The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark had been on my bookshelf for a very long time, but after two abortive attempts I decided that I owed it to the departed Mr. Sagan to finish it. In my youth a lot of his work had a profound effect on me. Cosmos on PBS and Dragons of Eden in particular were formulative. Although some of the theory and speculation could be fanciful it seemed to represent wondrous possibilities rather than the ludicrous fancy or, alternatively, dusty conservatism I’d encountered in other “scientific” works. It was the preface of Demon-Haunted World that lead me to believe that it would charmingly dispel the former (which in my mind include the likes of Erich von Däniken and Graham Hancock) while not falling into a dry rote.
Demon-Haunted does indeed start off making an excellent and eloquent case against damaging pseudoscience, particularly in instances were lives and wellbeing are at stake. It also addresses the dangers of suppression and enforced ignorance in the face of repressive religions and ideologies.
Sagan is particularly skilled at simply exposing bare truths and employing critical thinking and logic in areas of study that thrive on vagueness and confusion. His insights into why pseudoscience in all its myriad forms is so appealing are particularly useful.
Somewhere along the line, though, Demon-Haunted takes a more aggressive tone. Perhaps it’s me, but I almost detect a dismissive and bitter tone of religion in general. Here, Sagan and I part ways. While I’m certainly not a pious person by mainstream accounts in the US, I do believe that religion does have an important, valuable and irrefutable place in human society. I believe that both religion and science fulfill certain needs, spiritually and practically respectively.
Certainly, this line can be detrimentally blurred, but I believe that anyone possessed of a mind capable of embracing the underlying concepts of either science or religion can resolve them both in a life neither devoid nor impoverished of either.
All this aside, I would still recommend the book to others, particularly those wanting to sharpen their critical eye to the world. The truth is often far more wondrous than the lie.