


    My first degree is in Physics, with an MSc in Engineering, and you won't get a more seriously anti-Cretinist/ID-iot than me.

    I suspect the actual proportion of those with degrees, or higher degrees in engineering who have been conned by the lies of the christian/islamic/hindu fundamentalists is, in fact, quite small (tiny, even?)
    It is just that it is bigger than that of the "biologists", and therefore, more noticeable, because they are scientists, and have been scientifically trained.

    The most obvious example I can think of is the the disjoint-brained Prof. McIntosh of Leeds (to that University's great embarrassment)
    But, even there, he apparently got the infectious christian meme long ago, and worked up to Cretinism from there.
    Sad, isn't it?

    For more on this look at the discussion board at:

  9. Steve Watson says,

    Thanks, Larry: that pretty much sums up my thoughts on the old "Salem Hypothesis" (including that it applies to doctors as well).

    Isn't it interesting that we've been talking about this for so long? The Salem Hypothesis originated on with Bruce Salem back in the early 1990's (or perhaps even the late 1980's).

    Here's a link to a discussion between you and Bruce in 1994. The discussion reveals your profession but I won't mention it here, okay? Turns out there are exceptions to every rule. :-)

    (BTW, your Meyer link points to Sandwalk, not to the UD article).

    Thanks. The URL was missing an equals sign ("=") so it defaulted to my blog. I fixed it. It's a major pain to proof-read everything before posting. Maybe I should hire an engineer to do the easy repetitive stuff that doesn't require much intelligence? :-)

  10. Larry could be right. I'm sure Behe is a lot smarter than say, Linus Torvalds.

  11. I work with engineers. Big silicon company. I'm not one, myself. Undergrad bio degree, some graduate courses in algorithm analysis... Long story. Circuitous career path. You know.

    Anyway. Observations from life among hardware and software engineers, with apologies in advance if I should insult anyone by this:

    1. Hubris/curiosity varies. It probably depends on professional experience, personal experience. But there is a certain 'I can do anything' frame of mind, and a closely related 'I do too understand this well enough to argue with anyone' attitude some of them do tend to get themselves into... In fairness, again, it's highly variable between individuals, but you do see it, often enough, that I think it's a fair observation.

    My suspicion is it has a lot to do with the work cycle. The work cycle for engineers (in the fields I know, at least) is frequently a) get new problem, b) attempt to understand well enough to formulate solution, c) apply solution, d) get paid...

    And step b can be a very utilitarian stage, against a natural scientist's point of view, depending on your attitude, interest in the subject. Note the phrase 'well enough to formulate a solution'. Often, the approach is going to be: learn just what you have to in order to get your job done, and frequently, that's the smart thing, career-wise, short-term. Getting too curious about possibly ancillary issues, that's not necessarily gonna make managers or clients happy with you.

    So I think the attitude's a bit different than that of the better natural scientists, for whom curiosity is a virtue in its own right... Bearing in mind, again, it varies between individuals. These are necessarily population-level generalizations I'm talking about, here.

    2. Keeping it simple is something of an engineering mantra. Go with the obvious. Go with your first solution, see if it works well enough, and if it does, move on, that's frequently perfectly sane for quotidien problems. Doing an 'elegant' solution to a problem the managers just want brute-forced outta the way, it's not always an option, even if you wish it were, so some engineers do learn to think in that mode: keep it simple, get it done...

    So if it seems kinda prima facie obvious to an engineer like a 'designer' is a pretty good explanation for something, their habits and temperament might just say: stop there. Done. Solved. Next? The fact that postulating a designer effectively poses the same question you claim to have just answered is Someone Else's Problem. I'm so marking this one as 'solved'.

    This, note, of course, wouldn't work terribly well for an actual engineering problem, in which you'd have to craft a solution which doesn't, say, depend on another solution not yet in existence... But since explaining biodiversity really *isn't* an engineering problem, someone thinking this way isn't necessarily going to let this bother them.

    3. Finally, like I think I'm implying with 'hubris/curiosity varies', absolutely, there are engineers who (it seems to me) do regularly think a lot like natural scientists. Error bars on everything, always in the back of their minds, at least, qualified certainty according to the quality of the evidence they're working with, a healthy appreciation for the limits of their knowledge, an ability to keep a couple explanations for phenomena in the brain at the same time, weighed against accumulating evidence, a broad curiosity, and a strong drive to slake the same. For those working in areas where established solutions are few and far between, and cookbooks non-existent, this is a necessary attitude...

    All that said, I'd be curious if someone could actually do or has done a 'Salem hypothesis' poll... do some demographic questions like: 1) what's your field, 2) what variety of engineer be ye? 3) what's your industry segment, and 4) is Behe a schmuck? ... and then see if any interesting correlations happen to pop out...

    I'd tend to suspect they might. Tho' I don't know enough of fields outside hardware and software to predict terribly well what you'd find. I would say I'd expect that people working in the more 'theoretical' end of the business I do know... coming up with new architectures and the like, might be a bit more likely to grasp why it is ID is so very hollow as an 'explanation'.

  12. Larry:

    "Maybe I should hire an engineer to do the easy repetitive stuff that doesn't require much intelligence? :-)"

    If you can find anyone dumb enough to do stuff for you :-), would you consider drop the "Read more" expansion when it doesn't in fact lead to more material? Because it makes us feel so stupid...


    Great model, sort of complements my kook description/group from pretty much the same motivation. And includes the Salem Hypothesis from a motivation I can get.

  13. There is a new post on this on the Panda's Thumb. It's interesting.

  14. Torbjörn Larsson asks,

    If you can find anyone dumb enough to do stuff for you :-), would you consider drop the "Read more" expansion when it doesn't in fact lead to more material? Because it makes us feel so stupid...

    It makes me feel pretty stupid too. When my posts flip on to the next page they acquire the "Read More" widget whether I want it or not. There doesn't seem to be anything I can do about it right now. Google (Blogger) is experiencing all kinds of problems and most of them are much more serious.

    Please be patient.

    I'd consider switching but ScienceBlogs won't take me.

  15. engineer dont come out with imaginery storys which are not fully proven or understood, engineers are more in tuch with practical reallity they understand laws like thermodynamics which seems to go against evolution, scientists say we dont know this and that but still defend their unproven theory like if it was god given fact , studied geology and engineering and can say with confidence that 40% of geology are just unproven theories, engineers are smarter by far than most scientists and more usefull too.

  16. To Anonymous..
    Don't blame geology on your lack of intelligence. Do you think just because you managed to graduate with engineering degree doesn't make you smart..obviously! Stop giving us a bad name by shutting up. Thanks!

  17. Axiom 1: Human beings are "intelligent."
    Axiom 2: It is possible for intelligent beings to create life (if a self-replicating organism can develop from originally non-living components without an intelligent designer, as evolution argues, then it must be possible, in principle, for us to replicate the work of nature.)
    Axiom 3: Then it is possible, for we humans, in principle, to design such an organism that will adapt to its environment and evolve over time, and also to create two alternate "genders" that can reproduce sexually.

    Proposition: Imagine that the following three axioms, and the scenarios that they outline, actually occurred. Clearly, it would be an instance in which a life form was created precisely by means of "intelligent design" (meaning us people).

    Proposition: Human beings have a tendency to want to find other forms of intelligent life, to create it in the laboratory, or even create it in the form of artificial intelligence. In essence, we want to create or "the image of ourselves." This is quite evident among some in the scientific community, especially adherents to the "Singularity" hypothesis, which I think is not entirely unlikely.

    Proposition: If the above scenario does happen, we have a specific and unambiguously demonstrated instance in which a living, evolving organism was produced by the intention and intelligence of a conscious being.

    Conclusion: If humans become intelligent designers, so to speak, then we have experimental evidence (our own experience) that intelligent design both theoretically and empirically hold water. It was possible for intelligent life to exist ~3.8 billion years ago; it follows that it is possible an intelligent designer of whatever identity created a life form that was self-replicating and adapted to its environment. (Intelligent design doesn't negate an evolutionary process; in fact, for a system to be able to adapt and "evolve," yet maintain its integrity as a living organism requires much greater "intelligence" than it does merely to create one unchanging life form).


  18. @Jay,

    One problem...
    There is no evidence that any other intelligence existed 3.8 billion years ago (or whenever).
    And then we get into the problem of who designed the designer. And then designer^3, then designer^4, etc, etc, etc on ad infinitum.

    Yet, in the absence of a designer, we have a rather good theory, already.

    It was also possible that life was created this way...

    but the evidence is lacking.

    1. We know relatively little (as much as we don`t like to hear it), and can`t wrap our little minds.......which we only use what, 10% of, around many things like eternity of time and infinity of space. If we can`t understand those two concepts, there are other things we can`t understand either, like how a designer could `always have been`. I don`t profess to understand it either obviously. It`s a crazy idea but so is infinite time and space. If you doubt infinite space, well then what`s at the end of it to end it, and what`s beyond it? Well if something`s beyond it, then it wasn`t the end! So get your head around that, I sure as heck can`t. Same with infinity in the past and future - it must be infinite because if there was a beginning, what was before that, and if there was an end, what would be after that? I suppose if it`s the start or the end, then by definition there`d be nothing before or after, respectively. But that just doesn`t make sense to me any more than space ending. I know some big brain(s) will explain it to me but my point is, there are things we don`t and probably never will understand.....and the aforementioned may be some of the best examples. It`s a lot easier for me to accept that I can`t understand infinite space and time and an eternal creator than it is to accept that things are not near perfectly designed with infinite intelligence. One thing Gerald Schroeder said that struck me as thought-provoking and made the universe-creating process real to me vs silly is that (someone will surely correct me if I paraphrase him wrong judging by comments above this is a very scientifially oriented group - in fact I`m quite out of my element here but merely giving my opinion/thoughts because it`s a fascinating topic) solid steel even is actually 99.999% vacuous space. What feels solid is actually almost entirely ethereal fields of force and not `solid` at all. And the last 0.001% we don`t really know WHAT it is. Again someone correct me. But it made me realize that everything we think is reality can actually be in God`s mind, a thought, and entirely information and mathematical constructs by an infinite intelligence. That may just be the worst paraphrase in the history of paraphrases, but I again invite you to read his book`s abstracts or check it out at the library.

    2. As far as the already good theory, evolution, I`ve read perhaps in these very books that a group of top mathematicians (sp) calculated the statistical probability of a given positive-outcome mutation and it was an emphatic `impossible`. Nevermind more than that. Evolutionary Biologists that were posing the question to them however refused to accept what the mathematicians were telling them, because their world view HAS to have a completely naturalistic explanation meaning something like evolution. They really don`t have any choice, in fact I totally understand why science as an institution cannot do anything else than they`re doing without `scientific proof` of God (vs mere evidence of design due to complexity and the digestive, reproductive and nervous systems nevermind the actually UNsimple `simple` cells that number in the millions). They have to assume there`s no God and that`s fine. The laws of nature that science and scientists have uncovered over the last couple centuries, and all scientific facts about our universe as well, is all merely unravelling how it`s been done and designed, akin to a car owner disassembling his Toyota Tundra piece by piece, understanding what everything does and how it all works. It doesn`t mean there was no engineers. And scientists understanding the universe doesn`t mean there`s no engineer either. I say this last part because it seems the more we learn, the more advanced we become, the implication is that we need God less and there`s less chance there`s a God (because we understand things and don`t feel we have to say there`s a huge turtle pulling us around the sun, or the earth is resting on the back of a turtle). However it should be the exact opposite, where the more we discover, the more in awe we are and the more convinced we become that everything must be designed. That`s how we would feel if as we got deeper and deeper into the turbojet engine of an airliner, it`s electonic circuits, the metallurgy of it`s impellers, and the tolerances on mating parts. How much more should we be convinced of a designer for things dozens of times more complex than that?

  19. We all think we`re so intelligent these days (especially almost everyone posting about hubris, it`s sickening, in particular the scientists and the engineers claiming they`re some of the smart engineers who don`t believe in a `master engineer` of it all, sucking up to the scientest and the blogger. Anyway, mankind can design a robot (think Honda) in all our technological advancement that has sent rockets into space. Yet that robot cannot reproduce, it cannot live off the land to fuel itself, and it cannot defacate waste. It also cannot reason or love or evolve. Contrary to the tone of this blog - you`d have to be an idiot to NOT believe in intelligent design. Really. Think about it. We cannot happen by chance even over some fantastical number of years, any more than even the almight Honda`s robot would have happened over that time without an intelligence to create it`s systems. Nevermind one that is close to as sophisticated as we are. The arrogance and willing blindness to the obvious is stunning.

    1. ....I`d like to retract a few possibly inflammatory things I said here. What can I say - I was grumpy! Saying the hubris was sickening, that those posting above thought they were so intelligent, and the `smart` engineers who don`t believe in ID sucking up to the scientsts and blogger etc. I don`t think any of us are idiots either. I suppose I was a bit on the defensive because of the clever "why are so many physicians and engineers IDiots" and some of the comments I found mildly offensive. Anyway I wish I could delete those parts said in haste in a foul mood but it`s too late now.

      Carry on!

  20. Read Gerald Schroeder`s "The Hidden Face of God" and "The Science of God"......or at LEAST google it and read the abstract or introduction summarizing his premise. He`s not a Christian but is a Jew, not that it matters, because it`s not about doctrine, but about a creator/designer/engineer. He`s not an engineer though you`d just call him a kook scientist, even though he holds doctorates in molecular biology and nuclear physics (or`s been awhile) and is a professor of one of them or both. I really enjoyed both books, found him an intelligent and lucid writer, who certainly didn`t hurt my belief in a God. I think so many think that someone has to believe in the Bible to believe in God. I don`t think that necessarily has to enter the conversation as that opens up a huge can of worms. I believe you go there once you ascertain what`s more likely: God or `no god`. It`s no use reading the Bible or any other book if you don`t believe in a god in the first place. My belief in a creator has nothing to do with the Bible, it is just so self-evident it`s ridiculous. Go disect (sp) a chicken or study the nervous system or the detailed physiology of any living thing. Study the human brain. I know - these are all things you`ve heard before and will scoff at, but I just can`t get my head around the fact that such ABSOLUTELY INSANE sophistication occurred randomly and gradually. Yes I believe in natural selection and `micro-evolution` to adapt but only as part of the design.

  21. "Engineers and doctors play with science but they are not trained to be scientists."

    Mostly true. We use lots of shortcuts and recipes in order to apply science to create practical things. But I don't think you can be a good engineer without skill in empirical thinking.

    "They are not biologists. They are not geneticists. They are not experts in evolution. It's about time we recognized that the vast majority of people who believe in intelligent design don't understand the first thing about science and how it's supposed to be done."

    True, but it is also true that the vast majority of people who believe in evolution aren't biologists or geneticists, and don't understand the first thing about science and how it's supposed to be done.

    No one can be an expert at everything. At some point you have to acknowledge your limits and put your trust in the scientists who *are* biologists and geneticists, having faith that the scientific method is self-correcting and will always lead to the truth. Yes, believing in evolution is a matter of faith.

  22. I disagree about engineers not being trained to be scientists; at least as a modern engineer, we were certainly trained how to be scientists, and at work, we do science constantly. Maybe it was different back in ye olden days, or maybe being a biomedical engineer gave me a different perspective, but...

    In any case, I suspect the actual reason is mostly because they -can-. Biologists are the least vulnerable because their profession is so deeply connected to it. Being a biologist and believing in ID is pretty much impossible. Likewise being an astrophysicist and believing in ID. The professions simply exclude anyone with such beliefs from them. The less your profession excludes you from it, the more you can believe in it.

    It has been my experience that the people most likely to believe in ID are people with no scientific training at all. Engineers seem to believe in it much less than the general population.