Sagan's Argument in the Demon Haunted World Term Paper

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¶ … Demon-Haunted World

Lighting the Candle: Argument Analysis

What tools are available to sort through a world rife in delusion, half-truths, and undeniable mystery? Should one trust scholarship, faith, or even one's own eyes to discover that which lies beneath veiled agendas perpetrated upon a gullible public? Is there a method by which one might become reasonably educated? Carl Sagan, a Pulitzer Prize winner and author of numerous works, argues in favor of the scientific approach to knowledge. Sagan, in his book, the Demon-Haunted World, successfully establishes his claim that science and its accompanying approach to reasoning is the only way that mankind can hope for long-term survival. He uses his book to build his case. What elements of argument does Sagan use to convince his audience?

Sagan begins the Demon-Haunted World (hereafter referred to as Demon) in an encounter with the average Joe - a cab driver. He immediately creates his own ethical appeal to his audience though his patient attitude towards the driver's obviously inadequate grasp of true scientific knowledge. The driver is a victim, Sagan points out. "Our cultural motifs, our educational system, our communications media had failed this man" (4). The reader is now aware of the author's character, and his words may carry increased value. This will lend validity to future argument and proofs put forth by the author. The remainder of the introduction reinforces the precarious state ignorance that characterizes "95% of Americans" (6). Sagan builds his logos using familiar images juxtaposed to believable facts. What reader can deny feeling the queasy humor of actor Peter Sellers as Doctor Strangelove? Who would fail to recognize the perpetuation of "the mad scientist" in popular media and culture? Sagan immediately counters this image with the fact that "science is rated among the most admired and trusted occupations" (11).

By using the topoi of opposites, Sagan effectively grounds his claim without alienating those at whom he is pointing his finger. Once his claim is established, and the reader intrigued, the author heaps evidence upon evidence to support his cause.

Education is Sagan's next approach. He tells the reader why science has value. He is doing this to establish more credibility with his audience. After all, he has just finished telling his audience that they are ignorant, that almost everyone is ignorant of the process of science. Again, one sees the development of the ethical appeal in the rhetorical context, a phrase used by J. Petraglia-Bahri of the School of Literature, Communication & Culture. The reader does not feel ignorant, but after reviewing chapter two of Demon, he understands the value of criticism and debate in argument and scientific discovery. Sagan engenders a sense of trust in his audience very early in his writing. The pathos he creates is one of friendship toward the audience, which he seamlessly slides into enmity for the perpetrators of pseudoscience. Once his stage is set, the author begins his work in winning his audience toward his perception of reality. He begins to link his claims and reasoning to more facts and observations.

Who or what is the Face on Mars? Sagan employs a combination of empathy and common ground to support his argument. Most people understand that the Man in the Moon is not a man at all. Humankind has vicariously experienced walking on the moon, playing golf on the moon, and even driving on the moon. Sagan deftly transfers the bond between himself and his audience through the common ground of the moon to the "Face" on Mars. He uses correlative terms, a frequently employed topos, to proffer a reasonable explanation for the "face" on mars. Then he uses common ground again in his example of infants and their ability in face recognition. The author skillfully weaves reason and evidence to persuade his audience that his argument is worthy of belief.

Fear frames Sagan's next series of proofs. He begins by having the reader relive an alien abduction. If one were to read his prose slowly, one could imagine the pathos of the victim. But wait! Do the math, Sagan says. The numbers of abductions seem phenomenal in light of the proof that is available. The author then proceeds to ask question upon question of the reader - questions that cannot be answered in any sensible or logical manner; nevertheless, they are reasonable questions. He appeals to the emotions of his audience, and then he refutes the logic of their folkloric suppositions repeatedly. Sagan forces his readers to consider alternative answers by citing situations that have been revealed as false. He writes, "How modest our expectations are about 'aliens," and how shoddy the standards of evidence that many of us are willing to accept..." (73). Truly, if one is willing to accept anecdotal evidence, then one has not considered the alternative logic proffered by Sagan.

How much evidence does an argument need? How does the author counter arguments against his own? In Demon, the audience need not suffer from lack of evidence. Sagan is careful to organize his evidence in an even tone, countering objections quietly and without angry accusations. He never accuses his audience of being ignorant if they happen to believe something. Sagan uses another topos, one of definition, and uses it to his advantage.

He questions the use of the term UFO and reveals the genesis of terminology such as flying saucer. Reality is usually much more interesting than fiction, but perhaps not as desirable. He also exhibits the same curiosity that his readers might express, but defends only those arguments that he can reasonably explain though the scientific method. Sagan shares his values with those of his audience. He would like to be visited by aliens. It would save him the time that space travel would take. Here Sagan is using a value-based appeal. He has established common ground from which to defend his character. What kind of thinking person could be repeatedly seduced by scientific charlatans? This question lies beneath his arguments. The answer; surely not someone like you or I.

How did it get this way? Sagan asks, "How good is the evidence?" (223). Cause and effect argumentation sometimes offers a theory as to why things are as they are. The author is adept at creating a believable flow of historical fact that supports his claim about scientific reasoning. He travels back in time to the witch-hunts and illustrates ways in which humankind misinterpreted natural phenomena. Sagan exhibits example upon example of "prescientific thinking" that has not been worked over by the "baloney detection kit" as evidence of errant thought. He offers a hypothesis that accounts not only for the ignorance of the past, but its extension into the future. Effect: the moon has gone black, Cause: witches, bad behavior, a curse, a bad king, a wizard, or some other unknown entity. One is now aware of the true cause and the true effect with relation to a lunar eclipse. Nevertheless, Sagan points out, science is an ever changing field. He confidently asserts that its strength lies in its willingness to question itself and refine its conclusions. To further, support his argument Sagan says, "I've tried to stress, at the heart of science is an essential balance between two seemingly contradictory attitudes - openness to new ideas, no matter how bizarre or counterintuitive, and the most ruthlessly skeptical scrutiny of all ideas, old and new" (304). His point is that while pseudoscience can seem more believable than science, one must never stop questioning the validity of a claim. Here, the author is allowing for dissention with reason. The past has shown us the danger of belief based on faith, superstition, and ignorance. The present state of our knowledge and awareness bodes poorly.

What conclusion or conclusions can one reach from understanding and employing scientific reasoning in our belief systems? One might consider the example of a current belief substantiated by superstition, that of the Virgin Mary on the cheese sandwich. It appears that someone cooked a cheese sandwich twenty years ago. This person took one bite and then noticed a divine image, the Virgin Mary, imprinted upon the toasted bread. After twenty years the cheese sandwich, which has been preserved in a Tupperware container for twenty years (and it has no trace of mold!), is available on E-bay. The current bid is $18,000. Give or take. The top bid is over one million dollars.

The people at E-bay took the time to "authenticate" the item before they allowed it up for auction. One might suppose that if there is a Virgin Mary, and if She is divine, then she might find a more reasonable venue to reveal herself than a partially eaten cheese sandwich. The next question might be, "Exactly what is she saying by appearing there?" Yet, there are those who are willing to make the claim and those who are willing to believe it.

Carl Sagan successfully establishes his claim that the modern world waits in the dark at its own peril.… [END OF PREVIEW]

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