OST is closed for business but its spirit survives on my blog.
“Yes, this sort of research is done with some frequency. So, e.g., people of faith in the UStend to be happier and more politically conservative, on average, than unbelievers, with of course substantial individual differences within groups. Again, unpacking these results is how science gains further understanding of these gross-level findings.”
I venture to say that most studies that we hear about on the news or read about in the paper are statistically oriented studies, usually surveys, applied to some sample of people with the goal of generalizing across cases. The type of study that I am talking about hardly ever makes the news—I am talking about something like Nancy Ammerman’s book Bible Believers or Harding’s book The Book of Jerry Falwell. Again, the aim is less to understand “gross level findings” and more about explaining some particular community of people. Generalization across cases is not always the goal of all science.
“But such studies can be done within the normal range of empirical investigation. Studies are conducted to evaluate, say, the results of prayer on the prayed-for outcome, using predictor variables such as religious affiliation of the praying person, whether that person claims to have a personal relationship with the prayed-to deity, the type of outcome being prayed for, wearing of robes, burning of incense, and so on. These are codified observable experiences. If some of the predictor variables bear some association with the outcome, then they too bear closer scrutiny.”
“One needn’t look at the neural pathways associated with someone claiming to be communicating inaudibly with an invisible being, but such studies could be investigated. E.g., have the person rigged up to a neural MRI, have them report when they receive messages from the invisible communicator, see what changes in the neural activations are evident, etc. A crude method to be sure, but neuropsychological research is a pretty new field. Science didn’t used to be very good at measuring interstellar distances or subatomic structures either.”
Sure, I agree. Such questions can be studied in a variety of ways, but not every way of empirically studying religion involves hypotheses, variables, and measurements.