too fanciful

You’ll tell me if this is too imaginative, or too simplistic, I trust: There’s a place in Paul’s epistle to the Romans where he expresses surprise that they don’t realise that the goodness of God is meant to lead them to repentance.

Which is interesting, because superficially you might think that difficult providences would be more likely to put people in mind of their sin and push them towards repentance – but it doesn’t seem to work like that.

So is it too fanciful to think that if favourable providences are meant to lead us to repentance, difficult providences are meant to provoke faith into action?


enough already

“I think I am very close to concluding that this whole “New Atheism” movement is only a passing fad—not the cultural watershed its purveyors imagine it to be, but simply one of those occasional and inexplicable marketing vogues that inevitably go the way of pet rocks, disco, prime-time soaps, and The Bridges of Madison County. This is not because I necessarily think the current “marketplace of ideas” particularly good at sorting out wise arguments from foolish. But the latest trend in à la mode godlessness, it seems to me, has by now proved itself to be so intellectually and morally trivial that it has to be classified as just a form of light entertainment, and popular culture always tires of its diversions sooner or later and moves on to other, equally ephemeral toys.”

— The first paragraph of a jolly splendid article by David B Hart, as flagged by this gentleman here. Do click and read the whole thing.

publican quiz

It’s time for a poll!

You know the scenario in Matthew 18, which describes the procedure to use when a Christian brother is at fault. If the problem escalates to the stage of needing intervention from the Church, the brother may accept the Church’s verdict. But if he doesn’t, then, “let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican” – treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

Poll question: what does that mean?

(Since the reason for asking is in order to see how many people know, it would also be interesting if you would answer a church background question too: optionally of course, and it goes without saying that complete anonymity is guaranteed for both polls!)

unwelcome visitor

Okay, this is about the Pope. Dear Catholic friends, either grit your teeth firmly, or look away now.

The Catholic Teuchtar has pointed out this report of some statement or other issued by the (Scottish) Free Presbyterians, deploring the Pope’s planned visit and repudiating his claims to both churchly and civil authority. In response to their statement, a “spokesman for the Scottish Catholic Church” is reported as saying, “intemperate objections should not detract from what will be a tremendous occasion for Scotland.”

The problem is that calvinists, presbyterians, and protestants in general, cannot in good faith welcome the Pope to our country. It is fundamental to protestantism, presbyterianism, and calvinism that we reject his political claims, his ecclesiastical claims, and his spiritual claims.

The Pope is not the head of the Church. He is not Christ’s vicar and he is not Peter’s successor. He is not our holy father. He cannot absolve from sin. He cannot change bread and wine into the body and blood of the Lord. He has no jurisdiction in our nation. He may, and often does, make pronouncements which we can agree with. We can agree that abortion is wrong and euthanasia is wrong. We can agree with things like his criticisms of New Labour’s Equality Bill and the philosophy that motivated it. But the reasons why he believes that these things are wrong differ from the reasons why we believe these things are wrong, and the fact that his pronouncements on moral issues sometimes coincide with what we believe cannot compensate for the vast array of other principles and doctrines that divide us.

Whether objections to the Pope’s visit are expressed temperately or not, the point is that there are real, serious, biblical, doctrinal, theological, christological, soteriological, and ecclesiastical differences,* which may or may not be irreconcilable, but which at any rate do not deserve to be brushed aside as irrelevant or somehow capable of being put to one side for the duration of a papal visit.

Especially in this anniversary year of the Reformation in Scotland, it would really just be unthinking and unprincipled to pretend otherwise.

* Erm, to name but a few.

anybody’s guess

Everyone blames phonological representations for language-related impairments, or deficits in phonology-related tasks like nonsense-word repetition. But what is a phonological representation? What do impaired phonological representations look like? In what specific ways do they differ from unimpaired representations, and how can you tell? What does it all mean?!

Munson (2006) in a commentary on Gathercole’s keynote article in Applied Psycholinguistics expatiates thus, and I can only concur:

Although there are many different perspectives on the factors that drive nonword repetition performance, we can all agree that the relationship between nonword repetition and word learning is due to the association of these constructs with phonological representations. The relevant question to ask, then, concerns the nature of phonological representations themselves. What are they? Textbook descriptions of these generally posit that they look something like the strings of symbols that we are taught to transcribe in phonetics classes. However, phonetic transcriptions, even narrow ones, are abstractions of the signals that are being transcribed. The level of detail that they code is ultimately related more to the perceptual abilities of the listener, the degrees of freedom in the symbol system, and a priori assumptions about the quantity of detail that is relevant for transcription than to the signal being transcribed and its associated phonological representation.

What, then, do “real” phonological representations encompass? What is being represented? The answer to that is anyone’s best guess. Representations themselves are latent variables. We can never see them, we can only posit them as explanations for the sensitivity that people have to variation and consistency in the speech signal in different tasks. (p578)

A welcome reality check in perhaps a slightly unexpected place, even though, of course, it still doesn’t solve the fundamental problem. Everybody’s preferred solution for testing the true nature of implicit phonological representations is different, and inadequate to different degrees and in different ways, but in the nature of the concept of phonological representations itself, that is simply how it has to be.


Munson, B. (2006). Nonword repetition and levels of abstraction in phonological knowledge. Applied Psycholinguistics 27: 4

how to receive

Something recently made me think of this post from a while back – John Flavel pointing out the correspondences between how salvation is offered, and how it is received (when it is, in fact, received).

1. The gospel offers Christ to us sincerely and really, and so the true believer receives and accepts him. …

2. Christ is offered to us in the gospel entirely and undividedly, as clothed with all his offices, priestly, prophetical, and regal, as Christ Jesus the Lord, Acts 16:31; and so the true believer receives him. …

3. Christ is offered to us in the gospel exclusively, as the only Saviour of sinners, with whose blood and intercession nothing is to be mixed; but the soul of a sinner is singly to rely and depend on him, and no other. Acts 4:12; 1 Corinthians 3:11. And so faith receives him … Psalm 71:16.

4. The gospel offers Christ freely to sinners as the gift of God, John 4:10; Isaiah 55:1; Revelation 22:17; and so faith receives him. …

5. The gospel offers Christ orderly to sinners, first his person, then his privileges. … Romans 8:32. In the same order must our faith receive him. …

6. Christ is advisedly offered in the gospel to sinners, as the result of God’s eternal counsel, a project of grace upon which his heart and thoughts have been much set. Zechariah 6:13 … And so the believer receives him, most deliberately weighing the matter in his most deep and serious thoughts; for this is a time of much solicitude and thoughtfulness. …

(Re-posted from here.)


The burning issues of the day.

1) The Resistance Campaign – calling on MPs to affirm that “disabled and terminally ill people deserve and are entitled to the same protection in law as everyone else,” and that “disabled and terminally ill people seeking assistance to end their lives should receive the same support provided to any other person with suicidal thoughts and be encouraged to live,” among other things. There’s a petion to sign, should you feel so inclined.

2) An invitation from Demand Change to join a letter-writing campaign in the aftermath of the Bradford murders. It is striking that the only time that reporters dash off to interview women on the streets about whether they’re scared or not, is after someone has been murdered. As if it was safe and unremarkable to work as a prostitute any other day of the year. But people persistently twist unavoidable evidence of the violence involved in prostitution into a reason to call for prostitution to be legalised – a reaction which is utterly misguided. As Demand Change point out, prostitution is inherently harmful and exploitative: most women working as prostitutes would rather not, and legalising prostitution only means that the harm and exploitation carries on legally.

3) A concern about freedom of speech in Scotland. Changes to the law are being proposed in Holyrood in order to tackle domestic abuse and stalking, something which is perfectly worthy in itself, but the original bill would have made it a crime to use words that could possibly distress someone, even if they caused no distress and were not intended to. The law would have applied to any one-off incident, in a private home as well as a public place, and would have carried a 5-year prison sentence. After a widely reported outcry, this proposal has been withdrawn, but there is still a danger that whatever modifications are made will still be insufficient to safeguard freedom of speech – any amount of stuff you hear on a daily basis can be distressing for a whole host of reasons, without the need for involving criminal law. This is of course just one more worrying sign that while the Scottish government talks fine words about civil liberties, it has very little understanding of what that means in practice (see how strongly they were against Westminster’s database-linked ID cards, but how determinedly they have persisted with the Scottish National Entitlement Card, which is effectively the same thing with a saltire on the front). It would also have given Scotland the most draconian speech laws in the UK, not to say the civilised world. The person to contact about this is your MSP, assuming you know who they are.