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49 of 50 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars At night a candle's brighter than the sun...
The blurb on the back cover says; "...Sagan examines and authoritatively debunks...witchcraft, faith healing and UFOs" - this he does but it is not really the main point of the book.

Sagan never sets out to trash some compendium of "new age" beliefs or all the paranormal and paraphyschological bunk that is currently doing the rounds. Instead, he uses examples...
Published on 15 Jun. 2007 by Sir Barnabas

versus
0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The demon-haunted World. Science as a candle in the dark
This book is badly printed and in fact I have given it up as the print face is too light and almost unreadable.
Published 12 months ago by Agnes Knight


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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Glorious Book., 26 Jan. 2002
By A Customer
A book which passionately clarifies what skepticism means and why it is important for human progress and happiness, the Demon-Haunted World pits rational thought against credulity. Sagan demonstrates that the myths inherent in many religions are clearly human inventions, and that we cannot simply endorse a belief in a comforting God unless we are willing to define what we mean by God. This book opens the reader's eyes to countless hoaxes and fallacies in our history and forces us to re-examine the world we live in with much, much more careful eyes. Finally, though it is filled to the brim with wonder, hope and humor, it may put the reader through the harsh but ultimately rewarding test of having to re-evaluate or even rebuild his or her spirituality, in a more scrupulous, responsible and courageous light.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Baloney merchants beware...!, 7 Jun. 2003
By 
Touring Mars (London, UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
Thank goodness for people like Carl Sagan. This book is a series of cautionary tales about how the seemingly inexplicable can (and should) be quite easily explained, but there are some people in this world who don't want you to question what they are doing. Covering a vast array of interesting topics, the central theme runs through the whole book like a spine, and is simple to follow and comprehend.
The 'scientific method' involves experiment, observation, scrutiny and analysis, yet never really sets out to 'prove' anything. Science merely sets out to 'disprove' a theory or hypothesis, and then refines that theory until something resembling reality is explained. All of these things follow the simple tests of logic and reason, and when applied with perserverance, diligence, objectiveness and hard work, you end up with something that is worth telling people. The issues that Carl Sagan discusses in this book are examples of things that go against the grain of everything that science is all about. Deception, subjectivity, ignorance, abuse of power and usually taking the easy way out in order to make money or gain in some other way that is ultimately unfair and unjust. One chapter is Sagan's brilliant 'Baloney Detection Kit', which is some simple questions designed to root out the BS.
Characters like James Van Praagh and John Edward both get short shrift, both of them being so-called psychics who have made fortunes portending to be able to communicate with your dead relatives on prime time TV. Other voices of sceptical reason like James Randi are welcome allies, whose voices are all too quiet against the babbling backdrop of baloney merchants the world over. Suffice it to say, there are alot of people making alot of money by telling people stuff that they already know, and then charging them a fortune for the pleasure. The sad fact is that usually the people who get stung the hardest are not seeking pleasure, but are usually vunerable, lonely, bereaved, desperate or in some other sort of tremendous emotional pain, and all that the baloney merchants want to do is take their money from them as well.
We need more people like Sagan and Randi in this world, and fewer Van Praaghs and John Edwards. You will find yourself referring to this book time and time again, and can be read as stand-alone chapters that are simultaneously interesting and informative, and written with humility and humour. There will be many people who will want to tell Sagan to keep his big mouth shut and stop making sense, but hopefully after reading this, you will be armed with the ammunition to stop them in their tracks and allow reason to prevail.
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28 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars More than one candle power, 22 Dec. 2005
By 
Kurt Messick "FrKurt Messick" (London, SW1) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
I was first introduced to Carl Sagan, along with most of the public, through the series `Cosmos'. Perhaps I can be forgiven for not having heard of him prior to that, given I was twelve years old at the time. It became very apparent in that series, and all subsequent writings, that Sagan was a man of science, to his very core. I have known physicists and scientists of other fields who have embraced denominational and religious tenets, and followed other faith structures (albeit usually with modifications to the theological framework, which in fact puts them in company with their non-scientific intellectual companions). Not so for Sagan. It became clear to me, almost from the beginning his series, that science, the religion of rationality, was his religion. He worshipped the Cosmos, his dogma was the principle of rationality, experimentation and verification, and his heresies included the various irrational parts of the world, which comprise a good deal of popular culture (in every society) and, ultimately, much of what is commonly called religion.
Sagan's book, `The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark', is therefore, by an large, Sagan's Book of Heresies. Unlike many books of heresies throughout history, however, this is no simple text of dogmatic pronouncements, a list of things to avoid or distrust. This book has reasoning, research, and history. Sagan points out that even religious structures, who rely heavily on irrational aspects (revelation and inspiration) have certain guidelines of rationality by which to test these aspects.
`A 1517 papal bull distinguishes between apparitions that appear "in dreams or divinely". Clearly, the secular and ecclesiatical authorities, even in times of extreme credulity, were alert to the possibilities of hoax and delusion.'
Sagan explores issues of UFO abduction stories, ghosts and 'saintly' appearances (how does one determine if it is truly the image of the Virgin Mary in the glass, or just a coincidental pattern in the sunlight and oily coating of the glass?). Sagan discounts the veracity of most (if not all) such happenings, not only due to the lack of rationality, emotional issues and delusions of the 'experiencers', but also due to the assistance of those in established positions of power who promote such things.
For Sagan, science is a 'golden road' that can raise people out of poverty and backwardness into a greater awareness of the world and universe in which they live. Material progress is dependent upon scientific knowledge; likewise, proper use and direction of this progress requires scientific and environmental awareness. Science for Sagan touches the deepest yearnings of human thought. Sagan also postulates a positive link between scientific advance and democratic values (the political theology Sagan believes).
There are a few problems with this reasoning--Sagan does not give religion its due in the course of helping to develop philosophical and cultural development in the course of history. While it is true that religion and science have been at odds in the West in past millennium a number of times, this may have more to do with political realities than true rationality. Astronomy, Sagan's own particular field, began in aid of astrology; technology, physics, and chemistry most likely also began to be developed in earnest in suport of religious programmes. Sagan does not mention the fact that both the Carolingian and Italian Renaissance periods showed great flowering in scientific knowledge without a democracy in sight.
These caveats having been said, Sagan's reasoning throughout is elegantly crafted, and well written, with a strong historical underpinning to his reasoning, and an eye toward future developments. Ultimately, Sagan cautions against science becoming the domain of an elite few. `In all uses of science, it is insufficient--indeed it is dangerous--to produce only a small, highly competent, well-rewarded priesthood of professionals. Instead, some fundamental understanding of the findings and methods of science must be available on the broadest scale.'
Perhaps we are entering a period for science similar to that of when printing presses revolutionised the interactions of people with religion by making scriptures readily accessible; are we about to enter a reformation of science, in which it is reclaimed by the people? No longer will there be a single 'catholic' faith of science (and science relies as heavily on faith principles as any religion), but a multiplicity of scientific denominations which we can only speculate about today.
Sagan's book provokes questions and provides answers, as any good scientific text, popular or technical, should do. 'The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark' is full of Sagan's rational-oriented philosophy, in concert with so much of the underpinnings of Western culture (even its religious frameworks of theology, though Sagan does not like to admit this), and yet, somehow culture loses its way occasionally, and it is up to the professionals, be they scientists or priests, to help education and illuminate the world anew, to provide the candle in the dark. May all such professionals find a common ground upon with to stand, so to better steady the foundation of all.
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars TOOLKIT FOR AN OPEN MIND, 25 Jan. 2005
My view is that this book should be compulsory reading for the entire world. Why? Because essentially it provides the reader with a toolkit for separating what might be true from the absolute rubbish. Essential reading for this age of what Richard Dawkins terms "the new ignorance" . BUY BUY BUY. and give as gifts.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rational and humane antidote to superstition., 17 Nov. 2001
This is an intelligent, sympathetic book that encourages readers to see life and the universe for the wonderful thing it is, without recourse to superstitious belief or a fondness for unlikely mysteries. Sagan demonstrates that there is more than enough to wonder at in the cosmos quite apart from the ever-multiplying stories of alien abduction, miraculous watch-stopping by tv personalities etc. Sagan is never facetious or condescending in his viewpoint, as some other science writers can be. He has a great deal of empathy for the human desire to search for something greater outside themselves, and dismantles illogical thinking with humour and kindness rather than harsh condemnation. I found this a very engaging and eye-opening book, which has changed the way I perceive a whole range of things - for the better. There are other books that also offer an apology for science, such as Richard Dawkin's 'Unweaving the Rainbow', or Lewis Wolpert's 'The Unnatural Nature of Science' but 'The Demon-Haunted World' outclasses them in almost every respect.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Critical reading ., 23 Jun. 2011
This is a book to arm you against all the woo-woo that exists in our modern world . Just read the piece about the baloney detection kit , this should be common sense but so rarely is . It never ceases to amaze me how people who reject the scientific method are happy to use all the products of the technology which results from scientific discovery . All the method says is test your ideas and accept the result regardless of your expectations So if you think it's raining you could consult a crystal ball or you could be scientific and go out side and see if you get wet . Of course you would need to do more since maybe somebody is being careless with a watering can . Anyhow read the book and arm yourself to survive in this science based world .
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A superb read, 22 Sept. 2000
By A Customer
I view this book as Sagan's "Last will and testament". Its a superb collection of essays, challenging the pseudo-science and superstitious nonsense of today. If you want to find out why scientific thinking and rational thought are so important to our civilisation and liberties, then you must read this book. Awe-inspiring, and extremely thought provoking. Carl - we'll miss you...
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Passionate and accessible, 8 Oct. 2009
By 
G. C. Brown "Neither them nor us" (Co. Down, N Ireland) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Passionate and accessible, this skeptical foundation book is packed full of examples of the merits of science and the weaknesses of human credulity and gullibility with respect to UFOs, alien abductions, witchhunts, charlatan faith healers and the like. All in all, I would heartily recommend this book to anyone, as the author's careful and compassionate style is likely to provoke thought rather than a negative reaction. The second half of the book felt a bit like a series of Appendices, and the book in general is not without a few minor errors, but as a promotion of the public understanding of science and a baloney detection kit, a thoroughly worthwhile read.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best books I have ever read, 11 Dec. 2010
I have just finished reading this book. I read an extract from it in Richard Dawkinss' "The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing" (itself a splendid uplifting read) and immediately bought it. I can understand the reviewer who said this book changed their life. There are a few works every now and again that have such a profound message, such precision and clarity, such moral persuasiveness that they are able to give the reader a fresh pair of eyes on the world. This is such a book. Without getting too personal, it is interesting that a reviewer who gave it the lowest grade appeared (perhaps by refusing to take Sagan's advice of using Critical Thinking) to miss the point completely. I can appreciate that not everybody would share my view or get from this book what I and the others who gave it top marks did, but those who appear unwilling to listen at all simply make Sagan's point for him. Although an atheist myself, I know many intelligent kindly religious people who are far from dogmatic or dictatorial in their belief. The problem Sagan so clearly points out is that even very intelligent human beings are highly susceptible to delusion of all kinds and when they achieve a critical mass (no pun intended) are capable of committing monstrous crimes against their fellow citizens. Take a look at some of the present day's theocratic states for clear proof of how dogma can lead to barbarity. We were once little different in The West and there are those in our part of the world whose rhetoric makes some of us fearful they would send us straight back there. We all have to guard against wishful thinking and self-delusion no matter what our standpoint. Sagan's humane rationalism has an even greater need to take centre stage in the light of everything that has happened since this book was written. A great man and a sad loss to the human race.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars More than one candle power..., 28 April 2006
By 
Kurt Messick "FrKurt Messick" (London, SW1) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
I was first introduced to Carl Sagan, along with most of the public, through the series `Cosmos'. Perhaps I can be forgiven for not having heard of him prior to that, given I was twelve years old at the time. It became very apparent in that series, and all subsequent writings, that Sagan was a man of science, to his very core. I have known physicists and scientists of other fields who have embraced denominational and religious tenets, and followed other faith structures (albeit usually with modifications to the theological framework, which in fact puts them in company with their non-scientific intellectual companions). Not so for Sagan. It became clear to me, almost from the beginning his series, that science, the religion of rationality, was his religion. He worshipped the Cosmos, his dogma was the principle of rationality, experimentation and verification, and his heresies included the various irrational parts of the world, which comprise a good deal of popular culture (in every society) and, ultimately, much of what is commonly called religion.

Sagan's book, `The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark', is therefore, by an large, Sagan's Book of Heresies. Unlike many books of heresies throughout history, however, this is no simple text of dogmatic pronouncements, a list of things to avoid or distrust. This book has reasoning, research, and history. Sagan points out that even religious structures, who rely heavily on irrational aspects (revelation and inspiration) have certain guidelines of rationality by which to test these aspects.

`A 1517 papal bull distinguishes between apparitions that appear "in dreams or divinely". Clearly, the secular and ecclesiatical authorities, even in times of extreme credulity, were alert to the possibilities of hoax and delusion.'

Sagan explores issues of UFO abduction stories, ghosts and 'saintly' appearances (how does one determine if it is truly the image of the Virgin Mary in the glass, or just a coincidental pattern in the sunlight and oily coating of the glass?). Sagan discounts the veracity of most (if not all) such happenings, not only due to the lack of rationality, emotional issues and delusions of the 'experiencers', but also due to the assistance of those in established positions of power who promote such things.

For Sagan, science is a 'golden road' that can raise people out of poverty and backwardness into a greater awareness of the world and universe in which they live. Material progress is dependent upon scientific knowledge; likewise, proper use and direction of this progress requires scientific and environmental awareness. Science for Sagan touches the deepest yearnings of human thought. Sagan also postulates a positive link between scientific advance and democratic values (the political theology Sagan believes).

There are a few problems with this reasoning--Sagan does not give religion its due in the course of helping to develop philosophical and cultural development in the course of history. While it is true that religion and science have been at odds in the West in past millennium a number of times, this may have more to do with political realities than true rationality. Astronomy, Sagan's own particular field, began in aid of astrology; technology, physics, and chemistry most likely also began to be developed in earnest in suport of religious programmes. Sagan does not mention the fact that both the Carolingian and Italian Renaissance periods showed great flowering in scientific knowledge without a democracy in sight.

These caveats having been said, Sagan's reasoning throughout is elegantly crafted, and well written, with a strong historical underpinning to his reasoning, and an eye toward future developments. Ultimately, Sagan cautions against science becoming the domain of an elite few. `In all uses of science, it is insufficient--indeed it is dangerous--to produce only a small, highly competent, well-rewarded priesthood of professionals. Instead, some fundamental understanding of the findings and methods of science must be available on the broadest scale.'

Perhaps we are entering a period for science similar to that of when printing presses revolutionised the interactions of people with religion by making scriptures readily accessible; are we about to enter a reformation of science, in which it is reclaimed by the people? No longer will there be a single 'catholic' faith of science (and science relies as heavily on faith principles as any religion), but a multiplicity of scientific denominations which we can only speculate about today.

Sagan's book provokes questions and provides answers, as any good scientific text, popular or technical, should do. 'The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark' is full of Sagan's rational-oriented philosophy, in concert with so much of the underpinnings of Western culture (even its religious frameworks of theology, though Sagan does not like to admit this), and yet, somehow culture loses its way occasionally, and it is up to the professionals, be they scientists or priests, to help education and illuminate the world anew, to provide the candle in the dark. May all such professionals find a common ground upon with to stand, so to better steady the foundation of all.
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