The Correct Answer is “Approximately 4.5 Billion Years Old”

Michael Hainey at GQ asked Marco Rubio a “gotcha” question:

GQ: How old do you think the Earth is?

Marco Rubio: 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.

The problem isn’t with Rubio, exactly. I don’t believe that he’s actually mystified. The problem is with a political constituency that regards the answer as controversial or as an affront that would cause them to withdraw their support.

The answer is only a mystery if you insist on it being so. Human ingenuity has developed methods of thinking and tools for ascertaining the age of the earth. The earth is 4.54 billion years old. Not 6,000. That the fact doesn’t comport with the mythology of bronze age shepherds shouldn’t pose a significant problem for a major 21st century political figure in the strongest country on the planet. And, yet, it does.


  1. Carlito Brigante says

    Sad. An entire primary electorate eschewing science for bronze age mythology. Rubio must want nominated pretty damn bad to make such a blatantly false statement to pander to the party “faithful.”

  2. gizmomathboy says

    What’s interesting is the regression of the acceptance of science by denomination.

    The Vatican accepts almost all of science, heck they have an astronomer on staff, they just reject some parts as immoral, it doesn’t say it’s not God’s Word.

    Lots of crazy in that GOP.

  3. guy77money says

    Here’s a site that is fun and after viewing it you realize how far human kind has advanced in the sciences. Now if only we can get some politicians to throw off the cover of religion and just face the how amazing the universe is from the subatomic particles to the billions on galaxies.

    One side note, the music may get a bit annoying on this site.

  4. says

    Why need he have, or express, an opinion (or a command of the approved scientific answer) on that question?
    It was an obnoxious “gotcha” question by GQ. The only better answer would have been an expletive followed by a refusal to answer.

    • says

      Politicians shape policy. It’s important for the public to know if a politician has a basic grasp on science or not, especially when that politician sits on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

      Would you consider a foreign policy question a “gotcha”, too?

    • Carlito Brigante says

      It was not a “gotcha question”, unless asking Rubio if the sun rises in the east is a “gotcha question.”

      Rubio is already positioning himself to obtain the most powerful (at least for now) leadership position on earth. A basic command of high school biology is baseline knowledge.

      You appear to posit that there is an “approved scientific answer,” so then it would be within the command of most thinking adults to respond properly. (Actually approved is not a correct appelation for the answer. The Correct scientific answer would be the approriate phraseology.)

    • says

      Seems like fair game for a member of the Senate’s science committee. If you believe the scientific method has the power to give us answers about the physical world, the age of the earth isn’t a mystery.

    • says

      “Basic grasp of science” may mean nothing more than “willing to pay homage to the consensus answer.”

      I did’t realize, when I weighed in on this, that the press had asked Obama a rather softball (sort of “show us how brilliant and nuanced you are”) version of the question a few years ago.

      Of course, Obama’s answer was approximately as sincere as his “As a Christian” support for traditional marriage in 2008.

      • steelydanfan says

        “Basic grasp of science” may mean nothing more than “willing to pay homage to the consensus answer.”

        Which is really the most a reasonable, thinking individual whose field of expertise is not physical geology can or should ever do.

  5. Stuart Swenson says

    This is not a question that requires complex understanding, like “What is the process and sequence in which the earth came to be?”, or knowledge of something exact, like the value of pi. As long as he says the “b” word, “billion”, he’s in. Even saying the “m” word, “million”. he wouldn’t be penalized. 6,000 passes the agreed upon number, for almost all mainstream churches and religions. He’s pandering to the tiny base, and they aren’t Catholic. Both he and the Republican party need to get real.

  6. varangianguard says

    If people had real faith, quibbles about what the Bible says about the creation of the world versus what geology and anthropology says shouldn’t be a problem. So, I see it as a lack of faith that the Bible’s true meaning may have just escaped us.

    • Stuart Swenson says

      The literal six-day creation idea is only a relatively recent phenomenon and disagrees with the way Genesis has been viewed historically. Reading ancient documents is difficult enough without holding to such nonsense. Strong faith should lead to a positive outcome and hope, and not produce unnecessary controversy among reasonable people.

      • says

        Obviously evolution is your starting point. Philosophically, that makes evolution essential to all scientific discoveries (in your mind). So, I have a question for you:

        Can you please identify a single known scientific fact/discovery that cannot be true if evolution were not also true?

        Your answer cannot contain circular reasoning. For example, “life cannot exist if evolution didn’t exists because life came from evolution”.

        I ask this specific question because if evolution is “essential” to science and as absolute as you suppose, then like a foundation for a house, all scientific discoveries require this evolutionary foundation in order for its components to also to be true. Otherwise, as I am 100% certain of, evolution is not an essential component of science and is actually a philosophical paradigm that interprets data ONLY in a manner that will fit within its own paradigm (Kuhn, Popper, etc.). In fact, I will argue that we can replace evolution with just about any idea (Creationism, Martians, etc.), and that will not change the material properties of the facts that we discover and observe.

        PM-“one of them dumb six-day creationists”

          • says

            I would much prefer to begin with the particular science of geology for that is where the beginning of all things started, according to the bible. However, life according to the evolutionary model started with a single cell organism. That is the realm of biology, not geology. We can discuss geology (eventually) but it is really secondary to biology (in your paradigm). Geological presuppositions rest on biological presuppositions and therefore, without biology there is no geology. Given the short amount of time that all of us have for quick discussions, the hierarchy suggest that biology is the better place to start since that is where evolution began.

            The question is: Can you please identify a single known scientific fact/discovery that cannot be true if evolution were not also true?

            I am only asking for one.

  7. says

    On “Hardball” yesterday, a national tea-whatever (they started using “bag” and stopped when they realized other meanings; their “movement” is not a party) person said: 1) The qiestion had nothing to do with the national economy and 2) There is more than one “science.” As to the former—science has a lot to do w/our national economy. As one example, the United States is years behind the rest of the world in stem cell research, in large part thanks to George W. Bush’s policies shaped by his religous views. As for the latter, there only in one “science.” There might be various scientific views of phenomena (because “theory” has a specific meaning in science), but “science” still is the same—a search for truth based on observation, objectivity, falsification, and other factors. That this person would make this statement demonstrates how backward so many people are.

  8. Don Sherfick says

    Refuting Rubio’s claim that the age of the earth is irrelevant to economic growth, Alex Knapp is quoted by Andrew Sullivan as observing:

    “Scientists currently believe that the Earth is about 4.54 billion years old because radioactive substances decay at generally stable rates. Accordingly, by observing how much of a radioactive substance has decayed, scientists are able to determine how old that substance is. However, if the Earth is only 9,000 years old, then radioactive decay rates are unstable and subject to rapid acceleration under completely unknown circumstances. This poses an enormous danger to the country’s nuclear power plants, which could undergo an unanticipated meltdown at any time due to currently unpredictable circumstances. Likewise, accelerated decay could lead to the detonation of our nuclear weapons, and cause injuries and death to people undergoing radioactive treatments in hospitals. Any of these circumstances would obviously have a large economic impact.”

  9. says

    It was a dead on perfect answer.

    The whole point of the question is to give the media a way to attack him. If he says that he believes what the Bible says, then the media will spend the next four years attacking him as a Bible-thumping loon.

    If he says it’s 4 billion years old, then they spend the next four years talking about how he’s “having trouble connecting with social conservatives” because of his answers on the age of the Earth.

    Either way, they get a story to make him look bad.

    Instead, he essentially says, “you know what? I’m not going to play that game. Let’s talk about the economy.”

    The only better answer would be “what a stupid question? why are you asking that? what’s your agenda?” But few politicos can get away with such an answer. Newt could. Chris Christie could. Heck, even Nancy Pelosi could. But that’s rare.

    Of course, it could have been worse. He could have said “I believe that God created the universe and that the six days in the Bible may not be six days as we understand it … it may not be 24-hour days, and that’s what I believe. I know there’s always a debate between those who read the Bible literally and those who don’t, and I think it’s a legitimate debate within the Christian community of which I’m a part. My belief is that the story that the Bible tells about God creating this magnificent Earth on which we live—that is essentially true, that is fundamentally true. Now, whether it happened exactly as we might understand it reading the text of the Bible: That, I don’t presume to know.”

    But only a complete moron would say something like that, right Doug?

    • says

      I don’t have a problem with the folks who regard the Bible as speaking metaphorically when science demonstrates that the text can’t be correct if it’s read literally. I do have a problem with people who govern us on matters involving science where they believe or even allow for the significant possibility that scientific conclusions are incorrect on matters involving the physical world where those conclusions conflict with a literal reading of the Bible.

      Sometimes scientific observation will conflict with the literal text of the Bible. One has to take priority in that situation. Which one you choose tells me something significant about your approach to problem solving.

    • Carlito Brigante says

      It was a perfect answer to a political consultant. He pandered to the far right christian mythologists. He denied reality as understood by thinking human beings. Republicans start out in Iowa with 100,000 idealogues and it gets worse from there.

      The economy? His party just got its tail kicked up into its mouth talking about the economy.

      Rubio. If that is the republican/s best one week into a second defeat by a socialist, communist, Nazi n****r, your party had better take the south and secede.


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