Atheists believe that science can explain everything and thus they "believe" in science, right? .... No, WRONG!
The terms atheist (අදේව වාදී), non-believer (නිර්-ආගමික/අනාගමික) and secularist (ඓහික?) cannot be used interchangeably, as they have different meanings. A secularist can be an atheist, non-believer, or a privately religious person. Secularists are people who simply believe that religion is a private affair, and has no place in public policy or governance. Secularist can very well have religious beliefs of private nature. A non-believer is a person who does not have any such metaphysical beliefs. In other words, a non-believer is a someone with a naturalistic world view. Such a person is most likely a secularist too. However, being a non-believer is not a precondition to be a secularist.
Atheism is the other side of theism. They are the folks who reject God concept. For atheism to exist, the belief of God should exist in the other side. Therefore, the atheists are often viewed as opponents of Abrahamic religious.
It is true that above terms are sometimes defined a slightly different manner, and Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, et al uses 'Atheism' as an umbrella term for all non-believers. However this distinction between 'atheism' and 'non-belief' really matters in Sri Lankan context, since the dominant religious tradition in Sri Lanka (Buddhism) is a non-theistic one.
It may not be directly within the scope of this essay to defend the position of atheists with respect to science. However, among other things, I consider myself an atheist, since I do not agree with the concept of "God" proposed by monotheistic religions and especially the Abrahamic God. I believe that the organized religions built around such a concept is not relevant anymore, and moreover, is detrimental to the wellbeing and the moral and material advancement of the human civilization. Therefore I thought of writing in brief to debunk the popular notion that "Atheists believe that science can explain everything and thus they "believe" in science". Why I think that Abrahamic God is not in the interest of moral advancement of human civilization is much better argued and explained by innumerable of well-versed individuals throughout the history (Bertrand Russell, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Stephen Hawkings, Douglas Adams, being a few such people whom comes in to my mind first) and thus there is no need to put my two cents there.
Those who are religious think that atheists think that “science explains everything”. This, I think, is mainly because religious people measure atheists in their own image. Most people are religious because for them, science does not explain “everything”, therefore to know the answers to the questions that science does not ask in the first place, they resort to non-sciences, and then get satisfied with the answers therein.
Atheism is the other side of theism. They are the folks who reject God concept. Apart from that, nothing prevents an atheist to go ahead and reject science too. Being an atheist does not necessarily mean they have accepted science and its epistemology. However, it is true that the brand of atheists represented by Richard Dawkins and Co. firmly believes in science. In more accurate terms, they believe in scientific methodology of building knowledge.
There could be atheists who believe that science explains, or will explain “everything”. However, then they ”believe” in science for the wrong reasons! The first question is; what does this “everything” mean? Science can answer the questions such as “where is my car key?”, “is my wife pregnant?”, “what happens when I die?” (answer: your body get decomposed and become part of the earth, while your legacy continues in the social fabric). However if you ask "is there a life after death?"**, “what happens in my next life?”. “do animals have a soul?” then science will tell you that those concept are not included in any of scientific models, and hence is not answerable. Similarly, science will not be able to answer the question “what kind of wood Pinocchio was made of”. If the fairly-tale that introduced the concept Pinocchio does not say that, then science cannot. Same goes for the “Soul”.
Scientists, atheists and ‘whateverists’ who like scientific methodology, should like it for its beauty (yes ‘beauty’) and the results science brings to make our lives easier and happier. If anyone “believes” in science thinking that they will be able to find out some objective truth about life, universe and everything……. then I have to say that; Sorry I don’t think that is the objective of mainstream science. Looks like you are in the wrong shop! If one wants to find the answer to the question of life, universe and everything, then one should read “Hitchhiker’s guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams ( see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phrases_from_The_Hitchhiker's_Guide_to_the_Galaxy )
Other than the fact that some atheists have read Douglas Adams, and hence they know that the ultimate answer is 42, most of them are happy not knowing the answers to the those big and artificial questions of life universe and everything. However, most atheists know something about morality that most believers take for granted. They know that I can suffer, you can suffer and most lifeforms with consciousness can suffer, and suffering is generally bad; and therefore we should do things that minimize the sufferings of all. This little piece of information is worth knowing.
** A scientific answer to the question "is there a life after death", in a lighter vein, yet extremely appropriate would be "no! because when you are dead, you are dead". One of my friends however suggested a different answer "Yes! because others would still live". A post by the same friend is found here regarding the topic of 'Death'