(8 letters – 3 syllables)
(scrabble word value: 11)
One who does not know and probably does not care whether God exists.
:someone who is doubtful or noncommittal about something.
agnostic: (noun) someone who believes that people cannot know whether God exists or not (Longman)
a person who holds that knowledge of a Supreme Being, ultimate cause, etc, is impossible. Compare atheist, theist (Collins)
a person who claims, with respect to any particular question, that the answer cannot be known with certainty (Collins)
agnostic: (specialized) computing relating to hardware or software that can be used with many different types of platform (Cambridge)
The term “agnostic” was first used by T.H. Huxley, father of famed Author Aldous Huxley (Brave New World).
Huxley was an intellectual heavyweight in his own right, known for his vehement support of Darwin’s then-nascent Evolutionary Theory.
Huxley describes how he came to originate the term “agnostic” as follows:
When I reached intellectual maturity, and began to ask myself whether I was an atheist, a theist, or a pantheist; a materialist or an idealist; a Christian or a freethinker, I found that the more I learned and reflected, the less ready was the answer; until at last I came to the conclusion that I had neither art nor part with any of these denominations, except the last. The one thing in which most of these good people were agreed was the one thing in which I differed from them. They were quite sure that they had attained a certain “gnosis”–had more or less successfully solved the problem of existence; while I was quite sure I had not, and had a pretty strong conviction that the problem was insoluble. And, with Hume and Kant on my side, I could not think myself presumptuous in holding fast by that opinion …
The word agnosticism was first publicly coined in 1869 at a meeting of the Metaphysical Society in London by T.H. Huxley, a British biologist and champion of the Darwinian theory of evolution. He coined it as a suitable label for his own position. “It came into my head as suggestively antithetical to the ‘Gnostic’ of Church history who professed to know so much about the very things of which I was ignorant.
More generally there should exist a differentiation between persons who have not evaluated a given subject and are ignorant of it as “agnostic,” and those who have. Since there is not, context must be used to differentiate which of the two types the author is describing.
Any meta-value to be derived from term agnostic must invariably come from the terms’ Greek base of gnosis (knowledge, or the having of such) from which English inherits the terms: prognosis, diagnosis, etc. A brief survey of gnosticism’s history in Christianity and Western civilization should suffice in enlightening a meta-evaluation of the term ‘gnostic,’ or ‘gnosis.’