As Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal opened his 2016 Republican presidential run he recently argued forcefully that Republicans had to "stop being the stupid party." He explained that "We need to stop being simplistic, we need to trust the intelligence of the American people and we need to stop insulting the intelligence of the voters."
Unfortunately, it seems that few in the Republican Party are listening. In fact, it's not even clear that Bobby is listening to his own words. He is, after all, the governor responsible for incredibly anti-science legislation in his home state. In addition to signing the 2008 Louisiana Science Education Act, which provides ample cover for creationists to introduce their brand of pseudoscience in public schools, he's responsible for the state's new school voucher system that funds schools rejecting evolution and promoting creationism.
There's no evidence that Jindal's advice to move away from stupid has encouraged him to reconsider either of these outrageous positions. Instead, his policies continue to ensure that Louisiana students will be the most poorly educated in the nation.
And now, just a week later, another potential 2016 Republican presidential contender has opted to endorse stupidity. Florida Senator Marco Rubio just embarrassed himself in a GQ interview by arguing three related things: that he has no idea how old the Earth is; that the age of the universe is unimportant; and that in America students should learn "multiple theories" about such things. He went on to say that questions about the age of the Earth are "a dispute amongst theologians" and we'll never know for certain whether the Earth was created in seven days.
Let me be absolutely clear about this. Senator Rubio is categorically wrong on all but one point -- and that one point is the only one that is absolutely unimportant. I agree with the Senator when he says that he has no idea how old the Earth is -- but that's not something of which he should be proud. The world's scientists agree that the Earth is approximately 4.5 billion years old even though Rubio is willing to accept an age of about 6,000 years. In other words, the Earth is 750,000 times older than Rubio might believe!
Each of Rubio's other points are as important as they are incorrect. When he claimed that the age of the universe was unimportant he argued that it "has nothing to do with the gross domestic product or economic growth of the United States." Wrong!
One of the reasons that America is losing its competitive edge is that we are no longer teaching our students the basics of modern science. Indeed, we are not even educating enough scientists. The consequences of this shortfall are staggering. Beyond that, however, and even more simply, there's ample evidence to suggest that improving the quality of science and mathematics education will increase gross domestic product dramatically. Teaching pseudoscience certainly does nothing to improve the quality of science education.
Rubio is also completely off base when he speaks of "multiple theories." In fact, scientists have only one theory concerning the age of the Earth and promoting any other perspective is akin to pretending that there are alternative scientific theories to evolution. The best way to describe such a position is to return to Jindal's words: "we need to stop insulting the intelligence of the voters."
When Rubio implies that the issue is a religious one, to be decided by theologians, he is dead wrong twice. First, the age of the Earth is as well documented a scientific fact as is any. To doubt the data means to questions the basics of geology, chemistry, physics and astronomy. Or, in Jindal's words, it means to continue "being the stupid party." Second, Rubio completely misunderstands the role of theology. For some reason, he seems to think that theologians spend their time arguing with scientists or with other theologians about science.
What Rubio seems not to know, however, is that the vast majority of the world's religions are fully comfortable with the scientific consensus that the Earth is 4.5 billion years old. When young earth creationism was promoted in Arkansas more than 30 years ago, for example, religious leaders representing the United Methodist, Episcopal, Roman Catholic, African Methodist Episcopal, Presbyterian and Southern Baptist Churches joined together to argue that such a position was bad science and even worse religion.
Similarly, today, more than 13,500 clergy members from across the United States, representing scores of denominations and religions, have joined together to oppose such teachings. These members of The Clergy Letter Project, like their fellow religious leaders who preceded them are opposed to indoctrinating students with such atrocious scientific ideas, ideas that also run counter to their religious beliefs.
Marco Rubio, like Bobby Jindal before him, has opted to become the poster boy for the party of stupid and, via his extreme ignorance and/or political pandering, he has managed, at the same time, to alienate both the scientific and the religious community.
He would do well to think about what happened to Rep. Paul Broun in his recent election in Georgia after he said that evolution and other scientific theories, including, of all things, embryology, are "lies straight from the pit of Hell," and after he said that he believed that the Earth was only 9,000 years old. Although he was running unopposed for reelection to his congressional seat in an overwhelmingly Republican district, a last minute campaign for a write in candidate gained significant support. Not only was the candidate not an American citizen who never set foot in Georgia, he was someone who died more than 130 years ago. Yes, Charles Darwin received over 4,000 votes.
Republicans have a very long way to go to move away from being the party of stupid, and they seem to be headed in the wrong direction.
Follow Michael Zimmerman, Ph.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/mzclergyletter