No science background here...I'm an accountant. I have always been respectful of Sodium Hydroxide but no more or less than anything else I might find in the kitchen.
I knew absolutely nothing about making soap before I got into it; I still remember asking someone if you needed Lye to make soap. Not unreasonable...NaOH is a 'chemical' and the whole purpose of making soap is to get away from chemicals.
I think soap making is equal parts science and magic. Now the science of saponification is the "alkaline hydrolysis of the fatty acid esters" or the lye breaks down fats into glycerol and fatty acid salts and then hardens into 'soap' or you can take lye, dissolved it in water, add it to a liquid fat or fats, give it a really good stir and it magically turns into something else called 'soap' that you can clean with with.
When I first started I just wanted to make pretty, good smelling soap that was good for you. I started with a 'tried and true' recipe, messed around with a bunch of different oils and butters that sounded good 'cuz what soap maker doesn't want to be 'original' until I found something that I, and family and friends liked to wash with because it made their skin feel good and honestly, I was good with that.
But noooooooooooooooooooooo folks just couldn't leave well enough alone. They started talking about 'fatty acid profiles' and how this oil or that butter is high or low in Palmtic Acid or Oleic Acid or Stearic Acid and can do this or that or the other thing and Saturated vs Unsaturated and why Lye Concentration is better than Water as Percent of Oil Weight and 'water discounts' and since knowledge weighs nothing...off I went.
I don't care...it's still magic.