Recent Slashdot article:

In a forthcoming book, Engineers of Jihad, published by Princeton University Press, Diego Gambetta and Steffen Hertog provide a new theory explaining why engineers seem unusually prone to become involved in terrorist organizations. They say it's caused by the way engineers think about the world. Survey data indicates engineering faculty at universities are far more likely to be conservative than people with other degrees, and far more likely to be religious. They are seven times as likely to be both religious and conservative as social scientists.

I am surprised, I believed engineers were far less religious than average (be it in the faculty population or general population).

I haven't found the "survey data" the article talks about, but does it really indicate that? If the data is not available, do other studies confirm/invalidate this affirmation?


1 Answer 1


This survey by Simmons et al. of ~1500 university professors in America shows that religious belief is negatively correlated with the academic standing of the university, and that engineering professors have some of the lowest percentages of religious belief.

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The authors then give some numbers regarding their data:

Psychology and biology have the highest proportion of atheists and agnostics, at about 61 percent. Not far behind is mechanical engineering, 50 percent of whose professors are atheists or agnostics. Behind that is economics, political science, and computer science, with about 40 percent of professors falling into this category. At the other end of the spectrum, 63 percent of accounting professors, 56.8 percent of elementary education professors, 48.6 percent of professors of finance, 46.5 percent of marketing professors, 46.2 percent of art professors and professors of criminal justice, and 44.4 percent of professors of nursing say they have no doubt that God exists.

This data shows that engineering professors were in fact less religious than social scientists, in contradiction of the book cited.

  • 2
    This doesn't seem to answer the question, which asks about engineers, not engineering professors: there are good reasons to believe that the latter is not at all representative of the former (and that professors are not representative of faculty). I do agree that part of the ambiguity lies in the question itself though.
    – 410 gone
    Nov 26, 2015 at 11:48
  • 1
    This specifically counters the claim about engineering faculty, which I consider to consist mainly of teaching staff, i.e. professors.
    – March Ho
    Nov 26, 2015 at 11:51
  • 2
    Ah, maybe it's a dialect thing then: I'm used to professors being an unrepresentative minority of faculty.
    – 410 gone
    Nov 26, 2015 at 11:52
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    Also, 1500 professors and 20 categories makes on average 75 professor per category, each of which can give 7 answers. I wonder how many mech eng and electrical eng were actually interviewed. Look at how different is the percentage of "I do not believe in God" for those two categories.
    – Peltio
    Nov 26, 2015 at 15:33
  • 7
    Not a single physical scientist or mathematician in the whole data set? Out of 1500? I find it hard to believe that the selection could be justified as "random", which means that we have to ask about selection effects. Well, I followed the link, and they invited 2950 folks using a reasonable procedure, but apparently received circa 50% response rate. They attempted to understand the selection affect but don't report doing anything with the results. Nov 28, 2015 at 0:54

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