Agnostic: Meaning, History and Nature, and the Difference from Atheism

Agnostic is – Among the various religions known in the world today, there are also views that are referred to as “agnostics” and “atheists”. We may hear this understanding when discussing beliefs or views about the existence of God. Not surprisingly, some have wondered about the true meaning of the two terms.

The problem is that the words agnostic and atheist are often used as synonyms. The reason is, both are different understandings that show views that should not be interpreted the same or misinterpreted.

Agnostic Meaning

So, what is an agnostic? According to the online Big Indonesian Dictionary (KBBI) , an agnostic is a person who has the view that the highest truth, such as God, cannot be known or perhaps will not be known.

Meanwhile, according to , agnostic has several different meanings. As a noun, it is defined as follows:

  • Someone who holds that the existence of a primary cause, such as God, and the essential nature of all things is unknown and unknowable, or that human knowledge is limited to experience alone.
  • A person who doubts or denies the possibility of supreme knowledge in some field of study.
  • Someone who doesn’t hold one of two opposing positions on a topic:
    • Socrates was an agnostic on the subject of immortality.
  • As adjectives, these are the meanings of agnostic:
  • Relating to agnostics or doctrines, attitudes, or beliefs.
  • Asserts the uncertainty of all knowledge claims.
  • Not taking a stand on a matter, especially not holding either of two usually very opposite positions (often used in combination):
    • to take an agnostic view of technological progress; fuel agnostic energy policy.
  • Unlimited or dedicated to specific devices, systems and more (especially digital technology).
    • platform agnostic software.

The terms “agnostic” and “agnosticism” were famously coined in the late nineteenth century by the British biologist TH Huxley. According to Britannica , he says that he originally coined the word “agnostic” to denote people who, like himself, claim to know nothing about many things, including of course the matter of the existence of God.

This, according to metaphysicians and theologians, both orthodox and heterodox, is confidently dogmatic. (1884).

Huxley did not define “agnosticism” simply as being an agnostic. Instead, he often used the term to refer to a normative epistemological principle, something akin to what we would today call “evidentialism”, albeit weaker.

Roughly speaking, Huxley’s principle states that to say that one knows or believes that a proposition (in this case, the existence of God) is true without logically satisfactory evidence is false (Huxley, 1884 and 1889). However, it is the application of this principle to theistic and atheistic beliefs that ultimately has the greatest influence on the meaning of the term.

Since neither of these beliefs is sufficiently supported by evidence, he argued, we should suspend judgment on the question of whether or not God exists.

Today, the term “agnostic” is often used to refer to those who follow the recommendations expressed in the conclusions of Huxley’s argument: an agnostic is one who has supported the existence of God, but does not believe that it is true or false.
It is useful to have terms referring to people who are theists or atheists, but it is possible that philosophers wished for some term other than “agnostic” to be used.

The thing is, having the name follow from the premise of Huxley’s argument for the epistemological position, the position of neither theism nor atheism known or the belief that God does not exist has positive origin status of any kind is also very useful for philosophical purposes.

Given the etymology of “agnostic,” what better term for a negative answer to that epistemological question than “agnosticism”? Furthermore, it is typical in philosophy to use the ending “-ism” to refer to a proposition instead of a state or condition, since only the former can be reasonably tested by argument or possibility.

Nature and Types of Agnosticism

Huxley’s statement raises the fact that agnosticism has to do with ignorance, and this ignorance refers specifically to the realm of religious doctrine. However, etymology and common usage permit a less limited use of the term.

The former Prime Minister of the Soviet Union, Vladimir Lenin, for example, in his book Materialism and Empirio-Criticism (1908), distinguished the extremes of true materialism on the one hand and the daring idealism of George Berkeley, an 18th century idealist. He acknowledged the “agnosticism” of the Scottish philosopher, David Hume, and the great German critical philosopher, Immanuel Kant.

This agnosticism consists in their dispute over ignorance of the nature, or even the existence, of the “thing-in-itself” (reality beyond appearances).
So, this is one type of agnosticism, namely Huxley’s non-religious Agnosticism.

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Huxley’s Nonreligious Agnosticism

The essence of Huxley’s agnosticism and his statements, as the originator of the term, must be highly authoritative. It is not a profession that is completely unknown, or even ignorant in one particular field, but very broad. Instead, he insisted that “its essence lies in the strict application of a single principle.”

In this case, that is following common sense “as far as it will take you.” When we have established as much as we can, be frank, and honest about recognizing the limits of our knowledge.

This is the same principle as later proclaimed in an essay on “The Ethics of Belief” (1876) by the British mathematician and philosopher of science, WK Clifford: “It is always wrong, everywhere and for everyone to believe anything at all. insufficient evidence.”

This applied by Huxley to fundamental Christian claims, this principle led to characteristically skeptical conclusions: speaking, for example, of the apocrypha (ancient scriptural writings excluded from the biblical canon), he wrote: “One might surmise that a slightly more critical discrimination would magnify The lesser apocrypha.”

In the same spirit, Leslie Stephen, 19th-century literary critic and historian of thought, in An Agnostic’s Apology, and Other Essays (1893), denounced those who pretend to describe “the nature of the Supreme God with the accuracy that simple naturalists would be understated in describing the origins of the black beetle.”

Agnosticism, in its primary reference, is usually contrasted with atheism in the following way: “The Atheist claims that there is no God, while the Agnostic simply claims that he does not know.”

However, this distinction is misleading in two respects. First, Huxley himself of course rejects the existence of God as absolutely false, not unknown to be right or wrong. Many views are widely popular about God, His providence, and man’s posthumous destiny.

Second, if this is a crucial distinction, then agnosticism will, for almost all practical purposes, be synonymous with atheism. It was this misunderstanding that led Huxley and his associates to be attacked, both by enthusiastic Christian polemicists and by Friedrich Engels, a colleague of Karl Marx, as “shy-faced atheists,” a description that fits well with many of those who use the more comfortable label. in self-description.

Moreover, agnosticism is not the same as scepticism, which challenges not only religious or metaphysical knowledge, but all knowledge claiming that effort goes beyond direct experience, confidently in the comprehensive and classical form exemplified by the ancient Greek skeptic Sextus Empiricus (2nd century AD). and 3rd M).

Like scepticism, agnosticism is definitely incompatible with a positivist approach that emphasizes the achievements and possibilities of the natural and social sciences, although most agnostics, including Huxley, retain reservations about the more authoritarian and eccentric Auguste Comte, the founder of 19th-century positivism.

Religious Agnosticism

Talk of religious agnosticism is also possible, Sinaumed’s. However, if this expression is not contradicted, it must refer to the acceptance of an agnostic principle, which is combined either with the belief that at least some minimum affirmative doctrine can be established on adequate grounds, or the like.

Religion, religiosity that does not make very substantial or debatable doctrinal demands. If both types of agnosticism are accepted, then Huxley’s original agnosticism can be characterized as, not religious, but secular. Meanwhile, as atheist and neutral as “atypical” or “asymmetric.”

Without the condescending innuendo, this simply means that the atheist is “atypical” or “asymmetrical”. Thus, an atheist is a person who does not believe in God. Huxley himself allowed the possibility of religious, even Christian, agnosticism as opposed to atheist.

Thus, in another 1889 essay, ” Agnosticism and Christianity “, he compared “scientific theology” with which “agnosticism has no dispute”, with ” Ecclesiasticism “, or ” Clericalism “.

Huxley’s final complaint against his supporters was not that they reached substantive conclusions that differed from those he wished to convey, but that they maintained the view ” that it is morally wrong not to believe in certain propositions, whatever the results of rigorous scientific inquiry into the evidence for these propositions”.

The second possibility, that of an agnosticism that is religious as opposed to secular, is perhaps most strikingly embodied in the Buddha. Traditionally and traditionally, ecclesiastical Christians have insisted that absolute certainty about some minimum approved list of propositions about God and the general divine scheme are absolutely necessary for salvation.

Ordinarily, according to tradition, the Buddha avoided all such speculative questions. They can generally only distract from urgent matters of safety (safety in its own very different interpretation).

In essence, Sinaumed’s, an agnostic in terminology is a person who holds the view that the presence or absence of God is something that cannot be known. Alias, agnosticism does not absolutely deny the existence of God, but assumes that the existence of God is something that cannot be understood by human reason.

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Consequently, the existence of God cannot be known in any way.

Definition of Atheism

Talking about agnostics, surely many people associate or compare it with atheism. Atheism itself is one thing, namely the lack of belief in the existence of God, aka not believing.

This atheism is not a firm belief in a god, nor does it answer the question of what atheists believe. This understanding is simply a rejection of the statement that God exists. Unfortunately, atheism is too often defined incorrectly as a belief system.

What is clear, however, is that atheism is not a denial of God, it is simply a lack of belief or the notion that belief in God is not real.
According to Britannica, the old dictionary defines atheism as “the belief that there is no God”. Obviously, theistic influence (affirming belief in God) differs from this definition.

Atheism is not a belief system nor is it a religion. Even though some religions are atheistic (certain sects of Buddhism, for example), that does not mean that atheism is a religion.

Despite the fact that atheism is not a religion, it is protected by many of the same Constitutional rights that protect religion. However, that does not mean that atheism itself is a religion. It just means that the beliefs we sincerely hold are protected in the same way as other people’s religious beliefs. Similarly, many “interfaith” groups will include atheists. Again, this does not mean that atheism is a religious belief.

Some groups will use words such as Agnostic, Humanist, Secular, or a number of other terms to identify themselves. Those words are not wrong as self-identifiers, but it is highly recommended to use a word that people understand: Atheist, of course.

Difference between Agnostic and Atheist

There is a key difference between these terms. An atheist does not believe in the existence of God or divine beings. The word atheist comes from the Greek, atheos, which is formed from the roots a- (“without”) and theos (“god”). Atheism is the doctrine or belief that there is no god.

In contrast, the word agnostic refers to a person who does not believe in a god or religious doctrine. Agnostics assert that it is impossible to know how the universe was created and whether divine beings exist or not.

The word agnostic was coined by biologist TH Huxley and comes from the Greek ágnōstos, which means “unknown or unknowable.” The doctrine is known as agnosticism .

Both atheist and agnostic can also be used as adjectives. The adjective atheistic is also used and the word agnostic can also be used more generally outside of religious contexts to describe a non-adjective stand, argument, and so on.

Theist Vs. deist

For further discussion, atheist and agnostic are often confused by the phrases “ theist ” and “ deist ”. A theist is the opposite of an atheist. Theists believe in the existence of God or gods.

The word deist refers to someone who believes in God. However, a deist believes that while God created the universe, natural laws dictate how the universe plays out.

Deists are often associated with Isaac Newton’s clockwork theory of the universe, which compared the universe to a clock that has been wound and set in motion by God, but governed by the laws of science.


That is an explanation regarding agnostics, history, nature and types, as well as the difference between an atheist and the meaning of an atheist itself. If you are interested in reading related to belief, religion, or God, sinaumedia has several recommendations for you, namely the books “ Agnosticism ”, “ The Atheist’s Bible ”, and “ One God Many Religions: The Sufistic Views of Ibn ‘Arabi, Rumi and Al- Jilli ”


The Atheist’s Bible

One God of Many Religions: The Sufistic Views of Ibn ‘Arabi, Rumi and Al-Jili

Sinaumed’s can get all of these books by purchasing through the website, the largest online bookstore in Indonesia. For Sinaumed’s who are not familiar with these views, always remember that even though sometimes learning new unfamiliar things is quite difficult, remember that we can become #MoreWithReading and know more things.

Author: Sevilla Nouval Evanda

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