Agnosticism is the philosophical and theological view that spiritual truths, such as the existence of God, gods or deities, is either unknown or inherently unknowable. The term and the related agnostic were coined by Thomas Henry Huxley in 1869 and are also used to describe those who are unconvinced or noncommittal about the existence of deities as well and other matters of religion. The word agnostic comes from the Greek a (without) and gnosis (knowledge). Agnosticism is not to be confused with a view specifically opposing the doctrine of gnosis and Gnosticism—these are religious concepts that are not generally related to agnosticism.
Agnostics may claim that it is not possible to have absolute or certain spiritual knowledge; Alternately they may claim that while certainty may be possible, they personally have no such knowledge. Agnosticism in both cases involves scepticism toward religious statements.
An agnostic might claim that religious statements or statements about the numinous are not or cannot be satisfactorily justified. In this case, it would be reasonable to reserve judgment. For instance, an agnostic might demand that religious statements be justified in the same way as scientific statements, perhaps in terms of the scientific method. Since this is adopting an attitude towards the quality of proof required to accept such statements, agnosticism becomes a matter of inclination rather than of logical proof. That is, one need only be willing to accept a different justification of religious statements in order to avoid agnosticism. Perhaps this explains why agnostics do not generally engage in proselytization. But since an agnostic simply denies certainty of what religious Truth might be, the lack of attempt to convert others may simply be that this works both ways; one cannot be certain which potential convert had, even if by accident, already been correct in his belief.
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Theists and strong atheists make statements about the world, the theist that 'God exists', the strong atheist that 'God does not exist'. Agnostics make the statement about these statements, 'one cannot know whether or not God exists'.
Agnosticism has suffered more than most expressions of philosophical position from terminological vagaries. Examples come from attempts to associate agnosticism with atheism. The "freethinking" tradition of atheism calls a lack of belief in the existence of any deities, "weak atheism" (or "negative atheism"). However, one can still draw a distinction between weak atheism and agnosticism by drawing a distinction between belief and knowledge, leading those who believe knowledge of God is not possible to claim agnosticism is about knowledge, while atheism/theism is about the lack of belief. Agnostic atheism is a combination of both.
Other variations include:
- strong agnosticism (aka hard agnosticism, closed agnosticism, strict agnosticism) — the view that the question of the existence of deities is unknowable by nature or that human beings are ill-equipped to judge the evidence.
- weak agnosticism (aka soft agnosticism, open agnosticism, empirical agnosticism) — the view that the existence or nonexistence of God or gods is currently unknown, but is not necessarily unknowable, therefore one will withhold judgment until more evidence is available.
- apathetic agnosticism (aka ignosticism or apatheism) — the view that the question of the existence of deities is meaningless because it has no verifiable consequences.
- model agnosticism — the view that philosophical and metaphysical questions are not ultimately verifiable, but that a model of malleable assumption should be built upon rational thought. Note that this branch of agnosticism differs from others in that it does not focus upon the question of a deity's existence.
- Monistic Theism
- Wikipedia. (2005). Agnosticism (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agnosticism). Retrieved on April 6, 2005.