Science is the foundation of today's human civilization. It has doubled the average lifespan to nearly 80 years in just a century. It impels nearly all industries, from the Internet to chemical plants, spawning modern prosperity. Life would be primitive and savage without science.
But some conservatives dispute science when it contradicts far-right beliefs. For example, Republican leader Marco Rubio of Florida publicly questioned evolution by hedging about the age of Planet Earth. When GQ magazine asked him how old the world is, he replied:
"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 .... 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. 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."
Actually, among scientific-minded people, there's no doubt that Earth and the universe are billions of years old. All astronomy, physics, molecular genetics and other evidence clearly support that premise. The only disagreement comes from fundamentalist groups who think these findings contradict the Bible's poetic language.
We assume that Sen. Rubio avoided a scientific answer to woo the GOP's white evangelical wing for the 2016 presidential nomination. Writing in The New York Times, Juliet Lapidos said his response either was "cunning" or it was "idiocy." Conservative writer Andrew Sullivan called Rubio "nuts."
Even conservative columnist Ross Douthat asked: "How are you going to have effective science education if schools have to give equal time to the views of fundamentalist Christians?"
Four years ago, when Rubio was House speaker in Florida's Legislature, he likened teaching evolution in schools to a communist system "that teaches kids that what they're learning at home is wrong."
Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman wrote Thursday that Rubio's "inability to acknowledge scientific evidence speaks of the anti-rational mindset that has taken over his political party .... Right there you have the modern GOP's attitude, not just toward biology but toward everything: If evidence seems to contradict faith, suppress the evidence."
Republicans generally think that global warming "is a hoax concocted by a vast conspiracy of scientists," Krugman wrote. He called Republicans "authoritarians strongly inclined to reject any evidence contradicting their prior beliefs."
International surveys find that America is falling behind other advanced democracies in the crucial field of science education. If U.S. schools were required to give equal time to claims that Planet Earth is only 6,000 years old, it would be a sad setback for science.