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The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark Paperback – February 25, 1997
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Carl Sagan muses on the current state of scientific thought, which offers him marvelous opportunities to entertain us with his own childhood experiences, the newspaper morgues, UFO stories, and the assorted flotsam and jetsam of pseudoscience. Along the way he debunks alien abduction, faith-healing, and channeling; refutes the arguments that science destroys spirituality, and provides a "baloney detection kit" for thinking through political, social, religious, and other issues. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Eminent Cornell astronomer and bestselling author Sagan debunks the paranormal and the unexplained in a study that will reassure hardcore skeptics but may leave others unsatisfied. To him, purported UFO encounters and alien abductions are products of gullibility, hallucination, misidentification, hoax and therapists' pressure; some alleged encounters, he suggests, may screen memories of sexual abuse. He labels as hoaxes the crop circles, complex pictograms that appear in southern England's wheat and barley fields, and he dismisses as a natural formation the Sphinx-like humanoid face incised on a mesa on Mars, first photographed by a Viking orbiter spacecraft in 1976 and considered by some scientists to be the engineered artifact of an alien civilization. In a passionate plea for scientific literacy, Sagan deftly debunks the myth of Atlantis, Filipino psychic surgeons and mediums such as J.Z. Knight, who claims to be in touch with a 35,000-year-old entity called Ramtha. He also brands as superstition ghosts, angels, fairies, demons, astrology, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster and religious apparitions.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top customer reviews
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.
In today's landscape, just a few observations are outdated. He writes a lot about UFO alien abduction stories which proliferated at the time of his writing. I could be wrong, but it seems belief in them has largely waned; I think far fewer people take these stories seriously today. And while he lamented the lack of science in popular entertainment, I think he would be more pleased today with shows such as CSI as well as the growth of "geek chic" and admiration of innovators such as Steve Jobs and Elon Musk. The new version of Cosmos with Neil DeGrasse Tyson, and two movies in one year centered on scientists, Stephen Hawking and Alan Turing, show that maybe things are getting better. And maybe that's because of books like this one.
The only real negative thing to say is there's a lot of material in the book about aliens and crop circles. This stuff was where the tinfoil hat crowd gravitated to in the 90s and for a long time it was all the rage. Since then, government, medical and corporation conspiracy have become the focus for I wish this book could be updated with Sagan's view on vaccination, 9/11 truthers, and all the rest of our current culture's obsessions.
Our focus on what goes bump in the night may have shifted, but the human minds that interpret these sounds are still the same. This book really shines when Sagan gets into the "why" of why people believe strange things.
The book switches between 3 or 4 themes and several interests. His great expertise in alien abduction reports is used but a liitle too much detail and too little explicitly notes that the alien abduction phenomenon and the witch torturing is supporting what seems to be the central thesis: that humans are capable of very incorrect thinking as a group in a way typified by these episodes and others. He doesn't give the phenomenon a name (its usually called a witch hunt) but describes it in all too gory detail.
Some of the inhumanity he describes is so difficult to read that it can stop a reader. I wish they really decided what concept they want the reader to understand with each chapter and then give only the supportive stories for that concept
My favorite quotes: regarding education and literacy was from the former roman slave and former american slave who noted that learning was the antithesis of human slavery.
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I ran into it when I was 17 when I didn't know what to believe in or how to search for it, and this book...Read more