The Demon-Haunted World
|Author||Carl Sagan (with Ann Druyan)|
|Publisher||Random House, Ballantine Books|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover, paperback)|
|ISBN||ISBN 0-394-53512-X / ISBN 0-345-40946-9|
|LC Class||Q175 .S215 1995|
|Preceded by||Pale Blue Dot|
|Followed by||Billions and Billions|
The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark is a 1995 book by astrophysicist Carl Sagan.
In the book, Sagan aims to explain the scientific method to laypeople, and to encourage people to learn critical and skeptical thinking. He explains methods to help distinguish between ideas that are considered valid science, and ideas that can be considered pseudoscience. Sagan states that when new ideas are offered for consideration, they should be tested by means of skeptical thinking, and should stand up to rigorous questioning.
Science to Sagan is not just a body of knowledge, but a way of thinking. The scientific way of thinking is both imaginative and disciplined, bringing humans to an understanding of how the universe is, rather than how they wish to perceive it. Science works much better than any other system because it has a "built-in error-correcting machine". Superstition and pseudoscience get in the way of many laypersons' ability to appreciate the beauty and benefits of science. Skeptical thinking allows people to construct, understand, reason, and recognize valid and invalid arguments. Wherever possible, there must be independent validation of the concepts whose truth should be proved. He states that reason and logic would succeed once the truth is known. Conclusions emerge from premises, and the acceptability of the premises should not be discounted or accepted because of bias.
Dragon in the garage
As an example of skeptical thinking, Sagan offers a story concerning a fire-breathing dragon that lives in his garage. When he persuades a rational, open-minded visitor to meet the dragon, the visitor remarks that they are unable to see the creature. Sagan replies that he "neglected to mention that she's an invisible dragon". The visitor suggests spreading flour on the floor so that the creature's footprints might be seen, which Sagan says is a good idea "but this dragon floats in the air". When the visitor considers using an infra-red camera to view the creature's invisible fire, Sagan explains that the fire is heatless. He continues to counter every proposed physical test with a reason why the test will not work.
Sagan concludes by asking "Now what's the difference between an invisible, incorporeal, floating dragon who spits heatless fire and no dragon at all? If there's no way to disprove my contention, no conceivable experiment that would count against it, what does it mean to say that my dragon exists? Your inability to invalidate my hypothesis is not at all the same thing as proving it true."
Baloney detection kit
Sagan presents a set of tools for skeptical thinking which he calls the "baloney detection kit" (page 210f). Skeptical thinking consists both of constructing a reasoned argument and recognizing a fallacious or fraudulent one. In order to identify a fallacious argument, Sagan suggests the employment of such tools as independent confirmation of facts, debate, development of different hypotheses, quantification, the use of Occam's razor, and the possibility of falsification. Sagan's "baloney detection kit" also provides tools for detecting "the most common fallacies of logic and rhetoric", such as argument from authority and statistics of small numbers. Through these tools, Sagan argues the benefits of a critical mind and the self-correcting nature of science can take place.
Sagan provides a skeptical analysis of several examples of what he refers to as superstition, fraud, and pseudoscience such as witches, UFOs, ESP, and faith healing. He is critical of organized religion.
Misuse of science
Sagan indicates that science can be misused. Thus, he is highly critical of Edward Teller, the "father of the hydrogen bomb", and his influence on politics and contrasts his stance to that of Linus Pauling and other scientists who took moral positions.
- Junk science
- Pathological science
- Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds by Charles Mackay
- Sagan, Carl, The Demon-Haunted World: Science As a Candle in the Dark. Ballantine Books, March 1997 ISBN 0-345-40946-9, 480 pgs. 1995 hardback edition: Random House, ISBN 0-394-53512-X, xv+457 pages plus addenda insert (some printings).
- Schult, Jeff, "The Case for Science". Reviewed for American Reporter.
- Review in Smithsonian magazine
- Review in Science
- Review in The New York Times
- Review in the Los Angeles Times