Marco Rubio has been on the receiving end of quite a bit of condescending mockery about his unwillingness to admit that science has a better handle on the Earth's age than the Bible. But if the following clip from the 2008 presidential campaign (which was rediscovered by Slate's Daniel Engber yesterday) is any indication, wavering on this question shouldn't hurt Rubio's presidential hopes:
Campbell Brown: 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. 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, you know, that I think is a legitimate debate within the Christian community of which I'm a part. You know, my belief is that the story that the Bible tells about God creating this magnificent Earth on which we live, that 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, you know, I don't presume to know.
As with Rubio's answer, there's a lot of fence-straddling here. Obama says he believes that the Bible's account of the Earth's formation should not be considered at face value ... but he also refers to it as a "legitimate debate" and concludes by offering that he doesn't "presume to know" the truth.
The truth is that scientific methods have shown, with a one percent degree of uncertainty, that the Earth is 4.54 billion years old, and that its environment formed over billions of years, not six days. As we said before, we suspect that Rubio trusts science on this question. Obama surely does as well. And yet neither of them can bring themselves to say it clearly or definitively.
Why they don't is hardly a "great mystery," as Rubio might put it. Somewhere around 30 percent of Americans believe the Bible should be taken literally, word for word. When you're running for the White House, or planning to, there's no point in alienating that many people on such a personal issue. Neither Rubio nor Obama are science-denying religious zealots. They are politicians.