What is Agnosticism? Index of Answers and Resources

Thomas Huxley
Thomas Huxley. Hulton Archive/Getty

"A" means "without" and "gnosis" means "knowledge." The word agnostic therefore literally means "without knowledge," though it is focused specifically on knowledge of gods rather than knowledge generally. Because knowledge is related to belief, but not the same as belief, Agnosticism cannot be regarded as a "third way" between atheism and theism. What is agnosticism?

What is Philosophical Agnosticism?

There are two philosophical principles that lie behind agnosticism. The first is epistemological and it relies upon empirical and logical means for acquiring knowledge about the world. The second is moral and it involves the idea that we have an ethical duty not to assert claims for ideas which we cannot properly support either through evidence or logic. Defining Agnosticism: Standard Dictionaries

Dictionaries can define agnosticism in a variety of ways. Some definitions are close to how close to how Thomas Henry Huxley originally defined it when he coined the term. Others incorrectly define agnosticism as a "third way" between atheism and theism. Some go even further and describe agnosticism as a "doctrine," something that Huxley took great pains to deny.

Strong Agnosticism vs. Weak Agnosticism

If someone is a weak agnostic, they are only saying that they do not know if any gods exist or not. The possible existence of some theoretical god or some specific god isn't excluded. In contrast, a strong agnostic says that no one can possibly know for sure if any gods exist - this is a claim made about all humans at all times and places. Strong Agnosticism vs. Weak Agnosticism

Are Agnostics Just Sitting On the Fence?

Many people regard agnosticism as a 'non-committal' approach to the question of whether any gods exist — this is why it is so often treated as a "third way" between atheism and theism, with each of the other two committed to some particular position while agnostics refuse to take sides. This belief is mistaken because agnosticism is a lack of knowledge, not a lack of commitment.

Atheism vs. Agnosticism: What's the Difference?

Agnosticism is not about belief in gods but about knowledge of gods — it was originally coined to describe the position of one who could not claim to know for sure if any gods exist or not. Agnosticism is therefore compatible with both theism and atheism. A person can believe in some god (theism) without claiming to know for sure if that god exists; that is agnostic theism. Another person can disbelieve in gods (atheism) without claiming to know for certain that no gods can or do exist; that is agnostic atheism.

What is Agnostic Theism?

It may seem strange that a person would believe in a god without also claiming to know that their god exists, even if we define knowledge somewhat loosely; the truth, though, is that such a position is probably very common. Many who believe in the existence of a god do so on faith, and this faith is typically contrasted with the types of knowledge we normally acquire about the world around us. What is Agnostic Theism?

Philosophic Origins of Agnosticism

No one before Thomas Henry Huxley would have described themselves as an agnostic, but there are a number of earlier philosophers and scholars who insisted that either they didn't have knowledge of Ultimate Reality and gods, or that it wasn't possible for anyone to have such knowledge. Both of those positions are associated with agnosticism. Philosophic Origins of Agnosticism

Agnosticism & Thomas Henry Huxley

The term agnosticism was first coined by Professor Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895) at a meeting of the Metaphysical Society in 1876. For Huxley, agnosticism was a position which rejected the knowledge claims of both 'strong' atheism and traditional theism. More importantly, though, Huxley regarded agnosticism as a method of doing things.

Agnosticism & Robert Green Ingersoll

A famous and influential proponent of secularism and religious skepticism during the mid- to late 19th century in America, Robert Green Ingersoll was a strong advocate both of the abolition of slavery and women's rights, both very unpopular positions. However, the position which caused him the most problems was his strong defense of agnosticism and his stringent anticlericalism. Agnosticism & Robert Green Ingersoll