Most people recognize that the word "agnostic" simply means without knowledge and is not a position of faith. Atheism and theism are the only positions of faith or lack there of.

But what is this description of agnosticism based on? This is what the  Oxford English Dictionary has to say about "agnostic":


Pronunciation: /agˈnɒstɪk/

a person who believes that nothing is known or can be known of the existence or nature of God.

This definition almost implies that lack of knowledge is a belief in of itself. Yet many of the atheist community profess that agnosticism is no position of faith at all.

Could someone please clear this up for me and possibly explain to me where the meaning of the word agnosticism comes from?

Tags: agnostic, atheism

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agnostic (n.)Look up agnostic at Dictionary.com1870, "one who professes that the existence of a First Cause and the essential nature of things are not and cannot be known" [Klein]; coined by T.H. Huxley (1825-1895), supposedly in September 1869, from Gk. agnostos "unknown, unknowable," from a-"not" + gnostos "(to be) known" (see gnostic). Sometimes said to be a reference to Paul's mention of the altar to "the Unknown God," but according to Huxley it was coined with reference to the early Church movement known as Gnosticism (see Gnostic).

I ... invented what I conceived to be the appropriate title of 'agnostic,' ... antithetic to the 'Gnostic' of Church history who professed to know so much about the very things of which I was ignorant. [T.H. Huxley, "Science and Christian Tradition," 1889]

The adjective is first recorded 1870.


The usage of the word 'believes' in that definition from Oxford seems to be synonymous with 'profess' or 'thinks' in that context.  I wouldn't get hung up on it.  Knowledge, after all, is "justified true belief."

Seeing theism/atheism as a belief continuum and gnosticism/agnosticism as a claimed knowledge continuum is certainly the most useful way of considering the terms. 

Hope this helps.

That certainly clears things up, thank you!



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