In a recent interview with GQ magazine, Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida was asked, “How old do you think the earth is?” His response, “I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to answer that,” is troubling.
Before delving into the Senator’s response and its ramifications, it is important to note that, according to Gallup polling, between 40 and 50 percent of American adults believe in creationism; that is, that, “God created humans in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years.” This number breaks down along political party lines—58 percent of Republicans support creationism— and education level—only 25 percent of college graduates, compared to 52 percent of respondents with a high school education or less, identified as creationists.
Senator Rubio is the most notable beneficiary of the right-wing Tea Party movement, swept into federal office in 2011 out of relative obscurity in the Florida state legislature. Both of his parents were immigrants from Cuba, and he was raised predominantly in the Roman Catholic Church, though he and his family attended a Mormon church for three years during his childhood. His name was bandied about in the media as a potential running mate for Mitt Romney, and Romney’s campaign reportedly vetted Rubio before choosing Paul Ryan. He obtained his BA from the University of Florida and his JD from the University of Miami Law School.
On the heels of Romney’s loss in the presidential election, and notably his drubbing among Hispanic voters, Rubio is now squarely in the spotlight as a potential presidential or vice presidential candidate in 2016. His Cuban ethnicity would, supposedly, boost Republican performance among Hispanics, the fastest growing voting bloc in the country, while his strongly conservative views would maintain support among the party base.
His full answer to the “earth age” question in GQ:
“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.”New York Times
Almost every statement included in Rubio’s answer is flawed. Though he claims he doesn’t know how old the earth is, he says he “can tell you what recorded history says.”
Well, written recorded history dates at least back to the Sumerian civilization of the fourth century B.C. The earliest discovered human artistic impressions date back over 34,000 years. Already, Rubio has unwittingly disagreed with his creationist base.
Far more damaging is his claim that “the age of the universe has zero to do with how our economy is going to grow.” On the surface, he is correct: knowing the specific age of the universe does not have a bearing on everyday life. However, his comments show a blindness to the fact that modern society is completely reliant, and in fact built upon, a broad framework of scientific theories that have gained consensus over centuries.
The age of the earth, and the universe to a lesser extent, is one of these consensus theories, and has been since 1955, when geochemist Clair Patterson dated the earth and solar system’s creation at 4.55 billion years through analysis of isotopic compositions of terrestrial compounds and meteorites. If you reject one consensus scientific theory, what will stop you from rejecting others, like the idea, also put forth by Patterson, that elevated lead levels in human blood can lead to major health defects?
Rubio suggests that all theories of earth’s creation should get equal attention in education. Because creationist teaching would take time away from scientific instruction, which America needs badly to maintain a skilled workforce, the Senator’s position is actually against economic recovery, a fact he is seemingly unaware of.
Finally, he even gets the religious belief wrong: the King James Bible, on which he presumably bases his Catholic beliefs, states: “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth.” The process took only the first day, and God got into the details during the next six.
There has been some uproar over the fact that President Obama provided a similarly opaque answer to the same question before his election. Though it was a bit more nuanced and did not make the education claims that Rubio’s does, it was not a forceful answer in support of scientific consensus. However, in the same speech, Obama makes clear his belief in evolution and scientific discovery in general, a move Rubio did not make.
Whatever Senator Rubio chooses to believe is his own business, but if he wishes to become the next president of the United States, he’d better figure out just what that is.
Nicholas DePaul is a senior Sustainable Globalization major from Los Angeles, Calif. He is a staff writer for the News-Letter.