I’ll explain. I was not the best at school. If a class required essays, I’d pass with flying colors but everything else was questionable. This was especially true with math and science. I don’t know if this was a left-brain vs. right-brain thing but I do know lots of tears were shed – in both high school and college. School was tough. I finally graduated from a community college in my thirties and I don’t plan on pursuing anything higher.
School has long been over for me but that doesn’t necessarily mean my struggles with math and science are in the past. It does come up from time to time and it makes me feel like I’m lacking very basic knowledge that people should have. My husband is very interested in science and there have been so many conversations that have gone over my head.
The One Exception
I don’t even feel interested in science, but there is one exception – I’m really fascinated with weather. Living in Northwest Ohio is a great place to be interested in weather. We have four distinct seasons and we’re on the northern end of Hoosier Alley. I wanted to be a storm chaser when I was little.
When I was in college, I was so excited to see a weather and climate class offered. Could this be the science class I actually pass? I couldn’t wait! Unfortunately, the excitement died when we looked at PowerPoint slides every single class – nothing else. How can you make something I was actually fascinated by so boring? The professor even gave us assigned seats. Boy, did I regret sitting front and center that first day. The class was held in an older building that didn’t have air conditioning and this was during fall semester when it was still quite warm. I fell asleep every class. I don’t remember what grade I got or even if I made it through the semester.
Needless to say, the class was a huge disappointment for me. I thought maybe it would spark some kind of interest or a tiny bit of understanding of science but it completely fizzled out. I’m still interested in weather, but mainly the sexy weatherman on the local news. (I really like nerds.)
What does this have to do with being an atheist?
It just seems like so many atheists are interested in science. It’s something I really just don’t get but I wish I did. For me, I never had to understand science to be an atheist. When I decided to become an atheist it was just common sense – because god doesn’t make sense.
Also, just because I don’t understand science doesn’t mean I deny science. I trust experts – scientists, doctors, etc. One aspect of my life where this can truly be seen is my medication. I trust my doctor. I don’t understand how medication works, but I’m so glad that it does. I definitely thank science – not god.
My daughter is in the first grade and I know a day will come when I won’t be able to help her with her math and science homework – probably sooner than I think. It’s going to be embarrassing, I’m sure. I just hope she has an easier time with school than I did.
Are there any other atheists that have a hard time with science?
Was there something you just didn’t understand in school? Does it bother you now? I’d like some reassuring stories. I can’t be alone in this.
Though I really, really like science, for all intents and purposes, I consider myself largely innumerate. I’ve always been an artist, though in grade school my accidental major was English. (My taking a lot of dramatic arts courses may have contributed to that!)
I guess we atheists run the gamut of interests, skills, artistry, and talent.
Im in the same boat when it comes to math. I can do the basics adding, subtracting etc… but when they start throwing letters in instead of numbers I get lost. I had to take algebra and geometry and trigonometry to get my degree in manufacturing, but I had to have a full time tutor and I really struggled with it. Most of my problems stemmed from the way the class was taught. Science Im okay with, but Im not a scientist at all. I had to study some geology to get a better understanding of rocks so I could be more successful at my hobby of being a rock hound, but I too have to trust in what the people who spend their lives studying scientific things for the best understanding. I may not always understand what they understand, but I trust in their abilities to deliver the truth as they understand it. I have kids and grand kids and sometimes I felt lost trying to keep up with them.
From what Ive seen on your block you are going to be a terrific mother. No one really knows how to be a good parent, for the most part we try and emulate our parents. Not so much in my case, but in the end we are all doing the best we can with what we have. I thought Id messed my kids up but they keep telling me I did a great job and you will too.
“Was there something you just didn’t understand in school?”
The people. Numbers, words, concepts all danced for me with little to no effort on my part, but I couldn’t tell you why anyone did anything.
You come across as understanding and empathetic, possessing what gets called “emotional intelligence”. I envy you that.
As you can tell from my ‘nym, for me the answer to your question is “no”.
I think a lot of atheists are drawn to science because once you have decided that a sky daddy is not needed to make the sun rise and the rain fall it is natural to wonder how those kinds of things actually do happen. Plus, having a good understanding of how things work makes life a little easier. If I have an upset stomach I know that carbonated water can neutralize excess stomach acid. I know that laundry detergent with “color-safe” bleach works the same as regular bleach except they add colorless fluorescent dye to make the now-faded colors brighter, which means your dark clothes will look faded much faster. I know that high-fat foods inhibit bacteria, so cream will stay good in my fridge much longer than 2% milk will.
“My daughter is in the first grade and I know a day will come when I won’t be able to help her with her math and science homework – probably sooner than I think.”
I wonder here if getting deeply involved with her math homework now could reduce this problem later on. If you asked her how she would solve the problems, and not merely what the answer is, you would be getting math refreshers as she progresses. So maybe you could keep up with her learning much longer. Just a thought.
I did a biology degree, one with a lot of human biology, and a lot of environmental biology. I loved it, though I didnt get a good degree as some heavy personal stuff messed me up for several years. I read light science magazines because I find the stuff I understand fascinating and so cool. I mean the last article I read was about fatigue, about how much we understand and don’t understand about it, about why it can be more than transient, tying into things like ME/CFS and long COVID, and about possibilities to help those with long term fatigue, that are being explored because of what we do know. This research is getting a boost because the number of people unable to work due to these diseases has significantly increased because of COVID, so that’s a sliver lining of the last few years for others affected with long term fatigue, as the research didn’t get much money previously. I mean it’s relatively recently that the medical establishment has accepted that this isn’t an “it’s all in your head” thing – not that mental health should be neglected the way it too often is, but people arent going to get better if you aren’t even looking at the right part of them!
I think moarscienceplz’s idea of following along with your daughter is good, but why does it have to be you that helps her if your husband is into science and maths? I think it’s good teach children that adults aren’t perfect know-it-alls, and the best way for parents to do that is to admit when they don’t know things, not proudly or arrogantly trying to diminish the importance of the skill, but honestly and humbly. Not that I think you would do the arrogant “oh that’s not worth doing” thing some people do when they don’t know about a subject, but sadly I guess we’ve all met people that do.
Your answer lies in your sentence: “I’m not even interested in science.” Because skill/ability/ease/adeptness flow from that and that alone. I was a miserable student in high school, not paying attention to anything, with no skills in any field. Math was incredibly difficult and unintuitive. But I liked the idea of science, so I went to college and studied hard, and now I find myself a scientist (BS, MS, PhD physics, BS math). How? Wasn’t I bad at that stuff?
The brain is like a muscle, it gets better at things when you work it. It can not be stressed enough: learning things doesn’t just increase your knowledge (like those fools who say “knowing things doesn’t make you smart!” constantly regurgitate), it really does work out your brain, and over time that increase your intelligence and capacity for more learning. Which is to say: you absolutely, emphatically COULD be good at math or science, but it happens to not interest you (which is absolutely okay!), and so there’s no motivation to be good at it in the first place.
There is no such thing as a person who is naturally bad at math or science. There are only people who are interested in those things, and people who aren’t interested in them. Any other difference is a result of that one single distinction. It’s okay to be disinterested in something. It’s unhealthy and wrong to let yourself think that you’re bad at something naturally. Be free and content knowing that it’s just not where your heart lies. Take it from a scientist who’s seen both sides of this coin personally.
FWIW. I’ve always absolutely sucked at maths. As a school kid I liked some science – astronomy especially because of my love of SF and trying to imagine outer space – but struggled with other sciences eg biology, chemistry, physics and was far from great at science overall. I don’t think I ever got an A for any science class.I also much preferred english and writing and reading. So, no, you’re not alone. I had the advantage, I guess, of being a bit deaf given a lot ofear infections so had to sit at the front to hear properly which mnat I got more attention from teachers and the assumption from them that I was perhaps more interested than I sometimes was! Impressions can kinda count that way?
I’ve learnt far more and become far more intrested through reading on my own than through official classroom learning.
I don’t play any musical instruments but I enjoy and appreciate music. I have two left feet but I appreciate dance. That being said, I could probably learn to play something other than a kazoo but I am not interested and will leave the music to the musicians.
I was (and still am) good at math/science, but that is not why I am an atheist. When I was about six, my dad looked at me while we were in the car, and said “If I hadn’t met your mother, your name wouldn’t be Bobby”. (I was named after my mother’s brother). Well that just opened up a vortex of thought in my six year old brain! Who would I be, if not myself? What, exactly, am I, if not my parents’ child? How could “I” be someone else? Before long, I was questioning everything.
John Morales says
As you are to science am I to the arts.
For me it was arithmetic that was the bugbear not science . I pretty much cried every night in elementary and junior high( I’m that old) when I had math homework. If they hadn’t invented calculators I wouldn’t have a biology degree. Despite my arithmetic woes, I had very little trouble with calculus 🤷🏽♀️ I was also able to show a math teacher how to trick a basic calculator into giving answers larger than 10^100 because
I basically used to play with the calculator when I got bored!
As far as motivation and interest driving success. I absolutely loved to dance , and I’m pigeon toed . Which means my feet turn in instead of out . I wanted to do ballet . Every one said no . Well to make a long story short I still can do those high kicks at near 70 years old . High kicks are called grand battements and arabesque penche !