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Curriculum Night at my freshman son’s fabulous high school. I’m dazzled. Enthusiastic and intelligent teachers half my damn age but who’s counting. A sparkling clean building one NINTH my age. Nationally-ranked academics.

wsb9802All this to say that I was not looking for trouble when I stopped and scanned a cartoony poster in his science class titled “WHY STUDY BIOLOGY?”

At left is the largest photo of it I could find online.

Scattered around the poster are cute and curious children studying the natural world and giving all the reasons such study is worthwhile. The three most important reasons, judging from font size alone, are to answer the questions “Where do birds go in the winter?”, “Where do ants go in the winter?”, and “Where do snakes go in the winter?”

But in the left center, another reason caught my not-for-trouble-looking eye:

So I can decide if I believe in evolution.

Yes, I know what’s wrong with that sentence. But I surprised myself by seeing it as their explanation…not too bad.

Now anybody rushing to the comment section with the word “gravity” on your fingertips can take a pill. As much as I cringe at the phrase “believe in evolution,” it is not the same as “believing in gravity,” and we should stop making that glib comparison. Although evolution is as solidly established a fact as gravity, it’s not half as obvious. It takes effort and education to see how thoroughly established a fact evolution is. To believe in gravity, all you need is a ladder and a six-pack.

If you think about it, the common phrase “as surely as the Earth revolves around the Sun” is also citing something that’s well established but far from obvious.

What the poster is saying, really, is that you study biology so you have the education to understand the evidence for evolution. It’s saying Don’t base your decision on the gut feeling that you’re far too special to be related to a chimp. Learn, then decide. Only by stubbornly not learning about it, by not encountering that staggering evidence, can a person hope to hang on to his or her opposition to it.

So I can and do quibble with the wording — it’s not about “belief” — but the message is pretty much on the mark. At least it could be worse.

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Dale McGowan is the author of Parenting Beyond Belief, Raising Freethinkers, and Atheism for Dummies. He holds a BA in evolutionary anthropology and a PhD in music.