Monday, August 6, 2018

Book Report-The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark was published in 1995 by Carl Sagan.  The main theme of the book is critical thinking and how significant is is in science.  Sagan begins by explaining his encounter with a man who claims to be interested in "science".  Sagan, an astrophysicist, begins to question the man about what parts of science interest him, and ends up listening to ideas about the sunken city of Atlantis and frozen extraterrestrials.  Sagan explains that although both science and pseudoscience "arouses a soaring sense of wonder", they are very different.

Throughout his book, Sagan explains how to differentiate between science and pseudoscience.  His focus being through questioning and skeptical thinking.  These methods help people understand the world around them and how it works.  He goes on to explain that skeptical thinking allows people to realize a baseless idea.  Through the use of stories, Sagan helps explain what he means by skeptical thinking.

The most interesting chapter was titled "Science and Witchcraft".  Sagan explains the history of witchcraft and the persecution that took place.  It was later acknowledges that hallucinations could have contributed to the trials.  This chapter captured my attention because Sagan gets to the root of the cause of the witch trials.  He paraphrased Friedrich von Spee when he writes, "...improved public understanding of superstition and skepticism might have helped to short-circuit the whole train of causality".  Getting back to the main theme of his book, if people had used skeptical thinking and asked question while the witch trials were occurring, they may have never happened or at least less frequently.

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