Gene Expression

Bobby Jindal: ignorant genius

i-f2018af0284a99d12edcbbcb58a7d08c-jindal.jpgSome of you know that Bobby Jindal was just elected as the governor of Louisiana. Jindal has an interesting story, he’s the son of Indian immigrants, received degrees in biology and public bolicy from Brown, passed on Harvard Medical School for a Rhodes Scholarship, and took over the Louisiana Public Health System at the age of 24.

He is also a convert to Catholicism, and extremely politically conservative. Conservative blogger Patrick Ruffini had a political orgasm a few days ago in response to Jindal’s victory; and it was typical on the Right blogosphere. I really don’t think that Bobby Jindal winning in Louisiana implies a turn around for the national Republican Party. Nor do I think that he is a trail blazer for brown Americans; very few ambitious browns are going to grow up in the South and convert to Christianity and forgo a medical career because of an interest in public policy. That being said, I think that Jindal’s election does say something about Louisiana.

In any case, this post isn’t about politics, it is about science and its intersection with politics and culture. In 1995 Jindal wrote an article, Atheism’s Gods, where he offered an apologia for Christian theological thought. At this point Jindal had already received his undergraduate degree (with honors) in biology from Brown, but the whole article implies a very weak understanding of evolution, or, a purposeful misrepresentation. For example, he states, “Even if we grant Dawkin’s assumption that human beings are the product of unassisted evolution, which is quite a generous gesture since there is much controversy over the fossil evidence for evolution.” This may speak to the reality that most people with undergraduate biology degrees don’t necessarily have a strong understanding of evolutionary theory; frankly, many are careerist pre-medical types who are more focused on getting the best marks in organic and biochemistry than they are on knowing even the most minimal details of population genetics (which will likely be introduced once or twice in an introductory course). Jindal applied to medical school so one can surmise where his focus lay.

Additionally, Jindal doesn’t seem particular philosophically sophisticated. For example, he states “The rationalist assertion that God only exists if he is perceived by the subject is surely not how we approach the world.” Actually, I think Jindal is thinking of an empricist, after all rationalists do accept that truths can be derived which are not perceived. This a pedantic point, rationalism does have particular connotations colloquially, but the distinction is one which I think a Rhodes Scholar should be aware of. Of course there is a great deal of garbled Catholic theology laced throughout the article, honestly I really don’t see the value-add in Jindal’s piece above & beyond which a close reading of Summa Theologica would yield (I would argue that Jindal confuses and muddles the arguments greatly). Jindal’s brief reads to me as if it was cribbed off an amateur Christian apologetics website. One may observe that Jindal was and is no professional theologian, but theology is not quantum physics, a purposeful layman can acquire the knowledge which would allow one to present arguments with a modicum of eloquent fluency.

This brings me to my last point, the whole article is an illustration of the reality that extremely intelligent people can also be very ignorant. I have no doubt that Bobby Jindal has a world class mind; and he certainly succeeds and excels at any task which catches his attention. It seems clear to me that when it comes to science & religion he is out of his depth. His characterization of those who disagree with his own religious views is laughable in terms of the inaccuracies in the broad brush pictures which he paints for the reader, and that is surely a good indication of the superficiality of his knowledge base. Jindal can think fast and with great analytic agility, but without a base of facts to manipulate and put through the analytic grinder you produce no value added end product. In short: garbage in, garbage out.

Bobby Jindal converted to Catholicism as a teenager, and a very conservative form at that. This article emerged 10 years later, and shows quite clearly the suffocating impact which narrow circles can have. I don’t doubt that Bobby Jindal is extremely intelligent, but if I had to guess what sort of person wrote the essay above I wouldn’t have felt embarrassed assuming that the author was an average student at a Christian high school! This doesn’t mean that Jindal isn’t an efficient technocrat, his record speaks for itself. But I think that this piece would suggest he is not truly broadly educated.1 An alternative conclusion one can draw from the piece is that Bobby Jindal is always playing to his audience, so he said “all the right things,” even if he knew they were silly things.

1 – Being broadly educated to me does not mean that one should be able to state with prefect precision the difference between rationalist and empiricist orientations in philosophy or the nature of the evolutionary fossil record. Rather, it means that one should know enough to know when one is out of their depth!


  1. #1 D
    October 23, 2007

    Re rationalism / empiricism
    1. Well…he’s also writing for a lay audience, one which probably doesn’t care for the philosophical jargon to begin with

    2. In this particular context, it may not be that bad in any case, as both Empiricism and Rationalism may be meaningfully conflated with Reason (as opposed to Faith). The heady days of the rationalism / empiricism debates are in any case over.

  2. #2 Caledonian
    October 23, 2007

    Intelligence is better measured by its fruits than by tests. I suggest that Jindal’s conversion to a particularly conservative form of Catholicism strongly contradicts the assertion that he’s a genius. What he is on paper isn’t important, what matters is what he is in practice.

    He seems to have a strong interest in influencing public policy, and little to no interest in forming policies based in reality. That’s a very bad combination.

  3. #3 tom bri
    October 23, 2007

    Hello all,

    I see Jindal’s election as an overall positive sign of relaxing racial tension. I will be very interested to see the racial breakdown of the voters for the different candidates, if that info ever becomes public.

    Caledonian, I find your conclusion that Jindal can’t be very bright, simply because he does not agree with your opinions, very funny.

    So there have been no Catholic geniuses, ever? Or, I suppose, Muslim or Buddhist?

  4. #4 Tila tequila chimera
    October 23, 2007

    I think Bobby Kennedy Jindal and Dr Watson should have a conversation to help each other out.

  5. #5 Herod
    October 23, 2007

    In reference to racism, is it unreasonable to expect that the average racist in Louisiana would differentiate between Indians and those of sub-Saharan origin? Even the Nazis allowed Indians in the SS.

    Nor were Indians treated as blacks in Apartheid South Africa. Look even at this news report
    “more Indians than whites prefer the former apartheid regime”

    I’m not trying to put a downer on this, just floating some ideas. It could well be that black / white tension in Louisiana is something which both “sides” would see an Indian as being an outsider to. This is therefore not necessarily a pro-tolerance of blacks occurrence.

  6. #6 razib
    October 23, 2007

    I will be very interested to see the racial breakdown of the voters for the different candidates, if that info ever becomes public.

    you can find it pretty easily, reported some preliminary polls. looks like he received 70% of the white vote, around 10% of the black vote. typical for a republican.

  7. #7 razib
    October 23, 2007

    In reference to racism, is it unreasonable to expect that the average racist in Louisiana would differentiate between Indians and those of sub-Saharan origin? Even the Nazis allowed Indians in the SS.

    there’s an academic literature which shows that bobby jindal lost in 2003 because he lost counties in north and central louisiana which had voted disproportionately for david duke. in short, jindal didn’t do as well among whites as a typical louisiana republican the first tiem around (60% of the vote vs. 70-75%), so you don’t have to be a genius to know what happened on the margins or make reasonable inferences. the dynamics of the phenomenon are pretty clear. oh, and some people are quoted i the press talking about the fact that he reminded them of an iraqi when they saw him….

    but yes, jindal is an ‘honorary white’ in louisiana.

  8. #8 M-K
    October 23, 2007

    Bobby got about 10% of the black vote. (Blacks represent something like 32%-38% of the state population.)

    The key to his electoral success (as an Indian-American) is that he comes across as completely Americanized.

  9. #9 M-K
    October 23, 2007

    Here’s another illustration of the importance of Americanization in Southeastern Louisiana politics. Jefferson Parish, which elected both David Duke and Bobby Jindal, recently lost its sheriff of twenty-five years, the very Americanized and much loved Chinese-American Harry Lee. A portion of a major thoroughfare will soon be renamed the Harry Lee Expressway in his honor.

  10. #10 Jim
    October 23, 2007

    On the religion thing …
    I’m more the fallen away Catholic, but the obvious thing — which some don’t seem to grasp — is that religion has direct, practical “utility”. Most obviously for moral training of children — it’s most popular use, if you look at when people involve themselves — but also for 3 or 4 other reasons.

    What prompted Jindal’s article would seem to be a certain arrogance and stupidity that is quite common to hear these days. (Read a few of the comments.) For instance one commonly hears “religion is responsible for all wars”. That this is utter nonsense is quite obvious but one hears it from very smart people. (Akin to Razib’s comment about “ignorant genius”.) In fact, beyond the ordinary causes of war you’d get from any reading of history, the 20th century is sort of a testament to the incredible evil (and failure) of specifically anti-religious ideologies.

    And one sees the militant atheist folks of a character like Dawkins. My thought is what exactly does Dawkins know about who\what caused the big bang … uh nothing! just like the rest of us! He simply has “faith” in his view and is a pompous windbag for his evidence deprived view.


    On the politics thing …
    I think the reason conservatives make a big deal of this is simple because “race” is VERY, VERY important for the left.

    It is how many folks on the “left”, “prove” to themselves that they are righteous, “the good guys”. Their policies can completely suck (welfare, crime, high taxes, regulatory burden) and be unpopular. They can have been completely wrong about the soviet union (pre-Truman\post-Johnson). But if they can keep their opponents labeled as racist … then they are still the good guys.

    Hence every conservative must be an “angry white guy”. (That covers me, althoug i’m pretty pinkish). And minority conservatives — must be pilloried as Uncle Toms. (See Clarence Thomas.) Often with rhetoric that gives a distinct whiff of “know your place boy!”

    So yeah, the conservatives get themselves worked up in a estatic fit and shoot a load in their pants when one of the minority conservatives wins.

    Still it’s a good fit. Indian American’s are overwhelmingingly middle\professional class people with standard self-reliant bourgeosis values that fit well with the party of Lincoln. There’s no particular need for them to go through the ethnic-identity, we’ll-fight-for-our-fair-share Democratic party deal and drift Republican as they assilimilate three generations down the road (as did my Irish ancestors). They are natural ideological Republicans from the start.

    So good for Bobby (Piyush for you Dems) Jindal. Best of luck. With Louisiana he’ll damn sure need it.

  11. #11 jim
    October 23, 2007

    Well every society has it’s own ethnic/racial classifications. In the US, the Black-White split has been the primary way Americans have classified others (and themselves) for hundreds of years, with most immigrant groups after the founding Anglos eventually becoming “white”.

    (A buddy of mine is Finnish and his mother would be disappointed if he married any southern European because they aren’t “white” to her. Americans used to be much more sensitive to ethnic differences between euro groups.)

    It’s too early to tell whether new immigrant groups are creating a new “brown” category. I’m skeptical. Once language is no longer a factor I suspect many darker-skinned (but not sub-Saharan African) immigrant groups will basically think of themselves (and be treated by society) “white”. There are still Irish, Italian, and Polish enclaves with strong ethnic identities, but it’s faded for most white Americans.

    I think Indian immigration throws the biggest curve to the American Black-White racial divisions, since some Indians are very dark skinned. Still, I’d suggest that when most Americans watch a show like Heroes, they see the actor who plays Mohinder (Indian scientist guy) as basically a “white” guy. Just a “white” guy with skin much darker than many “black” guys.

    I think intermarriage rates are a good data source for how different various subgroups perceive themselves. The data I’ve seen show quite high rates of intermarriage among white and asians, for example, compared to black-white intermarriage.

    But intermarriage is up for almost all groupings, which is a positive sign to me of improved race relations in America.

  12. #12 Caledonian
    October 23, 2007

    So there have been no Catholic geniuses, ever? Or, I suppose, Muslim or Buddhist?

    There have been geniuses who believed the Sun went around the Earth. There simply haven’t been any lately.

  13. #13 Jeb, FCD
    October 23, 2007

    The African-Americans in my state did not turn out the vote this time. Again, this show that most of my fellow Louisianians are redneck morons who prefer to be led rather than think for themselves.

    Or, maybe evolution/being rational/science isn’t that important to them.

    It’s time to move.

  14. #14 M-K
    October 23, 2007

    Or maybe some of us think Jindal might be the best thing for Louisiana, regardless of his religious/intellectual foibles. God knows (pardon the expression), Louisiana doesn’t usually have much to choose from. Besides, some of us Darwinists/atheists don’t think teaching other opinions in science is such a bad thing, as long as they don’t interfere with teaching Science. Students should know what the unenlightened believe, and it’s better to address the subject straight on than to ban it from the classroom as if it were something unspeakable.

  15. #15 razib
    October 23, 2007

    Students should know what the unenlightened believe, and it’s better to address the subject straight on than to ban it from the classroom as if it were something unspeakable

    they’re unenlightened. they already know 😉

  16. #16 quidnunc
    October 24, 2007

    Division of labour is important. I know a very smart mathematician who is also a very nutty objectivist. It’s hard not to run into characters like that on the internet (one extreme example that comes to mind is Uncle Al of sci.chem fame Look up his news posts if you want a laugh.)

    We could blame the university system for not instituting serious breadth requirements but students are either poorly prepared for technical subjects or far too busy with their major to take any non watered down elective; I don’t think this pattern is an artifact of the curriculum, it reflects the nature of knowledge as a collective enterprise that values specialization in some (but not all) of its members, and in turn a more shallow understanding on an individual level in topics not connected to one of a few immediate interests. One can be very smart and well read but have obvious blind spots (thinking Chomsky on some of his views about evolution and the brain, and some odd assumptions in his political views despite being a genius and engaged in those topics)

  17. #17 cuchulainn
    October 25, 2007

    Catholicism can seem intellectually rigorous and quite attractive to a certain brand of idealistic, highly intelligent youth. Especially dabblers. It is quite easy to ignore the contradictions. As his conversion occurred during his teenage years I believe it sincere.

  18. #18 Mr. Gunn
    November 14, 2007

    His conversion is sincere, and profound. It’s just a shame that he’s devoted his prodigious intellect to effecting the desires of the catholic church through public policy. It’s going to be terrible for our state. Just as Michael Brown was a bad decision as a political appointee, so is Jindal a bad idea, and for many of the same reasons.

    M-K, I know you’re not coming in here with some weak-sauce “teach the debate” argument. Louisiana has a hard enough time teaching one consensus reality version of events, there’s no way they should even try to muddy the issue by explaining why cdesign proponentism or pastafarianism or lunarism aren’t supported by evidence.

  19. #19 Steven
    November 15, 2007

    If he said this “Even if we grant Dawkin’s assumption that human beings are the product of unassisted evolution, which is quite a generous gesture since there is much controversy over the fossil evidence for evolution.” then I would go further than stating he has a weak understanding. I would state he doesn’t understand it at all. Even if no fossils existed the genetic evidence alone is enough to overwhemlming show the fact of evolution.

    Perhaps he is pandering to his pious base because after all he is a politician. Can’t trust any of the bastards. I don’t trust people who seek that much power of others. I think its a natural environment for the corrupt and corrupts those who prior to entering the arena had good intentions.

  20. #20 Q
    June 24, 2008

    Interesting comments all around, but I would like to particularly address jim’s comment.

    As an Indian-American, I can attest to the fact that after having left my home town, I’ve never felt treated any differently (with very rare exceptions) than my “white” friends. Having said that, I also went to an “elite” Northeastern college and lived in New York since then so I don’t know how representative that experience is of attitudes that can be found elsewhere.

    For the most part, though, non-immigrant 1st and 2nd generation Indian Americans are pretty well assimilated, and high rates of intermarriage substantiate that as well. An oft overlooked aspect of race relations is socioeconomics. As is the case with Asian Americans generally, well educated, professionally oriented and financially succesful immigrant groups tend to be accepted in the mainstream relatively easily in spite of skin color or other significant physical differences.

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