Dale McGowan has edited and co-authored Parenting Beyond Belief and Raising Freethinkers, the first comprehensive resources for nonreligious parents. He writes the secular parenting blog The Meming of Life, teaches nonreligious parenting seminars across the United States, and serves as executive director of Foundation Beyond Belief, a 501(c)(3) humanist charitable and educational foundation based in Atlanta. In September 2008 he was named Harvard Humanist of the Year by the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard University.
In this interview with D.J. Grothe, Dale McGowan talks about raising freethinking children who are steeped in the values of science and humanism. He confronts some of reasons why some nonreligious parents may continue to raise their children in a religion, including moral education, identity and community. He describes trends within the scientific rationalist and humanist movements to provide secular community, which he argues are being driven by freethinking families. He talks about ways that church is increasingly becoming replaced by secular communities, and how churches are increasingly becoming more like secular community centers, as opposed to houses of worship. He argues that raising freethinkers is the opposite of indoctrinating children in atheism, secular humanism or skepticism, emphasizing that “freethinking” is an approach to knowledge as opposed to a worldview. He also argues that parenting should not be focused on the value of inquiry and scientific skepticism, but on wonder, mystery and awe. He talks about the dangers of inculcating elitism among freethinking children. He explains why teaching about religion to freethinking children is important. He addresses ways of confronting death and the meaning of life with freethinking children, including how highly unlikely it is that any of us even exist. He talks about alternatives to lying to children about heaven, including facts from physics about the atoms in our bodies having existed since the beginning of the universe, and how such scientific truths may take on mystical pantheistic meanings. He talks about new social science research on happiness, and how it relates to and informs secular parenting. And he cautions that applying the best social science to parenting shouldn’t mean that we make our children our next science project.
Also in this episode, Michael Blanford, founder of the Skeptical Society of St. Louis and coordinator for the Life Science Lab for the St. Louis Science Center, shares an audio essay about the awe of science for children and why freethinkers should be more emotionally engaged when celebrating evolution as the story of life.