When Obama didn’t ‘presume to know’ Creation details

Yesterday I wrote a jeremiad against the media’s curiously inconsistent approach to science. The hook was the media outrage over Sen. Marco Rubio’s comments (in the middle of a fluffy GQ interview about rap music) equivocating on the age of the earth.

I didn’t have a beef with the question so much as the larger media context, where only certain people are asked science questions.

Over at National Review, I began reading a piece that begins with a telling of a Hindu creation story. Reporter Dan Foster discusses some of the questions he has about it, and adds:

I’m sure practicing Hindus have views on this and other matters of their faith, and an enterprising reporter might have asked a prominent Hindu — say Representative Tulsi Gabbard (D., Hawaii), the first to be elected to Congress — about hers. But near as I can tell, nobody has. Sure, it was widely noted as a source of pluralist pride that Representative Gabbard would be sworn in on a copy of the Bhagavad Gita, and presumably Gabbard’s connection to that book is sufficient to ground its use in underwriting her sacred oath, but nobody thought to query her about how she understood and related to the truths contained in it.

He brings up the different standard for Rubio and notes that some critics think the question was silly:

But a better question might be, why wasn’t Gabbard asked it? Or President Obama, or Senator Harry Reid or Representative Keith Ellison? After all, Gabbard’s espoused Hinduism, like Obama’s espoused Christianity or Ellison’s espoused Islam or Harry Reid’s espoused Mormonism, entails a range of commitments to claims that are, prima facie, at odds with the empirical record. But there isn’t a cottage industry in interrogating Democrats on their faith the way there is with religious conservatives.

Except that Obama has been asked the question! Really! It wasn’t from the media, of course, but it happened none-the-less. I want us to consider the media reaction to President Obama’s statement versus the media meltdown and prominent coverage given to Rubio’s.

First, though, let’s look at what President Obama said, as reported this week by Slate in a piece headlined, “Who Said It: Marco Rubio or Barack Obama? Willful ignorance of science is a bipartisan value“:

And 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.

And the response to these statements? Was it the same as the response to Rubio’s? You know the answer.

Galaxy image via Shutterstock.

  • Jettboy

    It also shows how Obama talks out of both sides of his mouth. Something the press also never seems to care about while making accusations of the same to his opponents and Republicans in general.

  • Hemant Mehta

    Obama’s answer was embarrassing and it’s right to criticize him on it. However, no one is worried that Obama is going to start promoting intelligent design or “teaching the controversy” or promoting public policy based solely on his religious beliefs. That has been and still is a very real concern within leaders in the GOP. We have Republican members of the House Science committee who reject proper science. Rubio’s answer fits in that mold so it’s worth asking him about his views on science so we know whether he’s going to govern (in higher office, potentially) based on his religious views or reality.

    • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

      True, but I do agree the press should press politicians on this more. Letting them get away with evasiveness helps nobody.

    • Chris

      Hemant Mahta,

      And you know for a fact that Marco Rubio intends to ram “creationism” and “intelligent design” down our throats? He and Obama gave identical answers but only since Rubio is a Republican, he must be guilty by association of other Republicans who may want to do such a thing? Or I suppose, in your mindset, only Republicans are intent on forcing their will upon others. Until you have this thing called “evidence” whether from Rubio’s speeches or writings or anything published about him which confirms this, just pipe down.

    • Jay

      Whether someone is democrat or republican, conservative or liberal, religious or irreligious, anyone can fall on the wrong side of science. Yes, what you are saying is true in the respect that some GOP members have a significant history of falling on the wrong side of science, but that is not a sufficient rationale for media sources to lambast certain politicians for their views and turn a blind eye towards others.

  • agricola

    I don’t think the questions are the same – Rubio was asked a ‘factual/science’ question (how old is the earth) while the question Obama was asked was theological (what would you tell your daughters if they asked if God created the earth in six days).

    Obama answered a theological question theologically, which was appropriate. Rubio answered a factual/science question – theologically.

  • Matt

    Mollie,

    Yes, I do know the answer. Obama was severely criticized for these remarks by liberal writes at Slate and Salon. So your point is…what, exactly?

    • mollie

      Yes, two writers at Slate and Salon noticed these comments four and a half years later. It’s all good and even. Excellent point.

  • Darren Blair

    Don’t forget that during the Saddleback Debate in 2008, Obama was asked point-blank when he felt life began, only to respond by saying “That’s above my pay grade.”

    I don’t recall too terribly many people in the media tagging him for that one.

    • mcg

      Actually, the question was more complex than that. It was something to the effect of, “at what point does a baby get human rights.” So it was not a science question per se, but rather a moral and political one. That said, it made his answer all the more galling: the leader of the United States is certainly someone who should have a firm belief on the rights of those in his charge.

  • http://www.redletterbelievers.com David Rupert

    The real story is the double standard. One man looks like a religious zealot, while the other is given a pass as an enlightened, thoughtful man.

  • FW Ken

    The question asked of the president was what he would tell his daughters. about the creation, which was that the story of God creating the beautiful, good earth is true, although not everyone agrees about the details of how it happened. That’s an appropriate answer for children who were, if memory serves, 8 and 11 at the time.

    This discussion seems to conflate creation with the mechanics of creation, which is the precise problem in media reactions to questions of this type. I agree a double-standard and hypocrisy are at work here, but there is also the underlying problem of this confusion of what God did and how it was done.

  • Fr. John W. Morris

    For once I agree with Obama. I also agree with Rubio. Today I think tht science tells us that the world was created 4 1/2 several billion years ago. Since, I am not a scientists I do not understand how they can be so certain on the date. The scientists could be several billion years wrong either way. In a few years they may discover something that will cause them to reject their current calculations and propose a new date. To me it makes no difference. All that matters from a Biblical point of view is that God created the universe, now when. Science can speculate on the how, but cannot go much beyond that. The Bible was never meant to be a book of science. Those who read it as a book of science completely misunderstand the message of the Holy Scriptures which are about God and our relationship with God, not science.

  • Chris

    You do all know that the President’s position on the age of the earth has evolved since then, don’t you?

  • John M.

    I wonder why no reporters ask Obama whose pay grade questions about when unborn children are entitled to human rights fall under. If not his, then, the Supreme Court, perhaps? But who appoints the members of the Supreme Court? God’s pay grade? He’s said all he’s going to on the matter for the time being. And why, if Obama doesn’t want to answer this question, does he leave it up to every 16 year-old pregnant girl in the nation to figure this out? Would that be considered an appropriate escalation of this question in Obama’s vision of a Presidency? I mean, the man was running for President of the United States, for goodness sake, not the Illinois State Senate. But whatever, yawn, he’s the smartest president we’ve ever had, and the crease of his pants sends shivers down all of our spines or something, I’ve lost track.

    Speaking as a young earth creationist (6 days and all!), I find Rubio’s comments really foolish. I’d personally far prefer to vote for an old-earth creationist who appeared to respect my beliefs (at least politically) than to vote for someone who just panders to me. But I guess what else can you expect from someone who can’t figure out if he’s a Baptist or a Roman Catholic (!!!). I just wish the media held all politicians to this standard and level of scrutiny, which is, I think, your point, Mollie.

    -John

  • Matt

    Obama actually revealed his personal view of the science; he said that “not 24-hour days” is “what I believe”. The rest of his answer was acknowledging that people disagree about how to treat the Genesis narrative. Very different from Rubio’s attempt to please everyone. I generally agree with the double-standard criticism being made around here, but this is not a good example.


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