Do Good Explanations Have to be True? (TOK Prescribed Title 2019)

January 4, 2024

3. Do good explanations have to be true?

Knowledge and Truth

Several assumptions can be deducted from the above topic. One of the assumptions is that an explanation does not have to be true as long as it leads to a valid conclusion. The other assumption is that an explanation can only be valid if it is supported by evidence to ensure that it leads to an accurate conclusion.  Therefore, this essay will discuss whether the validity of a good explanation should be based on its ability to make people understand different concepts or by the evidence supporting its components and assumptions.  In other words, the discussion will be done by answering the following question.  What makes up a good explanation?  An explanation, in this case, is a summary or a statement that allows people to understand different concepts. The discussion will be done in the framework of natural sciences and religion. The sense of perception, reason and faith are the methods of acquiring knowledge that will be used to dissect the topic.

Natural Sciences

Natural sciences are knowledge communities that attempt to explain various events in the physical world. Knowers in physical sciences use their sense to make observations and to establish different patterns of the world.  The knowers use reason to deduct important variable and assumptions from their observations.  The variable and assumption then turn to explanations that explain the functionalism or events of the natural world. The explanations are used to gain knowledge about the composition of the physical world (Gower, 2012).  However,   what makes up a good explanation in natural sciences?  According to accepted knowledge in the natural sciences, the process of gathering knowledge is evidence-based. Every knowledge claim in the AOK has to be supported by substantial evidence.

Furthermore, the evidence has to be obtained systematically to ensure that it is valid and be reproduced by other experts (Gower, 2012).  Any explanation that is not backed by evidence that is obtained systematically is invalid.  The systematic process of gaining knowledge is the reason why knowledge is accepted globally. Different explanations are accepted globally because they are accurate and can be reproduced.  For that reason, good explanations in natural sciences are true because they are supported by empirical data that eliminates biases.

For instance, the explanation behind the concept of day and night is accepted globally because it is true and is supported by evidence. Scientists have raised substantial evidence to show that day and night are caused by the rotation of the earth (McCarthy & Pilkington, 2013).  The earth rotates about an imaginary line that runs from the North to the South Poles. Each rotation last 24 hours with respect to the sun and it is the primary reason behind day and night (McCarthy & Pilkington, 2013). The explanation is widely accepted and is taught in schools because it is true and is supported by scientific evidence.  This example shows that good explanations in natural sciences are those that are supported by evidence. The evidence makes them true because they can be reproduced by other experts.  For that reason, explanations in the AOK have to be true.

On the other hand, the above claim can be refuted by saying that good explanations in natural sciences are the ones that allow individuals to gain knowledge. The assumption and components do not have to be true as long as they allow people to understand the concept in question. In other words, the validity of an explanation depends on its ability to make people understand a particular concept. For instance, a scientist can use a metaphor to explain a complex situation (Hallyn, 2012). A metaphor does not necessarily have to be true but provides simplified aspects that allow knowers to understand a complex concept. Therefore, it is not the validity of assumptions and components that make a good explanation but the ability to make people have true knowledge. For example, doctors say that “the heart is the engine of the body.”  The statement is used to describe how the human heart operates.  The heart is not an engine, but the metaphor helps to explain the functionalism of the heart (Hallyn, 2012). Therefore, in natural sciences explanations do not have to be true. However, one cannot use the above argument to refute the claim. Even though one can use a metaphor to explain the situation it has to refer to things that the target audience are familiar with. The familiarity represents some form of truth.


Religion is the area of knowledge that explains the existence of Supreme Being. The AOK shows how the Supreme Being is the source of life and the creator of the universe. The Supreme Being control everything in the words and people are required to worship Him. To understand how Supreme Being impacts the world one has to have a firm conviction in his existence. For that reason, faith is the primary way of knowing. Faith is, in this case, is a firm belief or conviction in something. The conviction allows religious followers to follow the will of the Supreme without asking questions.  Primarily, according to religious studies, one of the backbones of religion is obedience (Guest & Arweck, 2016). In this case, religious followers or worshipers are required to obey the Supreme Being and shape their behavior to His standards. For that reason, good explanations in religion are the ones that show a conviction in Supreme Being. In other words, good explanations in religion represent the correct way of worshipping the Supreme Being and help to cultivate people’s faith (Guest & Arweck, 2016). Any statement that is false or contradicts different religious patterns is not accepted in religion is considered to be disobedience against God.  Words such as blasphemy are used to describe explanations that are not true or that contradict teachings of a Supreme Being.  The teachings are usually enshrined in religious books such as the Bible.

For examples, Christians have faith in the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Faith is used to acquire knowledge that is used to prepare them for the Second Coming. The Second Coming explains that Jesus will come to pick those who have lived according to the will of God. The explanation is true because it is enshrined in the Bible (Percy, 2011).  Explanations that contradict the Second Coming is considered to be blasphemous.  The explanation of the Second Coming helps to validate people’s faith in Jesus Christ (Percy, 2011). This example shows that good explanations in religion are the ones that make religious followers have a firm conviction in a Supreme Being. The explanations have to be true to avoid contradictions with the teachings of the Supreme Being.

To counter the main argument, one can point out that good explanations in religion are the ones that allow people to gain true knowledge. The explanations do not have to be backed by evidence but should have the ability to shape people’s behavior. Furthermore, the explanations do not have to be rational or supported by any physical evidence but can shape people’s behavior. Furthermore, most explanations in religion cannot be verified using physical evidence. Thus, we cannot say the explanations are true (Sagan & Druyan, 2006). For example, every religion has its narrative on the source of life. Most religion explanations about the source of life revolve around a Supreme Being who that the power to create and take away life (Sagan & Druyan, 2006). The truth about the Supreme Being cannot be validated because it is metaphysical. There is no physical evidence to show that the Supreme Being exists. Despite the story not being rational, it allows religious followers to gain true knowledge about the omnipotence of the Supreme Being and helps to validate their faith in the Being (Sagan & Druyan, 2006). However, the counterclaim is weak because statements in religion have to be supported by evidence from religious books or other sources such as priests and sheikhs.  The evidence makes the statements true.


In conclusion, good explanations in natural sciences are the ones that are supported by evidence. The evidence makes the explanations, and it is the primary reason why they are used to gain accurate religion. In natural sciences, good theories have to be supported by the evidence because of the requirements of scientific methods. For instance, the concept of rotation of the earth is supported by evidence. The evidence makes it true, and it is why it is taught in schools. In religion, good explanations are the ones that are backed by evidence from religious books. For example, in Christianity, the Second Coming explains that Jesus will come to pick those who have lived according to the will of God. The explanation is true because it is enshrined in the Bible. However, there is the need to evaluate the role of context in good explanations. In this case, can an explanation be good in one context and be insufficient in another context.


Gower, B. (2012). Scientific Method: A Historical and Philosophical Introduction. Hoboken: Taylor and Francis.

Guest, M., & Arweck, E. (2016). Religion and knowledge: Sociological perspectives. London: Routledge.

Hallyn, F. (2012). Metaphor and analogy in the sciences. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

McCarthy, D. D., & Pilkington, J. D. H. (2013). Time and the Earth’s rotation: Proceedings of the 82nd IAU symposium held in San Fernando, Spain, 8-12 May 1978. Dordrecht, Holland: D. Reidel Pub. Co.

Percy, W. (2011). The second coming. New York: Open Road Integrated Media.

Sagan, C., & Druyan, A. (2006). The varieties of scientific experience: A personal view of the search for God. New York: Penguin Press.

Also Read

About the author 

Antony W is a professional writer and coach at Help for Assessment. He spends countless hours every day researching and writing great content filled with expert advice on how to write engaging essays, research papers, and assignments.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}