I wrote recently about Republican Florida senator Marco Rubio hedging an answer to the question on the age of the Earth.
Q: 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.
He was widely ridiculed for either believing in a young Earth or for cowardice, trying to avoid offending young Earth creationists and hurting his presidential ambitions, and even some Republicans have labeled his comments as ‘strange’ and said that “We’ve got to be a kind of pro-science and pro-technology party.”
But as Daniel Engber points out, in 2008 then-presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama also hedged his answer to a similar question, saying:
Q: Senator, if one of your daughters asked you—and maybe they already have—“Daddy, did god really create the world in 6 days?,” what would you say?
A: What I’ve said to them is that 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.
Engber compares the two answers in detail and concludes, “In light of these concordances, to call Rubio a liar or a fool would be to call our nation’s president the same, along with every other politician who might like to occupy the Oval Office.” He adds that serious politicians with national ambitions by now have all learned to say the same thing is response to questions about science: “Well, you know, that’s a complicated issue … and who am I to say?”
Engber points out that in Obama’s favor, he has on occasion said that he believes in the theory of evolution although there too he seeks to mollify the religionists by hastening to add that he believes science is compatible with Christian faith and that it actually strengthens his faith.
I share Stephen R. Walt’s hope that “maybe one of these days we’ll have a serious presidential candidate who openly proclaims her or his faith in science and reason and rejects allegiance to any unseen superhuman entity.”
We are long overdue for such a candidate. It is quite incredible that in the US in the 21st century, no aspirant for high elected public office can say unequivocally that he or she accepts the verdict of science that the age of the Earth is 4.5 billion years old.