What Is the Theory of Scientific Explanation?


Jane Flores

The theory of scientific explanation is a fundamental aspect of the scientific method. It refers to the process of explaining phenomena in the natural world by using empirical evidence and logical reasoning. In other words, it is a way of understanding how and why things work in the way they do.

What is a scientific explanation?

A scientific explanation is a statement that describes the cause and effect relationship between two or more variables. It is based on empirical evidence gathered through observation, experimentation, and analysis. A good scientific explanation should be testable, falsifiable, and supported by data.

Types of Scientific Explanation

There are two main types of scientific explanations:

Deductive Explanation:

Deductive explanations are based on deductive reasoning. They involve starting with a general principle or theory and then applying it to specific situations to draw conclusions. For example, if we know that all mammals have hair and that whales are mammals, we can deduce that whales have hair.

Inductive Explanation:

Inductive explanations are based on inductive reasoning. They involve drawing general conclusions from specific observations. For example, if we observe that all the swans we see are white, we might conclude that all swans are white (although this was later proved wrong when black swans were discovered).

The Components of Scientific Explanation

A good scientific explanation should have three components:

1. Empirical Evidence:

Empirical evidence refers to data collected through observation and experimentation. This evidence should be reliable, valid, and relevant to the question being asked.

2. Logical Reasoning:

Logical reasoning involves using established principles or theories to make predictions about what will happen in specific situations.

3. Coherence:

Coherence refers to how well the explanation fits with what is already known about the phenomenon being explained. It should be consistent with existing knowledge and not contradict any established theories or principles.

Limitations of Scientific Explanation

While scientific explanations are powerful tools for understanding the natural world, they do have limitations. For example, some phenomena may be too complex to fully understand with our current level of technology and knowledge. Additionally, some phenomena may be inherently unpredictable or random, making it difficult to create a general explanation that fits all cases.


In conclusion, the theory of scientific explanation is a fundamental aspect of the scientific method. It involves using empirical evidence and logical reasoning to understand how and why things work in the way they do. While there are limitations to what we can explain using this method, it remains one of the most powerful tools we have for understanding the natural world.