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Tag Archives: The Demon-Haunted World

Carl Sagan was likely more responsible for the popularization of science than any other scientist in recent memory.   His series Cosmos, in spite of it’s now dated graphics, still has the capacity to draw in it’s viewers.   What I am not certain about is how many are aware of Carl Sagan’s position within the modern skeptical movement.   I personally feel that Carl Sagan, as a popularizer of science, was also one of the most important figures in modern skepticism.   His book, “The Demon-Haunted World: Science As A Candle In The Dark”, reads as a manifesto of the skeptical movement.   I recently had the pleasure of reading through it and besides his arguments for the importance of skepticism and critical thinking in the modern world, I found one good point about the skeptical movement itself.

“And yet, the chief deficiency I see in the skeptical movement is in its polarization: Us vs Them – the sense that we have a monopoly on the truth; that if you’re sensible, you’ll listen to us; and if not, you’re beyond redemption.   This is unconstructive.  It does not get the message across.  It condemns the skeptics to permanent minority status; whereas, a compassionate approach that from the beginning acknowledges the human roots of pseudoscience and superstition might be much more widely accepted.

If we understand this, then of course we feel the uncertainty and pain of the abductees, or those who dare not leave home without consulting their horoscopes, or those who pin their hopes on crystals from Atlantis.  And such compassion for kindred spirits in a common quest also works to make science and the scientific method less off-putting, especially to the young.”

When dealing with pseudo-science and supersititious beliefs it’s easy for us as skeptics to become frustrated.   But the point of skepticism isn’t to teach what’s “true” or “correct”.  Skepticism isn’t a belief system, so much as a way to understand the world around us, and come to provisional beliefs.   As Sagan pointed out, we all use skepticism in our lives.  If we buy a used car, we certainly don’t accept whatever the seller tells us.  We examine the car, test drive it, and maybe even take it in for an inspection.   That is skepticism.  If we would do this when you buy a car, why not use this when looking for a source for medical treatment, or when you see that ad for an all new, all natural cure?   The goal of the skeptical movement ought to be the elimination of the skeptical movement.