Photo: Flickr/Scott Kinmartin
WE ARE now about 1,400 days out from the next presidential election, so it’s time for the potential candidates to start jockeying for position. Hence Marco Rubio’s fabulously elusive (now viral) answer to the rather simple, if seemingly insignificant question about the age of the Earth.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.
As others have pointed out, it’s actually not a great mystery. Scientists are agreed that the age of the Earth is about 4.5 billion years old. Mr Rubio may not be a scientist himself, but the science is readily accessible, much like the economics he uses to opine on the economy, despite not being an economist (only the science is a bit more reliable). He sits on the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee; surely one of his aides can demystify the situation with a simple Google search.
I can find the age of the earth by accessing Google on my iPhone via the cellular network provided by Verizon. I can do this because smart people used science to create these things. I can access Mr Rubio’s inane answer via the internet on my tablet because many science-believing innovators are interested in making money. When they create things, using science, they increase America’s output and contribute to the country’s economic growth.
So while the age of the Earth is not directly relevant to America’s economy, it’s useful as an indicator of the country’s belief in and study of science, which is germane to any discussion of GDP and growth rates. It also says something about our economic policymakers. As Paul Krugman points out, “the attitude that discounts any amount of evidence—and boy, do we have lots of evidence on the age of the planet!—if it conflicts with prejudices is not an attitude consistent with effective policy.”
More broadly, there are those who would like to call a truce between science and religion, and based on his attempt to dodge the question, perhaps Mr Rubio is one of them. But the senator’s comments are the reason why there can be no truce. If the status quo allows a leader like Mr Rubio to benefit from claiming that accepted science is in fact mystery, then science is losing. When divine explanations and scientific truths are given equal footing, no armistice can be accepted. Rather, science must continue to forcefully rebut religion’s unsubstantiated claims in public battles like this. And smart politicians must be made to feel profound discomfort when dealing in the absurdities that appeal to some faithful voters.
(Photo credit: AFP)
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