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Opinion

Don’t ask Marco Rubio how old the Earth is

Don’t ask Marco Rubio how old the Earth is
How old is the Earth? Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio says he’s not really sure.
(AFP / Getty Iamges)

How old is the Earth? Scientists say 4.5 billion years. But Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) isn’t a scientist, so he’s not sure. That’s what the Republican rising star told an interviewer for GQ who posed the question.

“I’m not a scientist, man,” Rubio, a member of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said. “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.”

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In case the interviewer didn’t hear him the first time, Rubio added: “I’m not a scientist. I don’t think I’m qualified to answer a question like that.”

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No, he’s a politician, and a member of a party that long has pandered to biblical fundamentalists, including “young Earth creationists” who insist that the Earth is between 5,700 and 10,000 years old. Dissing Charles Darwin is second nature to Republican politicians who should (and maybe do) know better.

“Only” three of 10 Republican presidential candidates raised their hands at a 2007 primary debate when a questioner asked: “Is there anyone on the stage who does not ... believe in evolution?” But the notion that evolution is “just a theory,” while not confined to Republicans,  has been conspicuously championed by politicians from that party.

In 2001, Sen. Rick Santorum introduced an amendment to the No Child Left Behind bill stating that “where biological evolution is taught, the curriculum should help students to understand why this subject generates so much continuing controversy.” (The amendment attracted bipartisan support but was watered down in a conference committee.)

This year, the Republican governor of Tennessee (home of the Scopes “Monkey Trial”) refused to veto a law protecting teachers who allow students to question and criticize “controversial” subjects, including evolution. Like the Santorum amendment, the Tennessee law embraced the mantra of latter-day anti-Darwinians that schools should “teach the controversy.”

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But there is no serious controversy about the validity of the basic Darwinian account, any more than there is a serious debate about whether, as Rubio put it, “the Earth was created in seven days or seven actual eras.” He called the age of the Earth “one of the great mysteries.”

But it’s no mystery why a potential Republican presidential nominee might be afraid to offend creationists. According to a Gallup poll published in June, 58% of Republicans believe that God created humans in their present form within the last 10,000 years, compared with 39% of independents and 41% of Democrats.

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