What is Agnosticism

We explain what agnosticism is, its history and differences with atheism. Also, who were famous agnostics?

Define Agnosticism

Agnosticism it is a philosophical position that sustains the impossibility of knowing nature or existence of God. This position implies that Humans and the humanity they cannot know or decipher certain transcendental issues, not only religious but also metaphysics.

In other words, agnosticism is a doctrine that holds that human beings are limited to what is strictly linked to the phenomenon of our experience, that is, to what we can experience: the world around us, our minds and ourselves.

The word agnostic comes from the union of the Greek words to- (“Without”) and gnôsthos (“knowledge”). In ordinary vocabulary, it has come to mean, more or less, a synonym for “skeptic,” in regard to mystical and religious matters, and especially as regards traditional Christian doctrine.

The term was coined in 1869, at a meeting of the London Metaphysical Society. The English Darwinist biologist Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895) proposed it as a name for his own philosophical position. Thus a tradition was formally founded whose antecedents are found in the history ancient of humanity, such as the Indian ascetic Sanyaia Belatthaputta or the Greek philosopher Protágoras, for example.

Huxley proposed agnosticism as a research method, more than a creed or a religious position. Every agnostic, according to him, should be allowed to follow his reason “as far as it takes you” and at the same time not to pretend “that the conclusions that have not been proven or demonstrable.”

In that sense, Huxley’s position was close to the rationalism and empiricism that governed the philosophical thinking of the time.

Difference between agnosticism and atheism

While agnosticism is considered a position contrary to religious creed, especially Christian and Catholic, it is not the same as atheism. The latter consists in the denial of theism, that is, in a philosophical doctrine that denies the existence of a God or of any kind of divinity, thus rejecting all mystical or religious posture.

Instead, agnosticism escapes the question of the existence of God by accepting that such kind of transcendental reasons or truths is unknowable, that is, they cannot be known.

Therefore, speaking in very strict terms, there is an atheistic agnosticism, which reasons as follows: the existence of God is incomprehensible by humanity, which is equivalent to God not existing.

On the other hand, there is a religious agnosticism, which reasons as follows: the existence of God is incomprehensible by humanity, but that does not mean that it does not exist.

More in: Atheism

Famous Agnostics

  • Charles Darwin (1809-1882), English naturalist, famous for having proposed the Theory about the origin of the species by evolution as a consequence of natural selection.
  • Albert Einstein (1879-1955), German physicist responsible for some of the most revolutionary theories of the physical modern, how are the Theory of relativity Special and the General Relativity Theory. His studies allowed, among other things, the invention of atomic bomb.
  • Carl Sagan (1934-1996), an American astronomer, astrophysicist and disseminator, was one of the main enthusiasts of the SETI extraterrestrial search project, and an outstanding educator in scientific matters.