Where Dawkins goes for maximum destruction, piling the misery and mockery on those he's battling, Sagan doesn't even acknowledge his enemy. The Demon-haunted World poses, instead (and very effectively), as a book in defense of skepticism, a book persuading the unskeptical to embrace reason in the form of open-mindedness, the pursuit of evidence, and a thirst for asking questions of everything.
To this end, Sagan takes on some of his favourite topics -- witch burning, demonic possession, science illiteracy, repressed memories, psychology, parapsychology, superstitions, UFOs and alien encounters -- and pokes at them with his skeptical stick to show us how a good skeptic (or good scientist) gets to the heart of an issue. He offers lessons in detecting fallacy (or "baloney," to use Sagan's technical term) and how to avoid it in our own arguments. He make a case for the importance of being skeptical of ourselves, our leaders, and our most cherished beliefs.
And underneath it all is a carefully mounted attack on theism. Sagan avoids detonating his explosives himself. He piles the dirt and camouflage on his landmine, hiding it with the skill of an old campaigner. He offers supposedly clear paths through the field, hoping that more than one will unwittingly trip the explosives and blow their belief systems to pieces.
I wonder, though, if Sagan's plan is too subtle to really make a difference. I wonder if Dawkins' preference for arguments of mass destruction is more effective. I felt like a sapper in Sagan's minefield. Aware or the landmines, appreciating their design, loving the patterns in which they were laid, but certain that most of Sagan's targeted personnel would simply wander through the field, unscathed, beneficiaries of their own dumb luck.
Whether Sagan's weapons have taken any theist casualities or not, it is a wonderful book about skepticism. A wonderful reminder to be ever vigilant. A book I can't wait to pass on to my children.
But it also made me just a little sad. I wish he'd been around when the Patriot Act was drafted. His voice would have been an important voice of dissent, and perhaps the USA wouldn't be as deep in the shit as they are. (less)