May 1 “Damn Darkness”

Sometimes, late at night,

I like to light a candle

AND curse the darkness.

Some online sources attribute the expression that “it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness” to Eleanor Roosevelt, when in fact it was said ABOUT her, by Adlai Stevenson at her memorial service.

Anna Eleanor Roosevelt
Anna Eleanor Roosevelt

It has also been attributed to Carl Sagan, who did make use of the expression in support of his 1995 masterpiece of skeptical thinking: “The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark“.

The book is intended to explain the scientific method to laymen, and to encourage people to learn critical or skeptical thinking. It explains methods to help distinguish between ideas that are considered valid science, and ideas that can be considered pseudoscience. Sagan states that when new ideas are offered for consideration, they should be tested by means of skeptical thinking, and should stand up to rigorous questioning.

Sagan presents a set of tools for skeptical thinking which he calls the “baloney detection kit”. Skeptical thinking consists both of constructing a reasoned argument and recognizing a fallacious or fraudulent one. In order to identify a fallacious argument, Sagan suggests the employment of such tools as independent confirmation of facts, quantification and the use of Occam’s razor. Sagan’s “baloney detection kit” also provides tools for detecting “the most common fallacies of logic and rhetoric”, such as argument from authority and statistics of small numbers. Through these tools, Sagan argues the benefits of a critical mind and the self-correcting nature of science can take place.

The phrase appears originally to be a Chinese proverb, perhaps by Confucius.