Florida Senator Marco Rubio has attracted a lot of unwelcome attention by equivocating in response to a question regarding the age of the earth:
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.
A liberal friend messaged me on Facebook that this sort of the thing is ”why [he] can’t be a Republican.” Well, he has plenty of other reasons, but that’s neither here nor there.
My first response was to compare Senator Rubio’s evasiveness to Barack Obama’s inartful dodging in response to a relatively straightforward question from Rick Warren:
WARREN: Now, let’s deal with abortion; 40 million abortions since Roe v. Wade. As a pastor, I have to deal with this all of the time, all of the pain and all of the conflicts. I know this is a very complex issue. Forty million abortions, at what point does a baby get human rights, in your view?
OBAMA: Well, you know, I think that whether you’re looking at it from a theological perspective or a scientific perspective, answering that question with specificity, you know, is above my pay grade.
Of course, we all know what the President has to believe to take the position he does, and that it’s one that has nothing to do with the authority of science. I’m less certain of what Senator Rubio believes; what is clear is that he doesn’t want to offend or alienate young earth creationists.
Peter Wehner takes him to the woodshed for his remarks:
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.
I wish I could say that I can’t improve upon these comments, but I think I can, albeit at the margins. It is of course true that in our culture science has enormous authority, in large measure because of the explanatory power of many of its theories and the great benefits that come from its practical applications. But I would continue to insist upon the difference between science and scientism, which is to say, upon the limits of science. If and when advocates of science assert that the scientific method is the key to all knowledge, that nothing is knowable except by means of that method, we have good reasons to object. Some of our most important questions aren’t susceptible to merely scientific answers. (Try, for example, to explain personhood or rights in merely scientific terms.)
I’m all for encouraging Senator Rubio to add some nuance (of a different sort) when confronted with a question clearly intended to contribute to a caricature of him. But let’s not cede too much ground to the advocates of scientism, who would have us believe that what science can explain or reproduce is all there is.