Evolution vs. Bobby Jindal

For as long as this blog has been around, Bobby Jindal has been a source of controversy in the comment threads. Should South Asian Americans support him because he is an undisputedly intelligent politician and desi like us, or is it okay to turn our backs on him because we fundamentally disagree with his policies and the type of America that he represents? Both answers are of course correct, depending upon what matters most to you as an individual voter.

When the media reports on a political stories there is nothing they enjoy more than a stark contrast between two people or viewpoints. That is one of the reasons that the Obama-McCain race is generating such excitement this year. Almost everyone (except maybe Nader supporters) believes that Obama and McCain have a very divergent vision for the next four year. Because of a law working its way through the Louisiana legislative process right now, the next few weeks will also provide us with an incisive look into the mind and soul of Bobby Jindal. Will he govern according to his religious beliefs or according to accepted scientifc fact? Whether or not he is chosen as McCain’s running mate this year, one thing seems clear: eventually he will be on a national ticket.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) said Sunday that Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal “would be far and away the best candidate” to appear on the Republican presidential ticket with Sen. John McCain (Ariz.).

Gingrich, who appeared on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” heaped praise upon the former congressman, saying that he is a “spectacular” governor and predicted that Jindal would be a presidential candidate in the future. [Link]



As the New York Times reported two weeks ago, there is a proposed law working its way through the Louisiana legislature right now that is going to stick with Jindal, for better or for worse, for a very long time.

In the Legislature, the climate for a conservative Christian agenda is warmer than in years. Some of that agenda, including a school voucher program for New Orleans that Mr. Jindal calls a “scholarship plan,” is being pushed vigorously by the governor. On other parts, like a bill favored by Christian conservatives that opponents say is a stalking horse for teaching creationism, Mr. Jindal has been well in the background, though legislators say they think the governor would sign it, as he has raised doubts about evolution. [Link]


p>The Louisiana Science and Education Act is nothing but a thinly-veiled attempt to allow the arguments of Creationism to be taught in Louisiana schools alongside evolution. This in a state that already has some of the worst school systems in the country.


p>Every lawmaker in Louisiana knows that Jindal supports Creationist ideas. The problem he has is trying to sign these proposals into law in Louisiana without seriously hurting his national appeal among Independents. He is navigating this issue in two specific ways. First, he is studiously avoiding the spotlight when he can:

Still, for a governor whose campaign in 2003 ran radio advertisements extolling the Ten Commandments and attacking liberals, the approach has been studiously low-key and nonideological. Mr. Jindal himself has been nearly invisible at the Capitol, lawmakers and Louisiana reporters say.

Hot-button terms and issues are avoided. Cloning will not get state financing but also will not be criminalized, and Mr. Jindal is nowhere to be seen on the Louisiana Science Education Act, which promotes “open and objective discussion” in the schools of “evolution, the origins of life, global warming and human cloning.”

A hearing for the bill last week was packed with Christian advocates — it has already passed the State Senate unanimously — and it was proposed to its legislative sponsor by a Louisiana Family Forum member. Barbara Forrest, a philosophy professor at Southeastern Louisiana University and a critic of the bill, testified that it was “designed to permit teaching intelligent design creationism in Louisiana public schools,” though there was no mention of creationism or intelligent design in the bill. [Link]

The second strategy Jindal is using is to cleverly manipulate the public’s understanding of the law. A perfect example is this interview he gave on CBS’ Face the Nation this past Sunday. Unless you are well-versed in the manipulation tactics used by Intelligent Designers, whose “educational approach” was soundly thrashed in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, you might think he is making a perfectly reasonable argument in favor of science here:

REID: Let me make a sharp turn here to a different issue, an issue that has raised some controversy. Now, you were a biology major in college. I think you had a double major. But you were a biology major, and you support the teaching of intelligent design in schools. Do you have doubts about the theory of evolution?

Gov. JINDAL: A couple of things. One, I don’t think this is something the federal or state government should be imposing its views on local school districts. You know, as a conservative I think government that’s closest to the people governs best. I think local school boards should be in a position of deciding the curricula and also deciding what students should be learning. Secondly, I don’t think students learn by us withholding information from them. Some want only to teach intelligent design, some only want to teach evolution. I think both views are wrong, as a parent.


p>REID: But how about you personally? Where do you stand personally on the issue?


p>Gov. JINDAL: As a parent, when my kids go to schools, when they go to public schools, I want them to be presented with the best thinking. I want them to be able to make decisions for themselves. I want them to see the best data. I personally think that the life, human life and the world we live in wasn’t created accidentally. I do think that there’s a creator. I’m a Christian. I do think that God played a role in creating not only earth, but mankind. Now, the way that he did it, I’d certainly want my kids to be exposed to the very best science. I don’t want them to be–I don’t want any facts or theories or explanations to be withheld from them because of political correctness. The way we’re going to have smart, intelligent kids is exposing them to the very best science and let them not only decide, but also let them contribute to that body of knowledge. That’s what makes the scientific process so exciting. You get to go there and find facts and data and test what’s come before you and challenge those theories.

This is the new “strategy” that has been adopted by ID-ers. They want to say that putting creationist ideas next evolution and letting kids decide is a better way to do science. You notice how he uses the phrase “facts or theories or explanations withheld?” This is pure manipulation. He is frightening people into thinking that education is being denied to their children. In fact, there are no facts or even theories associated with ID/Creationist ideas. Knowing that their strategy won’t work if they single out evolution alone, the ID/Creationists needed to find another scientific theory to lump together with evolution so that they could say, “see we aren’t just picking on evolution.” Global warming provided the perfect second issue (another wedge issue). NPR’s Science Friday last Friday did a great job of deconstructing the manipulating tactics being used by the Intelligent Design community. Bobby Jindal is following the script laid out for him perfectly. You have to admit he speaks well.

In a letter last week to Louisiana Speaker of the House Jim Tucker, the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s CEO and the publisher of Science magazine Alan I. Leshner wrote of the “Louisiana Science Education Act”:

The bill implies that particular theories are controversial among scientists, including evolution. But there is virtually no controversy about evolution among the overwhelming majority of researchers. The science of evolution underpins all of modern biology and is supported by tens of thousands of scientific studies in fields that include cosmology, geology, paleontology, genetics and other biological specialties. It informs scientific research in a broad range of fields such as agriculture and medicine, work that has an important impact on our everyday lives.

Backers of the bill, including the Louisiana Family Forum and the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, are longtime supporters of attempts to teach creationism or intelligent design as science. The judicial courts have ruled that both of these are religious concepts that do not belong in public school science classrooms. In fact, it was Louisiana’s own “creation science” law that the U.S. Supreme Court declared unconstitutional in 1987. [Link]


p>Much of the press and blogosphere think they discovered that Jindal once performed an exorcism this week. In fact, Manish reported it here almost four years ago as further evidence of Jindal’s extreme religious views.


p>My cousin Manan also forwarded me this article today, a long interview of Jindal in Details magazine. In it they re-cap his entire history and explain how he became a conservative Christian in the first place. Reading it will provide good context in which to evaluate his current support of Creationism is classrooms.

So as we wait to see if McCain taps Jindal we have to figure out which Jindal we’d get. The articulate and intelligent and accomplished Jindal or the one that would advocate exorcising our educational system of reason.

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