In a recent interview with GQ’s Michael Hainey, Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a rising star in the battered GOP — and a Tea Party favorite whose name is already being tossed around as a presidential contender for 2016 — was asked how old he believed the Earth was. His response is worth quoting in its entirety:
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."
Most scientists, if asked this question, would likely answer that, based upon radiometric dating, the Earth is about 4.5 billion years old. In answering Hainey’s question, however, Senator Rubio, whatever his personal beliefs, was probably considering the impact of his response on the nearly 46% of Americans who consider themselves to be "creationists." That’s right, according to a recent Gallup Poll, 46% of Americans, when asked about their views on “the origin and development and human beings” responded that they believe that “God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the past 10,000 years.”
While Rubio may be right, that the age of our planet has little bearing on the current state of our economy, responding in such a manner perpetuates a culture of scientific denial that is unhealthy for our country as a whole. Rubio’s suggestion that proven scientific theories should be taught alongside religious speculation gives credence to those who would impose their own views — which are overwhelmingly Christian — on the American public education system. Additionally, implying that our ability to know such things is, essentially, beyond our scientific capabilities undermines the validity of the very scientific methods that allow us to investigate a variety of phenomena. Rubio’s own views on the age of the Earth are irrelevant, but in framing his answer in such a way, he furthers the view that somehow science and faith are mutually exclusive, and that the empirical findings of science can be invalidated simply by deciding that they should not apply.