Roger Ebert is one of my favorite essayists. I don’t tend to agree with him on which movies are good (mostly because I only like movies if they are about wizards or vampires or both), but I tend to find his musings interesting. Unfortunately, this week his essay demonstrates a pretty fundamental confusion about atheism:
If I don’t believe God exists, that doesn’t mean I believe God doesn’t exist.
I shouldn’t blame him, as it appears that even the normally-infallible Wikipedia accepts this distinction too.
According to this line of thinking, there is some sort of “important” difference between the statements:
1. I believe there is no god. (strong)
2. I do not believe there is a god. (weak)
This is stupid, as the following conversation demonstrates:
Woman: It looks like your battery is dead. Are your jumper cables in the trunk?
Man: I don’t think they’re in the trunk.
Woman: You think your jumper cables aren’t in the trunk?
Man: THAT’S NOT WHAT I SAID! I said, I don’t think they’re in the trunk.
Woman: Isn’t that what I said?
Man: No, you said that I thought they weren’t in the trunk!
Woman: What’s the difference?
Man: IT’S THE SAME AS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN STRONG ATHEISM AND WEAK ATHEISM, YOU PHILOSOPHICAL NINNY! WHAT KIND OF CRETIN ARE YOU?! AFTER WE CALL AAA, I WANT A DIVORCE!
Of course, we are sympathetic to the woman here, not only because she got called a “philosophical ninny”, but also because (unlike Ebert) she makes total sense.