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Thin and Thinner: Hypothesis-driven Research and the Study of Humans1

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Joseph Bulbulia * Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, School of Religious Studies and ** Faculty of Science, School of Psychology, PO Box 600, Kelburn Parade, Wellington 6140, New Zealand † University of Auckland, Faculty of Science, School of Psychology, 10 Symonds St., Private Bag 92019, Auckland 1142, New Zealand
joseph.bulbulia@vuw.ac.nz

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Marc Stewart Wilson * Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, School of Religious Studies and ** Faculty of Science, School of Psychology, PO Box 600, Kelburn Parade, Wellington 6140, New Zealand † University of Auckland, Faculty of Science, School of Psychology, 10 Symonds St., Private Bag 92019, Auckland 1142, New Zealand

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Chris G. Sibley * Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, School of Religious Studies and ** Faculty of Science, School of Psychology, PO Box 600, Kelburn Parade, Wellington 6140, New Zealand † University of Auckland, Faculty of Science, School of Psychology, 10 Symonds St., Private Bag 92019, Auckland 1142, New Zealand

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Abstract

Some say that researchers who study humans are locked in to frameworks of epistemic assumptions from which there can be no escape. We explain, on the contrary, how researchers who disagree may nevertheless reconcile their differences. Freedom from the epistemic dungeon is made possible by practices that convert beliefs into testable hypotheses, which are then tested. Such practices are the engines of scientific progress. To clarify misunderstandings about practices of hypothesis testing, we discuss Bayes’ rule, a mathematically perfect algebra for belief revision. To illustrate both the benefits and inevitable limitations of scientific research on religion, we work through the details of a recent national questionnaire study that revealed five different types of supernatural believers.

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