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

Books Read

The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark is a 1995 book by the astrophysicist Carl Sagan and co-authored by Ann Druyan,[1] in which the authors aim to explain the scientific method to laypeople and to encourage people to learn critical and skeptical thinking. They explain methods to help distinguish between ideas that are considered valid science and those that can be considered pseudoscience. Sagan states that when new ideas are offered for consideration, they should be tested by means of skeptical thinking and should stand up to rigorous questioning.


Sagan explains that science is not just a body of knowledge, but is a way of thinking. Sagan shows how scientific thinking is both imaginative and disciplined, bringing humans to an understanding of how the universe is, rather than how they wish to perceive it. He says that science works much better than any other system because it has a “built-in error-correcting machine”.[2]: 27  Superstition and pseudoscience get in the way of the ability of many laypersons to appreciate the beauty and benefits of science. Skeptical thinking allows people to construct, understand, reason, and recognize valid and invalid arguments. Wherever possible, there must be independent validation of the concepts whose truth should be proved. He states that reason and logic would succeed once the truth were known. Conclusions emerge from premises, and the acceptability of the premises should not be discounted or accepted because of bias.

Baloney detection kit

Sagan presents a set of tools for skeptical thinking that he calls the “baloney detection kit”.[3][4]: 210 [5] Skeptical thinking consists both of constructing a reasoned argument and recognizing a fallacious or fraudulent one. In order to identify a fallacious argument, Sagan suggests employing such tools as independent confirmation of facts, debate, development of different hypotheses, quantification, the use of Occam’s razor, and the possibility of falsification. Sagan’s “baloney detection kit” also provides tools for detecting “the most common fallacies of logic and rhetoric”, such as argument from authority and statistics of small numbers. Through these tools, Sagan argues the benefits of a critical mind and the self-correcting nature of science can take place.

Sagan provides nine tools as the first part of this kit.

  1. There must be independent confirmation of the facts given when possible.
  2. Encourage debate on the evidence from all points of view.
  3. Realize that an argument from authority is not always reliable. Sagan supports this by telling us that ‘authorities” have made mistakes in the past and they will again in the future.
  4. Consider more than one hypothesis. Sagan adds to this by telling us that we must think of the argument from all angles and think all the ways it can be explained or disproved. The hypothesis that then still hasn’t been disproved has a much higher chance of being correct.
  5. Try your best to not purely stick to a hypothesis that is your own and become biased. Sagan tells us to compare our own hypothesis with others to see if we can find reasons to reject our own hypothesis.
  6. Quantify. Sagan tells us that if whatever we are trying to explain has numerical value or quantitative data related to it, then we’ll be much more able to compete against other hypotheses.
  7. If there is a chain of argument, every link in that chain must be correct.
  8. The use of Occam’s razor, which tells us to choose the hypothesis that is simpler and requires the least amount of assumptions.
  9. Ask if a given hypothesis can be falsified. Sagan tells us that if a hypothesis cannot be tested or falsified then it is not worth considering.

Sagan suggests that with the use of this “baloney detection kit” it is easier to critically think and find the truth.

Logical fallacies

There is a second part to the kit that Sagan gives us. This consists of twenty different logical fallacies that one must not commit when offering up a new claim.

  1. Ad hominem. An arguer attacks the opposing arguer and not the actual argument.
  2. Argument from authority. Someone expects another to immediately believe that a person of authority or higher knowledge is correct.
  3. Argument from adverse consequences. Someone says that something must be done a certain way or else there will be adverse consequences.
  4. Appeal to ignorance. One argues a claim in that whatever has not been proved false must be true, and vice versa.
  5. Special pleading. An arguer responds to a deeply complex or rhetorical question or statement by, usually, saying “oh you don’t understand how so and so works”.
  6. Begging the question. An arguer assumes the answer and makes a claim such as, this happened because of that, or, this needs to happen in order for that to happen.
  7. Observational selection. Someone talks about how great something is by explaining all of the positive aspects of it while purposely not mentioning any of the negative aspects.
  8. Statistics of small numbers. Someone argues something by giving the statistics in small numbers, which isn’t very reliable.
  9. Misunderstanding of the nature of statistics. Someone misinterprets statistics given to them.
  10. Fallacy of inconsistency. An arguer is very inconsistent in their claims.
  11. Non sequitur. This is Latin for “it doesn’t follow”. A claim is made that doesn’t make much sense, such as “Our nation will prevail because God is great”.
  12. Post hoc ergo propter hoc. Latin for “it happened after, so it was caused by.” An arguer claims that something happened because of a past event when really it probably didn’t.
  13. Meaningless question. Someone asks a question that has no real meaning or doesn’t add to the argument at all.
  14. The excluded middle. An arguer only considers or mentions the two opposite extremes of the conversation and excludes the aspects in between the two extremes.

As published in Wikipedia.

1 thought on “The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

  1. See footnote.

    I found this imprint interesting enough to visit ‘wiki’ where the rest of the article provides answer to the unasked question which Sagan obviously wrestled with much of his life: Does God, or more specifically ‘A Supreme Universal Intelligence’, exist? It seems that Carl would argue ‘no’!
    I know a number of scientists who would make that argument and do; sometimes privately and sometimes quite loudly in public. I have yet to hear, what I would consider, a definitive, concrete argument. That is to say an argument which would measure up to, at least, the logical rationalization which Sagan describes as required for science to be reliable. Basically.
    That said, I must concede that ALL major religions do a very, very poor job explaining their argument for a Supreme, not just superior, Intelligence.
    However there are salient facts, concrete facts, which should be examined by all persons whether science oriented or religion oriented or neither, and, I mean strongly oriented in the sense of, shall we say, taking sides.
    I think the rest of the article at wiki provides much food for thoughtful consideration. Especially by using Sagan’s grocery list for critiquing.
    From the article:
    “In his review for the New York Times, James Gorman also argues for an unaddressed issue in Sagan’s book, saying Sagan fails to emphasize the idea that scientists should take a more active role in reaching (first spelling error I have found on ‘wiki’) {teaching} science to the public, while he does mention the failures of the education system to do so.[13]”

    (Note: the so-called ‘Education System’ fails to teach a lot of critical ‘facts’ as does the ‘Church’, so as not to interfere with, shall we say, ‘Gain of function’?

    Why Sagan would NOT propose reasons for this ‘failure’ by the scientific community is quite problematic. But, I believe, immediately answerable and resolvable.

    Indeed, Sagan is nailed on the head by one of his critics: “The Smithsonian article by Paul Trachtman argues that Sagan relates issues of government choices and declining scientific thinking skills to pseudoscience topics like astrology and faith healing but ignores other issues that may be causing governmental bodies and other individuals to turn away from science. One such issue is consequences of pouring governmental money into cancer research. Trachtman writes, “it is not because of such beliefs that Congress now approaches the NIH budget with an ax. In fact, billions of dollars spent on years of research in the war on cancer have spawned growing professional bureaucracies and diminishing medical benefits.”[12]

    Nobody, of any gargantuan self importance, gives a shit about the outcome of using supposedly ‘scientific’ and unproven vaccines on a scared shitless population as long as it makes MONEY!
    Pardon my Greek, which is the language of MEDICINE, as opposed to Latin, which is the language of LAW, but, truth be told, with the boldest of veracity, the ‘love of money is the root of all evil’!
    ‘Money makes the world go round, ‘NOT!’ and we will get to that in another time and space.

    Does no one recognize that the Vatican, church, is one of, if not the largest monetary, your money, contributors to science, particularly astronomy? Yes, the Vatican is scared shitless, also, as is Science, that A Supreme Intelligence is going to deal with their treachery soon enough.

    Or, that Government funding of Science, also paid by you, is fraught with bribes, kickbacks, slush funds, thieves, con’s, etc. utilizing dead bodies, really, called Corp(ses), and Scientists, with their abstract notions, and Doctors, like Dr. Frankenstein of Shelley fame, all in bed together, the Chamber of Commerce, sucking the blood right out of you, literally, and making Billion$, if not Trillion$, from fake VACCINE$ which not only do not heal but actually are now killing unpublishable numbers of humans in every age group.
    There is NO doubt, in my mind, that Scientists must apply the rules of Science, as well as The Laws of Yahweh if they want to ‘live long and prosper’.
    Otherwise they, all of us, are headed for Deep Dead Space!

    Growing Number Of COVID-19 Deaths Among Vaccinated People: Federal Data.

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