I spoke about engineers in general. And as you know, as someone who apparently lives at the end of a bell curve, when speaking in general there are always edge-cases that can seemingly contradict the general statement being made, but that doesn't stop that statement from being true.
Your generalization would be true if I was just one of a handful of students who worked up to general engineering principles from rudimentary physics knowledge. However, I can point to hundreds of my peers at MIT who did the same thing, many of whom likely have a much deeper understanding than I do. Given my exposure to the curriculum at CalTech and Stanford, I feel rather confident in stating that engineering students at those schools weren't just given equations and told to memorize them. Instead, they slogged through a series of derivations of those principles and had to build up their own understanding of the meaning behind those derivations. I'm sure that others can chime in about their experiences at other top-tier institutions, such as Berkeley, CMU, and the Ivies.
As an aside, undergraduate research assistantships are becoming more commonplace at some institutions. I agree that most undergraduates will probably not come out publishing papers in prestigious journals or conferences. However, that does not mean that they don't enhance their knowledge and understanding of various concepts.
In short, there are thousands, if not tens of thousands, of engineers out there with educational experiences that either partly or fully mirror my own. Consequently, you really need to be cautious when you make sweeping generalizations like engineers only spend their time memorizing formulas without reflecting on how those formulas came to be.