Still Fighting the Enlightenment

Marco Rubio decides that running for President as a Republican means pretending to believe that the Earth is flat, or that it might be flat, or that the question of its shape is in dispute among scientists and theologians and therefore above his pay-grade, but in any case kids shouldn’t be taught the scientific answer if their parents object.

Well, not quite. The question wasn’t about the shape of the Earth, but the equally factual question of its age.

Here’s the answer in full, from Rubio’s GQ interview:

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.

b-z-z-z-z-z-t! Thanks for playing, Senator, but the quantum, the cosmos, and consciousness are mysteries. The age of the age of the Earth is no more a “great mystery” than the weight of a pint of water. And if you think that the difference between truth and b.s. has nothing to do with the GDP, you should consider a different line of work.

Footnote Rubio’s answer is opaque with respect to what he means when he says “parents should be able to teach their kids what their faith says.” Either he’s calling for what always has been true and always will be true – that parents can tell their kids anything they please – or he’s calling for parents to be able to do so without contradiction from the schools.

If this is the best the GOP can do for 2016, I say “Bring it on.” And it may, in fact, be the case that no one who insisted on the rational answer to that question could win a Republican primary.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-based Community]

Mark Kleiman

Mark Kleiman is a professor of public policy at the New York University Marron Institute.