What Are the Ideas of Agnosticism?


Quick Answer

The philosophy of agnosticism holds that nobody can know whether or not any god or gods exist. Agnostics believe that the attributes of any supposed god are beyond the comprehension of humans. The tenets of agnosticism purport that only subjective experience can be verified.

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Full Answer

Agnosticism is not a religion nor is it an ethical system. It is merely the belief that the existence of god cannot be known or proven. Agnostics neither believe nor disbelieve in the existence of a deity. Agnosticism should not be confused with atheism, which is the complete denial of the existence of any god or gods.

English biologist Thomas Henry Huxley coined the word agnostic in 1869. The term combines the prefix “a” meaning “without” with the word “gnostic,” meaning knowledge. Unlike atheists, who believe no god exists, agnostics claim to be unable to know whether or not any deity exists. Technically, the word agnostic can mean without any kind of knowledge, but the term is commonly defined as without knowledge of the existence of god.

Ancient Greek proponents of agnostic philosophy include Socrates, Protagoras, Sextus Empiricus and Pyrrho, who identified themselves as “skeptics.” Other notable agnostics in history include 19th century Illinois orator Robert G. Ingersoll, naturalist Charles Darwin and 20th century philosopher Bertrand Russell.

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