Why do Republican presidential (and congressional) candidates refuse to answer the question How old is the earth? let alone the question, When did life first appear? And then there is the closely related question, Why do the journalists go so easy on the politicians who refuse to answer? Why don’t the journalists, who for the most part probably accept the truth of evolution, reject the Perrys, Huckabees, and Santorums et al. out of hand as being at the very least disingenuous, if not simply ignorant?
For the age of the earth is no longer in question. It has been for a long time a well established fact that the earth is very old, old enough for billions of species to have lived and gone extinct, actually 4.54 billion years old. And it’s now no less well established that life began some 3.7 billion years ago, and that all forms of life are related by having the very same cellular origin.
What is the reason for the politicians’ collective refusal to speak the truth about the earth’s age, not to mention the truth of evolution? Actually during the past presidential election among the Republican candidates there was only Jon Huntsman, who in answer to the question as to the age of the earth, said there was no longer even a debate (as there had been during the 19th. century) about the age of the earth, that it had been definitely established to his, and as far as he was concerned, to everyone’s satisfaction, to be 4.5 billion years.
The reason for their refusal has to be a series of recent surveys of the American people that report such as the following: 46 percent of Americans (58 percent of Republicans, 41 percent of Democrats and 39 percent of independents) believe in creationism, the religious-based view that humans were divinely created within the past 10,000 years, and 46 percent of pastors (probably 100% of their own pastors) insist the Earth is 6000 years old, created by God in the year 4004 B.C.
Now, given those findings, a politician interested in running for office, in particular for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, might feel the need to finesse a question about the Earth’s age. Since the Republican electorate he would represent still by and large accepts the biblical account of creation, one need not be surprised at what seems to us the candidate’s crazy declarations intended primarily to appeal to creationish-minded constituents, and donors.
This is the situation. When might it change, because it will change, no less than the earth’s once central place in the solar system. But somehow 12 years of public school, and then 2-4 years of college have done little as of this moment to give us a scientifically literate population.
The old saw that you can lead a horse to water but not make it drink applies no less to ourselves, homo sapiens sapiens, and most of all to our children in the schools. Although enough information was probably out there, made available in the classroom, most classrooms anyway, about the earth’s history, the origin of life, and perhaps, although to a lesser extent, the evolution and ultimate extinction of billions of plant and animal species during nearly 3.5 billion years of earth history, … half or more of the intended recipients, in this case the bipedal creatures being brought to water, somehow have avoided getting wet let alone drinking.
We have known for a long time that too many kids are not learning in our schools. Large numbers of them, especially rural and inner city populations without the advantages of the affluent suburbs. And we continue to lament this fact, and we continue to complain how poorly our children are doing in international comparisons.
And no less do we continue to reform our schools, the latest reform being the Common Core curriculum now being rushed into place to fix things that have gone wrong, that which so far 48 of the 50 states have agreed to install in their schools. But of course this reform, like hundreds of others, since Horace Mann’s “reform” of the 1850s, will change little or nothing.
For no school reform has ever corrected the problem of large numbers of students being pushed on without having learned what is being taught (now what will be taught will be the Common Core) let alone not having been at least changed for the better by the schools. Not curriculum but rather beliefs and attitudes need to change if we would begin to help our children learn.
And what might help right away would be that the politicians change and start telling the truth. For people only stopped believing in an earth centered solar system when their rulers stopped telling them that the earth was at the center. Now our politicians need to start telling the people the true age of the earth and the truth of evolution. That would be a start