Intelligent Design and the Future Face of the Republican Party
The governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal, is said to be the great hope for the Republican Party. He is seen as the perfect conservative counterpoint to the power of Barack Obama's multicultural background. The son of immigrants from Punjab, Jindal was raised a Hindu and converted to Catholicism in his teens. Like Obama, his political rise has been meteoric. In 2004 he won his first congressional seat and by 2007 he was elected governor.
In spite of his rapidly rising star, Jindal's record of achievement is spotty at best. At a time when health care has again taken center stage in national politics, we must not forget Jindal's dismal record. When head of Louisiana's Department of Health, the state's health ranking dropped from 48 to 50. In his absence the rating climbed slowly back from the bottom, but one year into his governorship, the state slipped to last place again.
His positions are extreme even as he presents himself in more moderate terms. Jindal succeeded in his gubernatorial campaign in part by "giving testimony" in the highly conservative Baptist and Pentecostal churches of rural Louisiana. He opposes abortion with no exception for the life or age of the mother, incest or rape. Be clear about the meaning of that position. If a 12 year old girl raped by her father got pregnant, Jindal would prevent that sad victim from seeking an abortion. Like Bush, he opposes stem cell research, and supports off-shore drilling.
Perhaps most disturbing in broad policy terms is his support for teaching intelligent design in public school. Jindal's position on creationism and intelligent design reveals a colossal break with reason that we cannot accommodate again in our elected officials. Bush was a disaster we dare not repeat, but Jindal appears to be nothing but W with Indian ancestry. Denying the validity of evolution is no different than claiming atoms do not exist or that the DNA is not genetic code, or that al Qaeda was in Iraq before our invasion. Jindal's position is untenable.
That we still debate the obvious is one of religion's saddest legacies. Darwin's contribution to biology is monumental, essentially completing the Copernican revolution that displaced mankind from the center of the universe. Evolution has been proven beyond any doubt by paleontology, embryology, molecular biology, island biogeography, microbiology and cell physiology. Yet in spite of evolution's unprecedented success in explaining the living world, in spite of the fact that evolution is one of the greatest triumphs of science, creationism and intelligent design have crept into the mainstream of American thought and into public school curricula in several states. Jindal is now guilty of perpetuating that shameful descent into willful ignorance.
Jindal is playing to the lowest common denominator. A poll conducted by the People for the American Way Foundation showed that only 37% of the population believes evolution should be taught to the exclusion of creationism. A Gallup poll in 2001 showed that 40% of Catholics in the United States believe that God created human life in the past 10,000 years. These grim statistics would have even surprised Pope John Paul II, who way back in 1996 reaffirmed that the Church accepted evolution, although with some strong caveats, and about 500 years late.
If we fail to change course and overcome this reprehensible level of collective ignorance about creation, we will soon be forced to teach the "stork theory of reproduction" in schools as an alternative to the "theory of sexual reproduction." But why stop there? We could soon be teaching that the sun orbits around the earth as the Bible claims, as an alternative to the "theory of orbital mechanics." Only by understanding the fundamentals of evolution can we put an end to the madness of creationism and intelligent design, and regain a rational sense of our place in the universe.
Attempts to reconcile religion and science are futile and unproductive, and intelligent design is the worst example. Science searches for mechanisms and the answer to "how" the universe functions. Religion seeks meaning and the answer to "why" the world is as we know it. Science and religion can never be brought under one roof without sacrificing intellectual honesty. The two seek different answers to separate questions using fundamentally and inherently incompatible methods. Nothing can bring the two together. Yet the effort to reconcile continues. The latest example is the idea put forth by Richard Colling at Olivet Nazarene University, who writes that god "cares enough about creation to harness even the forces of (Darwinian) randomness." God used Darwin to implement his will! The bizarre logic behind this idea is that the facts of evolution do not "preclude" the existence of god. In fact, evolution and natural selection do indeed preclude the existence of god, according to the bible itself. We are told in Genesis that all life, everything that ever existed on earth, was created in six days. Evolution proves that wrong. The fossil record proves that wrong. Evolution in a Petri dish proves that wrong.
The fundamental randomness of evolution through natural selection creates a terminal problem for any hand of god. If god is all knowing, he knew everything from the beginning of the universe, including every animal that would ever exist. That would preclude any animals evolving from random processes, since if truly random, god could not then have known about them beforehand, meaning he would not be all-knowing. Yet if he in fact did know about all animals past and future, then that is not evolution, which is random by definition. Natural selection and evolution are inherently incompatible with the existence of god. The two cannot coexist.
But religion has taken such a stranglehold on American thought, that believers will go through extreme contortions to incorporate the indisputable facts of evolution into a belief system that is fully undermined by the mechanisms of natural selection. Jindal is squarely in that group. The rest of the world beyond the insular borders of the United States understands that evolution is the most thoroughly tested, documented, proven scientific fact ever put forth. To debate evolution is to question that the earth is round. To question the reality of evolution is absurd. Science is not a lawsuit open to arbitration and mediation, where the difference can be split between opposing parties. Evolution is a truth that cannot be offset by some compromised alternative to the facts of nature.
Animosity toward evolution, rather than abating in the face of greater human knowledge, is being attacked in an ocean of ignorance. The Creation Museum in Kentucky proudly states its purpose as countering "evolutionary natural history museums that a turn countless minds against Christ and Scripture." That we are still having this discussion is a depressing testament to the serious degradation of our public school system. We are failing to teach our population even the most basic aspects of elementary science, in an era where science and technology are ever more critical to our national security. This is the legacy that Jindal wishes to perpetuate.
Unless we conquer this growing threat of scientific illiteracy, our nation is doomed. While we engage in a debate from the 15th century, the rest of the world is teaching children the knowledge necessary to survive in the 21st. We will become a second-rate nation behind in stem cell research, high energy physics, biology, and medicine. Our infrastructure will continue to crumble with no progress in materials science. We will be poorly equipped to fight the growing technological prowess of our adversaries. We must stop this ridiculous "debate" about evolution and get on with the business of protecting ourselves in the new century. We will not if Jindal becomes the face of the Republican Party.