Award speeches by Porco, Pullman

To Carolyn Porco, Imaging Team Leader on the Cassini space mission to Saturn, the Isaac Asimov Science Award. Dr. Porco started in life seeking answers from religion. When that proved inadequate, she turned to look outward, to the heavens. Space exploration, she said, reflects humanity’s soaring imagination and refusal to accept boundaries; our will to explore, to learn, and to seek the answers to questions at the essence of existence.
One of the most dramatic images she showed us was of Saturn, from its other side, with, almost hidden within its rings, a tiny dot: Earth. And we, she said, are the big dreamers who produced that picture.
Matt Cherry presented the International Humanist Award to Philip Pullman, author of the book on which The Golden Compass was based, and many others. Matt characterized Pullman’s work as comprising the Book of Genesis with a happy ending: showing why eating the forbidden fruit is the start of wisdom.
Pullman, in talking about his writing, said that he is cautious about organizational affiliations because he doesn’t want to self-censor his work. He quoted Blake: “all deities reside in the human breast,” and “I must create a system or be enslaved by another man’s.”
Pullman said that he writes according to his imagination rather than his conscience. He can imagine what it’s like to think religiously. The problem is not simply that it’s untrue (when children play “let’s pretend,” they know what it means), but that religions make claims to temporal authority and the power to impose their beliefs. A “self-amplifying resonance” sets in, driving belief systems toward extremes. Pullman cited the recent case of a young Iraqi girl who fell in love with a British soldier. Though she did no more than talk with the man, her father killed her. Arrested, he was soon released by police who congratulated him for doing the right thing. Her mother, who protested, and tried to leave her husband, also wound up dead.
But Pullman is no pessimist. He declared that if there was no purpose to the Universe before the advent of humanity, there is a purpose now. It’s the purpose of mankind, to preserve and increase the flourishing of consciousness.

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2 Responses to “Award speeches by Porco, Pullman”

  1. Steuart Bowling Says:

    Pullman is a perfect example of what I described in my response to the Christopher Hitchens thread. The “honor” killings he cited in Iraq have no basis in God’s Law. It’s outrageous to imply otherwise. Thou shalt not kill was not qualified with exceptions. Those writings that may have been evoked to justify these murders were the fruits of moral autonomy wearing the mask of God. Jesus saw this problem and made its solution abundantly clear with his response to those who sought to stone the adulteress to death. The guilty have no business acting as judges.

    Pullman falls into the same trap of believing that supplanting one false basis for morality with another will somehow lead to man’s improvement. Religion was not the basis for Stalin, Mao or Pol Pot. Humanity acting with moral autonomy has as much blood on its hands as those who have warped God’s Law.

    I can assure him as one that “thinks religiously” it’s far more satisfying and not nearly as simplistic as “let’s pretend” –a description that could also be applied to the Humanist view. The great light of potential people like Pullman see within humanity freed from God is nothing but a dim reflection of a more brilliant and beautiful light available to us all.

  2. Graham Laurie Says:

    Stuart misses the point completely. Honour killings come about due to religious dogma. Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot, whilst not being religious, created regimes built on dogma. It’s dogma that’s the issue, whether it’s based around allah, thor, apollo, yahweh, or any other dictators. Using the ‘Stalin was an athiest’ argument is old and tired and doesn’t wash….

    Highly recommended reading for you Stuart… Sam Harris, End of Faith. If you wish to argue your point, then at least make a point that’s not already be discredited.

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