In an interview with GQ magazine, Senator Marco Rubio was asked, “How old do you think the Earth is?” To which Senator Rubio responded:

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.

To this I would answer that I’m not a doctor, but I know that smoking causes lung cancer. In the same way, one doesn’t have to be a scientist to know roughly how old the earth is (the estimates are roughly 4.5 billion years old). The age of the earth, by the way, is a separate question from whether God is its Creator.

If Senator Rubio is worried about reconciling his faith with science (or worried about offending those who believe the earth is 6,000-10,000 years old), he might consider reading a book by the biologist Darrel Falk, Coming to Peace With Science: Bridging the Worlds Between Faith and Biology. Professor Falk writes about reconciling his Christian belief with biological evolution. More to the point, Falk presents the overwhelming evidence for an ancient earth. He also argues that the “young earth” belief inevitably leads

to the position that the sciences of astronomy, astrophysics, nuclear physics, geology and biology are all fundamentally wrong. These sciences point toward a very old earth and universe and lead to the gradual appearance of new life forms on earth over billions of years. If they were wrong, it would not mean the demise of a marginal theory at the sidelines of each discipline. So central are the notions of an old earth and the gradual appearance of life to these fields of scientific endeavor that the scientists in research universities hold them with absolute certainty. Within these disciplines the earth is viewed without doubt to be billions of years old, and new species have been making appearances throughout most of that time span. So foundational is this position to all of the scientific disciplines that, were it wrong, the disciplines themselves would collapse.

For Senator Rubio to duck on this matter, then, is, to me at least, a bit disquieting. There are many issues that don’t have to do with the economy that are still worth knowing about when it comes to major political leaders. This is one of them, since it offers an insight into the broader views one holds about the nature and validity of science. 

One of the attributes of conservatism, at least as I understand it, is openness to evidence, including scientific evidence, and embracing reality. It can be discrediting to a political party—as well as religious institutions—to stand against (or deny) overwhelming empirical evidence on any subject. (It’s worth recalling that up until 500 years ago the Christian church, to its great detriment, argued that if the Bible were taken literally, the sun would have to revolve around the earth. The claim that the earth is 6,000-10,000 years old is about as believable as are those made in attacking Galileo and Copernicus.)

I like Senator Rubio and believe he has a very bright future. But it seems to me he not only needs to re-think his answer to this question, but come to terms with its larger implications. He and his party will suffer, and should suffer, if they are seen as agnostic on, or standing against, science.