Religious fundamentalists in the Republican Party scare away sensible voters when they inject their superstitions into public forums.
Many fundamentalists, for example, reject the laws of biological and geological evolution. Some even seek to foist this dogma onto school curricula as a legitimate alternative to knowledge gained through the scientific method.
Senator Marco Rubio of Florida (a possible 2016 GOP presidential candidate) was recently asked about the age of the Earth in a GQ interview . He responded, “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. I think the age of the universe has zero to do with how our economy is going to grow. ... 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. I think parents should be able to teach their kids what their faith says, what science says.”
Asked about Rubio’s GQ exchange, Jeb Bush Jr ., the son of former Florida governor Jeb Sr., called it a “kind of a strange response" to a "strange question.” He added that “We’ve got to be a kind of pro-science and pro-technology party. And I think Marco Rubio is just that.” Jeb Jr. concluded that “On the Earth question, I guess I have to read more closely in terms of getting a better understanding, but, yeah, kind of a strange response, I guess.”
You can hear Rubio and Jeb Jr. struggling 1) to deflect a question about beliefs that could make them sound like nuts, beliefs that have nothing to do with the important issues of the day, and 2) to not offend potential voters who hold those beliefs and who might oppose candidates for not holding to same.
Republicans want to win elections. And most favor a freer market economy with more limited government. But they must also understand the need for a culture of individualism as the foundation of a free society.
In such a culture we each pursue our own happiness. We each take personal responsibility for our own lives and well-being. And we take pride in our achievements. In such a culture we each respect reason as the faculty that allows us to understand the world around us and ourselves: we use reason to discover how to produce food, shelter, medicine, computers, smartphones, cars, spaceships, and everything that makes up a prosperous society. It is impossible to aim for a flourishing and free society while rejecting science and reason.
In such a culture we are all enriched, educated, entertained, and inspired by the achievements of our fellows. In such a culture we would not tolerate statists who would limit our liberty and we would not be tempted by the government handouts to which they seek to addict us.
This positive vision of what our own lives and society can be and should be will appeal to the best in citizens and voters. But voters will be rightly suspicious of the commitment of the GOP and its candidates to this vision when they give credence to creationist nonsense or other such silliness coming out of fringe religious elements. (Even the fringeman himself, Pat Robertson, now admits that the Earth is far older than 6,000 years. Progress!)
Rubio is right to distance himself from these beliefs--he should go even further--and focus on policy. And Jeb Jr. is right about the need for the GOP to be a “pro-science and pro-technology party.” If Republicans want to win elections and to create a culture that supports liberty, they must commit fully to the Enlightenment values on which America was founded.
Hudgins is director of advocacy for The Atlas Society.
For further reading:
*David Kelley, “ The Party of Modernity .” November 2003.
*Edward Hudgins, “ The Battle for the Soul of the Republican Party .” Fall 2006.
*Edward Hudgins, “ What Are Creationists Afraid Of ?” Fall 2005.