The term was coined by Prof. Thomas Huxley at a party held previous to the formation of the now defunct Metaphysical Society, at Mr. James Knowles's house on Clapham Common, one evening in 1869. He took it from St. Paul's mention of the altar to ‘the Unknown God.’

-From the etymology for "agnostic" in the OED.

Please note the late date of this event. Many so-called "atheists" in the history of philosophy were actually what we would call "agnostic" today. David Hume is an excellent example.

Agnosticism is defined below. I consider myself to be a "Catholic"-turned-Agnostic, but why does someone become Agnostic? And not to sound discriminatory, but why are a lot of Agnostics intellectual people?

The answer to these questions lies in proof. If you need to see something to believe it, odds are you follow religion weakly, or choose none and follow Agnostic beliefs. The Bible, the Koran... most holy books for religion offer many answers, but without modern proof to uphold them. Where are God's miracles today? Why aren't blind Christians healed? Who knows?

The ever-popular theory of evolution also plays a major part in religious apathy. Charles Darwin came up with the theory of evolution by means of natural selection. Fossils can be traced back to the point where humans started differentiating from apes. How do creation myths come into play here? I guess you could say that the Creation in The Bible could be meant to be less literal than it is, but still, things don't seem to match up.

Another very good reason why I'm not afraid to act as an Agnostic is because what God is "supposed to be." If God is all-powerful and forgiving, what would he have against investigation and staying true to your convictions. As long as you live a moral life, I think the afterlife (or lack of) shouldn't be effected by choice of religion.

The theory of Athiesm is as unappealing as organized religion is, however. If proof is needed to believe, then shouldn't proof be needed to disbelieve? The point is, with Agnosticism, I feel happy knowing that whatever's out there, I'll accept it. I have no problem with organized religion, other than the fact that I don't prefer it. People need to live their own lives, and whatever makes you happy is great.

It should be noted that an agnostic can be certain that God exists. Theistic agnosticism says that God does exist but his nature is unknowable. Atheistic agnosticism claims that it's unknowable whether God exists.

A person who believes that the human mind cannot know whether there is a God or an ultimate cause, or anything beyond material phenomena. Thus, because he believes that a human being cannot know whether God exists, an agnostic must believe that he does not know whether God exists. However, a person that believes he does not know whether God exists is not necessary agnostic. An agnostic cannot say whether they positively believe God exists or that they positively believe that God does not exist.

The term is derived from the 'unknown' God in Acts 17:23, and was first used in 1869, by Thomas Henry Huxley. The word is from a-, "without" + gnostic, which is from the Greek gnostikos (γνωστικος), which is from gnosis, "knowledge." In a letter dated March 13, 1881, Richard Holt Hutton wrote that the term 'agnostic' was "suggested by Prof. Huxley at a party held previous to the formation of the now defunct Metaphysical Society, at Mr. James Knowles's house on Clapham Common, one evening in 1869, in my hearing. He took it from St. Paul's mention of the altar to 'the Unknown God.'"

See: agnosticism
See also: atheism, theism
I've noticed that in general, there really isn't much difference between being an atheist and being an agnostic besides politeness.

Most atheists are sensible enough to know that there really isn't a way to prove or disprove the existence of god(s). Of course, this kind of view is never actually practiced in the real world, as you would be completely incapacitated.

Say your friend calls you on the phone and asks "I'm going to come pick you up, where are you?"

Do you respond : "I am not really sure. It appears that I am home, but I could really be anywhere. While I have no specific memory of leaving my house, it's very possible that Evie Garland, star character from the 1987 TV Series 'Out of this World' played by Maureen Flannagan, has frozen time and displaced me into a completely different world that is for all intents and purposes the same as the old world, yet different because I have indeed been moved. So I don't know if I'm home or not, in fact, I'm not exactly sure that you're you, and that's kind of scary. I'm going to hang up now, that is, if this is actually a phone that I am holding. I'm not sure."



Maybe without the obscenities, although you should probably leave them in.

It seems to me that the only difference between an Agnostic and an Atheist that I have observed is generally politeness....

If you're agnostic it says to people:
"Hey, I'm not really religious, but hey, there could possibly be a god, so you could be right, and I could be right, hey guy, who really knows? Lets go get a soda, an orange soda, it's on me."

Whereas being an athiest kind of says to people:
"Hey, I sure am right, and you sure are wrong. I don't believe in god, and by extension of that, I don't believe in your god, or any god for that matter. As a matter of fact, your god is fake, and you are wrong. You get no orange soda. In fact, I'm going to go to your house and check your refridgerator for orange soda, and if you have any... I'm going to take it. That's right, you heard me. I'm going to take it. You will have no orange soda left."

It is unfortunate that I probably appear to be a very impolite person.

This is only what I've observed, mind you. I think i've met a few real agnostics and they stick out from the atheists in general because they state that they really don't care either way. That's cool with me

(WARNING: Rant imminent!)

Having long ago found comfort in knowing myself to be a 'hard' agnostic (see below), I feel an urge to make you all the victims of my explanation of deeper meanings of agnosticism.

Firstly, there are several branches of agnosticism, though they are no where near as many as the religious orders of any given religion, current or otherwise.

The most interesting distinction is between hard agnosticism and soft agnosticism. The soft version is what many seem to view agnostics as: Someone who does not know whether he should believe in God or not, seeking proof either for or against existence of the Divine. Basically, an unwilling atheist considering what faith to pick, if any.

'Hard' agnostics (you are free to joke about the term, if you so desire) not only accept but embrace lack of knowledge about the Divine, in any shape (agnosticism is not just concerned with christian views of Divinity, morality and ethics, dogmatic tradition etc, but also turn this view on buddhism, islam, hinduism and even, yes, Darwinism (which can be claimed to be the creationism of atheists, after all)!). Such a person will, stereotypically, respond to any non-agnostic's claim of what is right/wrong or true/false with a simple "well, you're allowed to belief that if you wish". This is not an act of indifference; agnosticism openly accepts that its adherents cannot know what is true or false in divine matters, and thus it is, theoretically, impossible for an agnostic to say or even believe that someone is 'wrong' in matters of faith, just as the agnostic cannot claim to know what is 'right'.

This is in no way to say that agnostics (I will henceforth use the term to mean predominantly hard agnostics) cannot be a royal pain in the rectal areas, hell-bent on 'converting' others. In my early years as self-confessed agnostic, I kept probing people of assorted faiths with questions like "but how do you know that you are right?", aiming to make them realize their basic theological ignorance. Fact is, any faith, including agnosticism, is not about knowledge or evidence, but about faith, dammit.

So what 'religious' ritualism marks an agnostic? For me, the answer is simple: A search for questions rather than answers (yes I know that might seem like a paradox, since this is 'the simple answer', but trust me, it is not). I am not agnostic because I dislike the idea of having a destiny, wanting to 'be in control of my own life' (atheists also do not always have a loathing of the idea of destiny; in fact, many grow gloomy and even nihillistic from their want of it, but lack of believe in it!). I simply accept the fact that I do not know what such a fate might or might not be, and instead enjoy the mystery of having to find out. For religious folk, even those not highly devoted to their faith, comfort comes from being sure of one's place in God's masterplan. For me comfort comes from knowing that I will never be sure of what such a place might be, and thus I will always have the option of an unexpected future. Had I not enjoyed the idea that anything might be around the corner, I would have gone shopping for religion long ago.

A campy comparison would be a football match. To the casual eye, there are two groups of people amongst the spectators: Those who hope/belief that Team A will win, and those who hope/belief that Team B will win. These two groups could be any two religions you wish to insert (including atheists, though their team might lack a clearly defined coach). Agnostics taking part would, however, form a third type of spectator: The one who is simply there to enjoy the game.

Agnosticism and ethics

Religion being such a strong beacon of morales, defining the notions of right and wrong, people often ask me how an agnostic goes about being a good person, a.k.a. what morale beliefs guide agnostics. The crude answer is 'none'; without a fear of Hell or ambitions of Heaven through the recipe of specific religious dogma, an agnostic cannot follow a set path to be a good person. Unlike atheists, though, agnostics are aware of the fact that Heaven and Hell might exist, but in any of a whole range of incarnations: The mormons could be right, as could catholics or protestants, but shintoism, hindusim or any of a multitude of isms could be equally true. Heck, the bravest of us may go to Valhalla by decree of Odin! While 'soft' agnostics with too much time on their hands can throw tantrums out of sheer panic when wondering about this, 'hard' agnostics tend to simply take it as inspiration. I myself believe in kindness towards fellow man (male or female), as preached by Christianity, while also adhering to values of courage, as in nordic mythology. I also take buddhist concepts of inner harmony very much to heart. The basic idea, at least in my personal mosaic of religious concepts, is to take any good idea and see what it could hold for me and my surroundings. I have no scripture to ultimately guide me, but I have hundreds to inspire me.

On the very down-to-earth level, agnostic ethics of behavior tend to mimic those of atheists, in that an agnostic will develop his or her own set of moral codes to treat, and judge, others through. For non-agnostics and non-atheists, this is often misunderstood as either adhering strictly to secular humanism, or the legal code of national or other institutions (GreenPeace, the UN Charter or other such NGOs are common points of reference, both for external observers and for agnostics and atheists themselves). This is not necesarily true. The 'problem', especially when trying to categorize and predict agnostic (and atheist) behavior is, that there is no point of reference. They make it up as they go. My own ethics are very simple: If it promotes happiness, it is a Good Thing. Of course, morale advocates enjoy setting up hypothetical scenarios in which making someone happy will make others unhappy, hoping to prove such a simplistic morale code useless. Well, life is complex, and the Bible does not have answers for every single situation either. People are still forced to decide how to interpret situations for themselves, so there. I do, too. Other agnostics (and, again, atheists) have to react to life as well, applying or ignoring morale codes as needed, whatever those may be.

The Sum of it All

While many agnostics enjoy claiming to be 'above religion', agnosticism itself is a belief. It is a belief that there might be something out there, which no one can truly know any serious details about before encountering it. And just like christians may find comfort or fear in the belief in God, an agnostic can feel comfortable or uncomfortable about his/her self-proclaimed ignorance about any higher truth. An agnostic is not an atheist in disguise; atheists believe there is no God of any kind, and that all we have is each other (if even that; atheism is a veritable breeding ground for neogothic nihilists). Agnostics do not deny the existence of anything, feeling an urge to keep wondering. While I am not sure of chromaticblue's observation that 'many agnostics are intellectuals', it might have a relation to this inquisitive nature that tends to be strong in agnostics. Since agnosticism does not necesarily imply intelligence, it is not an automatic advantage, though, and many great thinkers have been firm religious believers of one sort or another (some even fanatics). As you might have noticed, agnostics also have a tendency to give both-yes-and-no answers :-)

"I don't ask questions in order to get answers, I seek answers in order to ask better questions"
- Some clever remark I heard somewhere...

Ag*nos"tic (#), a. [Gr. priv. + knowing, to know.]

Professing ignorance; involving no dogmatic; pertaining to or involving agnosticism.

-- Ag*nos"tic*al*ly (#), adv.


© Webster 1913.

Ag*nos"tic, n.

One who professes ignorance, or denies that we have any knowledge, save of phenomena; one who supports agnosticism, neither affirming nor denying the existence of a personal Deity, a future life, etc.


© Webster 1913.

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