Doug Wilson Is Engineering Outrage

Doug Wilson compares engineering programs to humanities programs in universities and gets upset:

“When it comes to higher education, what do we do with our best and brightest? Overwhelmingly, Christian parents of high-achieving kids seek out some kind of technocratic program of study. They seek out the sciences and engineering. This is in part because Americans in general are pragmatic space shuttle builders, but there is an addition attraction here for Christians. What might it be?

We have to begin by comparing contemporary engineering to the comtemporary humanities. Christians love the truth, and when you undertake a course of study in engineering, most of what you learn is true. The bridges have to stand, and the airplanes have to fly. The software needs to run. In most liberal arts programs, most of what you learn is false, with some of it being falseĀ and stupid. So there’s that.”

Engineering also pays better than whatever you might do with an English degree (outside possibly teaching), so it has that going for it. Wilson cannot provide any examples of “false” or “stupid” things that might be taught in humanities. Moreover, anyone who has driven a Chrysler Intrepid can only conclude that at least some engineers are taught false and stupid things as well.

What what is engineering anyway? It’s really the practical application of the physical sciences as well as mathematics. What is interesting about this is that the theoretical stuff being done in mathematics and in physics seems much harder to pin down to the sort of hard facts and objective measurements that Wilson prefers. The particle-wave duality of light, General Relativity, Fermat’s Last Theorem and so on are difficult concepts that require more complicated proofs than “is this bridge still standing?” The bleeding edge of science and math can start to look a lot like philosophy and vice versa. Google’s, ahem, engineers used Wittgenstein’s philosophy of language to refine their search algorithm.

In reality engineering is the pragmatic, practical application of established concepts in science. No one is going to build a car that is powered by string theory just yet because we don’t understand string theory well enough. There is a something that distills the power of language and argument, the understanding of the human psyche and so on found in the humanities into a pragmatic-yet-profitable course of study with objective results: it’s called business school.