Rubio's Perplexing Punt on the Age of the Earth

Just because he speaks feelingly about immigrants and the poor doesn't mean the Florida senator is going step away from the conservative war on science.

cavesPhilippe Wojazer/Reuters

Is Marco Rubio ready to be a leader of the GOP? His remarks on the humanity of undocumented immigrants and the poor show him to be much more in tune with his generation than was losing vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan. Only a year Rubio's senior, Ryan put forward a Randian vision of a nation that does little to lift up the economy's losers -- or newcomers -- while Rubio has become a powerful advocate for an as yet unnamed strain of forward-looking conservatism. When it comes to the lives of Latino voters, the Republican Party may have no more articulate and reality-based spokesman than Rubio.

That's one reason it was so disappointing to hear his remarks in an interview with Michael Hainey, the deputy editor of GQ, in the December issue of the magazine. As Hainey sets the scene, Rubio knew he would be speaking for the long-haul. Writes Hainey:

I met up with Rubio in the back room of a local community center in Miami's Little Havana neighborhood. He had just come from the GQ photo shoot and was still sweating from the early-morning heat. Rubio smiles a lot and likes to put people at ease. But he also speaks with the restraint of a guy who knows everything he says will be parsed and, most likely, used against him. "I've learned the hard way," he says. "You have to always be thinking how your actions today will be viewed at a later date."

Hainey asked Rubio, a U.S. senator who sits on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, a very basic question that has somehow become a trick question in conservative circles.

"How old do you think the Earth is?" he asked.

Rubio's reply:

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.

There are an astonishingly large number of things wrong in this statement -- some which mark Rubio's greenness on the national stage, and some that merely show the extent to which biblically-literal conservatism continues to hold sway over the GOP during the most broadly culturally liberal era, ever.

To begin with, Rubio's remarks are not even an accurate description of what's laid out in the Bible. It was not a seven-day process to make the Earth, according to the King James Bible's Genesis. The Earth itself was made on the first day, though it took until the third day for the waters to be gathered together and dry land to emerge. "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth" is first thing that Genesis describes, even if "the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep," and it was not until the third day that "God called the dry land Earth."

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Garance Franke-Ruta is a former senior editor covering national politics at The Atlantic.

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