- A person who believes that the existence of a supreme deity or any fundamental religious truths can never be confirmed or denied
- A person who is noncommittal, unsure, or indecisive about something
- Related to, typical of, or caused by the belief that any truths about a higher power can never be known
- Unwilling to choose a stance on or make a definitive statement about something
From a religious perspective, the word agnostic is used to describe a person who refuses to commit to any belief about a specific god, universal truth, or higher power. It is important to note that although the two are often confused, agnostics are not the same as atheists, who do not believe at all in the validity of any kind of deity or religion. An agnostic is open to the possibility of a higher power, but does not choose to follow any particular dogma because he or she feels that the truth about such things is inherently unknowable. Choosing to be an agnostic is an attractive option for many people, especially those who like the idea of a higher power yet find the practices of organized religion too limiting or demanding. The term seems to be rising in popularity, as one could argue that globalization and the rise of mass communication leads many people to focus on the tangible realities of society as essential to a good life, as opposed to the sometimes nebulous concepts put forth in places of worship. While most agnostics choose this classification because they want to remain unassociated with religious ideals, some take the idea very seriously, vowing that accepting the unknown nature of universal truth is the only way to live. In this case, being Agnostic (note that in this usage the word is sometimes capitalized) is something akin to a religious choice itself, where one follows a dogma of uncertainty. Similarly, agnostic is sometimes used as an adjective to refer to something styled by or in some way related to the notion that any universal truths can never be known.
Agnostic can also be applied in nonreligious areas, where its usage (as either an adjective or a noun) describes someone or something as being unsure or unwilling to take a definitive position in a dispute. This usage is especially common in politics, where a political agnostic is someone who refuses to align him or herself with any partisan agenda or take a stance on a divisive issue.
In both religious and nonreligious usages, agnostic has an essentially neutral connotation and takes on a deeper meaning with context. Sometimes the term implies a sense of sagaciousness, as the choice not to involve oneself in an arcane and potentially pointless argument might be considered a wise decision. Conversely, agnostic can also be used somewhat derogatorily, especially by people with firm beliefs on an issue who might be frustrated or confused when others refuse to take a position. Like many words in English, the implications of the word agnostic are best understood when one is familiar with the speaker.
Example: "I guess I'm an agnostic," said Lilly, "because I have no idea whether or not there's a God, and, if there is, I'd have no way of knowing what he - or she - would want.
Example: Phil was so agnostic about the courses he would take next semester that he simply went with the first few his counselor suggested.
Agnosticism: This word describes the general belief that nothing whatsoever can be understood by human beings about a deity or higher truth.
Example: Many young people, unsatisfied by the narrow viewpoints offered by organized religion, choose a more neutral stance of agnosticism.
Agnostically: This adverb describes an action as being a result or function of religious agnosticism or of a general hesitancy to commit.
Example: Never sure which flavor she liked best, Mariam agnostically chose to buy Neapolitan ice cream.
The term agnostic was originally developed in 1869 by biologist Thomas H. Huxley, who was so staunch a defender of Darwin's theory of evolution that he became known as "Darwin's Bulldog." Huxley formed the word from the Greek agnostos, meaning "unknowable," to describe a more scientific approach to knowledge than the more extreme, traditional religious views of the time. The word was also meant to be a play on the term Gnostic, which refers to a member of an early Christian offshoot that claimed to have indisputable knowledge of the will of God. The earliest use of agnostic as an adjective was recorded in 1870.
From Yann Martel's Life of Pi:
I'll be honest about it. It is not atheists who get stuck in my craw, but agnostics. Doubt is useful for a while. We must all pass through the garden of Gethsemane. If Christ played with doubt, so must we. If Christ spent an anguished night in prayer, if He burst out from the Cross, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" then surely we are also permitted to doubt. But we must move on. To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation.
Here, the character Pi, who believes that faith in some kind of higher working is what leads to true meaning, is expressing his view that agnostics cannot appreciate life for all it has to offer.
- An agnostic simply won't pick.
Bring out the linguist in you! What is your own interpretation of agnostic. Did you use agnostic in a game? Provide an example sentence or a literary quote.