2016, Rubio, and the Age of the Earth

Senator Marco Rubio’s comments to a GQ reporter have attracted more than their share of attention lately.  When asked about the age of the earth, Rubio hedged:

“I’m not a scientist, man. I can tell you what recorded history says, I can tell  you what the Bible says, but I think that’s a dispute amongst theologians and I  think it has nothing to do with the gross domestic product or economic growth of  the United States. I think the age of the universe has zero to do with how our  economy is going to grow. I’m not a scientist. I don’t think I’m qualified to  answer a question like that. At the end of the day, I think there are multiple  theories out there on how the universe was created and I think this is a country  where people should have the opportunity to teach them all. I think parents  should be able to teach their kids what their faith says, what science says.  Whether the Earth was created in 7 days, or 7 actual eras, I’m not sure we’ll  ever be able to answer that. It’s one of the great mysteries.”

This answer certainly sounds like a dodge from a 2016-conscious politician.  Keenly aware of the thinking among the GOP base, and with an eye to the 2016 presidential primaries, it seems, Rubio carefully gave an answer designed not to offend the sensibilities of young-earth creationists.  Rubio’s language here clearly differentiates him from the true GOP creationist politicians like US Representative Paul Broun.  Good science?  Definitely not.  But is it good politics?

Writing in the New York Times, Ross Douthat offered a politician’s answer that might serve the GOP better in the long run.  Aspiring GOP leaders, Douthat suggested, could respond to gotcha questions in this way:

“I’m not a scientist, but I respect the scientific consensus that says that the earth is — what, something like a few billions of years old, right? I don’t have any trouble reconciling that consensus with my faith. I don’t think the 7 days in Genesis have to be literal 24-hour days. I don’t have strong opinions about the specifics of how to teach these issues — that’s for school boards to decide, and I’m not running for school board — but I think religion and science can be conversation partners, and I think kids can benefit from that conversation.

Douthat makes the excellent point that this is more a crisis of Christianity than of the GOP.  The notion of a young earth has only been used as a litmus test for fundamentalist Protestantism in the last fifty years or so.  For centuries before that, Bible Christians could legitimately disagree about the age of the earth without being accused of backsliding away from true faith.

However, for someone like Rubio with his eyes on the White House, Douthat’s suggestion does not fit.  Politicians don’t win national office by moral or intellectual courage.  They win by offering a recipe of ideological notions that satisfy their constituents.  And these days, like it or lump it, the GOP base has strong feelings in favor of a young earth.

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3 Comments

  1. Do the seven days in Genesis have to be literal 24 hour days? I remember Christian summer camp 20 years ago and being told that the days could have been as long as a millenia.

    Reply
    • @Jon, Right, just like the “gap theory,” the “day-age” approach has a long and storied tradition. As Ron Numbers argued, the young-earth tradition came from fairly obscure origins in the middle twentieth century to take a leading role among conservative evangelical Protestants. Since Whitcomb & Morris made their non-7th-day Adventist young-earth argument in 1960, a young-earth interpretation has punched way above its theological weight.

      Reply
  2. ChazIng

     /  November 24, 2012

    Ron Numbers assumes that YEC is a product of Adventism on Morris’ part, which is isn’t. I find it strange that someone who is not qualified in theology would be able to determine theological weight. Additionally, Rubio was sandbagged and the question was clearly inappropriate as to political ability so he was not ‘dodging’ anything. As one blogger pointed out he should have responded thus: “What’s the age of the earth? What’s the weight of a neutrino, you condescending twit?” [http://wmbriggs.com/blog/?p=6716] Frankly, I don’t think you understand the nature of scientific extrapolation [http://blog.drwile.com/?p=9].

    Reply

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