A right to believe?

Mark Rowlands in Aeon:

ScreenHunter_214 May. 31 11.24Here is a true story. A young philosophy lecturer — let us call him Shane — is charged with the task of introducing young minds to the wonders of philosophy. His course, a standard Introduction to Philosophy, contains a section on the philosophy of religion: the usual arguments-for-and-against-the-existence-of-God stuff. One of Shane’s students complains to Shane’s Dean that his cherished religious beliefs are being attacked. ‘I have a right to my beliefs,’ the student claims. Shane’s repeated interrogations of those beliefs amounts to an attack on this right to believe. Shane’s institution is not a particularly enlightened one. The Dean concurs with the student, and instructs Shane to desist in teaching philosophy of religion.

But what exactly does it mean to claim ‘a right to my beliefs’? It often comes up in a religious context, but can arise in others too. Shane could just as easily be teaching Marxist theory to a laissez-faire capitalist student, or imparting evidence for global warming to a global warming sceptic. Whatever the context, the claim of a right to one’s beliefs is a curious one. We might distinguish two different interpretations of this claim. First, there is the evidential one. You have an evidential right to your belief if you can provide appropriate evidence in support of it. I have, in this sense, no right to believe that the moon is made of green cheese because my belief is lacking in any supporting evidence.

More here.