That's the title of an article in Aeon.
Beliefs are factive: to believe is to take to be true. It would be absurd, as the analytic philosopher G E Moore observed in the 1940s, to say: ‘It is raining, but I don’t believe that it is raining.’ Beliefs aspire to truth – but they do not entail it. Beliefs can be false, unwarranted by evidence or reasoned consideration. They can also be morally repugnant. Among likely candidates: beliefs that are sexist, racist or homophobic; the belief that proper upbringing of a child requires ‘breaking the will’ and severe corporal punishment; the belief that the elderly should routinely be euthanised; the belief that ‘ethnic cleansing’ is a political solution, and so on. If we find these morally wrong, we condemn not only the potential acts that spring from such beliefs, but the content of the belief itself, the act of believing it, and thus the believer.
. . .
In exploring the varieties of religious experience ... the ‘right to believe’ can establish a climate of religious tolerance. Those religions that define themselves by required beliefs (creeds) have engaged in repression, torture and countless wars against non-believers that can cease only with recognition of a mutual ‘right to believe’. Yet, even in this context, extremely intolerant beliefs cannot be tolerated. Rights have limits and carry responsibilities.
Unfortunately, many people today seem to take great licence with the right to believe, flouting their responsibility.
. . .
Believing, like willing, seems fundamental to autonomy, the ultimate ground of one’s freedom. But, as Clifford also remarked: ‘No one man’s belief is in any case a private matter which concerns himself alone.’ Beliefs shape attitudes and motives, guide choices and actions. Believing and knowing are formed within an epistemic community, which also bears their effects. There is an ethic of believing, of acquiring, sustaining, and relinquishing beliefs – and that ethic both generates and limits our right to believe. If some beliefs are false, or morally repugnant, or irresponsible, some beliefs are also dangerous. And to those, we have no right.
There's more at the link.
The problem with this perspective is simply this: Who decides what is factually, objectively, empirically true or false?
- The pseudo-science of eugenics was so highly thought of in the early 20th century that it led to official "programs [that] included both 'positive' measures, such as encouraging individuals deemed particularly 'fit' to reproduce, and 'negative' measures such as marriage prohibitions and forced sterilization of people deemed unfit for reproduction".
- The Nazi Party in Germany was convinced, on the basis of eugenics and other "sciences" that today we know to be false, that certain races were superior to all other races, and that the latter could (and should) therefore be treated as "subhuman".
- Philosophers have argued for centuries about the foundation for human knowledge, awareness, ethics, etc. So have theologians from various religious traditions. There has never been consensus among them - but does that mean we can automatically judge any or all of them to be "wrong"? On what grounds? Religious belief has seldom, if ever, been founded on logic and fact - more on belief in and acceptance of some form of divine revelation, which by definition is not susceptible to scientific analysis.
- Courts of law have to decide on guilt or innocence of suspects - but there are countless cases where their verdicts have been overturned, because they made their initial decision on the basis of faulty or fraudulent evidence, or false witness statements, or whatever. They can only decide on the basis of facts as presented to them, and those "facts" may or may not be accurate.
I could go on, but the point is clear enough. If you say that I don't have the right to believe whatever I want to, what gives you the right to say that? If you argue it's because the facts are on your side, how sure are you of those facts? Climate change is a good example. The foundational elements of the eco-warriors' case have been systematically debunked over and over again, until their fanatical repetition of those discredited elements begins to seem more like religion than science. There is no scientific consensus, as they claim, and the science is not settled. Why, then, should I permit them to classify my skepticism as unrealistic or untrue? From their perspective, likewise, why should they permit my skepticism to influence their belief in what they regard as "settled science"?
As soon as anyone decides that he, or she, or they, have the authority to decide whether or not my beliefs in any area are correct or not, and are therefore permitted or not, then I have precisely the same right to make that decision about what they believe. There are two edges to that sword. As to enforcing their beliefs over mine . . . that way lies civil war. It's been tried before, and we all know the results. And yet, we fail to learn the lessons that are so clear. What are Facebook and Twitter doing now but imposing what they believe to be right upon their users, by blocking views that differ from theirs? They are telling their users that they will decide what views they will be allowed to see, because they know better than their users what is right and appropriate.
This will not end well.