Most atheists these days say that they don't believe that God exists. Religious people, however, are prone to assuming that this means the atheists believe that God doesn't exist. In my experience, it is generally hard to get the religious to understand the distinction between not holding a belief and holding the "opposite" belief. I just came across a nice analogy to illustrate the point, so I thought I'd post it here for the benefit of theists who struggle with this. Credit goes to Matt Dillahunty for the analogy. I have taken the liberty of substituting jelly beans for his gumballs. Suppose there is a large jar full of jelly beans (or gumballs, if you find jelly beans confusing) - like one of those glass jars used in a "guess how many beans are in the jar" competitions. We're not allowed to open the jar and count the beans yet; we're only allowed to look at it. Consider a jelly-bean religionist who has decided that there's an even number of jelly beans in the jar. Maybe an ancient scripture said that such jars always have an even number of jelly beans. Maybe the religionist feels that he received a special revelation from God that the jar contains an even number of jelly beans. Whatever it may be, we take it as a given that the religionist hasn't actually counted the beans yet, or got the number from somebody else who actually counted the beans, or measured them in some way that would give an empirically reproduceable answer. You get the gist. Filled with faith that the jar has an even number of beans - for whatever non-empirical reason - the religionist declares "Hallelujah! I believe there's an even number of jelly beans in the jar!" If he feels super confident, he might even go so far as to say "Praise be to God! I just know there's an even number in the jar!" I look at the jar and say "I don't believe there's an even number of jelly beans in the jar". The religionist says "Woe to the fool unbeliever who says in his heart that there's an odd number of jelly beans in the jar!" I point out that I haven't claimed there's an odd number of jelly beans in the jar, but the religionist insists I have, on the grounds that I've "denied" the evenness of the bean count. The truth is, I don't believe there's an odd number of jelly beans in the jar, any more than I believe there's an even number. I don't know whether the number of beans in the jar is odd or even, so I don't hold any belief regarding that. Specifically, and to the main point of this analogy, I do not share the religionist's belief that there is an even number. And that's all. I am not declaring that there isn't an even number of beans in the jar. I'm not claiming that there's an odd number of beans in the jar. I'm not making any claim at all about the fact of the even/odd issue. I am merely saying that I'm not convinced at this point in time that there's an even number of beans in the jar. Moreover - and this is important - I'm saying that the religionist has given no good reason for why I - or anybody else - should believe there's an even number of jelly beans in the jar. His appeals to scriptures that talk about even numbers of jelly beans, and his deep inner conviction that the number of beans is even, counts for nothing, because there is no good reason to suppose that either of those things should correlate with the reality of the bean count. Now, some jelly bean religionists will say "Aha! By even talking about the oddness or evenness of the bean count, you're acknowledging that it could be even, just like I say it is! So, really, you're an Evenist, just like me. You're just in denial about it. You admit you can't prove it's not even." Yes, I admit there are two possibilities in play here - it could be even or it could be odd. But that does nothing to make the case that the number is, in fact, even. To claim to know that there's an even number of jelly beans in the jar, without being able to adequately explain how you came to that certain knowledge, is to make a spurious claim to knowledge. A person making that kind of claim is (a) making a faith-based claim, and (b) pretending to know stuff they don't know. The rational thing to do when faced with a jar containing an unknown number of jelly beans is to wait until the data is in before concluding that the bean count is odd or even. Withholding your consent to the claim that the number is necessarily even (before the count is made) is (a) sensible and rational, and (b) not at all the same as claiming the number is necessarily odd. In case a theist (i.e. God believer) reading this is having trouble following the analogy, here's a brief summary of how this applies to your God belief: When an atheist says she doesn't believe in your God, that usually doesn't mean she believes your God doesn't exist. Rather, it means exactly what it appears to mean on its face: that the atheist doesn't share your God belief - no more and no less. To put it another way, the atheist who says she doesn't believe in your God is not "in denial" about the existence of your God. She isn't denying that your God exists; she is telling you that she doesn't believe your God exists. When an atheist acknowledges that your God must logically either exist or not exist, that is not equivalent to the atheist implicitly agreeing with your belief that your God exists. If you can't adequately explain to atheists how you know your God exists, then you probably don't have a good reason to claim that you know that your God exists. Ancient scriptures tell you that ancient people thought a God existed. They are unlikely to be regarded by atheists as convincing evidence that your God exists. Your gut feeling that your God exists is unlikely to convince an atheist that your God exists. I'm happy to answer questions if anybody wants to take issue with any of this. This should be basic stuff, but in my experience certain people find it almost impossible to get their head around.