Why Marco Rubio waffled on the age of rocks (in numbers)

By Razib Khan | November 19, 2012 8:29 pm

If you have a pulse and follow “science news” you are aware that Marco Rubio gave a very equivocal answer to a very simple question about the age of the earth. As many have noted this is basically a way to call out Republican politicians for the fact that they have to satisfy the cultural signals of a segment of the American population which has a deep hostility to science which undercuts their naive reading of the Bible. To Mitt Romney’s credit he did not evade on this question, but gave a mainstream answer among the well educated. This sort of political pandering isn’t too surprising. Remember Hillary Clinton dismissing ‘elite economists’ when it came to her silly gas tax suspension idea? It’s a democracy, and that means you can get very far appealing to the populist sentiment.

More concretely, I want to address something Rod Dreher asserted at The American Conservative:

I wish one of these liberal journalists would go into a black or Latino church supper and ask people their thoughts about how the universe began. I’d bet that 99 percent of the people there would agree with Marco Rubio, even if most of them would vote for his opponent. People just don’t care about this stuff at the national political level. You’d better believe I’d fight over this issue if it came down to a matter of what was going to be taught in my local school. But I couldn’t possibly care less what the guy who lives in the White House thinks, unless he tries to impose it on the country.

When I hear the word “bet” I start thinking of laying down odds and stealing someone’s cash! But in this case I’ll assume Rod was being rhetorical. But let’s review the numbers, shall we?

The General Social Survey has a variable, EVOLVED, which records the response to the question “Human beings developed from animals,” with a true vs. false outcome. It was asked between 2006 and 2010. You can see the results for numerous demographics below.

Demographic Agree that human beings developed from animals
Democrat 59
Independent 53
Republican 42
White Non-Hispanic Democrat 66
White Non-Hispanic Independent 55
White Non-Hispanic Republican 41
No College Democrat 50
No College Independent 50
No College Republican 37
College Educated Democrat 78
College Educated Independent 67
College Educated Republican 52
Liberal 69
Moderate 52
Conservative 39
White non-Hispanic Liberal 77
White non-Hispanic Moderate 55
White non-Hispanic Conservative 38
No College Liberal 58
No College Moderate 49
No College Conservative 36
College Educated Liberal 86
College Educated Moderate 66
College Educated Conservative 47
White Non-Hispanic 53
Black Non-Hispanic 35
Hispanic 52
Protestant 35
Catholic 65
Jewish 79
No Religion 79
Bible is Word of God 28
Bible is Inspired Word of God 58
Bible is Book of Fables 87
Southern Baptist 27
United Method 51
Presbyterian 64
Episcopalian 91
Scandinavian 59
German 51
British 50
Irish 54
Italian 66



MORE ABOUT: Creationism
  • http://delicious.com/robertford Darkseid

    technically, he did say black or hispanic *church* so am i to combine the “black” and “southern baptist” numbers to get an approximate avg.? what about for hispanics? combine “catholic” with “hispanic”? what do y’all think?

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    #1, no. use the GSS interface.

  • http://delicious.com/robertford Darkseid

    sorry, i assumed the GSS wouldn’t have data that is that refined.
    also, i agree with the thrust of Dreher’s article. i once asked a liberal family member why liberals were so eager to defend blacks, hispanics and arabs when they often don’t share the same values or are even basically the antithesis of each other and he didn’t really have an answer. it’s almost like they’re using them to validate their *own* values while pretending/assuming that they share the same ideals.
    the example of who he trusts with his money is also a great point. i was about to dismiss it as an excuse for others’ stupidity and then i realized i do the exact same with my money manager. i always thought it is interesting how you get a “package deal” as far as personal temperament goes. you’re not going to find a lot of computer programmers who are also great with the ladies or were captain of their hockey team. as you get older it’s fun to watch all the different genomes find their comfy environments to live out their lives in:)

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    #3, use the GSS. hispanics aren’t that conservative.

  • Scott

    Interesting that no group possessed a 100 percent agreement with respect to this.

  • Patrick

    Of course, the problem is that people have tried, are trying, and will try to teach this rubbish in schools. Since you can’t anticipate what issues are going to be on the federal agenda four years from now, and this sort of school issue could plausibly move to the top, picking someone who isn’t going to do something stupid if it does move to the national forefront is important.

    Now you might argue that Rubio is pandering to the ignorant subset of his base, and he doesn’t really believe this drivel, but it is dangerous. If your mental model of a presidential candidate relies too much on what they secretly think, contrary to what they publicly say, it is very easy to stray into a view of a candidate that is constructed entirely from wishful thinking.

    More importantly, if the candidate is not willing to say what they actually think now, because of political pressure, there is no reason to suspect that they’ll act on what they secretly think later. The political pressure never really goes away. Thus, there is strong reason to think that if it became an issue, Rubio would enact policies that are consistent with his public statements, not his secret feelings.

  • http://twitter.com/shoegazn Jimmy Vu

    Most white liberals acknowledge the sometimes retrograde social/religious views of minorities… I remember Jon Stewart taking some jabs at black people in California who supported the gay marriage ban. The difference is that liberals will tend to attribute these views to a lack of education for minorities vs. a willful ignorance and malice in conservative whites, who should “know better” given their closer proximity to mainstream American thought. Socially conservative minorities seem to be softer and more malleable when it comes to the political process. The shift in approval for gay marriage among blacks following Obama’s endorsement would back this up.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    #7, look in the GSS. you can control for education with MARHOMO.

  • http://delicious.com/robertford Darkseid

    R, right i probably should’ve left them off there. I’ve been reading Steve’s election analysis regarding that issue.

  • ST

    I’m impressed that episcopalians outshined the non-religious and college educated liberals.

  • labman57

    The good Lord gave Man the gift of an advanced brain capable of higher level thinking.
    It’s a shame that so many scientifically-illiterate politicians and pundits have chosen to avoid using it.

    More specifically, I don’t expect our elected representatives to fully understand the radioactive dating methodologies commonly used to determine the age of rocks and fossil specimens, but I do expect that they acknowledge that such techniques exist and accept the validity of their findings.

  • http://anziulewicz.livejournal.com Chuck Anziulewicz

    Does the age of the Earth or the creation of the Universe or the biological origin of the human species really make that much difference in the day-to-day life of the average American? Probably not. But I DO expect our elected officials to live in the REAL world, rather than subscribing to a lot of superstitious nonsense.

    Marco Rubio was not asked, “How old is the Earth?” He was asked, “How old do you think the Earth is?” Surely he has an belief, based either on science of theology, but instead he chose to dance away from the question. I find that dismaying. If we take “Young Earth” creationism at face value, EVERYTHING we know about physics and astronomy and even higher mathematics completely falls apart.

    During his campaign Mitt Romney lamented how science education was lagging behind the rest of the Western industrialized world. Considering how 46% percent of Americans believe in the creationist view that God created humans in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years, Romney certainly would have had his work cut out for him if he had been elected.

    Let’s face it: “Young Earth” creationism is the antithesis of science. It completely inverts the scientific method, starting with an assumption (i.e. “God did it.”), then contorting science to fit that assumption, and if scientific facts do not support the notion that “God did it,” those facts can be dismissed as nothing less than an elaborate Satanic deception. I expect fundamentalist Christian preachers to spew this kind of gobbledygook, but not members of the House Science Committee and CERTAINLY not up-and-coming Presidential prospects.

  • T

    The real way to answer this is by out-grouping the person who asks the question, by embarrassing him and destroying his status. This is hard though, because Rubio doesn’t have any real power. The best that he can do is get this guy’s organization banned from his events. If he were a governor he could get the news organization banned from all state property.

  • Dm

    It’s great to see this variety of views covered by GSS stats, but it doesn’t make Dreher loose his bet. The GSS questions weren’t asked at parish suppers, were they? It’s conceivable that the patishioners at a Church supper represent a more conservative slice of the population; and/or that the rules of politeness at such events compel the participants to say that the Bible has got something right about Creation, or at least to equivocate around the question the way Rubio did (even when in other settings, they’d be more pro-Science).

    But does GSS has an answer to the real question here, which I see as “does an anti-science position of a national politician matter for the voters?” (Other pundits give it an absolute “yes”)

    BTW, more relavantly for the main topic of this blog (the gene stuff), Dreher writes that
    Science shows that it’s impossible for American Indians to have been descended from the Hebrews, as the LDS Church teaches.

    The LDS Church actually stopped teaching it soon after the hypothesis have been scientifically rejected. The wording about Izraelites being “the principal ancestors” of Native Americans had been redacted out of the preface of the Book of Mormon.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    GSS: for those blacks who attend church nearly every week or more: 28%. for hispanics, 29%.

    The LDS Church actually stopped teaching it soon after the hypothesis have been scientifically rejected.

    the problem is that lay mormons often don’t keep up on these details, and all sorts of weird ‘seminary myths’ get perpetuated, and most non-mormons learn about mormonism from their mormon friends. not people more familiar with the ‘doctrine,’ whatever that is. to give a more offensive example, some of the more racist stuff about blacks and the mark of cain seems to still be in circulation among mormons, and even among conservative white protestants.

  • Dave R

    My question is where are the instances of reporters asking democrats this question? It should be straightforward enough, since a majority are on their side. But somehow its only elected officials with an (R) behind their name who need pinned down on everything that could possibly cost them votes.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    #16, i think bill maher asked mark pryor. but the reality is VERY FEW dems are likely to waffle, because the creationist minorities and poor who support dems will always do so despite cultural issue differences.

  • Chuck Currie

    Marco Rubio’s answer was remarkably similar to that of candidate Barack Obama when asked the same question in 2008. You cannot take what politicians say about science or scientific matters seriously – some are posturing, while others are just plain stupid.


  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    #18, can point me the link to that obama quote please?

  • Chuck Currie
  • Chuck Currie

    For those who don’t want to follow the link:

    Here’s then-Sen. Obama, D-Ill., speaking at the Compassion Forum at Messiah College in Grantham, Pa. on April 13, 2008:

    Q: 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?

    A: 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 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.

    Here’s the YouTube video for those who actually want to hear him say it:



  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan


    that’s interesting, because in other places obama says he believes in evolution more than angels. so clear pandering/waffling.

  • Chuck Currie

    As I said above, “You cannot take what politicians say about science or scientific matters seriously…”

    When it comes to science or scientific matters, they are either pandering to you, or to those you disagree with. The only time they’re not, is when they say “I don’t know”.

    Best advise, ignore the politicians, and keep your eye on the bureaucrats – they’re the dangerous ones.


  • Dm

    #22 he probably would have told his daughter that Santa exists, too. Of course it’s waffling sort of, but it may be due to common situational politeness / ethics rather than politics. On the same note, one may mention Heaven in a funeral address even though one believes in no such thing. Perhaps (as I already hypothesized, but you chose not to notice) at a church supper, one would be compelled to affirm the veracity of the Bible. It’s all about symbolically conforming to the vibe of the moment and to the aspirations of your peer group.

    When my employee asked to shift timing of an important meeting because he otherwise couldn’t get back in time from his Friday prayer, I showed understanding and accomodation, instead of expressing my private opinion about these matters. Call it waffling, but basically, the fabric of the society / of the family depends on symbolic respect to certain (perhaps nonsensical) traditions in respective traditional contexts. Affirming creationist myths in what’s essentially a job interview just isn’t such a context.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    #24, your analogies are qualitatively different. i don’t think santa and god are in the same category in terms of the gravity that people attach toward them, or the aims. if parents don’t believe in santa and tell their kids that there is a santa, i think that’s defensible for a variety of reasons. if parents don’t believe in god and tell their kids that there is a god, that’s defensible for a variety of reasons. but usually those reasons are different. personally, i have more of an issue with the latter than the former, because people ascribe to god pretty big shit (imagine that your parents live in a baptist community, and go along for social conformity, but it turns out you are gay, and you are raised in a church that tells you you are a sinner blah blah).

    attitudes toward climate change, evolution, cosmology, etc., are qualitatively different from accommodations you might make with someone’s orthopraxy (i don’t drink beer at my parents’ house!). whatever your opinion on those issues, they matter in a substantive way. the public policy implication might be direct (climate change), or, it might be tenuous at best (cosmology), but these are serious issues. i understand why politicians obfuscate and lie, but i think it’s reasonable not to tolerate this crap.

  • Dm

    #25because people ascribe to god pretty big shit (imagine that your parents live in a baptist community, and go along for social conformity, but it turns out you are gay, and you are raised in a church that tells you you are a sinner blah blah)

    I’m so glad that you understand this problem now, this dilemma of imposing religious beliefs on children to prevent their (real or imaginable) missteps vs. putting the children at risk of deep psychological trauma, ostracism, depression, and suicide once it turns out that their natural aspirations are incompatible with their beliefs.

    If you remember, just 6 months ago, in your blog entry on genetic behavioral risk and possible mechanisms of its societal mitigation, you actually advocated imposing Mormon beliefs on children with genetic predisposition to alcoholism, and dismissed my concerns about the wisdom of such “therapy” and my stats on incidence on suicide and depression in the Mormon country.

    It’s great to see that your views have become more nuanced. It’s often said in this respect that “religion is OK between consenting adults but should not be pushed on children” … as any catchphrase, this one may contain an element of exaggeration, but it’s definitely worth a thought.

    As to attitudes, polls, and pols, I don’t think we are in disagreement other than over some technical minutae. All I wanted to explain, with due respect to the GSS, is that its percentages are not immutable. It is well known that our answers to very similarly sounding basic questions in polls and interviews and conversations depend on the wording of the question, on the sequential order of the questions, and generally on the settings and peer pressure. The GSS may be a remarkably good snapshot of personally held views, but when asked about creation in public, and in more roundabout ways, people may adopt creationist postures with far greater ease.

    LOL if I faced a pressure to express my views on creation before a traditionalist audience, I might have said that the study is underpowered and may not achieve statistical significance (only one Universe, doh) and fraught with severe ascertainment bias (if our Universe didn’t exist, we wouldn’t be observing it now), so my inner statistician withholds judgement 😉

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    #26, don’t know. checked out that old thread. from what i recall i was thinking of people who are born fucked up, > 1 stdevs, and perhaps ~2 stdevs or >. in the modal situation i tend to advise honesty.

    if I faced a pressure to express my views on creation before a traditionalist audience, I might have said that the study is underpowered and may not achieve statistical significance (only one Universe, doh) and fraught with severe ascertainment bias (if our Universe didn’t exist, we wouldn’t be observing it now), so my inner statistician withholds judgement

    are you serious, or is the smiley face indicating a joke? i’ve loudly admitted to being an atheist at christian fellowship parties i was invited to when people started talking about ‘we’re all christians.’ it wasn’t that much of a disruption, and i didn’t want the people i’d meet to be deceived later. then again, i also have had to tell shocked and confused students from the persian gulf in college that i was an atheist when they presumed i was muslim from my name, and then presumed i must be a ‘bad muslim’ when i stated i wasn’t a muslim.

  • Curles

    #24 – ” It’s all about symbolically conforming to the vibe of the moment and to the aspirations of your peer group.” —————- As in keeping your mouth shut during sensitivity/diversity training while being schooled (often on the public dime) on the ‘realities’ of omnipresent racism as evidenced by persistent achievement gaps? Religious ceremonials take many different forms.

  • Dm

    #27 i’ve loudly admitted to being an…

    Hehe, you are still very eager to enjoy this special stance … to surround yourself with a circle of people who identify with you and who percieve a high level of the peer group solidarity … only to stun the hapless peers with an admission that your position is very different. Like in this blog, attracting a science-minded, secular, immigration-centric bunch, and then displaying very conservative social attitudes. And the people, like, gasp, it can’t be true, are you a troll? :)

    But on the internet, unlike in realspace, this surprising effect is muted. It may be too easy for the lurkers to tune out of the bothersome message, and to keep listening only to the familiar messages.

    Happy Thanxgiving Razib! Here is a bit more of interesting holiday read for you … a bit too commercial but still very interesting IMVHO:


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com


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