SRSP 11-16 Topic 2 U1a – What is an explanation?


To explain means to make plain; to produce understanding.

Different types of explanations are needed to answer different types of questions.

Explanations are ways in which we help ourselves and others to understand the world. They are an integral part of both science and religion. In this topic, students learn that there are different types of explanations, corresponding to different kinds of questions. They will develop an awareness of how scientists choose and accept a ‘best explanation’. students will reflect on how the explanations we accept influence our attitudes and world views and are influenced by them in turn. They may conclude that scientific and religious explanations may sometimes be compatible.

For both scientists and religious people, explanations are an essential tool to describe the world in which we live, and our world-view (not the same thing). Students need to consider the complexity and subtlety of the explanations that science and religion use and consider how they are the same and how they are different. They deepen their awareness of how scientists choose and accept a ‘best or most suitable explanation’ and they further reflect on how the explanations we accept influence our attitudes and world views and are influenced by them in turn. They consider the conclusion that the uses made of explanation made by science and by religion may be mutually supportive (rather than in conflict).

In schools we are familiar with the idea of ‘subjects’ which look at human experience, the world or reality from different points of view. For example sound might be studied in Physics, Music and RE or light in Physics, Art and RE but each of these subjects will explain sound or light in very different ways.

This unit consists of 3 lessons afor students aged from 11 to 14 years and 2 lessons for students aged from 14 to 16 years.


Key Questions (11-14)

  • How do different types of explanation depend on the type of question being asked?
  • Do science and religion require different types of explanation?
  • How do we choose the most suitable explanation?
  • What level of evidence do we need in order to accept an explanation?


Key Questions (14-16)

  • Are there different types of evidence needed for scientific and religious explanations?
  • How do different subjects deal with ideas such as ‘music’ or ‘light’? Does the way in which they deal with these concepts change their essential nature?
  • Can something be true in scientific terms and false in religious terms and vice-versa?

Some of the materials can be viewed on screen and some can be downloaded for editing or printing. To view the pdf files you need Adobe Acrobat Reader. See the about section for more details.

Ages 11-14

Unit Resources

Unit Overview (Word)


Lesson 1

Lesson Plan: Cause and effect (Word)

Student Resource Sheet: Viral epidemic! (Word)

Student Worksheet: Cause and effect (Word)


Lesson 2

Lesson Plan: Why did the dinosaurs die? (Word)

Student Resource Sheet: Meteorite Impact! (Word)

Student Worksheet: Why did the dinosaurs die? (Word)


Lesson 3

Lesson Plan: Why are humans on the planet? (Word)

Student Worksheet: By chance or design? (Word)

Student Resource Sheet: By chance or design? (Word)

Student Assessment Sheet: Why are humans on the planet? (Word)

Assessment Answer Sheet: Teacher marking sheet (Word)


Ages 14-16

Unit Resources

Unit overview (Word)

Powerpoint Presentation: How do they explain this? (PPT)

General Resource Sheet on light being split by a prism (PDF)


Lesson 1

Lesson Plan: Is explanation explicable? (Word)

Student Resource 1: Explanations (Word)

Student Worksheet 1: Multiple aspects of the fallacy (Word)

Student Worksheet 2: Christianity in a mechanistic universe (Word)

Student Worksheet 3: Can you match these? (Word)


Lesson 2

Lesson Plan: Is explanation similar in both science and religion? (Word)

Student Worksheet 1: How can we explain things? (Word)

Student Worksheet 2: Which dimension are you in? (Word)

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