Is everyone on this site more scientific than me?

Growing up, I didn't like science. It's not that I didn't believe in it, it's just that it was hard to learn. Some concepts I had trouble grasping, others I would have trouble remembering, and then there was the math...

I was much more interested in the humanities because they came easier to me. I'm a good writer, and majored in English in college. As I got a little older, I developed a passing interest in science, particularly as it pertained to new technology, astronomy, and evolutionary biology. But, I never invested in real study of science-- just Discovery Channel documentaries, popular science articles and such.

Since getting involved in the atheist community, primarily on blogs and this site, I've come to desire a deeper understanding of science and critical thinking. Studying literature does help teach you critical thinking, but not in the same way as science. I see just how intelligent and knowledgeable many of you are, and feel that maybe my years ignoring math and science were wasted. I'm still fairly young, at 27, but the years where knowledge is best absorbed are behind me.

Currently I'm reading Massimo Pigliucci's book "Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science From Bunk." It's a good read, and fairly accessible so far, to a novice like me (mostly, I suspect because its content is the philosophy of science rather than hard science), but from there, I'm at a loss as to where to go next. I want to learn more simply to become a more rounded person. Also, I want this knowledge to help develop my debating skills.

I'm not sure of my motivation for writing this, except maybe to whine. Is there anyone else out there like me? Atheists and skeptics with little science background?

Views: 18

Tags: math, science, skepticism

Comment by CJoe on December 10, 2010 at 2:17pm

...the years where knowledge is best absorbed are behind me.

Oh come now, you don't really believe that, do you? :) I'm 27 and don't have a science background. I wasn't particularly interested in any of this until I was about 25. I've found that I'm much better able to absorb information now than I ever was able to in high school or my early twenties. People generally retain info about what they are [or have a vested] interested in.

I totally relate about feeling like I wasted valuable time. Sometimes, life just feels like one big IF ONLY. But nothing is stopping me from brushing up my dusty brain now! And who cares if I can't recite every detail of what I'm reading? It's still fascinating and rewarding to learn about things that never even occurred to me (as a Christian, or just a young person).

It may not seem like it, but most of us are novices. It doesn't take long to pick up the lingo and sound like an expert ;)

Comment by Meghan V! on December 10, 2010 at 3:10pm

Oh, yes, I had zero science background.  My whole life I had prepared to major in theatre, but at the last minute changed my mind, in fact, to pursue science.

I understand feeling dwarfed by others who are much more knowledgeable than you are.  However, I think it is incredibly admirable that you are taking an initiative to delve into a new way of thinking.  I must add that in a short amount of time, I have learned a vast amount of information.  But there's always room for improvement, which is very exciting.

I suppose my bottom line is that I think you can learn about anything you want, be it biology or physics or chemistry.  You will have to start from scratch like I did, but if you have the desire, I assure you it will be done.  In fact, I think a background in humanities may give you an extra edge, because of the range of experiences you have under your belt.

Comment by Radu Andreiu on December 10, 2010 at 3:10pm

There is the science of memorizing stuff and there is the science of understanding stuff, to some point. The memorizing doesn't need anything else than memory. For example, you can learn a lot about the human anatomy just by memorizing what others have found in the history of anatomy. I'm not particularly attracted by this part of science, but it is very important.

The part about understanding can be a little tricky. For that, you may need math, because many concepts, particularly in physics, are extremely counter-intuitive and make a lot more sense mathematically. I don't know, maybe some smart computer animations can provide a visual clue of these things, but to really understand them, at least as far as they can currently be understood, you need math. Also, there are concepts that can't really be formulated in plain language so that people who don't know math could understand.

That being said, math can be hard for most people. I, for instance, find it really hard to understand, even if it's my 14th year in which I'm taking math courses. However, taken slowly, math makes a lot of sense. I actually say that math is the only language that speaks for itself. All you need to do is listen (or work your brain really, really hard) and questions will be answered. As you learn about math, you also learn about the world, if you can connect the dots.

Anyway, science can be a lot of fun, but it can also be hard for our brains. Some people have it in them, while others don't. I always considered myself somewhere in between, because I'm not some science prodigy, but I am following a career in science/engineering. Basically, I'm going to concentrate on creating things (because I think I have a lot of imagination) based on what others have discovered. That particular job feels somewhat out of my league, but maybe I can help in other ways.


P.S. I actually find comfort in the idea Einstein expressed when he said:  

"Scientists investigate that which already is; Engineers create that which has never been.''

 or Scott Adams: 

"Scientists dream about doing great things. Engineers do them."

Of course, this can be taken back and forth, because scientists explain the world so that we can exploit it in developing technology, which in turn helps scientists discover new things. I think the idea is that we are all important to society if we want to be.


Anyway, that's just some off-topic jibber-jabber of mine.

Comment by Rick on December 10, 2010 at 3:24pm

Best learning years behind you!!? No way -- you're only 27 ... Hell, I'm 46 and going back to ASU for a Masters in Astrophysics: something I've been thinking I should've done 15 years ago!


Anyway, its never to late to learn... And I think you're actually better prepared to learn 'hard science' in your mid-to-late 20's than you were as a 'kid' ... Think how much more focused you are now. ... I know I am.

Comment by Matt Peters on December 10, 2010 at 3:28pm

Jean Marie:


No,  of course you don't have to be a scientist to be an atheist, and thank you for saying so! If I had absolutely zero interest in science, I would not fret about my lack of knowledge.


My interest in science will NEVER replace my love for the art of the written word. However, I've recently realized that I really have largely ignored science in my 27 years, and I don't wish to close my mind to a huge section of human knowledge. It's a growing interest, and one I will explore selectively, and at my leisure.


Now engineering is something I've never had an interest in, but think I should probably learn at least a little about. I'm a Librarian at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center for the TDRSS project (a communication satellite network) and understand next to nothing about the documents I find for the engineers...  you'd think I would have absorbed a little more than I have in a year and a half...

Comment by Atlas on December 10, 2010 at 3:59pm

Life is learning. Remember that.

And i don't believe anyone can be bad at science. You can be bad at equations or bad at remembering what causes the electromagnetic field around the Earth, but that doesn't make one bad at science. To be bad at science, one would have to reject science. You mentioned you like Humanities. Try applying what you learned in Humanities to other fields of science. You'd be surprised to discover that the methods used to learn one subject can also be used to learn a completely different subject. For example, imagine a tall skyscraper. It seems simple in that it is just a tall building with lots of glass, but it's more than that. Much more. A skyscraper is the unification of many different parts. Steel, Cement, Glass, Aluminum, and countless other items must be put in an order that makes it highly unlikely for such an order to fail. We call it Structural Integrity. Now apply this to the planet Earth: It seems simple, composing of land, water, and atmosphere, but, like the skyscraper it is so much more. Like the particles that make up water, incredibly hot magma core, all the different, yet related, animal species that cover every corner of this planet, the bacteria that keep us healthy and the ones that kill us, the effect temperature has on the planet, human achievements, and a seemingly infinite supply of completely amazing things.

So, you can either just look at the plants, the moon, the mountains, and all the wonderful forms of life and think "How pretty, this must have been made just for me."

Or you can understand why we have plants, why the moon is there, why the mountains touch the sky, and why we have so much deep variety of lifeforms and instead think "Wow, how amazing that I am a part of this!"

Comment by Matt Peters on December 10, 2010 at 4:01pm

Well said. Thank you Rob!

Comment by Chadia on December 10, 2010 at 5:29pm

hi, just like you, I don't have a scientific background.  But always loved math, so I studied accountancy.  When I was 25 I read a book called 'Fantastic, the univers inside your brain'(by Chris Verburgh, but I think it was only published in Belgium).  It explain a few theories of the origin of life. After that I picked up the God delusion, the sefish gene.  Now, I'm 28, and I want to go to college again.  The problem is, that I don't know how to choose a the perfect study... I'm intrested in history, math, (almost every kind of)fysics and biochemestry. So, what do you think I should do?

Comment by Jennifer Ulean Breedlove on December 10, 2010 at 8:22pm

 I am not as geared towards science and math as some I know. I still have a lot to learn and I am 30 having said that, no I am not skilled in science, However I do find myself drawn too it..

I know atheists who have tons of knowledge in science, and then I know the ones like me who can take it or leave it.

I know it is a common thing to some that you have to be highly versed in science, but really I am not sure that has anything to do with being an Atheist. Where I stand at it is just that I do not believe in a deity.

Comment by Angela Moore Long on December 10, 2010 at 9:01pm

Not all atheists are so out of reason of science( evolution specific) - some debate historical or archeological, and those are the main premise they base Atheism. Some don't have an exact academia at all - rather they rely on their own knowledge, logic and reason. I agree that often -all to often, people assume we all base our Atheism on science and start spewing counter intelligent design nonsense to claims you never made...More often than any other subject- you'll see more scientific blogs on Atheism than comparative religions, history and linguistics - showing patterns and passed down systems of beliefs, tribalism and etc. I enjoy reading the science based blogs - however my Atheism is not based solely on evolution and defense thereof - I'm more into other subjects which I find the majority of other Atheists to be lacking- mostly focused instead on physics and etc. Recently I shared links on archeology and history of semitic languages/African-Asiatic  dialects and etc - no interest. I posted some on science- plenty. However, I'm glad they have interest and defend science - some brilliantly, I've learned a lot. 


I do enjoy battle of th brains the youngin's get into :))))


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