Senator Marco Rubio aroused controversy recently with his answer to a leading question from a GQ interviewer, who apparently earnestly wanted to know the young senator’s views on astronomy and science:
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.
The Left quickly picked up Rubio’s comments, which are not much more than a refusal to play GQ’s games and a defense of parents’ freedom to teach their children religious beliefs, as just another salvo in the Republican war on science (though Rubio, a Catholic, could also have explained that the Church’s teaching on this issue, which clearly leaves a question like the age of the Earth to the moral and methodical study of scientists, who no longer consider our planet’s age “one of the great mysteries”).
Zach Beauchamp at ThinkProgress argued that “to suggest we can’t know how old the Earth is . . . is to deny the validity of these scientific methods altogether — a maneuver familiar to Rubio . . .” Well, it turns out, as Daniel Engber at Slate has discovered, an answer like Rubio’s is actually a maneuver also familiar to . . . President Barack Obama:
Here’s then-Sen. Obama, D-Ill., speaking at the Compassion Forum at Messiah College in Grantham, Pa. on April 13, 2008:
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.
Obama’s answer, that is, is strikingly similar to Rubio’s, almost amazingly so (one actually wonders if this is a certain kind of response political consultants have drummed up for politicians). Engber strongly criticizes the fact that politicians give these kinds of answers, but it’s a strong reminder that it has a lot more to do with our political culture than it does conservatives or either political coalition:
I’m hesitant to let the crown prince of the Tea Party be singled out for blame. His shameless dodge and pander on the matter of the Earth’s creation don’t mark him as a radical, nor even as a soldier in the war on science. They mark him only as a mainstream politician. Beware, for thou that judgest doest the same things: Members of both parties have had to squiggle through elections by appealing to a hazy sense of geo-history.