Quick ramblings on science, evolution, and knowledge

From what I’ve read so far, my understanding is that evolution is not a theory, but a fact. That is, the changes in fossils of species over time are factual. The explanations that may be provided for the process of this change, of evolution, are the theories. Like Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection.

The theories are difficult to prove because of our limited knowledge of the far past, and perhaps also due to our limited capacity for knowledge overall. It’s not something that scientists reject, the fact that they have, we have, our limitations. They use shortcuts too, like the “phenotypic gambit”, which I’ve learned about recently. Then, in essence, how is it that science does more than religion in explaining our origins?

Feminist epistemologists often argue that people (scientists) have particular standpoints that disable them from seeing more than one paths between evidence and theory. They bring up the problem of underdetermination – the idea that there are unlimited ways of explaining evidence due to the fact that there can never be enough evidence. According to this idea, since we can never collect all relevant pieces of evidence, which would include all instances of the phenomena in question that occur now, have occurred in the past, and will occur in the future, there will always be missing data points that we overlook in coming up with explanations. Their solution to this problem is to have multiple standpoints. My understanding of this in the practical sense is to have more scientific collaboration among disciplines and cultures. Hence the movement towards more and more interdisciplinary and cross-cultural research.

Yet, if we do indeed have limited viewpoints, how reliable are the conclusions we’ve been making based on fossil findings? How reliable are our methods of deducing these conclusions? How do we make sure, if this is ever a possibility, that evolution is indeed a fact?

It’s not that I have answers. Nor is it that am I asking these questions in opposition to science or scientific method. For me, these thoughts are important reminders that we need to keep thinking, questioning existing assumptions and methods, and continuously revising, trying not to take too much for granted. This is the essence of scientific method, not the practical ways we collect and evaluate our data.

But where do we draw the line between accepting assumptions and questioning them? How can there be scientific advancement without certain assumptions to build on? And if our capacity for knowledge is indeed limited, how is it that science actually works pretty well?

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