SRSP 11-16 Topic 2 U1d – Scientism and Materialism


Scientism will accept only scientific explanations of reality. If science cannot (potentially at least) explain it, then it is not knowable, or it does not exist.

Materialism attempts to explain everything in terms of physical objects and events, and denies the reality of anything which cannot be reduced to them.

What is Scientism? Scientism is an extreme view of the power of science to offer explanations of the world; its adherents believe that scientific descriptions are the only ones which we can accept as real knowledge. All other types of explanation are considered to be invalid and worthless. Behind Scientism lies the philosophy of Materialism, where it is argued that nothing is in existence over and above matter, and matter in motion. The material world is all there is. A materialist sees mind as a physical attribute, and rules out ultimate meaning or purpose, and therefore the possibility of a non-physical or extra-physical God.

This topic explores these two philosophies, and highlights some differences between them and science itself.

This unit consists of 2 lessons and is suitable for students aged from 11 to 16 years


Key Questions

  • What is scientism? What is materialism?
  • How can you describe love, hope and faith in terms of scientism and materialism?
  • Is science the only way to find out about the world? If not, what are the other ways?
  • If we are made out of stardust, is that all we are?
  • If science cannot solve all our problems, what can?

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Unit Resources

Unit Overview (Word)


Lesson 1

Lesson Plan: Can science teach us everything we need to know? (Word)

Student Resource Sheet 1: Can science teach us everything we need? (Word)

Student Resource Sheet 2: Nothing but particles? (Word)


Lesson 2

Lesson Plan: What are the limits of science? (Word)

Student Resource Sheeet: The Von Neumann Probe (Word)

Teacher Resource Sheeet: A kind of immortality? (Word)

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