The blogosphere (mostly on the left wing side) has erupted with commentary on Florida Senator Marco Rubio’s response to a question about the age of the earth. This was a question posed by a GQ reporter and will appear in the December 2012 edition (read here: http://www.gq.com/news-politics/politics/201212/marco-rubio-interview-gq-december-2012?printable=true¤tPage=2). The question is summoned from seemingly nowhere so it strikes me as one of those attempted “gotcha” questions which are intended to explode around the internet and bring a magazine lots of attention. Mission: very well accomplished.
The crux of this earth-shattering controversy revolves around this paragraph of dialogue:
“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.” –Rubio
Rubio seems to imply that (gasp!) he believes God created the world. He says that (gasp!) theologians debate over how old the inaugural book of the Bible, Genesis, teaches the world to be. Finally, he seems to suggest (horrific gasp!) that parents should be able to teach their children “what their faith says” and “what science says” (Notice: nowhere does he say public school teachers).
Now, I would certainly agree that Rubio appeared to be caught off guard with this question and his response was politically not artful. That being said, I don’t see why this is at all so controversial.
Interestingly enough, in April 2008, than Senator Barack Obama also responded to a question on the age of the earth speaking at a forum at Messiah College (watch here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5kxDfJU4z2E&feature=youtu.be&t=9m)
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?
Senator Obama: 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.”
Then Senator Obama continues with a clarifier:
“Let me just make one last point on this. I do believe in evolution. I don’t think that is incompatible with Christian faith, just as I don’t think science generally is incompatible with Christian faith. I think that this is something that we get bogged down in. There are those who suggest that if you have a scientific bent of mind then somehow you should reject religion, and I fundamentally disagree with that. In fact, the more I learn about the world, the more I know about science, the more I am amazed about the mystery of this planet and this universe—and it strengthens my faith as opposed to weakens it.”
The fascinating thing about these two quotes from two senators from different sides of the aisle is how similar they are. Rubio says that he is not a scientist and that he is not qualified to give an answer on that question. Obama says that he doesn’t presume to know. Both men also acknowledge a debate within the Christian community (or among theologians).
Some bloggers have erupted and accused Rubio of being “anti-science”. Granted, Rubio could have been a lot more clear and artful in his response. When he says there are multiple theories about how the universe was created, it is unclear whether he is referring to multiple theories in science or among theologians. Or perhaps some combination of both.
The scientific community seems fairly united on the Big Bang Theory (here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_bang_theory) as a universal origin although there are detractors here and there. Formerly, the Steady State Theory (here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steady_State_theory) advocated by Sir Fred Hoyle was popular in the past but today has been largely abandoned.
At any rate, Christian theology teaches that God has revealed Himself to humanity. The two primary ways that God reveals Himself: 1) Special Revelation (including the inspired Word of God) and the person of Jesus Christ. 2) General Revelation (the testimony of natural creation). These two aspects of Christian theology contain no conflict between faith and science. God has created a natural world that operates according to natural laws.
The goal of the scientist is discovering, predicting and getting to know how this world (universe) works. Growing in knowledge of science is a way to know God and what He has made even if the scientist is an atheist/agnostic and doesn’t acknowledge a Creator God.
All of this feels like territory that has been exhaustively explored. Seemingly odd is how an innocuous comment by a Senator in which he makes no firm commitment to the question of the age of the earth could ignite such an uproar.
A helpful source for this post and further reading: http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2012/11/rubio_and_obama_and_the_age_of_earth_politicians_hedge_about_whether_universe.html