Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Politicians and the age of the earth

Senator Rubio is being ridiculed and attacked as being "anti-science" because he equivocated when he was asked about the age of the earth. It is probably true that politicians should simply say what they think rather than worry about which part of the electorate they might offend, but if you believe in human fallibility then perhaps they should be cut some slack. As many sites have pointed out today, Rubio's statement is hardly unique among the political class. Daniel Engber, at Slate: "Politicians hedge about whether universe was created":
.... 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.
And here's then-Sen. Obama, D-Ill., speaking at the Compassion Forum at Messiah College in Grantham, Pa. on April 13, 2008:
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?

A: 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.
How do these quotes stack up? It seems to me that they're exactly in agreement on four crucial and dismaying points:
  1. Both senators refuse to give an honest answer to the question. Neither deigns to mention that the Earth is 4.54 billion years old.
  2. They both go so far as to disqualify themselves from even pronouncing an opinion. I'm not a scientist, says Rubio. I don’t presume to know, says Obama.
  3. That's because they both agree that the question is a tough one, and subject to vigorous debate. I think there are multiple theories out there on how this universe was created, says Rubio. I think it's a legitimate debate within the Christian community of which I'm a part, says Obama.
  4. Finally they both profess confusion over whether the Bible should be taken literally. Maybe the "days" in Genesis were actual eras, says Rubio. They might not have been standard 24-hour days, says Obama.
In light of these concordances, to call Rubio a liar or a fool would be to call our nation's President the same, along with every other politician who might like to occupy the Oval Office. If a reporter asks a candidate to name the age of Earth, there's only one acceptable response: Well, you know, that's a complicated issue … and who am I to say? .... [more]
Rubio and Obama and the age of Earth: Politicians hedge about whether universe was created. - Slate Magazine