More broadly, meanwhile, the fact that this kind of question is a “gotcha” at all is a much bigger problem for American Christianity than for Republican politicians. The goal of a political party is to win 51 percent of the vote and govern effectively, and as Rubio suggests, the ordinary work of politics can proceed even if some national politicians decline to take public views on the geological age of the earth. But the goal of Christianity is supposed to be the conversion of every human heart — yes, scientists and intellectuals included — and the central claim of Christianity is that the faith offers, not a particular political agenda or an economic program, but the true story of the world entire. The more Christians convince themselves that their faith’s core is identical with the modern innovation of fundamentalism, and in direct conflict with the best available modern biology and geology, the less attainable that goal and the less tenable that central claim.

Those believers whose sensibilities Rubio was presumably trying to avoid offending would do well to meditate on the words of Saint Augustine, who like most of the greatest minds of historic Christianity insisted that biblical interpretation take place in the light of reason as well as faith…