Carl Sagan was simply the world’s best science teacher, a legacy continued after his death by projects like the Childrens’ Hospital at Montefiore. His 1997 book “The Demon-Haunted World“ demonstrates yet again why Sagan deserved that title.
The sub-title of this book is “Science as a Candle in the Dark,” itself a worthy reminder in an age where gullible mysticism grows ever stronger. Sagan states his position in a very human way. He leaves his mind open to possibilities, but quietly insists that popular “paranormal” beliefs meet the tests of evidence. Amusingly, he also tackles pseudoscience along the way – for instance, those famous tobacco company studies showing cigarettes to be safe.
This is not a dogmatic or inflexible man. His writing is clear, and alive with the wonder that we’ve come to associate with him via Cosmos and other works. Science, too, has its shortcomings, and Sagan acknowledges them. Nevertheless, his reminders concerning the shortcomings of superstition and unexamined beliefs are both compelling and timely.
Carl Sagan’s message will not be congenial to many in today’s society. An ethic of superstition and refusal to consider evidence as relevant is growing. Some profit from this state of affairs, and seek to foster it. Many others have absorbed part of that ethic. All the more reason to pick up Sagan’s readable, enjoyable, compellingly-argued, and very human book.