Book Review: The Demon-Haunted World

The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan.

I have heard from numerous sources that The Demon-Haunted World by Carl Sagan is (forgiving the irony in the name) the bible of scientific skepticism. The number of case studies in irrational thinking is voluminous (from UFO hunters to witch hunts to faith healing to…), but more importantly are the tools for thinking critically and skeptically (what Sagan refers to as the Baloney Detection Kit) such as logical fallacies, cognitive biases, and of course the scientific method. For example, he goes through the exercise of imagining a dragon in his garage that you cannot see, smell, hear, or feel as a mirror for claims that cannot be falsified through evidence.

In the later chapters (co-written with his wife Ann Druyan) the book takes on social issues as examples of where uncritical, emotional, and superstitious thinking lead to the detriment of a civil and free society. I will note that his chapter on the demise of quality television (the book was written in the ’90s) seems, happily, a bit out of date given the rise of “television novels” on channels like HBO and AMC and the relative abundance of STEM shows available (to name a few: Nova, Mythbusters, Bad Universe, or even Penn and Teller: Bullshit!, to say nothing of online popular resources like TED Talks or Khan Academy).

I would definitely like to know the opinion of somebody who read Demon-Haunted who beforehand was a fence-sitter or even borderline true believer (I think a real true believer would probably discredit the work entire as “just his opinion”) as I myself and those that I know have read it were already immersed in the culture of scientific skepticism. Carl Sagan is always worth reading (or watching), and I think The Demon-Haunted World rightly has a place as required reading for those that wish to think critically, rationally, and skeptically.

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One Response to Book Review: The Demon-Haunted World

  1. I listened to this as an audio tape, it was amazing! I’ll buy the real thing at some point, cus I tell people it’s my favourite book and I don’t even have a copy! haha

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