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This wasn't really meant to be a blog entry, but it wound up being too long to fit in my page comments. This is from the Wikipedia page on agnosticism:

Dawkins also identifies two categories of agnostics; Temporary Agnostics in Practice (TAPs), and Permanent Agnostics in Principle (PAPs). Dawkins considers temporary agnosticism an entirely reasonable position, but views permanent agnosticism as "fence-sitting, intellectual cowardice."

This has been the best summation so far that I've seen of the pop use of the term agnostic. I'd add that PAP could also be used interchangeably with apatheism, with two common examples. First there's the person who states they don't think about God much, and assumes the term agnostic applies to them (the traditional apatheist).

Then there's the "active" apatheist PAPs. My experience with this attitude is that it boils down to someone sticking their fingers in their ears and going "LA LA LA LA LA! I'M BEING SCIENTIFIC! ATHEISTS ARE JUST AS FAITH BASED AND UNSCIENTIFIC AS THEISTS! ATHEISTS DISBELIEVE ALL GODS OUT OF FAITH! I WILL NOT ENTERTAIN OR ADDRESS ANY ARGUMENTS FOR OR AGAINST THE EXISTENCE OF GOD!" And this is where permanent agnostics in principle really shines as a term. Such persons aren't really holding out for more data (that's a lie, or at best a self deception), since no argument will ever be considered. I would also describe the people holding this attitude as trollish in their defense of "agnosticism", from my experience.

The first PAP example is the apathy of indifference to the issue. The second PAP example is the apathy of the active suppression of consideration (examination?) of the issue. For purposes of meaningful terminology, neither of these meet the philosophical meaning of agnosticism, believing that knowledge about the existence of (at least one concept of) God is inaccessible. I.E. this is an attitude about the existence of knowledge, not an undecided stance or an attitude about how we should respond to information (to which we could also subdivide PAPs into the probably-non-existent type willing to consider new evidence, and the existent type unwilling to consider any evidence). However, the existing term apatheist does neatly describe both types of PAP; and since agnosticism is an inaccurate term for these attitudes but apathy is accurate, we might as well refer to them properly as apatheists.

It's hard to trust everyday references and sources like Wikipedia when it comes to awkward or complex philosophical terms (at least when they're not quoting a reliable source), but Wikipedia does include this rather useful sentence about apatheism:

An apatheist is also someone who is not interested in accepting or denying any claims that gods exist or do not exist.

I'd also like to remind people that agnosticism is an invented term (Thomas Henry Huxley, 1869), not a counter term to Gnosticism the way that atheism is used as a counter term to theism. Gnosticism is the religious belief that enlightenment can be attained through the realization of truths from within (Gnosis) via inner reflection. The opposite of Gnosticism would be that enlightenment is only attainable through focus on truths (stories and secrets) revealed to you externally (Faith).

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Tags: PAPs, TAPs, agnostic, agnosticism, apatheism, apatheist, gnosticism


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