Saturday, December 1, 2012

Rubio's Reply

The Wall Street Journal recently ran an op-ed by Dr. Josh Swamidass, a professor in the Laboratory and Genomic Medicine Division at Washington University in St. Louis, on the response given by Senator Marco Rubio to a question asked of him by an interviewer from GQ magazine. Rubio was asked how old he thinks the earth is, a strange question to ask of a politician to be sure, especially since Democrats rarely get asked these sorts of questions, at least not by journalists. Rubio was taken aback and gave a rather desultory reply which offended Dr. Swamidass and a host of other commentators as well. He writes:

Sen. Marco Rubio recently touched a land mine in America's culture wars: evolution, creation and the age of the Earth. When GQ magazine asked him how old the planet is, Mr. Rubio's winding response never directly answered the question. Instead, he noted his lack of scientific qualifications ("I'm not a scientist, man"), posited a need to teach the "multiple theories out there on how the universe was created," and settled into the platitude that the Earth's age is an unsolvable "mystery."

Mr. Rubio's answer enabled his critics to cast one of the Republicans' fastest rising stars as an ignorant religious nut. It also provided an opportunity for those hostile to Christians to lampoon them for trusting their sacred text more than science.
I'm sure this is indeed how the Democrats would like to portray every conservative, but they can only get away with it by making sure their media allies don't ask them the same sorts of questions routinely employed to flummox Republicans. How, for example, would Senator Harry Reid, a Mormon, have answered that question? Or Nancy Pelosi? Or Vice President Biden? Does anyone think these pols have any idea at all what the scientific consensus is on the age of the earth or the age of the universe? Why should a politician be expected to know this anyway? What difference does it make whether someone believes the earth is thousands, millions, or billions of years old? What else should they know? The Gravitational Constant and the Planck Time? The GQ question is absurd and so has been the reaction to Rubio's reply.

The number that journalists should be asking our politicians is the size of the national budget deficit and the national debt. As it turns out, Mr. Obama was asked this very question and he didn't know the answer (start at the 2:00 minute mark):
That the president couldn't even give an approximate answer to the question - he's being paid, after all, to get this number under control - should have generated howls of outrage from the media, but it scarcely mustered a yawn.

Coincidentally, Mr. Obama was also asked, as a U.S. Senator, the same question that Marco Rubio was asked, though presumably not by a journalist. In a 2008 forum at Messiah College in Pennsylvania, Senator Obama was served this version of it:
Senator, if one of your daughters asked you...“Daddy, did God really create the world in 6 days?,” what would you say?
His answer is scarcely different than Senator Rubio's. Senator Obama replied:
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.
Here's Rubio, in his interview for the December 2012 issue of GQ:
Q: How old do you think the Earth is?

A: 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.
Why is it that Senator Rubio's reply elicits howls of derision and Senator Obama's reply creates nary a ripple? The only thing I can figure is that it has something to do with whether there's an R or a D after their names.