I found this video on YouTube, one of my absolute favourite pieces from Carl Sagan’s magnificent series Cosmos: a Personal Voyage (episode 8, “Journeys through Space and Time”). An excellent message to be absorbed by all of humanity.
“What we do with our world, right now, will propagate down through the centuries and powerfully affect the destiny of our descendants. It is well within our power to destroy our civilization, and perhaps our species as well. If we capitulate to superstition, or greed, or stupidty we can plunge our world into a darkness deeper than time between the collapse of classical civilization and the Italian Renaissaince. But, we are also capable of using our compassion and our intelligence, our technology and our wealth, to make an abundant and meaningful life for every inhabitant of this planet. To enhance enormously our understanding of the Universe, and to carry us to the stars.”
Carl Sagan’s 1997 “The Demon-Haunted World” is a celebrated book deserving its celebration, one of the absolute best – if not the best - introductory books to scientific philosophy and skepticism for both the lay person and the academic. Throughout the 400 pages Sagan varies between discussing why certain paranormal concepts (especially ufology) is wrong, and discussing why we don’t need them in the first place – the beauty of science should be enough. Sagan postulates that science is not just a nice thing to have around for the practical technology it creates, but it is absolutely vital for our continuing survival as a species, a candle in the dark, flickering and trembling before the darkness of superstition.
Sagan puts this forth to excite the reader and make her think, while at the same time bringing both comic relief, grave seriousness and spirituality, in the agnostic way Sagan defines it. Sagan both plays with the ideas of extraterrestrial visits to Earth, and only pages later writes of the mixed emotions when facing his father’s death in a naturalistic world view.
Sagan’s final book before his 1997 death is not only a book for debunking pseudo-scientific claims (if that’s your goal, there are much better books and web sites). Much like his TV series Cosmos, “The Demon-Haunted World” is a testament both to critical thinking and to the human species and the cosmos. Sagan doesn’t look down upon the human brain for its creation of superstition and religion. He celebrates it, and he hopes it to continue its journey with science.
“I worry that, especially as the Millennium edges nearer, pseudo-science and superstition will seem year by year more tempting, the siren song of unreason more sonorous and attractive. Where have we heard it before? Whenever our ethnic or national prejudices are aroused, in times of scarcity, during challenges to national self-esteem or nerve, when we agonize about our diminished cosmic place and purpose, or when fanaticism is bubbling up around us-then, habits of thought familiar from ages past reach for the controls. The candle flame gutters. Its little pool of light trembles. Darkness gathers. The demons begin to stir.”
- Carl Sagan: “The Demon-Haunted World”