Christianity is based on science

What science knows and what it believes

Is money neutral? Are people really to blame for global warming? - How much faith is there in science?

Normally we think of science and religion as opposing explanations of the world. Science is about objective knowledge and religion is about subjective belief. But that is an extremely naive idea. Faith also plays a central role in science, and belief in certain theories or paradigms is not infrequently held against one's better judgment. You “know” what you want to know and what you believe in.

In this respect, science works in a very similar way to religion - no different today than it was then.

Knowledge becomes belief again as soon as it loses its self-evident character.

As a Christian, you knew in earlier times that God existed. Belief in it was so self-evident that it was generally accepted knowledge. But as the Polish aphorist Stanislaw Jerzy Lec brilliantly put it: "All gods were immortal." Knowledge becomes belief again as soon as it loses its self-evident character. The Enlightenment and the secularization that followed took the faith out of it for granted, and Nietzsche finally declared God dead in the 19th century. So convinced Christians are more believers today than they used to be, because they believe in the real sense again without knowing whether God really exists.

But not only the death of God was stated, but also that of many scientific theories that were previously generally accepted knowledge. An example of this is the phlogiston theory, which dominated chemistry in the 18th century. According to this view, all flammable bodies contain a substance, the so-called phlogiston, which gives them the property of flammability. The existence of phlogiston seemed to be proven at this time, and a real chemist "knew" that this was the only way to explain burning processes. Later, towards the end of the 18th century, it became increasingly clear that this knowledge was actually a misconception. Phlogiston turned out to be a pipe dream.

Or take the history of medicine. Up until the 18th century, doctors “knew” that one could diagnose diseases by looking at urine, since all the conditions of the human body could be seen in the urine glass like in a mirror. Logically, in the Middle Ages, the urine inspection developed into a real cult among doctors, and the flask-shaped urine glass, the matula, became a symbol of their standing. This approach was already criticized by the famous Paracelsus in the 16th century, but the majority of doctors saw in him a heretic whose deviation from the correct doctrine had to be resolutely opposed. Today, however, we know: Paracelsus was right. Diagnosing disease through the urinary glass turned out to be a superstition.

Money is not innocent

Well, some readers might say, that may have been the case earlier, when science was still in its infancy. But, he may continue to think, modern science has long since broken away from such creeds and is only committed to objective knowledge. But that is not the case.

Faith also plays a prominent role in the sciences today, for example in economics. A creed that is vehemently represented there concerns the so-called neutrality of money. Money must not have any influence on economic activity, at least in the long term, and the economy can therefore be described as an exchange economy without money. This “knowledge” distinguishes the initiated economists from the “stupid” rest of the world, who suffer from the illusion of money and wrongly believe that the creation of more money can influence the economy in the longer term.

In reality, however, the belief in the neutrality of money is itself an illusion. As soon as you finance investments with newly created money and change the economy with new processes or products, an increase in the amount of money has real effects that cannot be reversed.

If money were not neutral, the standard economic theory taught today would lose its foundation.

So why is the belief in the long-term neutrality of money still sacrosanct to this day? The answer is easy to find. If money were not neutral, the standard economic theory taught today would lose its foundation. The economy could then no longer be described as a system of exchange processes in which all consumption and production decisions are optimized at the same time (general equilibrium theory). But it is precisely this simultaneous optimization that is at the heart of modern economic theory, which shows that a perfectly functioning market always leads to an optimal allocation of goods. This example shows that in economics or in the social sciences generally applicable laws can often only be drawn up with the help of beliefs.

Because knowledge in many social sciences is essentially based on beliefs, one is very reluctant to part with them again, even if they are no longer tenable on the basis of reasonable considerations. But reason is also an extremely flexible term in science. When the dialectical tension between creed and reality increases, scientists also invest more energy in defending the prevailing creed, which often proves to be successful over a long period of time. - But wait! Are modern sciences, and especially social sciences, not based on empirical evidence? Is it therefore not easy to answer questions such as the one about the impact of increases in the money supply on the real economy with empirical studies? Unfortunately, no! The belief in the possibility of falsifying or confirming scientific theories and hypotheses with the help of data analysis is a central component of almost all sciences today, but in reality it is itself a misconception. Statistical procedures and methods that are becoming more and more complex also deliver an increasingly complex variety of results that are anything but unambiguous and therefore require interpretation. By “suitable” selection of the data and the time period, by “suitable” manipulation of the data, by the selection of “suitable” statistical methods and by not publishing results that contradict one's own position, many postulated hypotheses or theories can be created depending on the interests confirm or falsify the researcher.

This applies, for example, to the question of the neutrality of money raised above. There are now countless empirical studies that tend to confirm neutrality in hundreds of cases and tend to refute it in hundreds of cases. It is the same in medicine. Do saturated fats lead to an increased cardiovascular risk? The answer is yes or no, depending on the study, and you can choose the result that corresponds to your own beliefs.

And global warming?

Even a topic that is so important today as the question of global warming due to greenhouse gases cannot ultimately be decided by empirically supported studies. According to the last IPCC climate report, it is “95 percent certain” that global warming is predominantly man-made. This conclusion is based on computer-aided climate models that estimate future global warming. Unfortunately, the results are completely different depending on the model and data used. The predictions vary between 0 and 10 degrees, and the probability is now 1.5 degrees.

The methods, which are becoming more and more “exact” and “more refined”, ultimately serve to provide suitable “proof” for every preconceived opinion.

But then the question continues. Are these 1.5 degrees actually due to human activities or are they the result of natural climate fluctuations? There is corresponding data and thus scientific evidence for all hypotheses.

The methods, which are becoming more and more “exact” and “more refined”, ultimately serve to provide suitable “proof” for every preconceived opinion. Because the more data that is analyzed and the more extensive the models, the broader the range of different, but all of them “empirically supported” results. Both climate protectors and climate skeptics find research results that they like and that confirm their “knowledge”. And so in the end, as with religion, belief determines what really counts.

So let us hold on to it: Faith is also very important in science. What we call knowledge is often just a particularly intense and generally accepted belief in theories or results. This is by no means to say that there is no knowledge at all and that all science is ultimately based on belief. But there is less knowledge and more faith in science than science would have us believe.

Mathias Binswanger is professor of economics at the University of Applied Sciences Northwestern Switzerland and author, inter alia. from “Money from Nowhere” (2015) and “Senseless Competitions” (2012).