Op-Ed of the Day: A call for a scientific statesman

How old do you think the Earth is?

It’s a simple question that GQ asked Senator Marco Rubio, who is often mentioned as a contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. Rubio gave the magazine a convoluted and controversial 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.

Critics have called the remarks cowardly, doctrinaire, confused and error-riddled. Other have said he sounds like Obama.

Rather than bash Rubio for his hedging, Nicolas Wade in the New York Times lays part of the blame for his evasiveness at the feet of the those who believe in evolution. Wade calls for “a scientific statesman.” Since, “like those electrons that can be waves or particles, evolution is both a theory and a fact,” why not admit that and discuss it as such?

Evolutionary biologists are furiously debating whether or not natural selection can operate on groups of individuals, as Darwin thought was likely but most modern evolutionists doubt. So which version of evolution is the true one?

By allowing that evolution is a theory, scientists would hand fundamentalists the fig leaf they need to insist, at least among themselves, that the majestic words of the first chapter of Genesis are literal, not metaphorical, truths. They in return should make no objection to the teaching of evolution in science classes as a theory, which indeed it is.

Nicolas Wade will join us tomorrow to talk about how scientists could be better ambassadors to the evangelical community.

–Stephanie Curtis, social media host

  • Craig

    What your guest proposes sounds a bit like the work of Thomas Aquinas. It also sounds like mild obscurantism, which I am in favor of.

    I think everyone should have the opportunity for enlightenment via the schools, but it shouldn’t be mandatory. And I think many leaders—though probably not Rubio—have the same view, maintaining Plato’s “noble lie.” Religion, when used to a certain degree, has been rewarded by natural selection (I think your guest has written a very good book on this exact subject, though I haven’t read it.) It’s a powerful lever available to non-believing leaders, so long as they follow Machiavelli’s advice and always encourage piety by appearing pious themselves. The notion of an afterlife emboldens soldiers. The promise of joy in heaven is a palliative for the unfortunate. Rules governing easily tainted foodstuffs can promote public health. And prescribed moral codes can be a positive influence on those unlikely to calculate their own enlightened self-interest.

    Like any genetic characteristic, there is diversity of belief, some are prone to it and some not. The diversity is valuable, if we all believed we would be slaves to superstition, if none of us believed we would have less order and reduced security. We should not seek to destroy the diversity as Dawkins suggests. In my opinion we should continue to use it, carefully, as a management tool.

  • Neil

    It’s plain and simple- a “science” course should teach what science fact tells us. Leave ideological theories to ideological and theological courses. The separation of church and state should extend into the separation of church and public education.

  • Christian McGuire

    Science is not a matter of affirming fixed belief, it is a process. It is a means of critically evaluating sources without preconception. It is rooted as THE core value of American Representative Democracy. (read Memorial and Remonstrance by James Madison (1785)

    The relatively recent (i.e. last 500 years) history of ‘literal interpretation’ of scripture adopted by certain Protestant sects is one which is rightly ridiculed. As a Protestant Christian, the traditional belief with which I was raised is that the Bible is a spiritual guide full of stories for personal reflection. Its secular laws and explanation of the natural world are not useful for anything other than tyranny.

    Since Evolution is the unified (Scientific) Theory of Biology upon which all modern medicine relies, a simple solution to Health Care concerns should be Those who do not acknowledge science, may not benefit from advances in modern medicine.

    There is no personal growth in blindly adhering to the idolatry of “Fixed Belief” especially when it is at odds with reality. We call that Magic, something which Acts 15:20 explicitly prohibits.