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Rubio’s Science As Theology

Here we go again: [1]

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.

This sort of thing drives me crazy, and not just because that’s an embarrassing, illiterate answer for a national politician to give on a question like that.

For the record, I am far more interested in what a politician has to say about the problems we’re dealing with now than in his religious beliefs about the age of the universe. Science shows that it’s impossible for American Indians to have been descended from the Hebrews, as the LDS Church teaches. Yet what is it to me if Romney believes this falsifiable “fact”? I know, I know: But if he believes something that is provably not true, how can we trust his thinking? All I can tell you is that I’ve known people with whom I would trust to manage my money, who believe as a matter of dogma that the earth was created 7,000 years ago. People are strange about that sort of thing. I don’t have any particular problem reconciling what science tells us about the age of the earth with my Christian faith, but I’ve known lots of Christians — really intelligent people — who, for some reason, draw a bright, clear line around a literal reading of Genesis. I wish they wouldn’t, but I am not unnerved by the fact that they do, or at least I don’t see it as disqualifying in a politician, any more than I would see it as disqualifying for a businessman. (For a scientist, science teacher, or theologian, it’s a different story.)

This question is really about laying down a status marker, giving Republican politicians the opportunity to show to secular liberals whether or not they’re the troglodyte idiots that they (the secular liberals) believe all Republicans are. Liberal journalists keep thinking that if only they can draw Republicans out on this issue, it will be perfectly obvious that these politicians are unfit for office, because they’re anti-science! They never seem to notice that just about half of all Americans believe in the creationist account of mankind’s origins [2]. Me, I wish Republican politicians had a more sophisticated and plausible account for how God created the universe and all within it, but this is hardly the vote-loser that liberals think it is.

I wish one of these liberal journalists would go into a black or Latino church supper and ask people their thoughts about how the universe began. I’d bet that 99 percent of the people there would agree with Marco Rubio, even if most of them would vote for his opponent. People just don’t care about this stuff at the national political level. You’d better believe I’d fight over this issue if it came down to a matter of what was going to be taught in my local school. But I couldn’t possibly care less what the guy who lives in the White House thinks, unless he tries to impose it on the country.

Having said all that, could we please have a rising GOP star who would, for once, defend both science and religion on this question? It’s a false choice, saying that either Genesis has to be literally right, or the atheists do. According to that Gallup poll, one-third of all Americans believe the standard scientific account of the universe’s origins, but also believe that God guided the process (this is my view, by the way). When I was working for the Templeton Foundation, I ran across distinguished scientists and theologians who believed this, and who could defend it. The answer to the question is not the either/or that secular liberals or Christian fundamentalists types believe it to be. Would it kill top Republican politicians to do a little reading in the works of Sir John Polkinghorne [3], a theoretical physicist and Anglican priest, and other Christian scientists like him?

148 Comments (Open | Close)

148 Comments To "Rubio’s Science As Theology"

#1 Comment By icarusr On November 19, 2012 @ 3:35 pm


I just finished two books on evolution by Dawkins: The Ancestor’s Tale and The Greatest Show on Earth, both of which I recommend strongly. I also recommend a wonderful thin volume called Your Inner Fish.

Two points. First: the evidence is overwhelming and does not really admit of doubt. In the sense that the Copernican theory of the revolution of the heavenly bodies does not admit of doubt. The model can be tweaked and improved, but the basis theory and science behind it is solid. Second, Dawkins is tendencious and unreadable talking about God, but clear and quite amusing when talking about evolution. He makes the science come alive. Shubin’s book is absolutely delightful: you can trace pretty much every part of your body in that of fish and every part of your cellular structure in that of bacteria.

Personally, for me the complexity of the universe betokens chaos rather than order in its creation. Take the human digestive tract. We cannot survive, it would seem, without the help of three pounds of bacteria in our microbiome – and this is after an acid-producing gut. 9.5 meters of interstines, to end up with smelly rejects. Well, if I were omnipotent, and omniscient, I would make our digestive tract like that of an amoeba: you open your mouth, put food in it, and it gets fully absorbed in one operation. Remember: if you are God, you can do anything, including a one-size-fits-all-foods-stomach. And the same thing for the eye. Or the ear. I still have pimples. No God can have possibly created those.

We are complex because we are a haphazard collection of experiments done right and gone wrong by nature over 3.5 billions years. This, to me, is far more magical – and far more Godly – than the serpent in the Garden.




#2 Comment By bayesian On November 19, 2012 @ 3:39 pm

Would you withhold your vote from a politician who believed that if a priest stands over wine and bread and pronounces certain words, the wine and the bread become in some mysterious sense the flesh and blood of a Palestinian Jew who died 2,000 years ago, **even if science shows us that the bread and wine remain bread and wine**,

Please note that I’m an atheist in a Bayesian sense (e.g. my prior probability on God existing in an operationally meaningful way is very low, and I’m not aware of any observations that would substantially increase my posterior probability), and am not as knowledgeable about Catholic (or Orthodox) dogma as I would like to be.

Is it an unfair summary of e.g. Aquinas on transsubstantiation that anything which could possibly be detected or inferred by “science” would be an accident, not the substance, and that the Real Presence is inherently indetectable by any empirical means? I just checked the seemingly-relevant parts of the catechism and don’t see anything to help me there.

If it is an unfair summary, could you point me to a resource or two (in English, if you don’t mind – my Latin is very very weak and my Greek nonexistent) that might help me understand the Church teaching on the topic?

If it is a fair summary, then your hypothetical seems self-contradictory: your properly catechized Catholic politician presumably believes both in the Real Presence and that science can’t possibly say anything about the Real Presence. Maybe not exactly dual magisteria, but close.

The YEC is making an empirical claim that is immensely falsified. If a Catholic politician made based on Church Teach and doubled down on some empirical claim that was equally falsified, yes, that would probably be disqualifying for me.

#3 Comment By icarusr On November 19, 2012 @ 3:52 pm


“More importantly, if it’s okay for Barack Obama to say that abortion is “above my paygrade” and refuse to offer a guess as to when life begins, why is it not okay for Rubio to dodge a bullet when asked a question about the origins of the Earth? ””

The two issues are different. One is a matter of philosophy and religion, and the other of science. Refusing to “offer a guess” in respect of a matter that is scientifically unknowable but that is nevertheless very close to the hearts of the faithful is not the same thing as denying the relevance of science in respect of geology.

Rubio’s comment is not a gotcha moment, any more than the question to Palin as to what newspapers she reads was a gotcha question. Obama has been questioned on everything – his birthplace, the influence of his grandfather’s imprisonment on his thought, whether he wrote his own autobiography, to name a few – and all of this was considered perfectly kosher by the critics of MSM.

Here, you have a Senator who speaks loudly about schools being forced to teach a nonscience subject in science class. Of course it is right and proper that he be asked about his understanding of science. And if a Democratic Senator is foolish enough to deny the relevance of sulfur emissions in acid rain, s/he should damn well be asked about the composition of sulfuric acid.

#4 Comment By Bob Jones On November 19, 2012 @ 3:59 pm


It is really simply. If a school is dedicated to teaching theology, it is a private school and should not be funded by taxpayers. If parents want to send their kids to private religious schools (as my parents did) then they should pay for that. BTW. The “brainwashing” academy comment is every bit as valid as your claim that your opinion of what liberals think is a fact. When these schools push a curriculum focused on strict following of a dogma, without question and in denial of any evidence to the contrary it appears to be brainwashing, and also seems to attempt to blot out rational thinking.

You said you worked through a religiously oriented homeschooling academy. Was this taxpayer funded? I am going to guess no, which makes the analogy, moot.

Finally, as a Catholic, I will take you last paragraph for the insult it was intended as. Comparing the Catholic mass to a group of people who demand a strict, text book like adherence to the Bible is insulting to all Catholics. You have said you were once part of the Catholic Church, so you should know better.

#5 Comment By John E_o On November 19, 2012 @ 4:01 pm

Young earth creationism has zero public policy impact.

Perhaps not, but holding YEC beliefs provides an insight to whether the person holds related beliefs that do impact public policy.

#6 Comment By John E_o On November 19, 2012 @ 4:07 pm

“Go ask a Democrat when human life begins.”

The question is not when human life begins, the question is at what stage in its development does The State privilege the right – if any – of a fetus to occupy a uterus over the right – if any – of a woman to decide whether or not she wants that fetus to occupy her uterus.

#7 Comment By Bob Jones On November 19, 2012 @ 4:09 pm

Rod asked: “Do you know anybody who believes in YEC? I know lots. ”

Yes. I have encountered several. I have been accused of being a idol worshiper, and condemned to hell, and have been almost accused of child abuse, because by not teaching the specific literalist biblical view, I was condemning my children to hell.

So, I have been there and done that with these people.

The kind of absolutist thinking these people engage in, while potentially harmless, in one on one situations, can be very dangerous when they are given authority of policy.

#8 Comment By Bob Jones On November 19, 2012 @ 4:16 pm

“And yes, I would a thousand times vote for a YEC type over someone who agreed with me if that YEC politician if he were significantly more likely to improve the economy, keep the US out of war, and so forth. We don’t live in a perfect world.”

The problem with this is that the same people who hold the literalist view of creation, often also hold a literalist view of various prophecies, including Revelation. How do you expect someone who actually believes in a ~7,000 year old earth, and a 6 day creation, based on strict interpretation of creation, to make – for example Middle East policy – when they are equally likely to hold literalist views of Revelation (also likely with the same underlying bad theology), and who thinks Armageddon would be a good thing? How could you be so sure they wouldn’t apply their absolutist thinking to all of their policy preferences? I have know a number of lefties who held absolutist views of various social and public policy matters, who I certainly would not trust to make a decisions about anything, and I view the Biblical absolutists in the same light.

#9 Comment By MH – Secular Misanthropist On November 19, 2012 @ 4:29 pm

Suppose a candidate believed in or was favorably predisposed to Raëlism? [7]

Raëlism seems pretty round the bend loopy stuff, but I’m sure its adherents can compartmentalize. They can balance their checkbooks and lead otherwise productive lives. So why should I consider that a disqualifying belief for public office?

I’m sorry but given even a modestly palatable alternative there’s no way in heck I would vote for a Raëlian.

#10 Comment By Becky On November 19, 2012 @ 4:44 pm

I haven’t read all the replies yet and my questions may be answered when I do. But what is so wrong with holding an young earth view? “Also, I’m not sure I understand the trouble with Rubio’s answer, even after reading your post. And what, practically speaking, does evolution have to do with the ability to observe and study? Why does believing in a young earth mean someone is somehow stupid and unable to think? I know quite a few grad students in the sciences, international students mostly from China, and most say that the evolution debate has little to do with practical science – what they do in the lab – where they DO study and observe.

#11 Comment By Chris On November 19, 2012 @ 4:52 pm

The problem is that the GOPs coalition has been fed a steady diet of dis-information, and because it contains a large number of people who believe deeply in mis-information the politicians cannot tell the truth without alienating their “base.”

Having determined that the entire world is a house of mirrors, that “facts don’t matter,” and “we create our own reality,” the GOP finally couldn’t even count…and at 6pm Eastern on election day they were convinced to a man that a great victory was about to be won.

Many within the GOP claim that they didn’t lose on the merits but were simply outmaneuvered, and that they don’t have a problem with their dis/mis-informed policies but merely with “messaging,” by which they mean further misinforming the voting public.

Once you embrace falsehood as a way of being in the world, you become incapable of telling the truth, even to yourself.

#12 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On November 19, 2012 @ 4:56 pm

Re: Go ask a Democrat when human life begins. Or whether there are natural differences between genders. Or the number of standard deviations of median IQ among various races.

I’m an independent, not a registered Democrat, but I voted for Obama, and for Kerry eight years ago, and consider myself generally much closer to Democrats than to Republicans.

I believe that human life begins at conception. For the record, something like 30% of Democratic voters are pro-life, as are maybe 10% of Democratic congressmen.

I believe that there are substantial, essential natural differences between the genders, and personally I hold to a complementarian ideal of mariage and relationships, though I don’t necessarily think my views should be embodied in the law.

I also believe there are substantial IQ differences between ethnic groups, though I’m agnostic about how much of those differences are genetic. I know quite a few Democrats who would *privately* say that they believe in genetic, hereditary differences in IQ between ethnic groups.

You might be suprised to what extent the Democratic ‘base’ includes some rather conservative people- churchgoing African Americans, Latinos with traditionalist views about abortion and childbearing, and working class Rust Belt white people with a bitter distrust of the rich people’s party.

#13 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On November 19, 2012 @ 5:03 pm

At the risk of repeating myself, one of the two Democratic congressmen from *Boston*, the so-called citadel of lifestyle liberalism in America, considers himself pro-life, and has a *10%* rating from NARAL, and a *55%* rating from National Right to Life.

#14 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On November 19, 2012 @ 5:07 pm

Re: Rubio added, “And for me, personally, I don’t want a school system that teaches kids that what they’re learning at home is wrong.””


This is actually more disturbing than the Young-Earth Creationism nonsense.

By this logic, we shouldn’t interfere with racist parents who teach their kids that Black people are monkeys, or with dysfunctional Hungarian Gypsy parents who teach their kids that stealing and dependency are cool, or with fundamentalist Salafist parents who teach their daughters that their role is to be a subservient wife, or with people who teach their kids that they should have no other goals in life but to collect a welfare check.

Sometimes parents do really teach their kids silly or deplorable things, and they need to be, uh, corrected by the school system.

#15 Comment By alcogito On November 19, 2012 @ 5:08 pm

That was not an embarrassing or illiterate answer. That was a politicians answer. “That’s not my area of expertise and beside, whatever I say will alienate whole bunch of you, so I will tell you to make up you own mind and I will stick with what I care about, know about and am willing to take a stand on.

And by the way, Rod, you posted on how awful Mitt Romney was all during the election cycle, once 4 times in one day! If you are now going to keep double-picking at every Republican officeholder (yesterday Jindal, today Rubio), I wish you’d go back to posting on food and books. Much more interesting.

#16 Comment By JonF On November 19, 2012 @ 5:10 pm

Re: “Go ask a Democrat when human life begins.”

The question is meaningless since there us never a point in conception when something dead, becomes something alive.

The question on abortion is a not a factual question one at all: it is an ethical question: when should we acknowledge human personhood under the law?

#17 Comment By Mr. Pickwick On November 19, 2012 @ 5:19 pm

Don’t think anyone on this thread has mentioned this yet, but there is an organization of prominent evangelicals who are standing up for the “theistic evolution” viewpoint (they call it “evolutionary creation”). It’s called BioLogos, and some of the participants include Tim Keller, N.T. Wright, Os Guiness, Joel Hunter, Mark Noll and Philip Yancey.

#18 Comment By Wesley On November 19, 2012 @ 5:20 pm

It’s not just a choice between theistic evolution and young-earth creationism. There are also old-earth creationists, of which I’m one, who believe that God created the universe billions of years ago, but Adam and Eve were created as is probably less than 100,000 years ago. We believe that the animals may and probably did evolve, but humans are special children of God. We believe that Genesis Chapters 1-11 cover much more time than is actually written about. The Catholic Church, and I’m guessing also the Eastern Orthodox Church, accept evolution but also believe that Adam and Eve were literal historical figures.

#19 Comment By GCR On November 19, 2012 @ 5:31 pm

Marco Rubio just lost my vote, for the reasons everyone else has mentioned. (I totally would’ve voted for Darwin if I lived in Paul’s district!)

I’d love for more Republican politicians to be like Jon Huntsman, who believes science and faith are nonexclusive (although he’s not the most faithful Mormon out there).

And, let’s not forget that President Obama picked the awesome Dr. Francis Collins, an evangelical and amazing geneticist, to be head of the National Institutes of Health! I consider him to be the patron saint of me and my fellow theistic evolutionists 🙂 (Sadly, I’ve had to deal with a LOT of crap from other Christians who think I’m going to hell because I think YEC and its ugly stepsister intelligent design are bunk and have no place in a public school classroom, but I always try to point them in Collins’ direction and mention his book: [8].)

Since the GOP has made evolution an issue, I’m fine with the media asking about it – but like Rod, I would also like to see more coverage of people such as Collins and Peter Enns.

#20 Comment By loudonisafool On November 19, 2012 @ 5:36 pm

Except that when human life begins requires a philosophical enquiry about what constitutes both life and being human.

This is a hoot. The standard traditionalist intellectual rejoinder to the hard press for evolution (I mean, is there seriously a need for a human evolution coloring book?) is that it’s simply a way to incorporate atheism into the public school curriculum as well as a variety of philosophically problematic opinions ranging from the relative value of humans versus non-rational animals to inferences regarding the nature and existence of the immortal soul. To which objections progressives respond with spittle-flecked lips “I HAZ SCIENCE!!!1!!1!” But I guess I’m not surprised that science > philosophy until it’s not.

#21 Comment By stef On November 19, 2012 @ 6:32 pm

If Rubio says that he believes in young-earth creationism, he will get cast as yet another knuckle-dragging right-wing yahoo.

If he says he believes that the standard scientific view is correct, “the GOP base” will screech and call him an ungodly RINO, etc.

His best bet is to pull a Biden and say he believes the teachings of his church (not that most of the evangelical wing probably even knows that Catholicism is compatible with evolution and modern cosmology), but he isn’t going to enforce them on anybody else.

#22 Comment By Turmarion On November 19, 2012 @ 6:39 pm

MH, at least Raëlism doesn’t deny evolution and they’re for public nudity and group sex! At least their craziness sounds fun! 😉

#23 Comment By Richard Johnson On November 19, 2012 @ 7:20 pm

“If Rubio says that he believes in young-earth creationism, he will get cast as yet another knuckle-dragging right-wing yahoo.”

Given that his answer was carefully crafted to avoid offending the YEC group, I think his position on the issue is blatantly obvious.

Which opens up the question regarding what other areas of public policy does he hold “faith based” views? Does he oppose any kind of restraint on fossil fuel consumption because he believes in the immanent return of Christ? Will he fashion his foreign policy to support the nation of Israel, regardless of their actions, because the Bible teaches that nations will be judged based on their support of Israel?

And Rod, lest you think I am picking on him because of his religious beliefs, be assured I would hold a Muslim candidate to the same standard if they gave a similar answer to such an obvious question.

#24 Comment By Rod Dreher On November 19, 2012 @ 7:43 pm

Which opens up the question regarding what other areas of public policy does he hold “faith based” views? Does he oppose any kind of restraint on fossil fuel consumption because he believes in the immanent return of Christ? Will he fashion his foreign policy to support the nation of Israel, regardless of their actions, because the Bible teaches that nations will be judged based on their support of Israel?

On the holding of “faith based” views, I wonder what you make of this argument:

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an “I it” relationship for an “I thou” relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and sinful. Paul Tillich has said that sin is separation. Is not segregation an existential expression of man’s tragic separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? Thus it is that I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court, for it is morally right; and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances, for they are morally wrong.

That was made by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr, in his [9] I presume you agree with King’s argument here.

Please explain why it is acceptable to take faith as a ground for some political positions, but not for others.

#25 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On November 19, 2012 @ 8:11 pm

<iPlease explain why it is acceptable to take faith as a ground for some political positions, but not for others.

Sin concerns human behavior, as does justice, while science measures the cold material empirics of an indifferent universe. Galileo wrote that the natural universe could not contradict the Bible, because they flow from the same divine source, but from the daily point of view of mere mortals, hydrogen has on electron, oxygen has eight, and hydrogen chloride dissolved in water will break the proteins that make up your flesh apart, leaving a soup of amino acids.

Candidates for office should be candid about what their faith guides them to aspire to accomplish if elected, but the two are closely related. Evolution is what it is, no matter how eloquently some people try to deny it.

Incidentally, there is a flip side to Mrs. Dreher’s experience with evolution. Ken Hamm of AIG fame wrote a whole book about how children raised in good Christian homes grow up, go to college, learn about evolution, and lose their faith. When shown this book by a friend who belongs to a 6-day creation church, I skimmed through it, and identified the problem very quickly. These kids were taught all their lives that the Word of God is incompatible with evolutionary biology. When they take a course in biology, they learn that the evidence of evolution is overwhelming. Therefore, they conclude that the Bible is in error, and there probably is no God.

This would never have happened if they had been taught that whatever science has established, it all happened because God said “Let there be light” — which incidentally is also scientifically confirmed, the light, that is, not what God said.

#26 Comment By Turmarion On November 19, 2012 @ 8:12 pm

Rod, your last post is fatuous. As you know, there were opponents of Dr. King who justified segregation on Biblical grounds, as their great-grandparents so justified slavery. Is it acceptable to take faith as a ground for those positions?

One can–and should, if one is a person of faith–“take faith as a ground” for political positions. However, in a pluralistic society, when one comes to the public square, one must argue in terms that are persuasive to people who may not share ones’f faith. For example, one can argue for or against fossil fuels, but to do so based on the “imminent return of Christ”–something not even all Christians believe in–is totally out.

Notice in the quoted passage that King, a Protestant, cites Thomas Aquinas, refers to natural law (which is not specifically Christian), takes pains to characterize segregation as “politically, economically and sociologically unsound”, and mentions God only once. He is appealing as broadly as he can, using both religious and secular arguments. It’s also worth pointing out that there is a difference between moral exhortation that uses religious language–something King was very effective at doing–and arguments as to why a policy ought to be adopted. The first is to motivate; the second is to try to persuade people of good will who may not share one’s faith.

Obviously, political positions that involve denying reality ought to be out regardless of religious issues. Likewise, positions that can’t be argued in secular, pluralistic terms–e.g. that we should be a “Christian nation” or post the Ten Commandments in public places or institute teacher led prayer in schools–have no place at the table and should be rejected outright.

#27 Comment By JonF On November 19, 2012 @ 8:40 pm

The question I have is why Rubio or any other politician would think to pander on this matter. As far as I know the leaders of the Religious Right have never made creationism a litmus test or a requirement for supporting a candidate.

#28 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On November 19, 2012 @ 8:59 pm

Re: You have said you were once part of the Catholic Church, so you should know better.

Um, Rod’s current church believes in the Real Presence (and for the most part, so does mine) as much as yours does, though we may not use the transubstantiation terminology. If you thought Rod was mocking the Real Presence, you misunderstood him.

#29 Comment By BN On November 19, 2012 @ 8:59 pm

I presume you agree with King’s argument here.

Good thing King wasn’t a pre-1978 Mormon.

#30 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On November 19, 2012 @ 9:05 pm

Re: The YEC is making an empirical claim that is immensely falsified. If a Catholic politician made based on Church Teach and doubled down on some empirical claim that was equally falsified, yes, that would probably be disqualifying for me.

Also, I’m not aware of any public policy implications of, uh, the Doctrine of the Real Presence. There are tons and tons of policy implications for a believer in young earth creationism (and no, not all limited to science teaching). Evolution has implications for many other branches of biology- as Dobzhansky said (he was a Russian Orthodox Christian, for what it’s worth), ‘nothing in biology makes sense except in light of evolution’.

I would probably vote for a young-earth creationist who was a Democrat (they do exist, I used to have a part-time job in college working at an inner city high school, and some of the kids there took a dim view of evolution, and given their socioeconomic and ethnic background almost certainly voted Democratic). I would strongly prefer to vote for someone who believed in evolution though, and I’d want to be sure that the young earth creationist wasn’t going to take an overly heavy hand with biological research funding and educational curriculums.

#31 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On November 19, 2012 @ 9:07 pm

Also, it’s *generally* more likely than not that a believer in the literal interpretation of Chapters 1-2 of Genesis, is going to literally believe the rest of the Pentateuch as well. Which could have problematic implications for your views on things like Israel vs. Palestine, the conduct of a just war, etc.

#32 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On November 19, 2012 @ 9:13 pm

Re: when they are equally likely to hold literalist views of Revelation (also likely with the same underlying bad theology),

Eh. The problem isn’t really with ‘literalist’ vs. ‘metaphorical’ intepretations of Revelation (and really, the book is symbolic, you can’t actually read it literally). I take Revelation very seriously, as a sort of vision of sacred history that applies to the future as well as the past, but I don’t think it’s about Middle East politics at all. (‘Israel’ and ‘Babylon’ are figurative images for good and evil, that aren’t meant to apply to the modern Jewish state and its enemies). Your issue is specifically with dispensationalists/premillienialist types that seem to be common among many (not all) conservative white evangelicals nowadays. There are lots of people who read Revelation as a genuine prophecy of human history, though, and they read it in many different ways, not all of which have dangerous implications for Middle-East policy.

#33 Comment By TWylite On November 19, 2012 @ 9:40 pm

Thomas Dolby haz science. I win the internet.

#34 Comment By Glaivester On November 19, 2012 @ 9:52 pm

Noah172, I don’t know of any reputable biologist that says that human evolution stopped 50,000 years ago

Noah172 isn’t talking about reputable biologists. He is talking about liberal activists and politicians. What he is asking is, if a politician claimed that “race is just a social construct,” would you automatically eliminate him from consideration for your vote the way you would a Creationist?

And actually, there is one scientist held in high regard who insisted that there were no meaningful differences betwen the races. Stephen Jay Gould. P.Z. Myers of Pharyngula is also one, as I recall.

It goes back to a point I made earlier. The reason the right seems to have more problems with epistemic closure is not because it is more closed-minded, but because the left is better at crushing dissent. When no one of consequence questions your epistemic closure (e.g. on issues relating to egalitarianism), no one notices that you are closed-minded.

#35 Comment By Glaivester On November 19, 2012 @ 10:00 pm

P.S. Glaveister’s description of Young Earth Creationism as a vehicle for advancing desirable social change sounds like “Moral Therapeutic Theism”.

Actually, when I said that:

I’ve heard people say that Creationists are really more interested in how teaching about origins affects society than about how true it is; that is, that the real reason they push Creationism is because of what they think are desirable social effects.

I was talking about what a non-Creationist thought of it (I think it was either thoreau or Jim Henley of Unqualified Offerings).

#36 Comment By Richard Johnson On November 20, 2012 @ 12:22 am

“Please explain why it is acceptable to take faith as a ground for some political positions, but not for others.”


“That Christian nations have not done all they might, or should have done, on a principle of Christian benevolence, for the civilization and conversion of the Africans: that much cruelty has been practised in the slave trade, as the benevolent Wilberforce, and others have shown; that much tyranny has been exercised by individuals, as masters over their slaves, and that the religious interests of the latter have been too much neglected by many cannot, will not be denied. But the fullest proof of these facts, will not also prove, that the holding men in subjection, as slaves, is a moral evil, and inconsistent with Christianity. Magistrates, husbands, and fathers, have proved tyrants. This does not prove, that magistracy, the husband’s right to govern, and parental authority, are unlawful and wicked. The individual who abuses his authority, and acts with cruelty, must answer for it at the Divine tribunal; and civil authority should interpose to prevent or punish it; but neither civil nor ecclesiastical authority can consistently interfere with the possession and legitimate exercise of a right given by the Divine Law.

“If the above representation of the Scriptural doctrine, and the manner of obtaining slaves from Africa is just; and if also purchasing them has been the means of saving human life, which there is great reason to believe it has; then, however the slave trade, in present circumstances, is justly censurable, yet might motives of humanity and even piety have been originally brought into operation in the purchase of slaves, when sold in the circumstances we have described. If, also, by their own confession, which has been made in manifold instances, their condition, when they have come into the hands of humane masters here, has been greatly bettered by the change; if it is, ordinarily, really better, as many assert, than that of thousands of the poorer classes in countries reputed civilized and free; and, if, in addition to all other considerations, the translation from their native country to this has been the means of their mental and religious improvement, and so of obtaining salvation, as many of themselves have joyfully and thankfully confessed–then may the just and humane master, who rules his slaves and provides for them, according to Christian principles, rest satisfied, that he is not, in holding them, chargeable with moral evil, nor with acting, in this respect, contrary to the genius of Christianity.–It appears to be equally clear, that those, who by reasoning on abstract principles, are induced to favour the scheme of general emancipation, and who ascribe their sentiments to Christianity, should be particularly careful, however benevolent their intentions may be, that they do not by a perversion of the Scriptural doctrine, through their wrong views of it, not only invade the domestic and religious peace and rights of our Citizens, on this subject; but, also by an intemperate zeal, prevent indirectly, the religious improvement of the people they design, professedly, to benefit; and, perhaps, become, evidently, the means of producing in our country, scenes of anarchy and blood; and all this in a vain attempt to bring about a state of things, which, if arrived at, would not probably better the state of that people; which is thought, by men of observation, to be generally true of the Negroes in the Northern states, who have been liberated.”

If science is to be faulted for failing in our past (eugenics, genocide, and other heinous crimes), how much more so should religious faith be faulted for equally horrendous acts.

Between the two arguments presented, that of Rev. Dr. Richard Furman and of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., what absolute standard do you have to determine which of the two arguments are correct?

The Bible? Certainly not, for the Bible is the foundation of both arguments. Both men are learned in their spheres of expertise. Both men are leaders in their faith. (For those not familiar with Dr. Furman, he was writing this missive on behalf of the South Carolina Baptist Convention to the Governor of South Carolina at the unanimous request of said convention).

Religious tradition? Again, no, for religious tradition has changed over the generations, taking on the characteristics of the society practicing said religion.

Philosophy? Truly there are few slopes more slippery than philosophy when it comes to finding “moral absolutes”.

But more importantly, Rod, take a look at what is being addressed in both cases. The human condition. Specifically, the relationship of the racial majority with a racial minority. In the span of just 100 years we see the Bible being reinterpreted rather dramatically to the point that Dr. King was able to use it to advocate for the equality of a racial minority, turning Dr. Furman’s argument on its ear.

In science, when a theory is shown to be incorrect, there is a tremendous amount of kvetching, complaining, rewriting of thesis papers, maybe some spirited arguments held at the local watering hole. But eventually, as the new claim is evaluated, the results duplicated, and more people see the truth of the counter-claim, the theory is changed and we move forward.

With religion, when new evidence is brought forward that purports to show a closely held doctrine is false, people die. Sometimes it is one, hanging on a cross on top of a garbage pile outside Jerusalem. Sometimes it is one being burned at the stake in downtown Geneva. Sometimes it is a handful at a time, being tossed before lions and tigers for the entertainment of the masses.

Sometimes it is more. Many more.

#37 Comment By Quiddity On November 20, 2012 @ 12:27 am

I have low confidence in someone who rejects the scientific consensus that the earth is billions of years old. While they may have demonstrated a high degree of competence in other endeavours, the fact that they hold such an aberrational view means that they may do it again. That’s something I prefer not to risk happening, at least as a representative in our democracy.

#38 Comment By Church Lady On November 20, 2012 @ 1:54 am

The science types are non-dogmatic…and the “consensus shifts as, etc.” which is to say, non-dogmatic and *very likely* wrong

Science is a funny discipline, in that it never presumes itself to be perfectly right, but always assumes that it is wrong to one degree or another. It knows that perfect knowledge and perfect understanding is impossible. It merely tries to be less and less wrong over time.

#39 Comment By Loudon is a Fool On November 20, 2012 @ 8:42 am

As far as I know the leaders of the Religious Right have never made creationism a litmus test or a requirement for supporting a candidate.

It’s assumed that an individual who is religious is a creationist, at least in the sense that either (1) human beings (body and soul) were the product of special creation at a particular point in time even though the world itself is ancient, or (2) although the physical material of some man-like beast was the product of evolution, at a point in time that beast was ensouled and became a man and that soul was the product of special creation. And that, further, each human soul is the product of special creation (although that is not believed by sects like LDS who believe in pre-mortal existence). I don’t know what the numbers are with respect to a belief in creationism. I would assume given that 75% of Americans believe Jesus Christ is the son of God, the number of Americans who believe in creationism is well north of that. If I politician says he’s Christian, I assume he’s a creationist. If he said he were not a creationist I would assume he is an atheist (or a hokey religion akin to atheism).

#40 Comment By MEH 0910 On November 20, 2012 @ 8:48 am


#41 Comment By MEH 0910 On November 20, 2012 @ 9:01 am

Glaivester: And actually, there is one scientist held in high regard who insisted that there were no meaningful differences betwen the races. Stephen Jay Gould. P.Z. Myers of Pharyngula is also one, as I recall.

Also Richard Lewontin, [12] was commented on by [13] and [14]

#42 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On November 20, 2012 @ 9:05 am

Re: And actually, there is one scientist held in high regard who insisted that there were no meaningful differences betwen the races. Stephen Jay Gould. P.Z. Myers of Pharyngula is also one, as I recall.

I don’t know anything about P. Z. Myers except his stunt with the Eucharist, and I don’t know how well regarded he is in the profession, so I won’t mention him.

Stephen Jay Gould was well regarded, although as much as a public intellectual as a scientist, but some things can be said in his defence on the topic of racial difference. He didn’t actually say, *ever*, that “there are no meaningful differences between the races.” (I was brought up reading him, and was a devotee of his writing when I was a teenager). He devoted a good portion of time in his books and essays to tearing down the studies and arguments of the hereditarians up to that point, and making the case that the hereditarians and the ‘race realists’ hadn’t demonstrated good evidence. (And he had some justification in doing so: one of the key researchers on the topic of heredity and intelligence was later found to be massively fraudulent, and many of the others were explicit ideological racists who consciously or unconsciously re-interpreted and massaged the data until it proved their case). But he was always open to the possibility, at least in theory, that new evidence would come to light that would prove him wrong.

In the years since Gould wrote his books and essays in the late ’80s and early ’90s, such evidence has indeed come to light, and it seems very likely now that on a whole slew of traits, there are natural and genetically based differences between ethnic groups (as well as, of course, between genders). That’s the way science works, and should work. Good quality evidence didn’t really exist before Gould’s time, and it does exist today. That isn’t really Gould’s fault, and it doesn’t make him a dishonest scientist.

#43 Comment By Eric Read On November 20, 2012 @ 4:37 pm

Actually, I think this has more to do with the legislation we’ve had in recent years. A lot of legislation in this Christian nation seems to rely on what the bible saids. Pick your controversial topic. Gay marriage, abortion, contraception in health coverage. If the book you’re using to define something as immoral is wrong on something like the age of our planet, maybe it shouldn’t be used as the sole justification for some of these other policy debates.

#44 Comment By Eric Read On November 20, 2012 @ 4:48 pm

“According to that Gallup poll, one-third of all Americans believe the standard scientific account of the universe’s origins, but also believe that God guided the process (this is my view, by the way).”

I’m not sure how this defends his position. A dumb position remains dumb regardless of its popularity. Science is not a democracy.

#45 Comment By Steve Cornell On November 20, 2012 @ 5:06 pm

In all this focus on the age of the earth, let’s admit that if the physical world is a self-contained system that works by impersonal, blind, unbroken natural laws than nothing beyond nature could have any conceivable relevance to what happens in nature. And if this is the right accounting for reality, we are the random objects of an impersonal universe.

But let’s be clear that there’s not a shred of scientific evidence to support this notion. Many try to stretch science into a philosophy (or some kind of religion) and give people the misleading impression that the science of evolution offers more than it is capable of telling. Philosophical naturalism is not a scientific way of seeing the world but a faith-based view.

Honest scientists know that it’s simply outside the function of science to address the beginning of universe or to speak to any kind of transcendent meaning or ordered morality. The narrative of biological evolution (for all it offers scientifically) cannot logically lead us to any hierarchy of beings beyond superiority in survival.

Science can observe and describe in fascinating detail what is within the universe and speak to purposes related to adaptability and survival in the physical world. Only God can prescribe what is beyond the descriptions of scientific inquiry and speak to purposes of eternal significance beyond the limitations of the physical world.

#46 Comment By Franklin Evans On November 20, 2012 @ 6:26 pm

In agreement with Mr. Cornell:

1. Science says, has always said, and will always say “This is our best explanation for [fill-in-blank] today. While we may have a very high confidence that it will remain the best explanation tomorrow, something could come to light that forces us to amend, change or entirely abandon it.”

Modern examples: Newtonian physics and quantum mechanics, steady-state* geology and plate tectonics.

2. Scientists are a descriptive category of humans who are no less prone to egotism, deception, corruption, self-serving behaviors and lying than any other category of humans.

The only valid answer when science is asked “Is there a God?” is “That is not a question that science can answer.” For anything else, see #2. 😉

* Continental drift was the first incarnation of plate tectonics, and it boldly and completely debunked the theory that the Earth’s crust was a solid, contiguous layer of our planet. Of course, scientists of the time roundly and loudly dismissed continental drift as fantasy. 😀

#47 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On November 20, 2012 @ 7:22 pm

Re: Gay marriage, abortion, contraception in health coverage

I’m not aware that the arguments against gay marriage, abortion or contraception are rooted in the Bible at all. They’re rooted (or purport to be rooted in) in natural law and in church tradition. You may want to actually learn how to read the arguments that you disagree with. For what it’s worth, neither abortion nor contraception features in the Bible at all, though abortion and (certain forms of) contraception were certainly dealt with by the early church.

Re: If the book you’re using to define something as immoral is wrong on something like the age of our planet,

Great, I suppose since Martin Luther King, Jr. was an adulterer, we don’t have to listen to what he said about segregation, either.


On a more serious note, the church has never purported to speak authoritatively on the matter of the age of the earth, and has never claimed infallibility about science, only about faith and morals.

#48 Comment By MEH 0910 On November 20, 2012 @ 8:27 pm

Hector_St_Clare: Good quality evidence didn’t really exist before Gould’s time, and it does exist today. That isn’t really Gould’s fault, and it doesn’t make him a dishonest scientist.

TAC publisher Ron Unz has [15]“>expressed a rather different opinion of Stephen Jay Gould:

Kenny claimed that such IQ theories were not merely racist and deeply offensive but had also long been debunked by scientific experts—notably the prominent biologist Stephen Jay Gould in his 1980 book The Mismeasure of Man.

As Kenny soon discovered from the responses to his online article, he had seriously erred in quoting the authority of Gould, whose fraud on race and brain-size issues, presumably in service to his self-proclaimed Marxist beliefs, last year received [16]. Science largely runs on the honor system, and once simple statements of fact—in Gould’s case, the physical volume of human skulls—are found to be false, we cannot trust more complex claims made by the particular scholar.


Meanwhile, individuals such as Stephen Jay Gould, who commit outright academic fraud in support of their ideological positions, do enormous damage to the credibility of their own camp.

In fact, Peter Frost at [17]:

Ron Unz has come out with an article on “Race, IQ, and Wealth” in the latest issue of the American Conservative. He had earlier sent me a draft copy and asked for my comments. I did as best I could, not considering myself to be an authority on IQ.

Reading through the published article, I can see that very little was modified. The only real change was that he toned down his anti-Gould rhetoric at the beginning of the article.