Gov. Bobby Jindal and Creationism
Legends vs. Fossils
Joseph Daniel Fiedler illustration
Gov. Jindal’s brief interview in April with NBC’s Hoda Kotb shortchanged Louisiana’s educational achievements in recent years, but the governor has only himself to blame.
Kotb’s questions to the governor focused on controversial subjects such as budget cuts to higher education, school vouchers and teaching creationism in public schools. Though Jindal can’t be faulted for the interview’s negative direction – that’s the nature of the media beast – he can be faulted for his role in the controversies themselves.
The most embarrassing controversy is his support for teaching creationism in Louisiana’s public school science classes. It gives the rest of the country a reason to laugh at us, and surely Louisiana has had enough of that kind of derision.
After some prodding on Kotb’s part, Jindal finally came right out and said he has “no problem” with teaching creationism, and its cousin Intelligent Design, in science classes. Though eloquent on other subjects, his reasoning on this subject was so lame that he negated all Louisiana’s advances into the 21st century in a few minutes.
“I believe all of our students should be exposed to the best science,” he answered the first time Kotb asked him if he supports teaching creationism. That answer was the typical evasion tactic that politicians use when put on the spot – giving no answer at all.
Then Jindal floundered around, talking about teaching creationism in non-public schools for a while. He was visibly searching for an answer that would throw a bone to both sides of the controversy. He seemed to know he was in trouble, why he was in trouble and couldn’t decide how to get out of it gracefully.
When he didn’t answer the question directly, Kotb pressed him, and that’s when he finally admitted that he supports teaching creationism along with “the best science,” apparently his term for the dreaded “E” word, evolution. Even though the fossil record of earth and humankind’s development over time confirms gradual changes over thousands of years, there are people out there who refuse to believe it.
Many of Jindal’s conservative base voters are religious literalists, and maybe he is himself, even though he’s a Rhodes Scholar and surely been exposed to the “best science” himself. These religious conservatives have long fought to bring the seven-day creation and Adam and Eve stories to public schools. Moreover, their actions have made it clear they only vote for Republicans who support what they want.
With that reality likely in mind, Jindal’s concluding comments contained a contradiction so outlandish that he’s bound to regret it someday.
“Let’s expose our kids to the best facts,” he said. Later, he added, “Let’s teach them what people believe.”
Really, Governor, what people choose to believe is hardly a fact. Webster’s dictionary defines “fact” as “something objectively verified” and “something with real, demonstrable existence.”
It is a “fact,” for example, that there’s no way to verify that humankind began with two people named Adam and Eve. On the other hand, there’s a fossil record that verifies evolution.
That fact, however, doesn’t necessarily negate the strong belief that many Americans and people of other cultures have that there is more to human existence than liquid and cell formations. It is called spiritual “faith,” and most believers are content with balancing their faith with scientific records. They have no problem accepting that creation stories were ancient humans’ way of explaining the beginnings of their own existence. The first men and women didn’t have a way to date the earth’s formations and the scattered bones of their ancestors, so they used their imaginations to create lovely stories to tell on cold nights by the hearth.
If the governor is fine with teaching Christian mythology in science class, then maybe he also would be fine with teaching the creation story of the Pima, an American Indian tribe that lives in Arizona.
According to the Norton Anthology of American Literature, the Pima’s explanation of the beginning of earth and humans goes like this:
There was nothing in the beginning but a person called the “The Doctor of the Earth,” who floated in darkness until he rubbed his chest and the world was created from his perspiration. Then he created a person “out of his eye” and that person was called the Buzzard. He created mountains and seed, and then made the sun and the stars. Then he rubbed his chest again and created two dolls, the “first human beings, man and woman.” But the earth became too full and so human beings “killed and ate each other.”
The Doctor of the Earth made the sky fall on them and created another set of humans, but that didn’t work out either. He had the sky fall on them, too. His third try led to humans that “made a vice of smoking” so the Doctor also destroyed them. Then he created a new humanity – the one that lives now.
The Pima “believe” it happened that way so shouldn’t it be taught in science class, too?
Maybe so, it could have the effect of discouraging kids from smoking.
Then, of course, other creation myths would need equal time in this war between “belief” and the fossil record. The length of classes would need to be extended, though, because every culture, religion and country has a few: China, Choctaw, Comanche, Hindu, Aztec, Scandinavia, Greek, Norse, Celtic, Romania, Hopi, Africa, Japan, Egypt, Hungary, Iroquois, Inuit and on and on.
Before long, teaching creationism would take over the entire academic year. The sheer weight of teaching what people “believe” will require moving creation stories into literature classes, where they belong anyway.