Lightreads's Reviews > The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

The Demon-Haunted World by Carl Sagan
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it was ok
bookshelves: nonfiction, gave-up

Hey, so, guess what? People who read the Weekly World News are stupid, but scientists are awesome! Did you know that?

I just put this book down, 175 pages in. It's not that I disagree with the thesis, because I actually don't at all. Sagan uses the widespread belief in alien abductions to talk about the need for more critical thinking in this world. And I'm totally there -- yes, for the love of God, teach people to distinguish between fact and what they want to be fact. But Sagan goes on -- and on and on -- about the evils of unexamined credulity, and how so much of what we believe is contextually determined and not logically deduced, and then he turns around and says 'therefore empiricism is the only truth.' And then completely fails to deal with the indeterminacy problem -- all the ways empiricism is also an ordinal choice, not some universal baseline against which to measure all intellectual thought. I mean, I'm as much a fan of the scientific method as the next well-educated dabbler, but I'm rendered irretrievably cranky by a guy touting the holy purity of his truth mechanisms when his argument basically boils down to, "the scientific method works! I've tested it! With the scientific method!" And never stops to wonder about his contextual determinants.

Actually, that would be more okay if I could discern a point. Sagan waxes on and on and on about why people come to believe they were abducted, why other people believe them, where such mass dilusions historically might come from. And it's written in this snotty, "now you see the error of your ways," tone when, you know, I sort of suspect the Weekly World News readership is not also snapping up this book. That, and Sagan was a much better astrochemist than a psychologist or historian.

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Reading Progress

Started Reading
February 1, 2008 – Finished Reading
December 28, 2008 – Shelved
January 3, 2009 – Shelved as: nonfiction
February 19, 2016 – Shelved as: gave-up

Comments Showing 1-19 of 19 (19 new)

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Brian To be fair, what Sagan said was (in a nutshell) 'the scientific method has given the best results in determining reality when compared to other methods (pseudoscience and religion for example)' and specifically he said if there was a better method that appeared he would gladly go with that, but as of now there isn't.

He expressed that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence...and clearly expressed the limitations of scientific method in a number of ways.

I thought he went to great lengths to avoid being snotty and felt he treated most of these topics with a much too diplomatic tongue.

Eduardo Teixeira @Brian is right. Perhaps if you read the whole book you would see Sagan is not arrogant at all.

Russ " .. but I'm rendered irretrievably cranky by a guy touting the holy purity of his truth mechanisms.."

They weren't HIS 'truth mechanisms' - that is how science & scientific methodology 'works'. And obversely, that is why the dark-ager's 'belief system' - fails. In the REAL world of Carl's (and many of us) - the truth is repeatable.. again & again. There aren't any compelling reasons to play the: 'what do you think' game. 1 + 1 equals 2. Again and again and again...

In closing, I must remark on the.. "a guy touting the holy purity of his.." ?? Sagan was anti-holy, lol.

message 4: by Arthur (new) - added it

Arthur I have to agree with Brian. This review is a horrid mis-caricature of a compelling intellect.

Russ Yes - Sagan was great.

message 6: by Tony (new) - added it

Tony Just like you reading the book, I only read a small portion of your review. So I find myself qualified to say you're dead wrong and a holier-than-thou jerk.

Michael To be fair, Sagan over-references the Weekly World Mews as if it's a standard of followers of the paranormal. It is not. At the same time, he stops referencing it after a while. The whole book shouldn't be be faulted on this one aspect.

Alli Starr I think he introduces it that way so people realize how easily they believe things they are told. The alien abduction scenario just happened to be the hot ticket to gullibility when this was written. He actually follows all this up later in the book with tips on being skeptical yourself. Again, another reader criticizing a book they haven;t actually read.

Chasity How can one review a book if they did not finish it? Have your considered that you are not the targeted market?

Chasity How can one review a book if they did not finish it? Have your considered that you are not the targeted market?

message 11: by Zack (new) - rated it 4 stars

Zack So you expected a book targeting a popular audience about the value of science and rationality to actually be a philosophical treatise on the epistemology behind science??

The Fizza Sorry if you perhaps feel 'ganged-up on' but I can't agree enough with the other comments: 1 - reading an entire books is the only thing that makes one qualified to review it. 2 - if you had read the whole book you might have seen that what you are doing is exactly what Sagan warns people to watch out for.

Despite what Stephen Colbert has said, science and truth do not come from gut feelings they come from a systematic and unbiased examination of what we observe when we test theories, also known as the scientific method.

As Sagan cites, it is unfortunate that many people believe things that cannot be proven simply because they fit into their world view.

message 13: by Doug (new) - rated it 3 stars

Doug I don't agree that it is a bad book but I do agree that it is a bit long-winded. The people that cling to foolish ideas are never going to read this book. Those who appreciate the importance of the scientific method need less encouragement.

message 14: by Russ (new) - rated it 5 stars

Russ What Jagad5 says has some credence. People that are members of any religion are quite essentially cultists. They have been rote trained and will reject reality when it blows away the dogma they have come to believe as the one and only truth.

Travis J. Wells You missed out then bud. No offense but the first half of the book is just ground work for the rest.

message 16: by Ben (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ben Hatfield "Actually, that would be more okay if I could discern a point. " this book couldn't be clearer if it was written on glass. Thank you for providing a perfect counter balance and opinion from which to decipher a more worthy review and critique. You have exercised your rights, and in doing so have added something to the greater whole, no matter how dubious.

Jimbo I found Sagan's words to be filled with the utmost humility. It seems you read (a little) and failed to comprehend.

JethOrensin > Actually, that would be more okay if I could discern a point.

try finishing the book and you will find the point easily.

message 19: by Michael (new)

Michael Perkins Here's a sample of the pub you defend. The reasons for skepticism should be obvious....

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