The Demon-Haunted World

1995 book by Carl Sagan

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

Cover of the first edition


Carl Sagan


United States




Scientific skepticism


Random House

Publication date


Media type

Print (hardcover and paperback)







Dewey Decimal

001.9 20

LC Class

Q175 .S215 1995

Preceded by

Pale Blue Dot 

Followed by

Billions and Billions 

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, 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.

It didn\'t really come from Carl. It actually came from a friend of mine named Arthur Felberbaum who died about forty years ago. He and Carl and I once sat down for dinner together. His politics were very left wing, so Carl and Arthur and I were trying to find common ground so that we could have a really good dinner together. And at one point, Arthur said, \"Carl, it\'s just that I dream that every one of us would have a baloney detection kit in our head.\" And that\'s where that idea came from.

Misuse of science

Sagan indicates that science can be misused. Thus, he is highly critical of Edward Teller, the \"father of the hydrogen bomb\", and Teller\'s influence on politics, and contrasts his stance to that of Linus Pauling and other scientists who took moral positions.

Sagan also discusses the misuse of science in representation. He relates to the depiction of the mad scientist character in children\'s TV shows and is critical of this occurrence. Sagan suggests an addition of scientific television programs, many of which would take a look at believed hoaxes of the past and encourage viewers to engage in critical thinking to better represent science on popular Television.

Misuse of psychiatric authority

Sagan indicates that therapists can contribute to the growth of pseudoscience or the infusion of \"false stories\". He is critical of John Mack and his support of abduction cases, which were represented in his patients.

Sagan writes about the story of Paul Ingram. Ingram\'s daughter reported that her father had sexually abused her. He was told that \"sex offenders often repressed memories of their crimes.\" Ingram was eventually able to have a foggy visualization of the claimed events, and he suggested that perhaps \"a demon might be responsible.\" Sagan describes how once Ingram started remembering events, so did several other individuals and family members. A \"memory recovery\" technique was performed on Ingram, and he confessed to the crimes. A medical examination was done on his daughter, where none of the scars she described were actually found. Sagan writes that Ingram later tried to plead innocence once \"away from his daughters, his police colleagues, and his pastor.\"

Reception and legacy

The book was a New York Times bestseller. The contemporary skeptical movement considers it an important book. The Demon-Haunted World has been criticized (in Smithsonian magazine and The New York Times) for not incorporating certain information relevant to the items he discusses in his book. 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.\" Trachtman argues that Sagan does not include problems like growing bureaucracies and diminishing medical benefits as reasons for a lack of scientific attention. 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 science to the public, while he does mention the failures of the education system to do so.

The review in the Smithsonian magazine and a review in the New York Review of Books provide a range of opinions on Sagan\'s attitude towards religious ideas. Per the New York Review article, \"when it comes to the Supreme Extraterrestrial he is rather circumspect.\" A review from the University of Phoenix agrees that Sagan carefully approaches the concept of religion: \"Readers should be aware that Sagan touches on sensitive areas in the cultural sphere, such as religion and where it stands in science, but handles the topics in such a way as to not offend.\" The Smithsonian article suggests Sagan was very clear about his religious beliefs in the book, for he \"splits his universe in two, into science and irrationality.\" The Smithsonian goes on to say that Sagan\'s defined religious views fall within the area of an untestable claim, a type of claim he argues against in The Demon-Haunted World.

The article in the New York Review also claims that Sagan includes something in The Demon-Haunted World which he also is arguing against in that same text. The article mentions how Sagan discusses a natural predisposition people have towards science; but, the article says, \"He does not tell us how he used the scientific method to discover the \"embedded\" human proclivity for science.\" Sagan heavily discusses the importance of using the scientific method in his book, and this article claims he strays away from his own message by not including a description of his use of the scientific method on this topic.

An article in the Los Angeles Times and the University of Phoenix review both describe Sagan\'s book positively. The Los Angeles Times describes Sagan\'s book as \"a manifesto for clear thought\", with the main issue being the length of eight chapters. This lengthy discussion is also addressed in the archived New York Times article, as well as the University of Phoenix review which relates to the book as having areas which repeat themselves. The latter article agrees with the use of The Demon-Haunted World as a text to provide tools for clearer thinking: \"Sagan writes in an engaging style, using dry wit and humor, to get his point across regarding the need for everyone to practice aspects of scientific thinking in their daily lives.\" This article also discusses the ability of The Demon-Haunted World to help beginner researchers and students learn about the importance of critical thinking early on.

The Demon-Haunted World has been defined in more current sources as still relevant. An article in The Guardian, 2012, suggests the still current relevance of The Demon-Haunted World. Another article from The Verge in 2017 also supports this relevance. The latter article mentions a disconnect between what is proven by science to be the best answer and what is chosen to be done by governmental bodies. Carl Sagan covers this concept as a prominent issue in his book (1995), and this article outlines it as a problem still occurring in 2017.


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