Rubio Leaves Science to the Theologians, or the Free Market. Or Something.

In an interview with GQ, Florida Senator Marco Rubio is asked, “how old do you think the earth is?” His answer:

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.

Let’s deconstruct that word salad for a moment, okay? Rubio is thought to be considering running for president in 2016, something that I hesitate to even take note of because the 2012 election only took place 13 days ago. I’m not engaging in horse-race analysis of whether Rubio has ruined his chances by exposing himself to be a complete idiot. We know that’s not fatal in American politics. Instead, I’m writing about what Rubio said because it provides a window into the tiny corner into which the Republican Party has backed itself.

And here’s another qualifier: I think what Gary Younge wrote about the future of the Republican Party right after the election is right, and you should go read it. The Republican Party isn’t finished, and neither is the religious right. But they do need to go to couples counseling, or something, if they do think that marriage is forever.

Back to Rubio: the “I’m not a scientist, man” is the quintessential response for a Republican whose base distrusts science. I’m not a scientist, and therefore I’m not going to even try to find out the scientific answer, because I’m not equipped to evaluate it, and I think the scientists are wrong, or perpetuating hoaxes, or anti-God, or otherwise untrustworthy. (Actually, you shouldn’t Google “how old is the earth” because you will discover that the creationists are actually very good at search engine optimization. And maybe Rubio did Google it, and discovered a jumble of results, including the scientific answer that it’s about 4.54 billion years old, give or take a bit, and also that a site claiming the earth is about 6,000 years old comes up before the scientific answer. You could see how that could be confusing for someone who’s “not a scientist.”)

But he does say, “I can tell you what the Bible says,” implying there’s a biblical answer that does—and should!—resolve the dispute. See, he’s been trained to say that the Bible provides the answer. On the other hand, you can see his brain working: maybe the Bible doesn’t have the answer, but who does, then? Theologians. But even they disagree. See, he’s absolved of answering the question. Then he seems to realize that answers using the words “Bible” and “theologians” might have caused some trouble for the Republicans in that election 13 days ago, so he quickly and rather inexplicably pivots to claiming that the truly important questions he must answer are actually about economic growth. And here you can see the free association at work: economic growth -> free market. Otherwise known as “teach the controversy,” not the science.

Sarah Posner, author of God’s Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters, covers politics and religion. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Atlantic, The American ProspectThe NationSalon, and other publications. Follow her on TwitterRSS feed Email