Florida Senator Marco Rubio twisted himself into a Rubio’s Cube last week when asked at a press conference how old he thought the earth was.
“Whether the earth was created in seven days, or seven actual eras, I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to answer that,” Rubio spluttered, thereby throwing his hat into the ring of willful ignorance where Republican Presidential hopefuls dwell.
“At the end of the day,” said Rubio, without specifying whether he meant a Biblical day or a literal one, “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.”
Of course, and the more the merrier. Let’s throw them all out there, from the theory of evolution to the theories of Willie, our junior high-school janitor, and let the people choose which ones they like best. This is a democracy, isn’t it?
Only which one do you think will win out: the one that sees man as another species competing for food and space and sex and subject to impersonal biological forces that have shaped him over millions of years of adaptation — the hard one to understand, in other words – or the charming fairy tale in which man is the ready-made masterpiece of a busy week of work by the Almighty?
Our leaders have always been necessarily ignorant about some things – Lincoln, for example, knew nothing of the Internet, the automobile, or even the light bulb – but often just plain obtuse about others. When it comes to the eternal mysteries, in this country at least, the soundest strategy is to claim inexpertise (Rubio said the question of the earth’s age is one “for theologians”) while assuring their audience that the Big Guy knows what’s best for America. Even Saint Abraham took this tack at times. While wondering privately what God was up to, or sometimes whether He was up there at all, Lincoln proclaimed again and again in public that God knew what He was doing, and it was up to us to just keep the faith.
What would Lincoln have made of Darwin? Though the two shared the very same birthdate, they never crossed paths. Apparently a friend tried to get Lincoln to read Darwin’s great work, but Lincoln, after reading a few pages, declared that it was beyond him.
But the famous men would have got on well, one likes to imagine. Darwin’s doubts were Lincoln’s, and Lincoln loved a debate – the building of an argument buttressed by facts – and also loved great literature. (The King James Bible was one of his favorites.) If he had gone deeper into Darwin, might he not have savored the language, and had he made it to the end of “The Origin of Species,” wouldn’t he have relished the beautiful concluding paragraph (“There is grandeur in this view of life…”)?
Who can say whether Lincoln thought the earth was billions of years old or only some three hundred score and seven? Maybe he would have echoed Marco Rubio’s demurral (“I’m not a scientist, man”), or maybe it would have occurred to Honest Abe that you can’t fool all of the people all of the time. Sometimes politicians, like God, know more than they let on.