Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) just got serious about a run for the Republican presidential nomination, telling GQ magazine he’s not sure whether Earth was created by God in seven days or in “seven actual eras” and that parents should be encouraged to teach their children “multiple theories” on the Earth’s age.
In the interview, Rubio, who ironically sits on the Senate’s Science Committee, refused to embrace evolution, calling it “one of the great mysteries” of life. “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,” Rubio said in the interview.
Rubio’s comments signal a softened approach to religious extremism by conservatives. Make no mistake about it, these are religiously extremist comments, and they are designed to shore up evangelicals. But Rubio’s rhetorical framing is completely different. In 2010 and 2012 the base took extremist anti-immigrant, anti-woman positions and went on the offensive with them, cramming copy-cat legislation through states across the country. Conservatives framed the debate as one of good v. evil, Christians v. everyone else and voters overwhelmingly rejected the message.
Rubio knows this, which is why his creationism is masked in the language of diversity and inclusiveness. “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,” Rubio said. ”I think parents should be able to teach their kids what their faith says, what science says. Whether the Earth was created in seven days, or seven actual eras, I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to answer that. It’s one of the great mysteries.”
Confusing faith with science and then legislating based off that confusion has been the calling card of the religious right. We’ve seen this on climate change, abortion rights and now, more broadly, basic and core scientific principles that are the foundations of biology, astronomy and most of our science curriculum. Rubio and other religious conservatives would like us to believe that the problem lies in a culture that is hostile to religious rights rather than the fact that this country was founded on the belief of a secular government that kept matters of faith out of matters of civil life.
So, beware this new softened, inclusive tone from conservatives. They may sound like a more sophisticated and tolerant group but when you strip it all away it’s the same religious zealots directing the show.