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The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark Paperback – February 25, 1997
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“A glorious book . . . A spirited defense of science . . . From the first page to the last, this book is a manifesto for clear thought.”—Los Angeles Times
“Powerful . . . A stirring defense of informed rationality. . . Rich in surprising information and beautiful writing.”—The Washington Post Book World
“A clear vision of what good science means and why it makes a difference. . . . A testimonial to the power of science and a warning of the dangers of unrestrained credulity.”—The Sciences
“Passionate.”—San Francisco Examiner-Chronicle
From the Inside Flap
ious book . . . A spirited defense of science . . . From the first page to the last, this book is a manifesto for clear thought."
*Los Angeles Times
"POWERFUL . . . A stirring defense of informed rationality. . . Rich in surprising information and beautiful writing."
*The Washington Post Book World
How can we make intelligent decisions about our increasingly technology-driven lives if we don't understand the difference between the myths of pseudoscience and the testable hypotheses of science? Pulitzer Prize-winning author and distinguished astronomer Carl Sagan argues that scientific thinking is critical not only to the pursuit of truth but to the very well-being of our democratic institutions.
Casting a wide net through history and culture, Sagan examines and authoritatively debunks such celebrated fallacies of the past as witchcraft, faith healing, demons, and UFOs. And yet, di
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Because it was written more than 20 years ago, the book has lost some of the power it had in the mid-90s. Sagan never mentions the internet or social networks. The rise of Islamic terrorism is still a thing of the future. Though apposite in the mid-90s, some of his examples are less relevant today. This is the only reason I can't give this book 5-stars.
He avoids name-calling and strident rhetoric. He focuses more on pseudo-science rather than religion. The book is largely apolitical but the concluding two chapters are, he acknowledges, intentionally more political than the rest of the book. And these last two chapters are just as pertinent today as they were 20 years ago. (In fact, they have a prescient quality to them.) I highly recommend you read them.
Sagan would be 82 were he still alive. It's a pity he's not around to provide commentary. Recommended.
A little preachy in places, and told in a folksy voice so it can take its time getting to the point in places, but the lessons the essays teach are worth reading if only to illuminate the way scientists think.
And it shows people why "it's only a theory" is a crock of something unpleasant, a linguistic trick, used mendaciously in most cases and parroted back by those who could genuinely benefit from reading this book.
Everyone should be taught the lessons in this book on how to approach life's questions. Then they could form their own opinions from an informed perspective without the help of demagogues on either side.
The book can be divided into three seperate "sections": the first part of the book focuses on exploring all types of pseudoscience and showing how its proclomations are sloppy when compared with the scientific method. the second section focuses more on explaining how science works, and how we can use its method in our everyday lives. The third section is a warning against the "anti-intellectual" trend in schools, and cautions us to teach students from an early age the virtue of asking questions, being skeptical, and being innovative.
If the first "section" of the book - that debunking pseudoscience - had been written in the past five years, it most surely would have concentrated on psychics and clairvoyants. This pseudoscience has witnessed a great popularity of late. As it was written in 1995/96, however, Sagan's focus is primarily on the then-in-vogue pseudoscience of UFO's and belief in extra-terrestrial existence. While this makes the book feel somewhat dated (as beilef in ET is far less prevalent today), Sagan does a GREAT job walking us through the sloppy thinking involved, and why ET is not a sceince.
Sagan's focus on debunking psueodscientific belief in ET is also an interesting choice because Sagan was somewhat of a sympathizer with belief in ET. He certainly thought it was possible, and spent a large part of his career advocating the search for life on other planets. He is not railing against belief in ET, but hasty belief in ET without good evidence.
The section "section" of the book consists of one of the best explanations of the scientific process and how sceince works that I have ever seen outside of the abstruse philosophy of science texts. This is where the real "money is made," and one criticism I have of the book is that, as strong as this section is, it may have made more sense to put this section first and the excoriation of pseudoscience after.
Two chapters stand out from this section of the book. First, there is "The fine art of baloney detection," where Sagan lays down the "rules" of science - rules that, when followed, make it near impossible for bad "science" to make it through the steps of the scientific method. The second stand-out chapter is, "The marriage of skepticism and wonder," a philosophical reflection on the seeming conflict between sceintists' needs to be creative and accepting of new ideas, and scientists' need to stay conservative and skeptical. The best they can do, it seems, is to remind themselves of the necessity of both mindsets, so that if they find themselves favoring the one too much, they can quickly temper it. (Sagan does suggest, though, that a scientist is better off too skeptical than too gullible.)
Teh third "section," about the "anti-intellectual" trend in education and culture - is somewhat lackluster, probably because we have heard it so many times since 1996. It is hard to disagree with many of Sagan's conclusions, but as an astronomer, one does feel that Sagan steps far outside of his specialty. (I am a high school educator, and while I agree with many of Sagan's points, one cannot see some of them as completely unworkable. A science class relying exclsuively on lab experiments CAN lead to "hands on, minds off." I have seen it. One needs ot memorize facts in order to know waht to extract from labs.)
There are only a few criticisms I have of this book. First, as I mention earlier, the book may have done better by explaining what science is before excoriating things that are not sceince. Second, the book is quite meandering at times, and while Sagan may start a chapter talking about x, he often ends talking about z. This gets annoying over several hundred pages, and leads to an unfocused approach. Lastly, there are so many chapters dealing with the same or similar themes (many chapters on belief in UFO's, a few on belief in first-hand testimony), that the book suffers from a bit of redundancy at times.
Other than these, I whole-heartedly reccomend this book to anyone who wants to read a sparkling explanation of what science is, why it is important (albeit imperfect, like anything else), and why straying from it is always a risk.