Thursday, December 06, 2012

Rubio Still Doesn't Quite Get It

Last week, Florida Senator Marco Rubio told GQ Magazine in an interview that he didn't know how old the earth was. "I'm not a scientist," he said. "I can tell you what the bible says." He went on to say it is "one the of great mysteries."

Well, no it isn't. We know, and he should know, how old the earth is. I've known it since my 7th grade science class. It's 4.5 billion years old. Every school child should be able to answer that question better than Rubio did.

He, apparently, finally understood that when a few days later he clarified his response. He now says that there is no scientific debate over the age of the earth and that it has been established, by science, that the earth is at least 4.5 billion years old. So why didn't he say that in the first place?

Rubio is a Roman Catholic, which, by the way, accepts scientific discoveries about the age of the earth and about evolution. But he also is a Republican, so he has to keep the wacko wing of his party in mind when he speaks, because wackos tend to vote. So he said, although he accepts that there is no scientific debate and that the earth's age has been established, he said there remains a theological debate and that people of faith must be free to make up their own minds about whether they believe or not what scientists say about the age of the earth.

Well, that's true. But if I have made up my mind that the moon is actually made of green cheese does that make it a reality that the moon is actually made of green cheese? By the same token, if people of faith make up their minds that the age of the earth is only about 6000 years old does that make it so? The age of the earth is what it is, not what you believe it is, not what you wish it were. Scientists do not say that the earth is 4.5 billion years old because that is what they believe in or because that is what they hope for. They started from scratch, not knowing. Many even assumed, at the beginning, that the earth was only a few thousand years old, because most earth scientists were Christians, like almost everyone in Europe back then.

But unlike religion, science uses empirical methods to get at the truth, and if those methods reveal something different from what was believed, scientists must reluctantly accept that evidence, especially if it is verified over and over again.

So, Rubio may have been right when he said there is still a theological debate over the age of the earth. He may have been right when he said everyone must make up his or her own mind about what they believe. But what was wrong about even his second, clarified answer to the question was that he still insists that the dichotomy between what scientists have proven and what the faithful believe is a legitimate one, deserving of equal attention in the public square. There certainly is a dichotomy of thought, but it is not equal. One side is the Mississippi River, the other side is Cripple Creek. If you want to know what really happens in nature, ask a scientist. If you want to be comforted in your own beliefs, ask an evangelical Christian. But the two answers you get are not equally valid if it's the truth you seek.

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