I recently had the pleasure of reading a book of short stories and essays by Isaac Asimov, former honorary president of the American Humanist Association and an author who I enjoy immensely. Although Asimov was a skeptic, he tended to shy away from controversy for his publisher's sake and so until this very night I've never read anything about him that directly promoted skepticism. In one of his essays that I read tonight, however, he came quite close. In "Knock Plastic!", he identifies six general "security beliefs" that most people have or do presently share.
"But knocking wood is only one example of a class of notions, so comforting and so productive of feelings of security, that men will seize upon them on the slightest provocation or none at all. Any piece of evidence tending to support such a 'Security Belief', however frail and nonsensical it might be, is grabbed and hugged close to the bosom. Every piece of evidence tending to break down a Security Belief, however strong and logical that evidence might be, is pushed away. (Indeed, if the evidence against a Security Belief is strong enough, those presenting the evidence might well be in danger of violence.) [...] I have come up with six very broad Security Beliefs that, I think, blanket the field -- although the Gentle Reader is welcome to add a seventh, if he can think of one.
Security Belief No. 1: There exist supernatural forces that can be cajoled or forced into protecting mankind. "
(Here Asimov addresses the possible root of such a belief, the capriciousness of natural events, their importance to hunting and agricultural societies, and thus the importance of being able to control those forces. )
"Security Belief No. 2: There is no such thing, really, as death."
Asimov details the fear and denial of death and explores some of its offspring -- spiritualism, for instance.
"Security Belief No. 3: There is some purpose to the Universe.
After all, if you're going to have a whole battery of spirits and demons running the Universe, you can't really have them doing it all for nothing. [...]"
"Security Belief No. 4: Individuals have special powers that will enable them to get something for nothing."
'Wishing will make is so' is a line from a popular song and oh, how many people believe it. It is so much easier to wish, hope, and pray, than to take the trouble to do something. [...]
Security Belief No. 5: You are better than the next fellow. [...]
Security Belief No. 6: If anything goes wrong, it's not one's own fault." [...]
When the Security Believers are strung by the explosion of the hoaxes and follies that deceive them, what is there last, best defense? Why, that there is a conspiracy of scientists against them."
I have been unable to find a copy of this essay online: I would like to be able to link people to it. It is contained in the posthumous collection Magic: The Final Fantasy Collection, which is a bit ironic. Magic consists of stories by Asimov that have been labeled as fantasy as well as essays on fantasy fiction, fantasy, science fiction, and other unrelated topics.