The Agnostics

A common freethinker category consists of agnostics. Thomas Huxley coined the term agnostic in the late 19th century. It is formed from two Greek words: the root gnosis meaning "knowledge" and the prefix a meaning "without." Agnostics are those who say, with regard to a given subject, "we are without knowledge concerning it."

Huxley put his concept this way—"Positively, the principle (of agnosticism) may be expressed: In matters of the intellect, follow your reason as far as it will take you, without regard to any other consideration. And negatively, in matters of the intellect do not pretend that conclusions are certain which are not demonstrated or demonstrable." 1

An agnostic, therefore, neither affirms nor denies the existence of God. Today’s agnostics will simply say that, despite all the arguments pro and con, one does not know, and perhaps cannot know whether or not there is a God. Thus the person claims the right, in the middle of strong social authority that there is a God, to conclude that one cannot decide whether or not that claim is true.

Agnostics do not acknowledge the presence or the reality of the supernatural, and so while their mental and scientific commitment is to agnosticism and open inquiry, in reality their way of life is hard to differentiate from atheism.


1 Huxley, Thomas Henry, "Agnosticism," Science and the Christian Tradition. London: Macmillan & Co., 1894. Reprinted in Gordon Stein, An Anthology of Atheism and Rationalism. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1980, pp. 42-45.

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