Question 4: To what extent do we need evidence to support our beliefs in at least two areas of knowledge? “A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence. ” (David Hume). Evidence can be defined as proof to back up one’s hypothesis or beliefs. Beliefs are preconceived notions that people have on a subject one is passionate about. The focal areas of knowledge are the natural sciences and history and the focal ways of knowing are perception and reasoning. In the natural sciences, the scientific method is implemented to test hypotheses and a conclusion is drawn from the results collected.
History deals with events and eras that have occurred in the past therefore perfect knowledge can be obscured. Therefore the only way to seek knowledge about past events is through evidence. Beliefs can also be considered knowledge claims but different ways of knowing used to gain knowledge in different areas of knowledge. In history, the predominant way of knowing is perception and language to some extent whereas in the natural sciences, it is reasoning. Evidence is important for every area of knowledge but it is more significant in some than others.
While evidence is a valuable commodity to support knowledge claims in the natural sciences, it is virtually relied on in history. Reasoning is one of the primary ways of knowing when it comes to formulating beliefs or hypotheses. It’s actually the sole way of knowing that is used when it comes to making a hypothesis. For example, when I recently investigated the effect of the duration of electrolysis on the mass of the electrode, I believed that more time would increase the rate of electrolysis. Reasoning is essential when it comes to forming a belief because there needs to be a reason behind why I think time effects electrolysis.
Prior to conducting a science experiment, people use their knowledge of the sciences to form a hypothesis. When I made the hypothesis, I had at least some knowledge about chemistry. When some scientists conduct experiments, they have no prior knowledge of the discipline and this can reduce their chances of creating a valid hypothesis. For example, if a scientist wants to investigate the effect that the size of a cell has on the surface area to volume ratio, then he/she needs to have prior knowledge of cell biology to initiate the experiment.
Some can say that an experiment is considered rootless without a hypothesis to test. Nevertheless, there are circumstances where other ways of knowing dominate one’s decision to hypothesize. For instance, a scientist may want to investigate the effect of light intensity on the growth of a plant. From past casual observations, he may have seen that plants tend to grow faster with increasing light intensity. Therefore the scientist could use perception to help him formulate a hypothesis prior to the experiment.
However, this is not the best means of acquiring prior knowledge because perception is very subjective in nature. Thus, reasoning is the predominant way of knowing when it comes to constructing a testable hypothesis. However, reasoning is not the predominant way of knowing used in history. As a matter of fact, it is perception and also language to some extent although reasoning does play a significant role especially when people deduce or induce. For example, an archaeologist may have found some evidence of the lifestyles of ancient Egyptians through hieroglyphs on papyrus.
The archaeologist must be able to decode the language to gain knowledge about how the ancient Egyptians lived and use reasoning to deduce other valuable pieces of information. Reasoning can sometimes be used at one’s disposal but it is not necessarily the only means to seek knowledge. However, reasoning is seen to be the most reliable out of the three ways of knowing used. When we think of these examples, we assume that the archaeologist’s perception and language are “perfect”. As has been mentioned before, it is difficult to be objective when perceiving something and it can impede perfect communication.
Moreover, language can be misinterpreted. For example, the archaeologist may have poor insight therefore he might interpret a letter differently, thus changing the message and gaining the wrong information. In the natural sciences, sufficient evidence is required to support a scientific hypothesis. For example, in an experiment involving determining the effect of sugar on the specific heat capacity of coffee, a hypothetical hypothesis would be that sugar increases the specific heat capacity.
In science’s case, beliefs are acquired through reasoning. To test if the hypothesis is correct, the experiment needs to be carried out and at least five readings need to be obtained to find out if there are any trends present. In addition, each trial needs to be repeated at least twice to reduce the chances of random errors. Hence, not only is evidence the key to accurate knowledge but substantial evidence is needed too. Evidence takes the form of experimental data in science’s case and without it; our conclusions are rootless.
The claim that sugar increases the specific heat capacity of coffee is based on experimental assumptions such as the volume of coffee and container being kept constant. If controlled variables are not kept constant, this can further obscure accurate knowledge claims. However, in some cases, evidence may still be the same but it can be interpreted in different ways by different cultures. For example, biologists looked at the arms of several animals and hence deduced the existence of evolution.
On the other hand, a Muslim may believe that evolution did not exist and may establish that the similarity is a mere coincidence. This still highlights the importance of evidence but it shows that the way people perceive evidence can vary depending on one’s upbringing. In history, evidence is invariably needed to support knowledge claims being made because we weren’t present during the time therefore we need confirmation of our claims. Our knowledge claims in history are formulated through perception. For instance, a question can arise about how brutally the Jews were treated by the Nazis in the concentration camps.
A Jewish person may believe that people were very savagely treated and the evidence may take the form of a relative who was a part of the concentration camp or a victim’s diary entry. Because these events happened decades ago, we need to use perception and language to decipher what is left behind. When trying to gather evidence, we assume that every piece of information we acquire is accurate. However, it is not the case in most situations. For example, the brain tends to block unpleasant memories therefore victims may struggle to retell their experiences.
Alternatively, victims may be so traumatized to the extent that they do not wish to share their ordeals. Beliefs about history can also vary across different cultures. For example, whilst a Jew might think the treatment of Jews were brutal; an anti-Jewish person might believe that the torture and genocides are justifiable because the Jews deserved it. Language, although an invaluable way of knowing, is also a barrier to knowledge. For instance, the diary might be written in German and a British archaeologist will struggle to decipher the content of the diary entry therefore the message can be misinterpreted.
Hence, acquiring evidence through perception and language are important in this area of knowledge. In conclusion, evidence is vital for backing up knowledge claims in the natural sciences and history. In science, in almost every case, evidence is needed to match the conclusion with the hypothesis. On the other hand, in history, evidence is relied on to draw conclusions. However, the process of collecting evidence assumes that all the cultures interpret the same piece of evidence in the same manner.
Across different cultures, the interpretations of evidence may vary and this can obscure perfect knowledge. Word count: 1333 ———————–  Electrolysis involves the usage of electricity to chemically break down a compound An electrode is one of the rods used during electrolysis which is attached to the wires  Hieroglyphics is the alphabet that took the form of pictures which ancient Egyptians used to communicate  Specific heat capacity is the measurement of the amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of a substance by 1 degree Celsius.
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