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Youth Curriculum on Naturalism

[under development*]

Note: The development of this curriculum is being supported by contributions to the Center For Naturalism's Children's Education Fund, Marvin Fowler, founder.

About the Children's Education Fund - Lesson 1 - Lesson 2 -
Topics and Values - Contributors/developers wanted
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About the Children's Education Fund. Founded by Marvin Fowler, the CEF supports the development of educational materials for children and adolescents on naturalism and its implications. In a culture saturated with supernaturalism, it's important to provide the opportunity for youth to assimilate a positive, naturalistic world view. Naturalism can inspire compassion, a sense of fairness, and serve as the basis for effective action. Moral values and meaningful engagement in society can thrive without supernatural beliefs, so children need not be taught traditional religious myths as the vehicle for moral learning and character development. Instead, they can be encouraged to follow their natural curiosity about the world to discover that they are indeed fully natural beings and citizens of the cosmos, the remarkable result of evolution, both biological and cultural.

Lesson 1: Cause, Effect, and Connection

Ok kids, the world is a very interesting place, as you know. In fact, it’s quite a mysterious place, very mysterious. There are things we know, and then there are many things we don’t know, even as adults. Yet here we are, living in the midst of this world. Isn’t it amazing that we are here at all? At least that’s what I think. What do you think? Do you think we’ll ever completely understand the world, and where it came from? Some people think we will, some people don’t. Very interesting, and a very good question.

Some say god created the world and everything in it. Some say there is no god. If there is no god, then where did everything come from? What caused the world to exist? Where did it come from? But if god made everything, where did god come from? What caused god to exist? That’s a good question too, don’t you think? I think so. Now, some people ask this question, and some people don’t. Now that’s interesting too, isn’t it? Questions are great, they make life very interesting.

Now, you may have noticed that you can make things happen. You can cause things to happen. You can kick a ball across the street, bounce it off your head, catch it, hold onto to it. You can make the ball do all sorts of things you want it to do – you can have an effect on it. You can cause lots of things to happen, right? You can cause the cereal in your bowl to disappear, just by eating it. Amazing - that’s quite an effect! You can cause your friend to laugh by tickling her, if you can catch her. In fact, things are being caused all the time, things are having an effect on other things all the time. Sometimes it’s people that cause things to happen, and sometimes its just things that cause other things to happen, for example when the rain causes a big puddle in the street that might be fun to jump in. When you jump in it, you have quite an effect on it: you cause the water to splash, and maybe you even get wet, which might cause your parents to get annoyed.

Now, here’s something interesting. You are being caused too, and so am I. Just like you have an effect on people and things, people and things have an effect on you. Why do you eat your cereal? Right! Because you’re hungry – your stomach says “feed me!”. Or maybe you really like your cereal (your tongue says, “mmm, that tastes good”), or maybe your parents said you better eat your cereal, or else! Or let’s say you ate your cereal just because you felt like it. Ok, but you felt like it because something caused you to feel like eating it. We can always ask the question, why did you feel like eating it, right? And that question is asking: what caused you to feel like eating it? You are being caused all the time, right now in fact. And me too. Isn’t that curious? Even when it seems like you’re doing something for no reason, we can always ask the question, why are you doing that? What’s causing you to act like that? In fact, don’t you remember asking why all the time when you were growing up? Well, it’s a very good question. Very good indeed.

Now, if one thing causes another, that’s a way that they’re connected. Sometimes things are connected because they’re tied together, like your shoelaces, or they’re nailed together like the boards of a tree house or a bunk bed. And we’re all connected to the earth by gravity, right? But sometimes things are connected because they cause each other to happen, like the wind pushing a sailboat across a pond. The wind and the sailboat are connected – the wind is causing the sailboat to move. Without the wind pushing against the sail, the boat wouldn’t move, and the sail causes the wind to change direction a little bit too. So they’re connected by causality – the wind has an effect on the boat: it causes it to move, and the boat has an effect on the wind: it changes the wind’s direction a little bit when it hits the sail. If it weren’t for the wind, the boat would just sit there, which would be very boring. So it’s a good thing the wind and the boat can connect like that.

Now, here’s something very interesting, I think. If you cause things to happen, and other things cause you, and causality connects things, then what does that mean? Right! You are connected to other things, lots of other things, including your parents, your school, your house, this room, the floor, the air, even me right now. You are connected to lots of other people and things by causality, since you cause things to happen, and other things and people cause you to do what you do. You may not be tied to other things with shoelaces, or nailed to other things (at least I hope not!), but you are connected to all sorts of things because they cause you, and you cause them. This is very interesting and this is very important, and we’re going to talk about this some more next time. We’ll talk about science, which is all about causality and connection, about figuring out just how things are connected. Very interesting stuff.

Meanwhile, for next time I want you to write down 5 things that you make happen, that you cause to happen, and 5 things that cause you to do what you do. Please bring that with you next week. If you do that, you’ll notice how you’re connected to things by causality: by causing, and by being caused.

Ok, vamoose!

Questions for discussion in this lesson:

  • Do you think we’ll ever understand the world and where it
    comes from?
  • Does god exist?
  • What is god?
  • If god exists, where does he come from?
  • If god doesn’t exist, where did everything come from?
  • What’s a cause?
  • What’s an effect?
  • What sorts of things do you cause to happen?
  • What are some things that cause you?
  • What are some things are you connected to by causality?

Lesson 2: Science and the Self

Ok gang, good to see you again. Did anybody write down things that you caused to happen, and that caused you?

Follow up on Lesson 1: Ask re causality questions, have kids say what they caused to happen, what caused them. If not do homework, ask why? What caused you not to do the homework? If did the homework, ask why. What caused you to do the homework?

We ask a lot of questions don’t we? Why do you think we ask so many questions?

Well, one answer is that we’re curious, very curious. It’s really fun to find out how things work, and we start finding out by asking questions such as: What makes this work (holding up a pen)? What causes all this to happen (juggles three bean bags)? Why do I do what I do, and why do you do what you do? We’re very curious people, don’t you think? And we can ask the question: why are we so curious? Good question! Why do you think we are so curious? [discuss]

Are any of you taking science classes? Ok, well science is basically to ask why about something, and then to find out the answer. In fact we were just doing science a second ago, asking how things work. We do science because we’re curious, very curious, about how the world works. After all, the world is a very complicated and mysterious place, full of things we don’t understand. And as you know, we’re part of the world too, and we’re very complicated creatures. We don’t even know yet how we work!

As you remember from last time, we’re connected to the world by causality: we cause things to happen, and other things cause us. Well, science is all about finding out what the causes are. It’s about trying to find answers to all the questions that we ask because we’re so incredibly curious. The more questions we can answer, the more we can see how things are connected to one another. So science is about how things are connected. And it’s really ok to be curious and ask questions. It’s fun to have a question, and then think: now, how can we answer that? How does this pen work? How does my brain work? How does your brain work? What causes me to do what I do? What causes you to do what you do? That’s what science is all about. So remember, when things get complicated (and they do, very!) it all starts with your curiosity and your questions. We are all like Curious George: why, why, why? How, how, how? What, what, what?

One question science asks all the time is “Where do things come from?” Remember last time we asked the question “What caused the world to exist? Where did all this come from?” Those are great questions, don’t you think? And remember, some people answer that by saying god created the world. But if you’re curious and being scientific, you will want to know: “Ok, but if god exists, where did god come from?” That’s a perfectly good question that some people forget to ask. And it’s very difficult to answer.

But here’s another good scientific question I want to ask you now. Where do you come from? What caused you to exist? What do you think? [discuss]

OK…So we have some different ideas about that, don’t we? Maybe we don’t really know exactly where we come from, at least not exactly. And that’s OK. It’s OK not to know something. After all, if we knew everything, then we wouldn’t be able to have fun asking questions, would we? That would be terribly boring, don’t you think? I think so.

But here’s another very interesting question: What are we, anyway? If we ask, “where do you come from?” maybe we should ask first: What am I? So, who are You? What are You? [discuss]

Yikes! OK, we have lots of different ideas and a lot more questions. Are you your body? Are you more than your body? What makes me me and you you? This is all very interesting and very mysterious. Looks like we’ll have to be really scientific to get to the bottom of all this. But we can’t do that today since we’re out of time. Let’s think about that for next time, so here’s what you can do: write down for next time what makes you you. Think about who you are, and think about what you are, and write it down so we can talk about it next time. So the big question is: Who---Are----You?

OK, see you next time.

Questions for discussion in this lesson:

  • Why are we so curious, anyway?
  • What is science?
  • Where did the world come from?
  • Where does god come from?
  • Where do I come from?
  • What caused me to exist?
  • Who am I?
  • What am I?
  • What makes me me and you you?

*Developers wanted to help draft further lessons, please be in touch. See content suggestions below.

Topics and Values to be covered in the Children's Curriculum on Naturalism

Cause and effect, induction



Critical thinking - being careful and persistent in our questions and answers

Curiosity and questioning are encouraged





Logic – use simple syllogisms derived from lessons


Mind and body

Pain and pleasure

Prediction and control, if – then



Self – personal identity

Skepticism and questioning dogmatic authority



Wishful thinking- reality isn’t always how we’d like it to be

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