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One of the best articles yet on Parenting Beyond Belief and/or the seminars appeared Thursday in the Harvard Gazette. Many thanks to Cory Ireland for a thoughtful and positive piece.


Author McGowan is honored as ‘2008 Harvard Humanist of the Year’
By Corydon Ireland
Harvard News Office

harvard32209Can parents raise moral children without religion?

Greg Epstein M.T.S. ’07 thinks so. He’s the Humanist chaplain at Harvard, and has just finished writing a book due out next fall. Its title: “Good Without God.”

Dale McGowan thinks so too. He edited the recent anthology “Parenting Beyond Belief: On Raising Ethical, Caring Kids Without Religion” (AMACOM, 2007). Last Saturday (Dec. 6), the Atlanta-based author was honored as 2008 Harvard Humanist of the Year, an award sponsored by Epstein’s office. He delivered the 16th annual Alexander Lincoln Lecture.

Previous honorees include the late television personality Steve Allen; biologist E.O. Wilson, Harvard’s Pellegrino University Professor emeritus; and Rep. Fortney H. “Pete” Stark (D-Calif.), who last year used his Lincoln lecture to formally out himself as the first openly Humanist member of Congress.

Cheerful, tall, and sporting a trim beard and wide smile, McGowan is the antithesis of the image of strident, hair-trigger Humanists — those with what he calls “UTT syndrome” (as in, “Unholier Than Thou”).

McGowan delivered the late-morning lecture at Boylston Hall’s Fong Auditorium, ate a lunch of burritos with his audience, then moderated an afternoon seminar on nonreligious parenting.

At a booth outside the auditorium was the lecture’s co-sponsor, Kate Miller, founder of the Providence, R.I.-based Charlie’s Playhouse, a maker of games and toys inspired by Darwin. Among them: a long narrow mat that condenses 600 million years of Earth timeline into 18 picture-packed feet of skipping surface; cards on ancient creatures; and what Miller said is her best-selling T-shirt, which bears the legend, “Product of Natural Selection.”

McGowan exudes a similar lightness. In both the lecture and seminar, he said, the operative word is “Relax.”

For one, relax about that morality question. Research shows that children arrive at moral values “reliably, and on time,” he said, as long as they grow up in a supportive environment.

Citing another study, McGowan related that at age 3 or 4 children are “universally selfish,” but by 7 or 8 they develop “a strong sense of fairness,” the foundation of a moral life.

In fact, research shows that indoctrination, often the focus of religious upbringing, is, more than anything else, what impedes moral development, claimed McGowan. “At the heart of indoctrination is the distrust of reason.”

Better off are children who get from their parents “an explicit invitation to disagree,” he said — that is, children “actively engaged in the refinement of their own moral development.”

Read the complete article here.

Another good article today in the Bend (Oregon) Bulletin.

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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.