Bobby Jindal's Creationist Talking Points
Barbara Forrest printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Sat Jun 14, 2008 at 01:50:12 PM EST
(In light of the recent decision of the Louisiana House to allow the teaching of creationism in the state's public schools, and Governor Bobby Jindal's recent notoriety, Barbara Forrest's guest front page post last Fall is as timely now as it was then.) We are honored to welcome Barbara Forrest back as a guest front pager. She was a key expert witness in the landmark federal case Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School District. Her testimony proved that "intelligent design" was nothing more than hastily dressed-up creationism -- the teaching of which had already been found to be unconstitutional. She is a member of the board of the National Center for Science Education -- FC

Bobby Jindal participated in a televised gubernatorial forum in Louisiana on September 27, 2007, at which a journalist asked him whether he supports the teaching of intelligent design. Jindal’s answer clearly indicated that this Rhodes scholar and Brown University biology graduate does indeed support teaching creationism.

His position has not changed since he voiced such support when he ran for governor the first time in 2003. However, the striking aspect of his comments both then and now was his use of talking points that suggest his familiarity with the semantic strategy with which ID is being promoted by its proponents at the Discovery Institute, the headquarters of the ID movement.

On September 27, 2007, after avoiding public events where he might be asked unanticipated questions, Louisiana gubernatorial candidate Bobby Jindal participated in a televised forum that was carried live by Louisiana Public Broadcasting (LPB).
In a segment in which each panelist was allowed to direct one question to a specific candidate, Baton Rouge Advocate columnist Carl Redman asked Jindal how his personal faith might influence his policies as governor on the issues of abortion, the teaching of intelligent design, and prayer at public meetings. Jindal addressed abortion and prayer but skipped intelligent design. Requesting time for a follow-up, Redman steered him back to that part of the question. Jindal’s response clearly indicated that he supports teaching intelligent design (ID) creationism in public schools (transcript below). However, the interesting aspect of his answer was that he seems to know the talking points and code language that ID creationists at the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture (CSC) use to promote ID. The Discovery Institute (DI), a conservative Seattle think tank, is the headquarters of the ID creationist movement. Jindal also used such talking points during his first race for governor four years ago when asked whether he supported teaching creationism.
Responding to a 2003 candidate questionnaire from the Louisiana Family Forum (the Religious Right organization for which LA Sen. David Vitter has earmarked $100,000 in a 2007 federal spending bill, ostensibly to enable the organization “to develop a plan to promote better science education”), Jindal answered “yes” as to whether he supported teaching the “scientific weaknesses of evolution” (code talk for teaching creationism). He reiterated this support in a November 2003 New Orleans Times-Picayune article:
   Jindal also would support the teaching of creationism in schools, with the qualifier that students should be presented with all available evidence of the origin of life and be allowed to decide for themselves. “If a teacher wanted to say (creationism) is what some people believe and presented a range of views, there's nothing wrong with that,” Jindal said. [emphasis added; see below]
    Jindal said he has no specific plan to mandate a particular curriculum statewide. Rather, he sees the role of governor as weighing in on any local debate on such issues.
(Brian Thevenot, “Governor hopefuls say faith personal; But some say beliefs have political effect,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, Nov. 2, 2003, p. 1)
Although there is no evidence that Jindal has had direct contact with the Discovery Institute, his November 2003 remarks were consistent with DI’s strategy of using code talk to promote ID, a tactic ID proponents adopted several years ago when they began to fear that the term “intelligent design” was becoming a legal liability. [PDF] Like Jindal, DI favors giving children “all the evidence,” as ID creationist and CSC director Stephen C. Meyer asserted in September 2003 during DI’s nationally publicized attempt to influence the selection of Texas science textbooks: “[D]esign theorists . . . are asking that students learn all the evidence they need to assess Darwinian theory, not just the evidence that happens to support it.” ID proponents also support teaching the “strengths and weaknesses of Darwinian theory,” Meyer said, because doing so would teach students “to weigh evidence—a key skill in scientific reasoning.” Jindal’s comments were also consistent with CSC associate director John West’s August 2003 code talk: “We wholeheartedly endorse good, accurate science and the complete teaching of evolution in accord with Texas law, which says students should learn all the scientific evidence that both supports and shows the weaknesses of existing scientific theories.”
Jindal’s endorsement of teaching the “scientific weaknesses of evolution” was therefore significant in light of the consistency between the Louisiana Family Forum’s use of this semantic tactic and DI’s concurrent strategy. However, Jindal’s giveaway phrase in his November 2003 comments was “range of views.” In 2001, Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania had inserted into the No Child Left Behind Act a sense of the Senate resolution that pro-science activists recognized as intended to covertly promote ID. (ID leader Phillip Johnson wrote the resolution. When these activists brought the resolution’s true significance to the NCLB conference committee’s attention, the committee removed it from the bill. However, pro-ID committee members (who included Rep. John Boehner of Ohio) then inserted the language into the bill’s legislative history where it now reads as follows, with the slight alteration that later showed up in Jindal’s comments to the Times-Picayune:
The conferees recognize that a quality science education should prepare students to distinguish the data and testable theories of science from religious or philosophical claims that are made in the name of science. Where topics are taught that may generate controversy (such as biological evolution), the curriculum should help students to understand the full range of scientific views that exist, why such topics may generate controversy, and how scientific discoveries can profoundly affect society. [emphasis added] 
In 2003, when Jindal used the phrase “range of views,” the Discovery Institute was still using what had become popularly known as the “Santorum amendment” for propaganda purposes, interpreting the “full range of scientific views” to include ID. [PDF] This short phrase has become the most often-quoted part of the Santorum amendment. (See Barbara Forrest and Paul R. Gross, ch. 8, "Wedging into Power Politics," Creationism’s Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design, Oxford University Press, 2007.)
Jindal’s September 2007 forum comments likewise reflect DI’s talking points, as the transcript below shows. Earlier in the forum, responding to a question about how each candidate would define “integrity,” he had highlighted his integration of his personal religiosity into his political campaign:
Jindal [37:30]: “Integrity is doing the right thing when nobody’s looking. It’s keeping an eternal perspective, understanding there are things more important than winning or losing in the material world. I think it’s— I draw my definition of integrity from my Christian faith, about having that godly perspective, trying to keep that perspective first and foremost. . . .” 
Later, during a segment allotted for candidate-specific questions in which the candidate had one minute to respond, Redman directed his question about abortion, ID, and prayer to Jindal:
Redman [44:23]: “Representative Jindal, your campaign complained early on about ads that raised questions about your religious beliefs. But some voters want to know, how will your beliefs affect your actions as governor and influence your approach to public policy? In your response, please comment specifically whether you would lead, oppose, or take a hands-off approach to efforts to restrict a woman’s right to abortion on demand, to mandating that public schools teach intelligent design as an alternative to evolution, and to allowing prayer at public meetings on school boards.”

Jindal: “Thank you, Carl. I’ll try to get to all those in a minute. Certainly, first, I thought the ads were underhanded and beyond even what you’d expect in Louisiana politics. To attack somebody for being a Christian I thought was a little bit much. I was glad to see the almost universal national and statewide condemnation of those awful ads. I wish my colleagues [gesturing toward the other candidates] would also condemn those ads. In terms of how my personal beliefs, my Christian faith, will affect me being governor and affect my job— look, I’m not one of those people who thinks you can have a private or a public morality. The reality is, in my faith, in the church, we’re taught that you give your entire, 100% of yourself, to God, but we also live, we live in a pluralistic society, a society with rights for minorities, a society with rights for people who agree with us and who disagree with us. On those three issues, Louisiana’s already passed a law under the current governor, the current legislature, that would, would enforce, would provide for a pro-life state in case the [U.S.] Supreme Court allows the state to do that. The reality is this is a decision that’ll be decided in the federal courts. I am pro-life, but I respect the role of the judiciary. Secondly, in terms of prayer in public gathering places, I personally disagreed with the federal judge that ruled you couldn’t have prayer before school board meetings because she was worried that children would be actually exposed to prayer. [Jindal was referring to U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan, who ruled on a school board prayer case in Tangipahoa Parish, LA. See Jindal’s H. Res. 146, 109th Congress: “Expressing support for prayer at school board meetings,” March 10, 2005.]
Redman: “What about intelligent design? Just real quick.” [gesturing to moderator with one finger raised, signaling a request for extra time]

Moderator: “You can do a follow-up.”

Redman: “What about intelligent design? And the issue really is, it’s not what’s on the books, but if this comes up again. Because this state has wrestled with creationism and spent a lot of time and resources. I was covering the legislature for a couple years when they wrestled with the abortion issue. It could come back at any time. What the governor does is very critical [in those fields?].”

Jindal [nodding]: “Sure, and let’s talk about intelligent design. I’m a biology major. That’s my degree. The reality is there are a lot of things that we don’t understand. There’s no theory in science that could explain how, contrary to the laws of entropy, you could create order out of chaos. There’s no scientific theory that explains how you can create organic life out of inorganic matter. I think we owe it to our children to teach them the best possible modern scientific facts and theories. Teach them what different theories are out there for the things that aren’t answerable by science, that aren’t answered by science. Let them decide for themselves. I don’t think we should be scared to do that. Personally, it certainly makes sense to me that when you look at creation, you would believe in a creator. Let’s not be afraid to teach our kids the very best science.”
Jindal’s remarks, which clearly signal his support for teaching ID, are a study in incoherence. On one hand, this Rhodes scholar wants “the very best science” taught to children. On the other, his assertion that children should be told “what different theories are out there” in order to explain what science cannot is an admission that ID is not science. His inference of a creator from “looking at creation,” while legitimate as a personal religious belief, is at odds with his statement that “our kids” should be taught “the very best science.” Putting the two together in a public school science class violates not only the standards of responsible science teaching but the U.S. Constitution as well.
Disturbing signs are converging in Louisiana. The Louisiana Family Forum’s plan to “promote better science education” with public tax dollars, courtesy of Sen. Vitter, is in truth a plan to promote creationism, which this affiliate of Focus on the Family has done since its establishment in 1999. One of its chief operatives, retired Baton Rouge City Court Judge Darrell White, who promotes both ID and young-earth creationism aggressively in Louisiana, helped engineer the Ouachita Parish, LA, School Board’s adoption of a stealth creationism policy [PDF] (which White wrote) in November 2006, a move loudly applauded by the Discovery Institute. If Jindal becomes governor, Louisiana may be headed for a repeat of the divisive fight over intelligent in Dover, PA. (See Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial, NOVA, November 13, 2007.)
The Religious Right appears to be lining up its ducks down here.   
[Disclaimer: I am writing as a private citizen. I am not speaking for the institutions or organizations with which I am affiliated.]

I should recommend for Jindal's reading Robert M. Hazen's gen-e-sis: The Scientific Quest for Life's Origin (2005, Joseph Henry Press). Hazen's book presents a compelling argument for in-depth study of several different, and perhaps congruent, scenarios by which organic matter could well have arisen spontaneously from interactions of inorganic matter in an emergent fashion. Unfortunately, it appears that Jindal, like most ID creationists, prefer to remain wilfully ignorant of current scientific thinking on the origins of life. His mind is made up, and no amount of evidence to the contrary is going to change it. I suppose one could term this bone-headedness on Jindal's part "plausible deniability", but it remains *willfull* ignorance all the same.

by Forrest Prince on Mon Oct 15, 2007 at 11:59:22 PM EST

to hold elected officials and wannabes for their efforts to sneak the teaching of religious doctrine into the public schools.

The federal courts have repeatedly spoken on this, and efforts to try to get around the constitution and the law in alliance with the religious right is a threat to the rule of law and the integrity of the political process.  

Vitter's earmark for James Dobson's Louisiana political affiliate epitomizes the current culture of corruption in the national GOP.

by Frederick Clarkson on Tue Oct 16, 2007 at 04:11:17 PM EST

The governor has now come out with a proposed 50% tax reduction on $5k spent on private education.  This is admist a battle in East Baton Rouge Parish for public school funding that many in the community - particularly community business leaders -- are encouraging the public to vote down.  Jindal will be successful in increasing the amount of teaching of creationism in schools by subsidizing religious-based education in Louisiana with what amounts to a voucher program.  Not surprising but still very disturbing.

by gowest on Fri Mar 07, 2008 at 05:40:54 PM EST


Hopefully you will not object if I take this opportunity to "vent" about some concerns I have on the evolution debate.

First, let me make clear that I do not believe some old guy in the sky with a long beard labored over a set of blueprints and gene charts to design life on earth. I don't even believe that earth was "seeded" by organisms designed by another intelligent species. Not that the evidence would prohibit that scenario - I simply don't believe it. Nor do I think the Bible is properly intended to serve as a substitute for scientific inquiry. The Bible, to the extent that it functions well, functions to impart spiritual truths, which, IMO, are an entirely different domain of knowledge than factual truths.

I believe life has evolved.

All that being said, I have never been particularly comfortable with Darwin or the random variation/natural selection model for how evolution occurs. Sure, selection of variations happens, and population characteristics change as a result. But I cannot believe that's the entire story.

In short, I am drawn to the somewhat unpopular viewpoint of teleology - that developmental processes can be influenced by their outcome. This is not in itself a religious position - rather it is a philosophical one. Surely Creationist theories are a subset of teleological viewpoints, but teleology in itself does not depend on any particular religious stance - indeed an atheist could accept it.

What concerns me about this abysmal debate as it has developed over the last few years is that the specific content of evolutionary theory is becoming seen as a question of public policy.

I do not believe governmental bodies - whether Congress, Legislature or School Board has any proper role in vetting scientific theories. There is a (possibly apocryphal) story of the Indiana legislator of the last century who introduced a bill to make the value of Pi exactly 3. I think wiser heads talked him into withdrawing it. But my point is that it would have been just as inappropriate, in principle, to pass legislation mandating the accepted value as  provided by the convergence of the infinite series commonly cited.

This sort of thing is simply not the business of government.

We do not need to go down a road that ends up with legislators debating whether Stephen Jay Gould's theory of "punctuated equilibrium" can be taught - because it might fall too far outside strict Darwinian orthodoxy. And what of Lamarckism? (sp?). I suppose Lamarck's specific postulated mechanisms have probably been discredited. Surely the "cartoon" caricature of his views, in which the proto-giraffe stretches his (or her) neck to reach higher hanging leaves and shoots, thus  creating an adaption which is passed on to the offspring and over time leads to a new long-necked species, does not appear to be what happens.  

But is this the final word on inheritance of acquired characteristics?  (hint - Google "reverse transcriptase"). Although Lamarck may have been wrong in his specifics I do not believe a study of his views would be valueless.

But my purpose here is not to argue for my own view of these matters and try to convert orthodox Darwinians to evolutionary agnostics. My purpose is to  argue that such questions are not the proper domain of public policy - and that is exactly where the evolution/creation/id etc. debate is taking things.

Not to be offensive, and I don't mean this in a bad way, but a pox on all your houses.

Thanks for listening,

by scrocker1946 on Sun Jun 15, 2008 at 06:18:54 PM EST

Several issues.

First, this is not the place to vent about anything, let alone your concerns about the general debate about evolution and your personal philosophy of government.  The site topic is the religious right and what to do about it. Your personal view of government clearly does not fall under that rubric.

Second, please do not hijack the comment threads on other people's posts for your own purposes.

And finally, please refrain from anti-religious bigotry or anything that even comes close, which I think this comment does.

There are many places in the blogosphere for free for alls. This site is not among them.  

by Frederick Clarkson on Sun Jun 15, 2008 at 08:46:09 PM EST

You write:
"And finally, please refrain from anti-religious bigotry or anything that even comes close, which I think this comment does."

I've looked over my comment trying to figure out where you get that. I am certainly not anti-religious. I was brought up in the Church, led worship occasionally in Sunday School, attended church camp throughout my high school years, participated in church-related social action groups (e.g University Christian Movement)  throughout the late sixties, and, although my own background is not Catholic, have worked professionally for many years developing software used in the management of Catholic Mission Offices.  (At one point, I even spent a couple of years as a C.S. Lewis style theological conservative, though that is a view I no longer hold).

I am not even, strictly speaking, non-religious. I am merely not conventionally religious. Lately I have even begun to occasionally attend a "contemporary" worship service at  a local United Methodist church - which I have found spiritually nourishing.

Now, all that being said, I do have serious problems with certain theological stances of some Christian traditions. But I have not stated these, nor, arguably, would it  constitute bigotry if I had.

So, I'd like to get some clarification about what you saw as actually or potentially bigoted in my comment.

As to your other points, I suppose "nolo contendre". I may think you are being a bit picky about a strict definition of "on topic", but it is, after all, your party.

Peace (with justice),

by scrocker1946 on Mon Jun 23, 2008 at 01:36:04 AM EST

When you open your remarks this way, you are risking coming off as bigoted:

First, let me make clear that I do not believe some old guy in the sky with a long beard labored over a set of blueprints and gene charts to design life on earth.

This kind of material is fashionable on many sites, but it runs hard against what we are trying to do here in treating our subject seriously. In this medium, intentions can be hard to read. Pretty much all we have to go on is exactly what you write. So what we need from folks is greater care and consideration in posting comments.

My advice to folks as a general rule is: hold the snark.

by Frederick Clarkson on Tue Jun 24, 2008 at 01:14:51 PM EST

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