Let’s be clear, here, to start off: Everyone should be able to believe what they want. If you choose to ignore the Enlightenment, and prefer to believe that the earth is flat, or that the sun rotates around the earth rather than the reverse, that’s your right.
The problem arises when you cross one of two red lines: When you try to impose your belief on others who don’t agree with you, or when your belief begins to cause me harm in some way. Then your personal, private right to believe what you want and live your life as you choose begins to interfere with others’ right to do the same.
Unfortunately, we see far too many examples today of one person’s rights interfering with another’s in this regard. One of the primary examples is the idea of creationism vs. evolutionism. If public schools choose to offer comparative religion as an optional class, that might be a valid venue in which to discuss creationism. However, it should not be part of the core curriculum in our public schools.
A similar debate is playing out right now about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and vaccines. There are people who are thoroughly convinced — despite all the evidence to the contrary — that GMOs and vaccines are more harmful than not. Look, that’s fine — if you believe that, more power to you. Feel free to eat GMO-free foods and keep your kids from being vaccinated.
Where your prerogative to exercise your rights crosses the line is if you begin to demand a label to identify which foods contain GMOs, and if companies pass on the cost of this label to the consumer. That’s simply not fair to me, nor is it fair to the businesses that make the foods. If you want to incorporate a label alongside the ingredients list that this food may contain GMOs, that would be reasonable. Companies could incorporate that without too much additional cost, and it wouldn’t impact me at all as a consumer unless I wanted to look for it.
If you choose as a parent to withhold your child from routine vaccinations because you fear some adverse health risk, that’s completely within your rights as a parent. The state should absolutely not be able to force it on you. However, if you make that choice, you should be entirely responsible for your own health care: I don’t want to be paying for your (potentially) poor decisions down the road. Forcing me to pay for your own risky decision is not within your rights.
A similar conflict exists on climate change — and yet, oddly enough, it shouldn’t. Regardless of whether climate change exists, or is man-made or not, we should all be able to agree that moving away from fossil fuel dependency and toward renewable energy is a worthy goal. The debate should be about the role government has in encouraging that movement, not about whether it should be occurring at all.
Of course, picking and choosing which science one believes is nothing new, nor is it limited entirely to one ideology or party. Before the current debates over vaccines, there were similar discussions regarding fluoride. Before the effort to impose GMO labeling, there were movements to impose warning labels on cellular telephones.
Unfortunately, we have all too many people all over the political spectrum who’d prefer to ignore the science in favor of their own imagined facts. You can live whatever lifestyle you want, but don’t pretend there’s scientific justification for your beliefs in order to avoid paying for it, or to try to impose your lifestyle on others. As adults, we should all be able to make our own decisions, but we should all be willing to accept the consequences of those decisions as well. That’s the responsibility we face living in a free society.