Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Trading Cards on the Internet

No matter how bad an idea it seems before you have children, at some stage one or more of them will decide that he or she wishes to try and collect a whole set of trading cards. The only ones that our offspring have been that interested in are the Doctor Who "Battles In Time" ones.

As we have now completed the third "new" Doctor Who series, the size of the deck of cards has correspondingly grown, and it now numbers 675 in three series.

Unless a series of trading cards are incredibly popular, there are unlikely to be enough people seriously collecting them in the circle of a child's friends to make it feasible to complete a collection. So, I thought to myself, why not write an internet based thing that would allow trading with a wider circle of people?

I made some progress, with PHP and MySQL - I was able to select multiple decks, write details of individual cards, set up cards available to trade and wish lists, scan other peoples' lists to look for possible exchanges. But, as with the Open Solutions thing I came up with, one of the real problems would be making the site known. Additionally making it look good and testing it was really more than I thought I was able to achieve.

There are other swapping sites around - like this one. But although this has a section for trading cards, it isn't really designed for that sort of transaction. I knew what I was looking for, conceptually, and was interested to find something very close to it the other day - here. It's not beautiful - but it does seem to offer a good system for getting in touch with people who want to trade the same thing as you. Now to see whether we can get closer to completing the collection!

What really irritates me about eBay ...

... is sellers who say they will leave you positive feedback once you have left it for them.

Look, I've bought, I've accepted your terms, I've paid - usually as I won the auction. If I've done my bit, you have no reason not to give me positive feedback straight away - regardless of my perception of you. Isn't that right? If I've done my bit, is it acceptable to suggest that you will only give me good feedback if I also give you good feedback?

Monday, October 29, 2007

How Music Works from YouTube

For those people who weren't lucky enough to catch the series when it was on television, here's a taster that somebody has posted on YouTube. Now all we need to do is pressurise Endemol into releasing a DVD boxset - actually, it would probably get onto one DVD at a pinch!

Derren Brown - Instant Conversions

Interesting couple of videos - if you click through to the first one, you'll get a link to the second part. What are my thoughts, as a Christian?

I would agree that there is manipulation within religion, including Christianity, as Derren Brown says:
Religions tend to encourage either high energy crowd activity or candlelit monotony to invoke a suggestible state amongst the congregation. Many revivalist preachers seem to have a magical touch that brings the power of the Lord into a person.
The conclusion that might be drawn from this film is that "religion" is more to do with semi-hypnotic suggestion than the power of God.

In actual fact, the Bible itself (in 1 Corinthians) says that ecstatic religious experiences (if we can generalise from speaking in tongues to the whole range of such experiences) are the least useful component of our makeup as Christians. They may be edifying for the individual believer - and those people who had those "experiences" doubtless thought after they had had them that something significant had happened - but the experiences are at best confusing for other people, and may well lead them to the conclusion that the people having the experiences are out of their mind.

It's significant that ecstatic religious experiences are not the sole province of one religion. For example, glossolalic speaking in tongues isn't only a "Christian" phenomenon; it is found in other religious traditions. (I would suggest that the speaking in tongues referred to in Acts 2 for example was something different - this can be discussed elsewhere.) And there are other forms of religious experience - falling over, trances, visions and so on - that can be found in other religions.

However, there are Christians who are gravely unhappy with the use of manipulation - or indeed any showmanship - in Christian meetings, and frequently they are the ones who are also most wary of deriving anything from nonrational religious experience. I would argue that whilst Christianity ought to engage our emotions, this should not be held in contrast with engaging our mind. Our emotions ought to be engaged because our mind is engaged. If Christianity is true, then our experiences ought not to be "irrational" or "nonrational" but profoundly "rational". And there are many people who don't put down their emotional response to Christianity to something they don't understand, but to something that they do understand, even if they can't fully explain it. There are many other aspects of Christian experience - generosity, hospitality, forgiveness, explaining the Bible, compassion, self-sacrifice and so on. I doubt Brown would argue that his piece invalidates the behaviour of people like Wilberforce, Elizabeth Fry, Martin Luther King and so on.

It was interesting that the minister from whom Derren Brown sought to obtain an endorsement wasn't prepared to simply accept his word about what he had done, but wanted to talk again. In terms of the power of suggestion, it's worth pointing out that when a person stands in front of you with a camera crew saying that they are here for a particular reason (perhaps backed up by a covering letter?), your instinct isn't to assume that they have come to do the opposite. I seem to recall Richard Dawkins being particularly disgusted when a similar trick was played on him by anti-evolutionists, who got him to look silly by asking for evidence for his belief when he wasn't expecting it. There are many more examples of this in the evolution/creation/ID debate, on all sides.

It's also interesting that the minister didn't suggest that this sort of manipulation was an appropriate way of seeking to reach people with the Christian message - he was keen to build genuine relationships with people, so that he could tell them about Christianity. And it's also worth pointing out that the group of people who Brown addressed came to a meeting that they knew was going to be about spirituality - regardless of the fact that they were all atheists or sceptics, they willingly put themselves into an environment where they could reasonably expect their beliefs to be challenged.

So in summary, I would echo the implication of this piece that we need to be wary about the power of suggestion and manipulation - and those that practice it - in the religious arena, as much as any other. However, Brown's little experiment doesn't invalidate the whole of religion, and although he is a sceptic, I don't expect he would say that this experiment alone wraps it up for religion.

HPV Vaccination

Concerns have been raised about the introduction of vaccination against Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). One of the most vocally raised concerns may well be from people who argue that a vaccination against a sexually transmitted virus will encourage promiscuous behaviour.

I first heard about HPV in a talk by Josh McDowell, when I was around 30, and in science and social terms, I would consider myself pretty well-informed. He's still making the same points about it:
Of all women in American universities who have had sex even just one time, 63 percent of them are infected with HPV (human papillomavirus), the No. 1 sexually transmitted disease in the world.
If nobody has heard of it (and it is only now really starting to be widely talked about, because of the possibility of a national vaccination campaign), then awareness of it isn't affecting their behaviour. So I can't see that vaccinating against it will encourage greater promiscuity - the fact that it wasn't vaccinated against wasn't affecting anybody's behaviour in the first place.

However, the vaccination is at best 70% effective, and it isn't even known if what effectiveness it has continues beyond 5 years. And what I really want to know is: is HPV always a precursor to cervical cancer? And is HPV only transmitted sexually? If that were the case, then the pattern of both men and women having only one sexual partner for life would also eliminate the risk of cervical cancer, wouldn't it?

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Open solutions

A new idea.

I have started a new blog here, which I hope in the fullness of time not to end up managing. The idea is this. Can solutions to some big problems be brainstormed in a kind of "open" environment - as in "open source" - as in people finding solutions for the sake of finding the solution, rather than for their own glory or wealth?

Challenges will be posted on the blog, on which people are invited to comment. If people come up with helpful ideas in their comments, they will be added as contributors to the blog, and can write full posts explaining their ideas, which will hopefully draw more interaction ... and so on. To use it, you will need to register with Wordpress.

Incidentally, I chose WP because I've already done other things with it, and if the idea does take off, I expect to have to export it to its own website - something I would be more confident doing with WP than with Blogger.

Friday, October 26, 2007

National Rail Enquiries

It works. But it must be one of the slowest websites I've ever had the misfortune and determination to wait for. Eight minutes to give me the time of a train from the suburbs to London. *Sigh*. I wrote and published this whole post whilst waiting for it, in addition to sorting out breakfast for two of my children.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

More thoughts on the New Perspective

Here are some more thoughts on the “New Perspective”, a theological framework initially built by Sanders and Dunn, but becoming increasingly significant as a consequence of the work of N.T.Wright. It does away with much that has been considered important in reformed theology (such as justification by faith), but it does this because it has already jettisoned other aspects of reformed theology that had hitherto been considered important.

The New Perspective is dependent upon texts other than the Bible. The people who are most influential base their arguments upon interpretation of texts relating to the practice of Judaism around the time of Christ. The interpretation of those texts is disputed – we are talking about texts written over half a millenium. It has been suggested that to describe these texts as having a coherent message of their own is misleading, and in any case, there is likely to be a difference between the written expression of beliefs and its everyday formulation.

But regardless of how this interpretation stacks up, the New Perspective is methodologically “unreformed” as well. How can we justify the use of texts other than the Bible? From a reformed perspective, we understand that the Bible is God's inspired word, and reliable as it is. We also understand that the text is perspicuous – God's message is fundamentally clear. We also understand that the Bible is sufficient – God has given us everything that we need in it. All of these principles are discarded with the New Perspective.

There is a coherence in the position that accepts the Bible as authoritative but not other texts. If other texts are to be used as authoritative, then the justification for using other texts needs to be made and defended, before they can be accepted – you can't simply take texts arbitrarily chosen from somewhere other than the Bible and then expect without justification to use them as a foundation. Or at least, if you were a Bible-proclaiming church minister, you couldn't. And yet that is what has happened, as the New Perspective is taught in theology classes and ministers pick up and present its conclusions as the results of Christian scholarship.

Beyond this lies the fact that our understanding is that Christ is the head of the church – and that the church is the locus of Christian life. Whilst academic theology has benefitted the Christian faith, it is important to recognise that Christian theology is not driven by university departments, but by the Christian message itself, which is a missionary message that finds its proper expression in the life of the church, which is the body of Christ. Again, call me reformed if you want – but reformed theology is self-consistent and coherent in this regard. Theology should flow out of the church, and out of a pastoral setting, not out of an academy – this is simply consistent with what it expresses about itself, a matter of the coherence of Christian belief. Christianity isn't fundamentally about presenting sufficient papers for a theology department to grant you tenure. Nor is it about reinventing the wheel – coming up with an entirely new theology that works “for you”. It is about a message once given to the apostles, and preserved in Scripture. If this idea is to be jettisoned, then an alternative "epistemology of Christian belief" needs to be offered and justified.

The proponents of the New Perspective also suggest that the idea of justification by faith flows out of the historical particulars of Luther's situation – his perception of his moral guilt, his conflict with Rome. But if we are to play the deconstruction game, then why not apply that to the New Perspective itself? What are the historical particulars that might be driving the New Perspective? The desire for political correctness and inclusiveness; the desire to avoid the accusation of anti-semitism (although there is no way that properly expressed Christianity could possibly be considered anti-semitic); the desire to achieve ecumenical aims – unification with Rome; the desire not to appear “fundamentalist”? It is hardly a surprise that those are exactly what the New Perspective claims to achieve. Deconstruction really gets us nowhere – it doesn't allow us to determine whether "Luther's version" of Christianity or the New Perspective one is more right. We need a means of analysing the content of both that transcends the historical particulars that drove both. Which takes us back to the question of an "epistemology of Christian belief".

Of course theology is driven by a historically particular situation – and I would argue this is the difference between theology (which is particular) and God's Word (which is universal). However, even if theology is particular, it is designed to reflect in the particular situation something that is absolutely true – and that is God's Word. That is how it is possible to discriminate between different theology – and come to a conclusion as to what is good theology and what is bad theology – on the basis of the extent to which it reflects what we understand to be true. If our idea of absolute truth shifts, to include things beyond God's word – or worse, it suggests that God's word is no more than another authority – then we have the Pilate problem – what is truth? Theology ends up cut adrift from its moorings, and becomes personal and subjective.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

15-6 - yes, we watched it

The Rugby World Cup final, that is, in case you live on a different continent. That isn't Africa or Oceania. Or South America. A shame, but probably a fair result. If the South Africans won with some gamesmanship - well, I guess that was how we beat the French in the semi.

Here's a link to a Times essay on being in Paris for the final. Nuff said.

Friday, October 19, 2007


I'd just like to thank all those people who have pinned their flags on my Frappr map (near the top of the sidebar). I know that you don't represent people from every nation that has stopped by here - but there are lots more of you now than there used to be. Hi, y'all! Salut! Dag! Guten tag! Bom dia! ... and so on.

A good week

We can look back on this week with thankfulness, I think.

We are members of two churches, and the church that we have been sent to support had a business meeting this week, which went kind of well. We have seen an increase in the size of the congregation, and in God's goodness, the congregation is much more able to consider various projects, which was the reason why we went there.

Also, I have been a foundation governor at my children's primary school for the last eight years. The PCC, who decide appointments of foundation governors, came to the conclusion that because the church I am in is not a member of "Churches Together", they didn't want me as a foundation governor any more. This wasn't an issue when I was first appointed, or for that matter when I was reappointed. No matter - it is their choice. However, as a matter of courtesy, it would have been good for them to tell me, or the other governors, that it was their intention not to replace me. And actually replace me, rather than leave a vacancy on the governing body. They didn't. Which leads me to conclude that they are far more concerned with a political issue (that the church I am in is not ecumenical) than they are with the good of the school.

Most of the other governors were disgusted with the behaviour of the PCC, and wanted me back on the governing body - my contributions to it seem to have been well received. So I stood as a parent governor, and heard this week that I have been elected, by a good majority.

Also, my latest work roster - for November - arrived this week. It was generally okay, but there was one block of five days where I was supposed to be away from base - and this was going to cause us all sorts of problems. However, I have just managed to swap this duty with someone else.


Thursday, October 18, 2007

Stupid, ungrateful me

This is one of the first Pavlovian replies to a Scott Adams post which predicted such Pavlovian replies, and it is a familiar charge:
Much of our understanding of biology is based on [evolution]. If you have ever required medicine, then it is likely that you have profited from our knowledge of evolution.
Which proves that people like Scott Adams - who can write about anything however rude as long as he doesn't take the heretical step of expressing anything that might be construed as doubt about the absolute truth of "evolution" - and me are not only stupid (for not believing in "evolution", when clever people who advance medicine do), but also ungrateful (for suggesting that the clever people who make medicine might be wrong about something). Devastating!

So how do I defend myself against such a charge? Two ways. Firstly, by asking what the writer means by "evolution". There are few people who don't believe in "descent with modification and selection" to an extent. But "evolution" doesn't yet have explanations for many of the things that it claims to explain. Of course, it's working on those things - but if evolution doesn't explain something yet, then that aspect of it is of little use in ... well, medicine for example. And, unsurprisingly, it is in the disputed areas - those areas for which darwinists claim explanations are just around the corner, and their opponents claim can't be explained through ateleological mechanisms - that the heart of the debate lies.

Secondly, by asking what the writer thinks I (or Scott Adams) reject about evolution that has actually proved to be useful to medicine. One thing would do.

I'm banned in China!

At least, according to this.

Evolution of mitochondria

Mitochondria are interesting little beasties. They exist in most eukaryotic cells, and are used to generate most of the ATP - used as fuel - for those cells. But they have their own genome - so in humans, for example, they aren't coded by the DNA in our chromosomes. The mitochondrial genome actually has similarities with bacterial genome. For this and various other reasons, the endosymbiotic theory has come to dominate evolutionary biology, at least in the context of the appearance of mitochondria. This suggests that mitochondria were originally prokaryotic (bacterial-type) cells that ended up in a symbiotic relationship with eukaryotic cells. Some people have elevated this to the status of a "fact" about evolution.

However, some people aren't convinced. Albert de Roos wrote a critique of the theory on Telic Thoughts, recently, and has started his own website, which hypothesises that mitochondria arose from within eukaryotic cells. If your interest in science extends to beyond the posturing that normally takes place between the pro- and anti-darwin lobby, you might enjoy this debate.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Another perspective on New Perspectives

For those who don't know, there is some controversy about N.T.Wright and others, who in a theological movement called “New Perspectives” are shifting away from the conventional reformed doctrine of justification by faith. The concept behind this is that when we become a Christian, God credits us with Jesus' righteousness, so that we are regarded by him as being innocent. Wright says things like:
Justification is not how someone becomes a Christian. It is the declaration that they have become a Christian.
I must stress again that the doctrine of justification by faith is not what Paul means by ‘the gospel.’
John Piper says:
... [Wright is] disconnecting [justification] from the event by which we are saved, or by which we enter into favor with God. To me, that’s the main issue—at what point is God totally for me? Wrath was upon me before my conversion; wrath was upon me before I was in Christ by faith; after faith and union with Christ, wrath is no longer on me.

Justification, I believe, is the way the Bible describes that moment.. Justification is the act by which God says, “I no longer count you guilty. I count you as righteous with the righteousness of my son.” That’s a saving moment, clustered with the call. Wright sees our call as the only decisive saving moment. And I want to put with the call the work of God in justifying me.
Other more qualified people (like Piper) have responded and are responding in more length with more theological depth than I am able to here, and I'm conscious that I don't know much about the matter and may be missing the point myself. However, I wanted to make a few comments.

I should point out that I don't believe that theology is immutable. I believe that the Bible, which I understand to be God's Word, is eternal and unchanging. I understand Christian theology in broad terms to be the application of that Word to specific historical and geographical contexts – and so theology will inevitably change as its context changes. However, this doesn't mean that everything is up for grabs, and even accepting the contextual limits of theology, it does reflect absolute truth.

Now if something's not broken, why try and fix it? At the time of the Protestant Reformation, there were serious problems with Christian theology. On a personal level, Martin Luther – who sought to live a devout monastic life – was profoundly conscious of the inability of his obedience to satisfy the God he recognised in the Bible. It was only when he came to see that “the just shall live by faith” that he knew he could be right with God. This personal discovery of the concept of justification by faith was what changed him. Meanwhile, there were serious problems with the church – widespread corruption, immorality, ignorance of the Bible, pursuit of power and so on. The church was far from behaving in accordance with the New Testament pattern of churches. Whilst technically claiming two authoritative traditions – the Bible and the church – the church was effectively overriding the authority of the Bible with the authority of church tradition. Consequently, it was failing to care for its own sheep, and it was increasingly regarded with contempt by the rest of the world.

So at the time of the Reformation, Christian theology was “broken” at both a personal and an ecclesiastical level, and a new perspective – or as most reformed Christians would suggest, a rediscovery of the old perspective – was required. Is that the case today? Is the reformed doctrine of justification by faith causing such problems that we should be looking again for a new perspective? Of course there are problems, but I suspect that few people would suggest that these were problems as a consequence of this doctrine. Some mainstream churches are failing in religious terms – but these are the ones who for most practical purposes have not sought reformation under God's Word. Wright is perhaps concerned by the lack of ethical rigorousness amongst those people who accept justification by faith – John Piper says that one of Wright's aims is to underscore the significance of the good works that people do. But there are Christian ethics that are built on this foundation. The fact that Christians fail to live up to ethical standards that they ought to doesn't mean that the foundation is wrong; it just highlights the fact that our sanctification is a gradual process that takes our whole life.

So to suggest that justification by faith (God's work) needs revisiting when the problem is apparently the things that we do would seem to be missing the point.

... to be continued

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Who is searching for ...

Little Girl Awake? I've had several hits over the last few days searching for lines of this poem.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

The kings of the earth rise up ...

(H/T Telic Thoughts)

From here :
In his speech, Dawkins portrayed a black-and-white intellectual battle between atheism and religion. He denounced the "preposterous nonsense of religious customs" and compared religion to racism. He also gave no quarter to moderate or liberal believers, asserting that "so-called moderate Christianity is simply an evasion."

"If you've been taught to believe it by moderates, what's to stop you from taking the next step and blowing yourself up?" he said.
If the Christian God does exist, then there are risks...
Then Herod [no, not the Christmas one ...] went from Judea to Caesarea and stayed there a while. He had been quarreling with the people of Tyre and Sidon; they now joined together and sought an audience with him. Having secured the support of Blastus, a trusted personal servant of the king, they asked for peace, because they depended on the king's country for their food supply.

On the appointed day Herod, wearing his royal robes, sat on his throne and delivered a public address to the people. They shouted, "This is the voice of a god, not of a man." Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died.

But the word of God continued to increase and spread.

Friday, October 12, 2007

More on the Biological Big Bang hypothesis

I've now read Koonin's paper. It wasn't as ground-shaking as it might have been, though it would appear to be yet another nail in the coffin in the conventional, Dawkinsian version of evolutionary theory, and another one up for Gould. Here's a few thoughts - feel free to correct me if I have misunderstood things.

Probably the most significant thing about it was the frank acknowledgement that the conventional Darwinist model (random mutation, natural selection) doesn't correspond to the evidence. The specific issue addressed is the fact that the "tree of life" doesn't really exist - for the most significant biological transitions, divergence from common ancestors seems to take place over a very small interval of time, and subsequent evolutionary changes are "small fry" in comparison. The most famous example of this is perhaps the Cambrian Explosion, but Koonin is more interested in more fundamental steps - the appearance of the first viruses, cells, and the appearance of eukaryotic cells.

Koonin suggests that the reason for this is that the big evolutionary steps take place as a consequence of "horizontal" transfer of genetic material, rather than "vertical" descent with modification. As a consequence, it is only when stable configurations appear that identifiable descent lines become apparent. Because genetic transfer of one means or another drives large scale diversification (the Biological Big Bangs), we are unable to see the antecedents of subsequent stable organisms.

Koonin stresses the analogy with the current, inflationary/Big Bang model of cosmology. To be honest, I can't see the point in labouring this, unless for ideological purposes - to stress that it is an alternative to teleological processes. In an ateleological universe, because the scale of the phenomena are so different, the analogy can be little more than a coincidence, and really is barely worth drawing attention to - it is an observation of the same sort as saying that electrons orbiting nuclei are a bit like planets orbiting a star. On the other hand, if we are in a teleological universe, that fact itself is much more significant than the fact that two processes are analogous!

Also, although this model provides a better explanation of the observations (of the nature of the tree of life), there are many unresolved issues. For example, is this mechanism more likely to generate new biochemical structures and functions than conventional neodarwinism? Certainly, a new protein or gene has a larger space in which to find a matching counterpart - but it also has a larger space in which to become distracted or damaged. Also, whilst it is easy to say that when a stable organism is formed, the inflationary phase switches off, more work would need to be done in explaining what triggers the inflationary phases, and how come they switch off at all. Of course, this isn't saying that Koonin is wrong, or that the hypothesis isn't worth exploring - especially since it does provide a better explanation.

Telic Thoughts (I think) also hints that Koonin may be too blithely accepting endosymbiotic models. The example they give is that the alpha-proteobacteria which are viewed of as most similar to mitochondria actually appear as bacteria substantially later than mitochondria - so the hypothetical absorption of bacteria by eukaryotic cells to get their current form may not be as simple as is suggested. (Not that it is suggested to be exactly simple!)

I hope this makes sense, and hasn't distorted either Koonin's work or the Telic Thoughts article.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Biological Big Bang

You may remember that I wrote a post musing about reconciling the Bible account of creation with evolutionary evidence. I suggested that the biblical "days" might correspond to specific, relatively short creative periods in the history of the earth.

At that stage, I didn't know that this paper - "The Biological Big Bang model for the major transitions in evolution" - was around. The hypothesis presented is that evolution actually happened through a series of "big bangs" - sudden, rapid increases in diversity - and the intervals between the "big bangs" is marked by little evolutionary innovation.

I want to investigate the paper at greater length. I have no real desire to reconcile it with what I wrote - after all, that was only really musing. But it's interesting, though ....

Two badges

The first one said:
If you love someone, set them free. If they come back, they're yours. If they don't, hunt them down and shoot them.
The second one said:
If they can send one man to the moon, why don't they send them all?

Monday, October 08, 2007

Clarification of my views on breastfeeding!

There's an apocryphal story about a famous speaker/writer (Evelyn Waugh, perhaps?) being contacted and asked whether he could do a talk on breastfeeding. Apparently, he was a little puzzled at being asked, but being a "trooper", as thesps say, did his research, and duly did the talk. Afterwards, the person chairing the meeting thanked him for his talk, but expressed puzzlement as to why he should have spoken on breastfeeding, rather than the subject he had been invited to speak on, which was "press freedom".

I'm sure that can't really be true.

My earlier post was not really about breastfeeding, but this seems to have arisen as an issue as a consequence, so I felt I ought to make a few points of clarification.

Firstly, I think breastfeeding is a GOOD THING. If it is at all possible for a mother to do it, then she should. I don't need to rehearse the reasons why. Our children were all breastfed for more than the average amount of time, although we did use a bottle to top up at night from early on - about which more later.

Secondly, if people are able to help mothers breastfeed, then that is also a GOOD THING. In fact, for a couple of people, we (ahem - well, more particularly my wife, actually) have done what we can to help - how to get the baby on in such a way that it doesn't hurt when the mother is still getting used physically to feeding her baby, and so on. If there were better support from overstretched health service staff or from the voluntary sector, I have no doubt that this would do a lot of good.

Finally, if you are able to get up as required in the night for as long as it takes to survive demand-feeding with no ill effects, that's great. But my concern is for the parents who can't - not without the sort of support that most simply don't have - and the point I was making is that there are other patterns of bringing up small children which also work. The motivation for the post that I wrote is that the large bucketful of guilt - because parents don't understand what their baby wants, or because the mother is so exhausted that she can't meet her baby's needs, or because the mother can't carry on breastfeeding - is something that a tired and hormone-full mother can really do without. Just because you can't do what the health visitor is saying doesn't mean that your child will grow up to be a juvenile delinquent. People have been brought up successfully in all sorts of ways. Perhaps the recommended way is the best. But second best is not the end of the world. And in any case, next year the advice will probably be reversed - even in the time that we had small children, the advice about how to lie children in cots was changed several times, as was the advice about how long you should wait before introducing solid food to a child's diet. Too often, health visitors place impossible burdens on the backs of new parents, and then don't lift a finger to help them. It's not intentional - in fact, their intention is to help, not to harm. But that can be the effect.

So, what did we do (and yes, we were both involved)? Last thing at night, when we went to bed, we used a bottle to "top up" feed, my wife having first breastfed the children, to make sure that they went to sleep full. From about three months, when the children woke in the night, I would carry them around, singing to them and talking quietly to them, and in many cases, after grumbling for a while, they would go back to sleep. That was how we coaxed our children to go for longer at night without a feed. All three of them slept through the night (11pm to 5am to start with, fairly rapidly moving towards 10pm to 6am) from around three months. Life was an awful lot easier to cope with once we were able to get a decent night's sleep. And the children have all slept very well at night ever since.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Buggles - Video Killed the Radio Star (Live 2004)

Various songs capture times in my life in a tear-inducing way. One of which is this one, which takes me back to the very first school discos I ever went to. Somehow, lots of the girls seemed to know it, and it was only about seven years later when I bought the album (on cassette!) that I really had a chance to listen to it.

I knew that Buggles was pretty much a manufactured studio band. However, lest anyone doubt their actual musicianship, here they perform it live at the Prince's Trust concert in 2004.

Talking Heads - Life During Wartime

I don't often talk about bands other than U2 and Sixpence None the Richer. However, there are other bands I like. The name of one of them is Talking Heads.

"Stop Making Sense" was way ahead of its time - I'd consider U2's concerts pretty innovative shows today, but a lot of the way was paved for them by Talking Heads about 25 years earlier.

Monday, October 01, 2007

On not demand-feeding babies

A quick, helpful hint. Most babies don't need to be fed in the night, once they are over three months old. Of course, like all humans, they get established in habits. If they aren't being fed when they expect to be fed, they will make a fuss about it. However, once they discover the benefits of a solid night's sleep (for parents as well as child) and a proper breakfast, they will not look back.

If you want advice about bringing up babies, don't just assume that health visitors will always give you the best answers. In most cases, of course, they will. However, there are certain things they will tell you because they have a) been told to tell you (like the international advice that it's best to solely breastfeed your child until they are six months old - riiiiiiiight. Then how come something different worked fine for the previous five billion humans?!) b) it is politically correct to tell you (or not tell you, like how strong the link between smoking and cot death is) or c) they don't know otherwise, because they haven't been through it themselves (like the room temperature has to be no more than 25 degrees Celsius, or that babies must be demand fed). Go and talk to other older mums, and see how they survived.

John Piper on Baptism

I've e-chatted with various people on the internet - on Miss Mellifluous' and Jon's blogs, for example - about the issue of baptism. It was really helpful to find the case made in "Brothers, we are not Professionals" for the baptist view that baptism ought to be upon profession of faith, and is not for infants as the successor of circumcision.
... The justification of infant baptism in the Reformed churches hangs on the fact that baptism is the New Testament counterpart of circumcision.

There is in fact an important continuity between the signs of circumcision and baptism, but the Presbyterian representatives of Reformed theology seem to have undervalued the discontinuity. This is the root difference between Baptists and Presbyterians on baptism. I am a Baptist because I believe that on this score we honor botht the continuity and discontinuity between Israel and the church and between their respective covenant signs.

The continuity is expressed like this: Just as circumcision was administered to all the physical sons of Abraham who made up the physical Israel, so baptism should be administered to all the spiritual sons of Abraham who make up the spiritual Israel, the church. Consider the difference between the "old covenant" people of God and the "new covenant" people of God as Jeremiah and the author of Hebrews describe them. Both these Biblical writers say that under the new covenant one will not have to look at other members of the covenant and say, "Know the Lord," for to be a covenant member is to know the Lord. This implies that entry into the old covenant people of God was by physical birth, and entry into the new covenant people of God is by spiritual birth. It would seem to follow, then, that the sign of the covenant would reflect this change and would be administered to those who give evidence of spiritual birth...

Calvin and some of his heirs have treated signs of the covenant as if no significant changes happened with the coming of Christ. But God is forming His people today differently from when he strove with an ethnic people called Israel. The visible people of God are no longer formed through natural birth but through new birth and in expression through faith in Christ.

With the coming of John the Baptist and Jesus and the apostles, the emphasis now is that the spiritual status of our parents does not determine our membership in the covenant community. The beneficiaries of the blessings of Abraham are those who have the faith of Abraham. These are the ones who belong to the covenant community.

(Brothers, we are not Professionals, John Piper, pp.133-135)
It was even more helpful to read his last paragraph in this chapter, which really reflects where I had ended up of my own accord, anyway!
Why have I dwelt on this? Because my sense is that many pastors, in order not to be contentious on this issue, neglect it almost entirely and do not call people to "repent and be baptized." What I am doing here is trying to model a responsible and reasonable defense of one view of baptism in the context of amicable and respectful relationships with those who hold other views. I think we need to teach our people the meaning of baptism and obey the Lord's command to baptize converts (Matt. 28:19), without elevating the doctrine to a primary one that would unduly cut us off from shared worship and ministry with others who share more important things with us.

The whole article can be found on the Desiring God website.