In Creation/Evolution circles, the Salem Hypothesis suggests that “In any Evolution vs. Creation debate, A person who claims scientific credentials and sides with Creation will most likely have an Engineering degree.” Surveys of the phenomenon suggest that it is a very real phenomenon. Explanations vary, with some proposing the corollary that “An education in the Engineering disciplines forms a predisposition to Creation/Intelligent Design viewpoints.”
Then again, the same mindset that drives someone to engineering could predispose them to nutty ideas like creationism. Or Islamic terrorism.
Non sequitur? Perhaps not. Sociologists Diego Gambetta and Steffen Hertog have published a paper on “Engineers of Jihad,” trying to explain why “engineers alone [out of scientists, doctors and engineers] are strongly over-represented among graduates in violent groups in both realms [“Islamist movements in the Muslim world” and “the extremist Islamic groups which have emerged in Western countries.”]
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.
In other words, engineers recruit other engineers, but they also are predisposed to be a particular sort of extremist. Islamic extremism matches many characteristics of right wing extremism, and engineers have a certain bias towards those properties. As the authors observe:
The Carnegie survey reveals an even more surprising fact, hitherto unnoticed, that strengthens the suspicion that the engineers’ mindset plays a part in their proneness not only to radicalise to the right of the political spectrum but do so with a religious slant: engineers turn out to be by far the most religious group of all academics.
Their mindset may explain why we find engineers among right-wing extremists and virtually none among left-wing ones, but why should it help us to explain their attraction to Islamism? A plausible answer is that the Islamists’ Weltanschauung shares several features with the worldviews found in the extreme right. … a corporatist and mechanistic view of the ideal society … preserving integrity in the social order. … rejects Western pluralism and argues for a unified, ordered society ruled by a strong … leader, in which an authoritative division of labour is created between men and women, Muslims and non-Muslims, political leaders and their flock. The fear of social chaos is a leitmotif of Islamist thought….
…the characteristics … defining … right-wing extremism map out near-perfectly on those of Islamic extremism. …“monism”, is “the tendency to treat cleavage and ambivalence as illegitimate (…) the repression of difference and dissent, the closing down of the market place of ideas”. …“simplism”, is the “unambiguous ascription of single causes and remedies for multifactored phenomena”, which in turn is closely related to seeing history as shaped by the clash between good and evil, and conspiratorially ascribing the forces of evil to one identifiable foe.
While monism and simplism may be shared by left-wing extremism, the last feature, … “preservatism”, is typical only of the right. Unlike left-wing extremism which aims at broadening the lines of power and privilege, preservatism aims to restore a lost, often mythical order of privileges and authority, and … emerges as a backlash against displacement or status deprivation in a period of sharp social change. Preservatism does not appear in just one guise: depending on circumstances it emerges as anti-state or pro-state, as individualism or collectivism. But in its underlying craving for a lost order, its match with the radical Islamic ideology is undeniable: the theme of returning to the order of the prophet’s early community is omnipresent in most salafist and jihadist ideology.
And, of course, in creationism.