By Bob Cesca: You might recall how Bobby Jindal suggested that Republicans should stop dumbing themselves down. I used this quote in yesterday's column, but it bears repeating: "It is no secret we had a number of Republicans damage our brand this year with offensive, bizarre comments — enough of that. It’s not going to be the last time anyone says something stupid within our party, but it can’t be tolerated within our party. We’ve also had enough of this dumbed-down conservatism. We need to stop being simplistic, we need to trust the intelligence of the American people and we need to stop insulting the intelligence of the voters."
Perhaps Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), the first Republican to formally court Iowa in preparation for 2016, should've taken Jindal more seriously. Yesterday, GQ's Michael Hainey published an interview with Rubio in which he asked the senator the seemingly non-sequitur question: "How old do you think the Earth is?"
Rubio's answered, "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."
Well, to be fair, Rubio was right about one thing: he's definitely not a scientist. Man. Not even close. In fact, I'm not sure he understands what science is in the first place. But, you know, he's a member of the nation's most elite governing body. He's one of just 100 other Americans tasked controlling one half of one third of the U.S. government. He really ought to know what science is, and it wouldn't be a bad idea to be familiar with the nearly unanimous scientific consensus is that the Earth is around 4.54 billion years old, based on radiometric tests of Earth, Moon and martian rock samples.
This is just one of those things we ought to expect our leaders to know -- at least in a ballpark sense. "Billions of years old" would've perfectly sufficed, and would've been my answer, frankly. I would've also accepted millions of years old. It would've been way off, but at least it would've been closer than "duh." But it's not just that Rubio didn't know the age of the planet, it's clear that he doesn't concur with the scientific explanation of the formation of the Earth, nor the process of global evolution.
Look, if you have to hedge and pander on a question like this, you shouldn't be in a serious leadership position. So yes, this has a little something to do with the economy and GDP because it's questionable whether we should have lawmakers deciding on the fate of the economy who also have a flimsy grasp on reality, and who are unclear about the differences between science and faith.
Rubio said, "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."
Guess what? No one's suggesting you can't "teach them all." Just not in public schools, where the Constitution mandates secularism. In a government-sanctioned school system, there's no place for theology in a science class. Perhaps in a history class, a teacher could note the ancient text that explains Adam and Eve and the other allegories from the Bible. But there's no scientific method in ascertaining the age of the Earth from the Bible and therefore it's not science.
The age of the Earth isn't theoretical, nor is it a matter of faith outside the purview of religion. It's tested, peer-reviewed fact.
In terms of multiple theories, okay sure. There are lots of theories about everything. But there's only one testable scientific explanation for the origin and age of the Earth. The other "theories" are irrelevant in the eyes of science. Just because a group of people have a faith-based notion about something doesn't qualify it as science. Put another way, scientific curriculum about life and death probably shouldn't include theories about ghosts simply because an alarming number of people believe in ghosts.
Rubio added, "I think parents should be able to teach their kids what their faith says, what science says."
Wait. Who's saying parents aren't allowed to teach faith to their children? This is the kind of divisive fear-mongering nonsense the Republicans should be abandoning immediately, per Jindal's instructions. I don't know anyone who's trying to pass laws prohibiting what parents teach their kids outside of the classroom. It'd be excellent if parents would urge their kids to learn about science along with whatever religious views they see fit to impart. But don't go around hinting to your conservative reactionary supporters that there's a movement aiming to prevent parents from teaching religion to their children when in fact nobody, especially the Democratic Party, is pushing for such a thing. Nobody.
Rubio concluded with the following about the origins of the planet, "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." Hoo-boy, he's definitely not a scientist... man. Yes, we know for certain that the Earth was definitely not created in seven days. It's not a great mystery -- it's literally impossible. And, yes, scientists have answered it many times over.
I've recently warned that liberals probably shouldn't engage in the continued hectoring of religious people, at least those who quietly practice their faith -- a group that includes fellow liberals. Likewise, we should expect conservatives to stop diluting and undermining both science and secularism by conflating it with religious dogma -- or by entirely ignoring science. This ought to be a fair compromise. Part of the task of reaching this mutual understanding is accepting science for what it is: an empirical means of testing and explaining the universe; while reserving faith as a personal system of beliefs and morality.
I'm not a scientist, either, man. But I don't have to be a scientist to respect science. We should at least expect our elected leaders to concede the value, existence and empiricism of science, irrespective of party or ideological persuasion.