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

Author: Carl Sagan
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by InfinitysDice   2019-08-24

If you, perchance, liked the Harry Potter series, you might enjoy Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, as a fairly pain free and enjoyable introduction to cognitive biases, logical fallacies, and other useful tools to better thinking. Elizer Yudkowsky, the author of HPatMoR maintains several resources that can also be useful in training your mind to be more rational, and a better critical thinker.


The Demon-haunted world: science as a candle in the dark by Carl Sagan is a fantastic book in praise of science, a primer for the scientific method, and a decent guide to why and how science works. Further, it covers the nature of conspiracy thinking and pseudoscience, how to identify these things, and why they are harmful to society. Available in audiobook, ebook, and paper formats.


Algorithms to Live by is a bit off to the side of your requested topic, but it's an interesting treatise on how computer science can teach you some of the optimal ways one can make certain types of decisions. It's a bit counterintuitive, in the advice given, for example: messiness is often more efficient than spending a lot of time organizing everything, humans can't really multitask, and hunches are sometimes your best tool for deciding a course of action. I've read the book and posses the audiobook, both are great.


Almost anything written by Richard Feynman is accessible, humorous, and wise, in an askew sort of way. He's good at approaching topics from odd angles.


The Great Courses offers many resources on Audible: I've read and enjoyed Your Deceptive Mind, Skepticism 101, and Your Best Brain, which cover cognitive biases, and logical fallacies in detail, how to think more clearly without false, misleading thought, and how to take care of you mind through better lifestyle choices.

by geekamongus   2019-08-24

Can't go wrong with Carl Sagan:

by awkward_armadillo   2019-08-24

A descent selection so far from the other comments. I'll throw in a few, as well:


  • Carl Sagan - Demon Haunted World
  • Greg M. Epstein - Good Without God
  • Michael Shermer - Why People Believe Weird Things
  • Sean Carroll - The Big Picture
  • John Loftus - Why I Became an Atheist
  • A.C. Grayling - The God Argument
  • Kenneth Daniels - Why I Believed
  • Robert A Burton - On Being Certain


Some of the above is specifically related to atheism, while others I've used to help shape and inform my understanding and my worldview. Out of the entire list, the Carl Sagan book and the Sean Carroll book rank highest, for me, in level of importance. Those books didn't just change what I think, they changed how I think, and I am forever indebted to them.

by AncileBooster   2019-07-21

Wonder what she thought of The Demon-Haunted World by Carl Sagan

by panamafloyd   2019-07-21

Read/watch more Sagan. He really wanted to talk more about science than superstition. Even the social/political situation about it.

Also, have you read any of Dawkins' books about biology, rather than superstition? He really didn't start directly attacking religion until he realized that anti-reality stuff was so prevalent in society.

I have to admit, first time I read this one..I had to have a dictionary open alongside it. :D

> Although, I'm struggling with the point to existence

I have to be honest. I really don't understand why so many people have this concern. I do understand that they feel it's legitimate, I just don't understand why.

I suspect my personal experience is behind that..I grew up Southern Baptist, and my first realization was full-tilt "I'M FREE!"

I don't care if there's no 'greater celestial reason' for my existence. I exist. I might as well do the most I can with it.

I love good food. I love sportscars. I love a woman's company. I love my daughter. I love soccer.

> and why the universe is the way it is.

I really don't know..but only the religious people in my life act as if that's some great crime. Personally..I'll just read the works of the people who are actually looking for it, instead of performing mental fellatio upon the pack of lying shamans who claim they actually know.

> I simply don't want to believe that I'm just an accident

Well, you're not! Go study more biology. That old Christian whine about "..the Earth is perfectly tuned for life!!" is pathetic.

The Earth came first. We're here because we come from it. Of course it's 'perfect' for us. It's our mommy.

> I'm done being force-fed information. I want to find out for myself.

And you can, if you just get past the fear. And I know that the fear can really blow around your mind for awhile. Wishing you well with it.

by panamafloyd   2019-07-21

Sagan's "The Demon-Haunted World".

Except for his decision to use the word "demon" in the title (which has actually sent some of my friends/fam into a panic, TBH), it's a pretty good expression of why mythology doesn't really explain 'how the world works' very well.

by aperijove   2019-07-21

Apologies if it's been referenced already, I think I read the whole thread but am on mobile and didn't see it mentioned.

Carl Sagan wrote a superb book on this topic, This Demon Haunted World, Science as a candle in the dark. He talks about the perception of witches being a mass psychosis and gets into the corruption and politics of it. A superb book.

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

by spaceghoti   2019-07-21

The Demon-Haunted World: Science As A Candle In The Dark

by BeringStraitNephite   2018-11-10

I have always been hooked on technology and science. I didn't realize I wasn't really thinking critically until I read Carl Sagan's book

by urban_npc   2018-11-10

>I mean, that's kind of the crux of the issue, you can't get the exact claim if you aren't understanding the concepts behind the claim (I haven't watched the episode, but i presume it explains them)

I didn't ask to clairfy for my own understanding, I have to ask because I've been through this same argument several times and every time I've gotten different & inconsistent definitions from the other person.

>Gender identity on the other hand is an internal, deeply held sense of what gender you are, which is what liberals (and science) are saying is something that is separate from sex, but also has a biological basis (implausible as that sounds)

So, you think they're arguing that someone can believe that they are something on a spectrum? I don't think that's in any way revolutionary. I can deeply believe I'm an ostrich, or a frog, or some hybrid. Still doesn't make me one.

I've heard 5 people now (just in this thread) tell me science agrees or that they could get me scientific papers on it, but the best anyone has done so far was a link to a British tabloid. I'm starting to think you guy's don't understand credibility / empirical evidence or have just convinced yourselves it's true regardless of reality.

I'd recommend each of you get yourselves a copy of The Demon-Haunted World or find a pdf of it online.

by BeringStraitNephite   2018-11-10

I was trapped in a cult called Mormonism. This magazine taught me much about critical thinking and I escaped :

And this :

Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time

And this:

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

by spaceghoti   2018-11-10

What resources I recommend depends a great deal on what questions they have. For general resources I recommend the Youtube series Why I Am No Longer A Christian

by aPinkFloyd   2018-11-10

Lots of love for you, here are some thoughts of mine...

  • it is a mistake to believe that you should be asking the question "What is the purpose of my life?" it's not a question you ask, IT IS A QUESTION YOU ANSWER! and you answer it by living your life as ONLY you can, having the adventure that is your life experience, discovering the magical miracle that is ONLY YOU in all of this vast universe!

  • After losing Mormonism and the understanding of the universe that goes with it, I find myself an atheist, which has made this little journey of life INFINITELY more precious to me. It's all and everything we have! (as far as we know).

  • I have pulled in many helpful, empowering, peaceful ideas from Buddhism, Philosophy, Science that has helped me start to form a new, optimistic, and amazingly open minded new world-view. I no longer have to believe anything that doesn't make sense, I get to believe only sweet things now, and that is SO nice.

Here are some resources that I have been really grateful for on my journey, which I am 12 months into...

The Obstacle is the Way

The Daily Stoic this is my new "daily bible" I read a page every morning

Secular Buddhism podcast

Waking Up podcast

End of Faith

The Demon Haunted World

Philosophize This! podcast OR Partially Examined Life podcast

I wish you the very best in your journey, be patient with yourself, you have EVERY reason to be! Start filling your mind with powerful positive ideas, keep the ones that help you find your way, set aside the ones that don't.

And remember, you are young and free and the possibilities of what your life can become are boundless!

by roundeyeddog   2018-02-16

I would actually recommend these two books:

I'm not trying to be condescending, but these will really steer you in the right direction on sourcing. I still use both in my daily life all the time.

by spaceghoti   2017-08-19

I think Carl Sagan addresses this squarely in his book The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. Here's one excerpt where he examines one problem:

> Mr. 'Buckley' - well-spoken, intelligent, curious - had heard virtually nothing of modern science. He had a natural appetite for the wonders of the Universe. He wanted to know about science. It's just that all the science had gotten filtered out before it reached him. Our cultural motifs, our educational system, our communications media had failed this man. What society permitted to trickle through was mainly pretence and confusion. It had never taught him how to distinguish real science from the cheap imitation. He knew nohing about how science works.

by blandge   2017-08-19

Almost all religions contain some good, even great, aspects that could very well improve your life. Two of the main things they offer that many recent deconverts have difficulty finding outside religion is spirituality and community. Religious people also do a great deal of charity in the name of faith.

That being said, the problem with religions is that they aren't true. You could very well join a more pacifistic religion like the Jainism or Zen Buddhism that might do you a lot of good, but you'd still be adhering to unsubstantiated beliefs.

> But I wish I could find something that gave me answers. Helped me explain life. Why I'm here. Give me clear answers that can be applied to modern life. Something that actually gives me fulfillment.

The problem is that these are tough questions that may not have clear answers. For example, you asked "Why am I here?" From a secular perspective, this may not even be a cogent question. There seems to be no clear indication that there is any external purpose to life.

One of the hardest parts of deconverting from religion is that idea that you have to get used to not having the answer to numinous questions.

As far as finding fulfillment and purpose, we can find and prescribe purpose internally. Know yourself and know what you like doing and who you like being around , and use that as a purpose. Get a hobby, start learning something you find interesting, dedicate yourself to some cause or goal.

Just because there is no (apparent) "ultimate" purpose does not mean that you can't find some sort of personal purpose that means a lot TO YOU and to those you interact with in striving towards that purpose.

> But Is there any alternative that could do this for me?

I'd recommend looking outside of religion at the ideas of secular humanism. Here are some great links:

Sam Harris's talk on The Moral Landscape

Matt Dillahunty's similar, but probably more accessible talk on The Superiority of Secular Morality.

Jerry Dewitt's talk on Hope after Faith

Sam Harris's book WAKING UP: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion or alternatively the Audiobook version or a shorter discussion he had about his book

Sam Harris's Guided Meditation

Carl Sagan's book Demon Haunted World or alternatively the Audiobook version

Neil Tyson's TV series Cosmos

Finally, don't forget to look up secular or atheist groups or communities in your area. The purpose of the group doesn't have to be strictly related to atheism; any community that is not religious focused would work.

by mhornberger   2017-08-19

Will believers see the value of a position that starts off with "of course there is no God!" (1:15 or so) and then just uses church as a community center, or a place with decent art and music? Are believers willing to move beyond doctrine and dogma?

I like de Botton's work in general, though I haven't read this particular book. But in this Ted talk I think he's arguing against a straw man version of atheism. Very few atheists rail against every single thing from religion.

Many atheists like cathedrals and religious art, music, and literature. I'm fine with engaging the KJV as literature. But how many believers are? I've had believers actually repudiate even the moral content of the New Testament, if it is to be divorced from the supernatural authority of God.

What's interesting too is the mindset he's trying to persuade atheists to embrace is the one believers frequently accuse us of already having. They already think we follow Dawkins or Harris like secular popes. They think we believe in evolution or materialism as a secular dogma that we can't question.

Looking at the dictionary definition of sermon, "a talk on a religious or moral subject," we already have those. There are many great talks by Christopher Hitchens, Neil deGrasse Tyson and many others, entreating listeners to embrace a secular worldview. Look up "Skepticon" on Youtube. Talk after talk advocating for the superiority, even the moral superiority, of a secular worldview. Those are sermons. We already hand out copies of Sagan's Demon-Haunted World with hushed assurances of "read this--it changed my life." Sagan called science "informed worship."

We already have this stuff. What believers actually want is basically for non-believers to stop being critical of religion. Believers want atheists to be more "moderate" (by which they mean, respectful of religion, or just silent) but they themselves would reject almost every remedy de Botton offers. Most prominently, starting off with the position of "of course there's no God." Is that really the truce being offered?