Origin: Related forms
< Greek ágnōst
), variant of ágnōtos
not known, incapable of being known (a- a-6
known, adj. derivative from base of gignṓskein
to know) + -ic
, after gnostic
; said to have been coined by T.H. Huxley
Can be confused: agnostic, atheist
(see synonym study at the current entry).
Agnostic, atheist, infidel, skeptic refer to persons not inclined toward religious belief or a particular form of religious belief. An agnostic is one who believes it impossible to know anything about God or about the creation of the universe and refrains from commitment to any religious doctrine. An atheist is one who denies the existence of a deity or of divine beings. Infidel means an unbeliever, especially a nonbeliever in Islam or Christianity. A skeptic doubts and is critical of all accepted doctrines and creeds.
The word agnostic was coined by the English biologist T.H. Huxley in the late 1860s as a member of the now defunct Metaphysical Society, in response to what he perceived as an abundance there of strongly held beliefs. The original usage of the term was confined to philosophy and religion, and referred to Huxley's assertion that anything beyond the material world, including the existence and nature of God, was unknowable. Today the word can be seen applied to questions of politics, culture, and science, as when someone claims to be a “political agnostic.”
In a more recent trend, one can be agnostic simply by not taking a stand on something. In 2010, President Obama called himself “agnostic” on tax cuts until he had seen all available options. At a forum on sustainable energy in 2008, GE CEO Jeff Immelt said he was “fuel agnostic fundamentally.” In technology, software or hardware can be said to be agnostic as well. Computer code that can run on any operating system is called “platform agnostic,” and such services as phone and electric may be considered “agnostic” if not dedicated to a particular carrier, device, or user interface.
—Agnostic Front: A New York punk band, considered at the forefront of the New York hardcore music scene. Founded in 1983, in existence for over 25 years.
“It [agnostic] came into my head as suggestively antithetic to the ‘gnostic’ of Church history who professed to know so much.“
—T. H. Huxley, “Agnosticism“ Collected Essays, Volume V; Science and Christian Tradition: Essays (1894)
“In theory he [Prof. Huxley] is a great and even severe Agnostic,–who goes about exhorting all men to know how little they know.“
—R. H. Hutton, Spectator (January 29, 1870)
“Militant Agnostic: I don't know, and you don't either“
—Bumper sticker, Northern Sun (Accessed 2010)
“Melville is a political agnostic in Billy Budd—he ‘doesn't know’ with finality—not because he is indifferent, but because he sees too much.“
—Robert Midler, Exiled Royalties: Melville and the Life We Imagine (2006)
“The whole point of it is to make sure that all ideas are on the table…So what I want to do is to be completely agnostic, in terms of solutions.“
—President Barack Obama, “Obama ‘Agnostic’ on Deficit Cuts, Won't Prejudge Tax Increases“ Bloomberg Businessweek (Feb. 11, 2010)
“Our view has always been technology agnostic.“
—Nokia CEO Jorma Ollila, “Heads We Win, Tails We Win As cellphones continue their takeover of the world, one company is certain to succeed: Here's how Qualcomm does it.“ Fortune Magazine (March 3, 2003)