WASHINGTON -- America needs a leader to bridge the widening gulf between faith and science, and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a devout Roman Catholic with Ivy League-level science training, thinks he can be that person.
As a studious man of immigrant background with the kind of credentials admired by coastal intellectual meritocrats -- Brown, Oxford and McKinsey & Company -- the Republican governor, at least on paper, has a chance to appeal to the middle, should he run for president in 2016. He also has an impressive record as a government bureaucrat and administrator, both in Washington and in Baton Rouge.
Yet given his own deep faith and his roots in the Bible Belt, Jindal's early focus will be on wooing evangelical Christians and others on the cultural right.
If he can solve this Rubik’s Cube of religious belief and scientific trust, he may not only do the country a favor; he might reach the White House.
On Tuesday, Jindal showed his strategy for straddling the politics of the divide -- but also the political risks of doing so -- during an hourlong Q&A with reporters at a Christian Science Monitor Breakfast, a traditional early stop on the presidential campaign circuit.
Like the experienced tennis player he is, Jindal repeatedly batted away questions about whether he believes the theory of evolution explains the existence of complex life forms on Earth. Pressed for his personal view, Jindal -- who earned a specialized biology degree in an elite pre-med program at Brown University -- declined to give one. He said only that "as a parent I want my children taught the best science." He didn’t say what that "science" was.
He conceded that human activity has something to do with climate change, but declined to agree that there is now widespread scientific consensus on the severity and urgency of the problem.
Because of what he views as a lack of consensus on the gravity of the environmental threat, Jindal felt free to try to turn the science argument against the Obama administration. The president, the Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies are "science deniers," he argued, because they impose limits on carbon dioxide and other pollutants from "job-creating" businesses without really knowing how well those restrictions work.
He accused the administration of being on the wrong side of the faith divide in this area. "The left loves energy to be expensive and scarce," he said. "It’s almost a religious approach."
Jindal brought with him to the breakfast a detailed energy plan full of specific, thoughtful (and largely deregulatory) proposals.
Speaking about another international threat, he warned that the Ebola virus was a harbinger. "It's not the last potential epidemic in Africa," said Jindal, a former administrator of medical services at the state and federal levels.
On many other science and education issues, the governor also tries to straddle the partisan divide.
He favors a human life amendment to define the legal existence of a "person" at the moment of conception, but he is also a strong advocate for the cheap and wide distribution of contraceptives.
He refused to criticize his "friend" Phil Robertson, the Duck Dynast who said the other day that a Bible-based monogamous marriage of man and woman is the best way to end diseases like AIDS.
After initially supporting the Common Core attempt to write national education standards, the governor now opposes the project.
Jindal takes the latter stance in the name of greater "local control" of education -- which would presumably allow Louisiana schools to teach his version of acceptable "science."