Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) took some flak earlier this week for playing coy with a question in a GQ interview about how old the Earth was, calling the question a "great mystery" that he was unqualified to answer because of his lack of scientific credentials.
Well, as Slate's Daniel Engber notes, it turns out that the junior senator is not alone in his apparent move to avoid rousing the ire of the nearly 50 percent of Americans who believe in creationism, or the 30 percent who believe the Bible should be taken literally. Such a move was repeated by another junior senator in 2008. That man was Barack Obama, and he was trying to become the next president of the U.S.
Here's then-Illinois Sen. Obama's exchange with CNN's Campbell Brown at a forum on faith in politics:
Brown: Senator, if one of your daughters asked you -- and maybe they already have -- “Daddy, did God really create the world in 6 days?,” what would you say?
Obama: I'm trying to remember if we've had this conversation. You know, what I've said to them is that 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 that 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.
Obama then went on to state that he strongly believes in the principles of science and evolution, saying that they coexist alongside and even strengthen his religious views. That's very much in line with his early stated goals and subsequent successes in pushing for increased funding for scientific initiatives and promoting the importance of teaching evolution in schools. Rubio, on the other hand, appeared to suggest that creationism should be taught as a competing theory to evolution.
"I think there are multiple theories out there on how the universe was created," Rubio said in the GQ interview, "and I think this is a country where people should have the opportunity to teach them all."
Still, it doesn't change the fact that Obama appeared to be carrying out a similar political calculus in finessing an answer that wouldn't upset religious sensibilities regarding an issue that scientists consider unequivocally settled.
Scientists say with 99 percent certainty that the Earth is 4.54 billion years old. Politicians such as Rubio and Obama instead say with 100 percent certainty that the Earth is at least some number of years old and that they like winning elections. Though their two responses differ in specifics, they both appear to be opting for the easier and more politically expedient answer. Perhaps there's a reason that the nation has never had an atheist president or that only one open atheist is currently serving in Congress.