Rubio’s Scientific Ignorance


Florida Sen. Marco Rubio was recently interviewed by GQ magazine and he was asked if he knew how old the earth was. I’m not sure why he was asked that; if you read the interview, it’s kind of an abrupt and out-of-the-blue question. But his answer was predictably nonsensical:

GQ: How old do you think the Earth is?

Marco Rubio: 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.

First of all, he didn’t ask you how the universe was created. He asked you how old the earth was. And the answer to that is simple and precise: 4.5 billion years old. There aren’t “multiple theories” about that, there is a mountain of evidence and hundreds of well-confirmed and concordant dates on one side and a raft of religious nonsense on the other. But as Russ Douthat points out, this isn’t really meant to be a serious answer, it’s meant to be a politically safe one — and it reveals a lot about the GOP:

First, this is pretty plainly a cautious politician’s answer, not a true-believing Young-Earth Creationist’s. The question has a “gotcha” edge: It drops out of the blue in the midst of the interview, and it’s clearly designed to get Rubio to either take a swipe at the 40-plus percent of Americans and majority of Republican voters who doubt the evolutionary narrative about human origins (though some percentage of those doubters, it should be said, probably believe in an older-than-10,000-years Earth) or look like an anti-science rube. His answer attempts to avoid doing either: Rubio tries to be simultaneously deferential to the authority of scientists, the authority of scripture, and the authority of parents to teach their kids as they see fit. The result is a something of a muddle, but that’s hardly unusual coming from a risk-averse politician, and especially a politician facing a questioner who’s clearly deploying a “conservatives vs. science” framework that’s itself flawed and partisan and incomplete in various ways.

However: The fact that the “conservatives vs. science” framework is frequently unfair doesn’t mean that the problem doesn’t exist, or that Republican politicians should just get a free pass for tiptoeing around it. No matter how you spin it, Rubio’s bets-hedging non-answer isn’t exactly a great indicator about the state of the party he might aspire to lead.

Or the state of the country, for that matter. The larger problem is not that Rubio gave the wrong answer but that the wrong answer is politically useful in this country. And did I mention that Rubio is a member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee?

Comments

  1. says

    Not only is he a member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, even worse, he’s on the Science and Space and the Oceans; Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard; and the Communications, Technology, and the Internet subcommittees!

    There are four other subcommittees, but these three that Rubio sits on deal directly specifically with science, the Earth, and technology. Maybe he’s just not paying attention, or paying as much attention to the science as that other great Republican senatorial scientific thinker, James Mountain Inhofe. (Yes, his middle name is actually “Mountain.” I guess he’s the only one in Oklahoma.)

  2. jamessweet says

    As Mano points out, Obama didn’t do much better with that question in 2008:

    …I believe that God created the universe and that the six days in the Bible may not be six days as we understand it … it may not be 24-hour days, and that’s what I believe. I know there’s always a debate between those who read the Bible literally and those who don’t, and I think it’s a legitimate debate within the Christian community of which I’m a part. My belief is that the story that the Bible tells about God creating this magnificent Earth on which we live—that is essentially true, that is fundamentally true. Now, whether it happened exactly as we might understand it reading the text of the Bible: That, I don’t presume to know.

    If I’m really trying, I can find a couple of ways in which Rubio’s answer is worse than Obama’s. But the most glaring flaw in both remains: The abject cowardice, the complete refusal to take a stand on anything. Both dangle the ridiculous day-age theology, but don’t commit to it; both dangle the science, but don’t commit to it… Blech…

  3. jamessweet says

    I guess the one thing where Rubio was a lot worse than Obama is that he gave a nod to the “teaching multiple theories” nonsense — so his political cowardice has potential policy ramifications as well.

    Still, if you had taken the Obama quote and told me it was a tea party senator, I’d be furious.

  4. slc1 says

    As I cited on Prof. Singham’s blog, I really like what Joe Biden had to say when asked his take on intelligent design. He responded with a 2 word answer, “It’s malarkey”.

  5. Michael Heath says

    Ross Douthat writes:

    First, this is pretty plainly a cautious politician’s answer, not a true-believing Young-Earth Creationist’s.

    This is a major fallacy of false restrictions by Mr. Douthat. Another alternative is that Marco Rubio is some combination of a liar, idiot, and ignorant based on what I emphasize in the below Sen. Rubio statements:

    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.

    The GQ question is awkward and I think illustrative that most journalists are as ignorant as their interview subjects, they just mostly passively accept what science reports contra conservatives who are pretty much as knowledgable as your average conservative Christian. However I’m at least glad journalists raise scientific facts denied by Republicans and powerful libertarians because of course we should demand our legislators and other political officials have a handle on basic scientific facts. Especially since they are required to understand such findings if they’re going to have a viable shot at establishing credible policy. Even then we have to contend with the politicians who do know but deny that reality motivated by their own political ambition and that of their party. However I don’t see too many of them; instead I observe delusional, idiotic, ignoramuses – including Mitt Romney. The party’s leadership continues to evolve into a reflection of the conservative Christian voting base, Rubio is one more data point illustrating that trend.

    Currently Senators Jim Inhofe and Jim DeMint are exemplars of what Republican leaders and libertarians with political power understand about the aspects of reality that scientists and economists report.

  6. slc1 says

    Re MH @ #5

    However I don’t see too many of them; instead I observe delusional, idiotic, ignoramuses – including Mitt Romney.

    I would have to disagree with the citing of Rmoney as a delusional, idiotic, ignoramus. IMHO, it is more accurate to say that he is a congenital liar who probably knows better. In some sense, that makes him worse then Inhofe and DeMint who probably don’t know any better.

  7. slc1 says

    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

    This is what is most annoying about Rubio’s response. Who gives a flying fuck about a dispute amongst theologians relative to the age of the earth. The opinions of theologians about the age of the earth is of no more relevance then their opinions of string theory. This is a scientific issue, not a theological issue. The fact that Rubio equates theological opinion with scientific opinion, even assuming that he knows better, which IMHO, is not unlikely, should, all by itself, be a disqualification for serving on a Congressional science committee.

  8. raven says

    the Bible says, but I think that’s a dispute amongst theologians

    Rubio is dumb.

    He doesn’t know the difference between a theologian and a scientist and has no idea what scientists actually do.

    Theologians don’t get to decide what the age of the earth is. They are just babbling idiots and liars for jesus.

    Rubio is also a creationist who has tried to sneak creationism into public schools in Florida.

  9. labman57 says

    The good Lord gave Man the gift of an advanced brain capable of higher level thinking.
    It’s a shame that so many scientifically-illiterate politicians and pundits have chosen to avoid using it.

    More specifically, I don’t expect our elected representatives to fully understand the radioactive dating methodologies commonly used to determine the age of rocks and fossil specimens, but I do expect that they acknowledge that such techniques exist and accept the validity of their findings.

    It’s not a question of religious freedom or the right to express one’s faith.
    People have the right to believe in the tooth fairy … but I wouldn’t want one of them to be my dentist.

  10. Michael Heath says

    labman57 writes:

    The good Lord gave Man the gift of an advanced brain capable of higher level thinking.

    Citation requested.

  11. abear says

    James “Mountain” Inhofe? Is it possible he became a rabid right winger as an act of rebellion against his hippy parents?

  12. naturalcynic says

    7 days?????
    He can’t even get his mythology right. It was 6, the 7th was for not picking up sticks.

  13. says

    I can tell you what recorded history says, I can tell you what the Bible says,

    And history says the babble is wrong.

    http://www.theonion.com/articles/sumerians-look-on-in-confusion-as-god-creates-worl,2879/

    You know what’s weird? The official position of Rubio’s church is that everyone can make up their own mind about the age of the Earth/Universe.

    Yeah, they require members to absolutely believe that wine spontaneously transforms into blood, but scientific facts are up for grabs.

  14. says

    “and especially a politician facing a questioner who’s clearly deploying a “conservatives vs. science” framework that’s itself flawed and partisan and incomplete in various ways.”

    Bullshit.

    It’s not flawed or partisan or incomplete. The truth is that the reactionary RWA dickwads that pass for “conservative” these days ARE science averse. They don’t question science, they deny it. Fuck Douthhat.

  15. scienceavenger says

    I took Douthat’s “‘conservatives vs. science’ framework” comment to be a recognition of the existence of both science-loving conservatives and science-denying liberals in general, both of which exist in significant proportion depending on subject, and the inconsistency of most individuals with regard to science in general. I’d argue that the problem is far more prevalent and higher up the food chain among conservatives, but that doesn’t negate the basic point.

    As for the contention that the age of the earth falls squarely in

  16. scienceavenger says

    …”scientific questions” category, IMO our society tends to defer to theologins far too much in determining where these lines are.

  17. says

    scienceavenger:

    If you said this:

    “and especially a politician facing a questioner who’s clearly deploying a “conservatives vs. science” framework that’s itself flawed and partisan and incomplete in various ways.”

    I might think what you’re thinking about Douthat’s comment.

    I don’t.

    Douthat is a ReiKKKwing apparatchik who was deemed just sane enough to replace Bill KKKristol at the NYT’s op-ed page. He’s an asshole.

Leave a Reply