Anyone who pays more attention to what goes on around here than they should will have noticed that the linkroll is no longer in alphabetical order. This hypothetical attention-payer — and I know him to be hypothetical — will also have noticed that this is a result of me having added some new names to the list. I’m usually quite lax in introducing new sites but in this case I wanted to draw particular attention to the name that currently sits at the bottom of the list.

Pharyngula is the blog of Paul Z. Myers,associate professor of biology at University of Minnesota, Morris. In brief, he’s another vocal proponent of critical thought, which is reason enough to add my low-value micro-vote to his swelling Page-rank. I think it’s becoming increasingly clear from some of the articles and opinion pieces that Stephen and I have taken to linking to that critical thought is a rare commodity. See the UCD Coke fiasco from last year, the effects of which still haunt me; the Iranian religious dissident facing death; the whole John Gray thing (and I seriously mean that everything to do with John Gray is lacking in critical thought).

Stephen often has an edge over me in finding and analysing these sorts of stories since his study seems to give him a close working knowledge of the Middle East and America, the two centres of the degrading capacity for thought. Unfortunately, despite the necessary closeness of science and rationality — indeed science seems at times to be nothing more than a complex formalization of rationality — the study of science appears to have wholly removed philosophy. It could be that the philosophy of science is generally accepted without saying by scientific minds and that any further discussion merely detracts time from more important equation-solving, though that view doesn’t seem to fit very closely with the fact that many scientists still harbour rogue religious beliefs (I use the term rogue because I have never known them to be at all compatible with the scientist’s day-to-day view ofthe world). Whatever way, an appreciation for the intellectual basis for science seems largely overlooked in favour of pulling out a microscope. This is unfortunate, as I find the concept of the existence of a truth separate from human perception is often more intriguing than a deep exploration of what that truth is. The fact of its existence is more important than the details of its existence, at least after some minimum level of familiarity is achieved. I often find it more engaging to observe and lament other people’s lack of acceptance for the truth of science than to iron out finer and finer imperfections in its description as modern physics does.

The relationships between science and religion, between politics and religion, and between sociology and religion (alternatively, for religion read superstition) reach an interesting confluence when a population’s prevailing religious beliefs result in the application of immoral sanctions to right-thinking people. Whether this is a senator reprimanded by a colleague for omitting the ridiculous "under God" suffix from the US pledge of allegiance or a man facing death for questioning religious teachings it should be clear that a society that can punish rational enquiry or outright atheism is in need of reform.

I’ve always appreciated Stephen’s approach to such issues from a political mindset. I’ve taken every opportunity to approach them myself from a scientific mindset. It isn’t even clear whether there’s a significant differentiation to be made between these mindsets, besides a possible difference in cited examples — the politician finding human rights issues and the scientist finding frustration with popular superstitions of the kind that so irritate Richard Dawkins. The similarity is obvious when you consider the basis for politics and science, the aim of understanding and controlling our surroundings. Both require critical thought, education, self-motivation and scepticism. We would each prefer to learn, question and speak out than to wallow in the ignobility of ignorance and subservience.

Ultimately it appears that considered thought is limited to a small part of our society and we should take every opportunity not only to spread this most necessary of qualities but also to educate ourselves and learn from the most expressive of our own. Plus, you’ve got to love a guy who has a Godlessness category for his blog.