Books that promote pseudoscience are often popular and profitable. Much less marketable are those books which promote skepticism (Nickell 106). The underlying theme in the first part of Carl Sagan’s book The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark is that there can be overwhelming harmful effects if science is not used as a way to observe that which is not completely understood. This means that people should study everything objectively and let popular beliefs interfere when drawing their conclusions. In the last part of the book Sagan emphasizes that education is a tool which is much too rarely utilized (Sagan 351).
Even without stating it directly, Sagan’s first theme stands out quite well. It doesn’t lurk behind sentences, only occasionally poking its head out, it parades in front the paragraphs saying “look at me!” This is because Sagan’s writing is so vivid and potent. He needs only to add a few comments and his examples explain themselves. One the most obvious places this works is when Sagan writes about medicine and its relationship to science. He describes how medicine was making huge advances until the middle ages when a lack of interest in science caused all progression to stop. There was a century where “no advances were made in any field” (Sagan 17). Disease ran rampant. Sagan then writes about how medicine today has all but eliminated many once fatal diseases. Here Sagan doesn’t have to states his theme, the message is clear; where would we be without the medical advances brought about by science? When people stopped using science as a tool to look at the world there was chaos.
In the beginning of the chapter entitled “The Path to Freedom,” Sagan chronicles the rise of a young African-American named Frederick Bailey from an illiterate slave in Baltimore to becoming one of the greatest orators of his time. He changed his name to that of a character in Walter Scott’s The Lady of the Lake, becoming who we know as Frederick Douglas (Sagan 353). This and the chapters after it do wonders to show just how much of a benefit one can get from an education. Sagan really has strong feelings about the power of knowledge. This probably has to do with the fact that he came from a lower middle class family and by working hard has become one of the most respected scientists in the country (Sagan preface). He criticizes the school system today, and offers suggestions as to how it could be changed to work better, such as offering tangible rewards for excelling in school (Sagan 409).
Sagan does a wonderful job of writing so that these themes are potent throughout the book. Through clear words and examples he is able to make the themes permeate every paragraph.