The Da Vinci Code - more audio

I've now added the recordings of Wednesday evening's events at Above Bar Church, Southampton, which I shared with David Couchman of Focus. I talked about the appeal of The Da Vinci Code, its opposition to orthodox historical Christianity, the sacred feminine and goddess spirituality. David addressed three key claims in the book: that the Gnostic […]

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Mini interview on Publishers Weekly

As well as reviewing Dark Matter, Publishers Weekly also conducted a short email interview with me which was published in Religion BookLine. Here's an extract: . . . rather than a screed against Pullman's books—which portray the Church as a corrupt corporation and God as a sick old man whose place has been taken by […]

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Review of Dark Matter: A Thinking Fan's Guide to Philip Pullman

My Review of Dark Matter: A Thinking Fan's Guide to Philip Pullman has now been published in the USA by IVP. Publishers Weekly, a major trade publication for the book world, has published a favourable review: 'Philip Pullman's acclaimed His Dark Materials trilogy, a sweeping retelling of Milton's Paradise Lost and The Fall , has […]

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Getting Da Vinci-ed out!

I'm beginning to feel like I've overdosed on Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code. Hardly suprising I guess since it's been such a huge bestseller since publication and especially given the amount of over-the-top hype from Sony (which is, frankly, setting people up to be disappointed with the film - all the advertising makes people […]

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Dark Matter

Dark Matter: A Thinking Fan's Guide to Philip Pullman was published on 22 September 2004. Response has been very positive from readers and the few reviewers who ever saw a copy. Unfortunately, it fell foul of major changes in the way Damaris books were published and distributed so it had virtually no marketing. You can […]

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A Clash of Other Worlds: Pullman's Critique of Lewis

C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is now delighting cinema audiences across the world, but not everyone is so pleased. One of its most vocal critics Philip Pullman has been particularly outspoken in his condemnation of the stories for years, calling the series, ‘one of the most ugly and […]

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Philip Pullman: 'The Most Dangerous Author in Britain'?

Note: This article is incomplete because it developed into my book, Dark Matter: A Thinking Fan’s Guide to Philip Pullman. Nevertheless, it gives a shortish introduction to some of the key ideas. Philip Pullman is a writer, author of a number of books mostly aimed at older children, including I was a Rat, The Ruby in […]

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Stories Run Like Clockwork

Philip Pullman believes that: 'Stories are the most important thing in the world. Without stories, we wouldn't be human beings at all.'1 They stick in our minds and we are all hungry for them; stories feed our imaginations, help us to see the world through different eyes, and make us consider some of the big […]

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Lyra's Oxford - Discussion Guide

Summary Two years after the events of Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass , Lyra is once more on the roof of Jordan College with her daemon, Pantalaimon. They see a large flock of starlings attacking a bird, which turns out to be a witch's daemon. They rescue him into the safety of […]

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The Amber Spyglass Discussion Guide

This article was first published on Culturewatch.org Summary The Subtle Knife concluded with Will and his father meeting just moments before his father is killed (by a witch whose love he had spurned) and the abduction of Lyra from their camp. The Amber Spyglassbegins immediately afterwards with Will finding that he has two new companions, […]

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The Subtle Knife Discussion Guide

First published on Culturewatch.org Summary Will Parry’s mother believes that enemies are all around her, watching her every move. And Will is beginning to think that, after all these years, she’s right – there are some suspicious men wanting to know about his father who disappeared while Will was just a baby. Leaving his mother […]

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Northern Lights (The Golden Compass) Discussion Guide

First published on Culturewatch.org, 2004. Summary Lyra is a high-spirited eleven-year-old girl who is growing up under the care of the Master and scholars of an Oxford college . . . that happens to be in a parallel universe. In this other world, everyone has adæmon – an animal-shaped companion which is actually part of […]

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Firework-makers and fairy tales

'A thousand miles ago, in a country east of the jungle and south of the mountains, there lived a Firework-Maker called Lalchand and his daughter Lila.' Lila's mother died when Lila was very young, so she has spent much time in her father's workshop. More than anything else Lila wants to be a Firework-Maker too; […]

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The Butterfly Tattoo

This discussion guide was first published on Culturewatch.org. Summary 'Chris Marshall met the girl he was going to kill on a warm night in early June . . .' (The Butterfly Tattoo, (Macmillan 2001) p. 3). Chris is seventeen , studying for A-levels but working part time and during holidays for a sound and lighting […]

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The Broken Bridge

This discussion guide was first published on Culturewatch.org. Summary Ginny Howard is sixteen - a contented, carefree teenager who is a talented artist. She lives near a Welsh coastal town with her father. Her mother, a Haitian artist, died when Ginny was a baby. The summer holidays are about to start and her great friend […]

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A few useful websites on Pullman

There's stacks of stuff on His Dark Materials on the web. What I've realised during my research is that a lot of it is recycled endlessly round loads of sites - including mistakes. Some of the stuff around is innacurate or poorly thought out, some just trivial. And some is fabulous! These are a few […]

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More on the book

Here's an outline of what the book will include: Part 1: Chapters about Philip Pullman, the influences on him, etc., and chapters about the three volumes of His Dark Materials. Part 2: Chapters about the big philosophical and theological themes which Pullman explores. Since it's a 'thinking fan's guide' it will be both enthusiastic about […]

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Philip Pullman book

True to my word, here I am telling you a little about the book I'm writing on Pullman. The focus, of course, will be on his magnum opus, His Dark Materials. It will be the second in a series of 'thinking fan's guides' from Damaris Publishing. I was a contributor to the first book, Matrix […]

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Lyra's Oxford

This article was first published on Culturewatch.org. Two recent events made a strange conjunction. First, I met a student who argued passionately that life has no meaning - nothing means anything. Second, I read Philip Pullman's latest book, Lyra's Oxford, in which he suggests that everything means something. These two atheists share some assumptions. Both […]

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Philip Pullman: not as cynical as we think?

This article was first published on Culturewatch.org in 2002. I have developed my views on Philip Pullman and his work significantly since then and I no longer quite agree all the points made in this article. See my book Dark Matter: A Thinking Fan's Guide to Philip Pullman for more developed ideas.   Philip Pullman is a brilliant writer. That's why he won […]

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All in our Genes?

I've just watched the film Gattaca for the second time. It's written and directed by a New Zealander, Andrew Niccol who also penned another of last year's big box-office hits, The Truman Show. This is a man to watch out for - these two films are two of the most intelligent and thought-provoking I've seen in a long time.

Gattaca is set in the "not-too-distant-future" and opens with a quotation from the Bible, Ecclesiastes 7:13 which says, "Consider what God has done: Who can straighten what he has made crooked?" The film tells how our civilisation may one day attempt to do this.

As soon as the hero, Vincent, is born, his DNA is analysed and his future capabilities are predicted - including the fact that he has a 99% chance of dying of a heart disorder when he is 30 years old. As a result, he is condemned to a life of menial labour.

However, Vincent (Ethan Hawke) has a dream - to get to Gattaca Space Academy and join space missions. Through sheer determination - and the use of someone else's very superior DNA which he buys illegally - he manages to achieve his ambition.

This is a world in which "normal" children are genetically engineered to be free of significant diseases and social hindrances such as left-handedness. Those born by "old-fashioned" methods (i.e. not by IVF) are significantly inferior - they are designated "In-valid" and are the scum of society. No longer is discrimination on the basis of race or gender - it has become a science based on analysing someone's genetic code.

What's so disturbing about Gattaca is that this frightening scenario is not beyond the bounds of possibility.

When Andrew Niccol was asked why he wrote this film, he replied, "My genes made me do it. I don't know when I first thought of it, but you can open a newspaper today, and I'm certain that you'll read something about a new gene, and it became inescapable for me as a story idea."

It sometimes seems that hardly a day passes without the media reporting some new discovery in genetics. Again and again we hear that scientists claim to have isolated a gene for a certain disease. Increasingly we are told that aspects of our personality can be attributed to our DNA. Just last year we heard about genetic connections for lust, being a good parent and religious inclination and several others.

Insurance companies want to increase the amount of genetic testing they carry out in order to identify high-risk applicants for life-insurance. We are already getting to the point where our society is attempting to define us by our DNA.

This is an issue that raises extremely difficult ethical issues. The Human Genome Project (a vast undertaking to identify every human gene) is ahead of schedule and has already led to major steps forward in diagnosing and treating a number of diseases. It's something for which we should all be grateful.

But how far should we go? Should life-insurance companies have the right to know about our susceptibility to heart disease? When does treatment become meddling? How do we prevent ourselves reaching a situation where discrimination on the basis of genes is normal?

One of my concerns is that there is not enough debate going on about the ethics of genetics research - but the research continues at full speed. It is important for Christians to get up to speed on these issues and make sure that we have something to say - to our friends if not at a wider level. Otherwise things will move on regardless.

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All in our genes?

DNA Abstract from Crestock Stock Photo I've just watched the film Gattaca for the second time. It's written and directed by a New Zealander, Andrew Niccol who also penned another of last year's big box-office hits, The Truman Show. This is a man to watch out for - these two films are two of the […]

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Finding hope in a world under threat

This article was first published in the Southern Evening Echo, 18 July 1998. Collision of an asteroid with the Earth from Crestock Stock Photo Apart from Godzilla the big splashes in the cinema this summer come from Deep Impact and Armageddon - quite literally in the case of Deep Impact. Both films find humanity under […]

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© Tony Watkins, 2020
The Tony and Jane Watkins Trust oversees and supports the ministries of Tony and Jane Watkins in Christian training, education, and communication. It is a charity registered in England and Wales, no. 1062254.
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