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A scientist speculates on a particular matter, saying:

  1. It could be that the first living organisms evolved independently in different places—we just don't know.

Can I replace the "could" with "can" or "might"?

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W can X means "W is able to X" - it's simply expressing ability.

W could X means "W is able to X if some condition Y is true" - the Y can be expressed earlier or later in the conversation, or omitted because the speaker/writer assumes it's understood.

W might X basically means "It's possible W will X, if X is allowed".

So, given:

It could be that the first living organisms evolved independently in different places—we just don't know.

Is there a condition that would make or cause "the first living organisms to evolve independently" - or is there some if ... sentence related to this? If so, could works.

Did you mention or is it known that something would allow "the first living organisms to evolve independently"? For example, X for the organisms might allow independent evolution; if something like that is going on, might works.

Are you simply saying it's possible without much more details? Then use can.

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All are possible, but they have a different "likelihood" connotation, you can use them to express such variation.

Can sounds more probable than could, whereas might sounds less probable.

In essence, can express an already established potential. About a scientifc theory, it would express that it is one of the explanation that is deemed as a candidate for being "the standard one", i.e. it's on the "short list" of candidate theories.

Using could, conditional of can, would mean "it's on the long list" of the candidate theories. It's a bit less certain, there are some conditions to fulfill that are not there yet.

Using may, or might (even less probable than may), would imply to me that it's not currently considered, but one could think of it this way and, maybe, become a good theory after some more detailed research.

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