Sunday, November 22, 2009


Scientific Taxonomy

A thought:

Creationism may be a strict, pure, and literal belief in the Genesis account, or it may be a more general belief that God created the universe, without any adherence to the specifics of the Genesis account. For example, many people believe that evolution is the mechanism through which God created the world and humanity. These are often referred to as "theistic evolutionists," and they are held in contempt as "sellouts" by the more vocal creationists who hold to a literal interpretation of Genesis. A visit to the Answers in Genesis Web site will reveal almost as much verbal abuse hurled at "theistic evolutionists" as against "evolutionists."

For most people, creationism is a belief system -- there is no attempt or need to evaluate carefully the scientific evidence for or against creation. They simply believe. Arguments supporting evolution are easily dismissed as rhetorical devices favoring a morally dangerous substitute belief system, while arguments against evolution are accepted as supportive of their personal beliefs. Most creationists resemble the American public as a whole, in that they are not well educated in the sciences and so are unable to judge between creation-science arguments and the rebuttals offered by scientists. I would argue that this also extends to professionals who have earned graduate degrees. In eight years of teaching in medical school, I was surprised by the number of medical students who were not trained in the philosophical or even practical form of science, but rather in the assimilation and management of facts. Though many physicians consider themselves scientists (and indeed many are), there is broad confusion between training that involves learning and skillfully using large amounts of scientifically derived information in contrast to that which involves the actual process of generating such information.

- J Michael Plavcan, "The Invisible Bible: The Logic of Creation Science," Scientists Confront Creationism: Intelligent Design and Beyond

Yep: doctors, engineers and no doubt a few other professions learn science-as-encyclopedia rather than science-as-process. Hence, the Salem Hypothesis.
For engineers particularly, there are "laws" (the properties of materials, forces, stresses, etc.)that are, for the most part, unchanging and that they must strictly adhere to or disaster ensues. An interesting question is whether the type of things they are taught predisposes them to creationism or whether the type of people who are attracted to engineering are already predisposed to it.
My impression is not that there is much of a tilt toward creationism among engineers, but that those engineers who do happen to be creationists attract attention because they describe themselves as scientists.

There may or may not be a mutually-reinforcing psycho-cognitive bias between engineering and creationism (BTW: the current version of the Wikipedia article on Salem Hypothesis is fairly good). What there definitely is, is a social selection effect. To expand on what TomS says:
1) Fundamentalists tend towards creationism.
2) Those with more advanced education in science tend away from it.

Engineers (and, I would suggest, other para-science professionals such as medical practitioners) occupy a middle ground in which they know enough science to consider themselves well-informed (and be accepted as such by their non-scientist brethren), but not necessarily enough to disabuse themselves of their misconceptions. Given the additional factor of fundamentalist belief, we get the phenomenom of the creation-science "expert" who usually turns out to be an engineer, doctor or dentist; only rarely a geologist or biologist.
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