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David Hume

Agnosticism is, in weaker forms, an affirmation of ignorance regarding the existence of God, and in stronger forms, the assertion that God's existence is not capable of being known (unknowable).

The proponent of the weaker form does not make a claim to knowledge about existence, but he simply suspends from making a decision. A suspension of decision, in terms of logic, does not have a truth value, and therefore they are not making an argument. The proponent of the stronger form goes a step further and makes a claim to knowledge by saying, I know that the existence of God cannot be known.

The word "agnostic" was coined in 1869 by T. H. Huxley[1] from the Greek roots a- not, and -gnostic, knowing; the philosopher Herbert Spencer was influential in spreading its use. One nineteenth-century saw held that "There is no god but the Unknowable, and Herbert Spencer is his prophet."[2] ]

Some accuse agnostics of being cowardly atheists, due to their supposedly wishy-washy rejection of God. It is also said by particular Christian groups, particularly but not exclusively in the United States of America, that those who know of Jesus but do not accept him are just as damned as those who reject him explicitly.

Atheism and agnosticism

Some agnostics bristle at the term atheist. They say they aren't atheists, because they don't "believe that God does not exist" but rather "neither believe nor disbelieve".

Agnostics differ from regular atheists in that they do not deny God's existence.

Many religious believers make no distinction among non-believers. If you're not sure that God exists, they combine the unsure and "surely not" into one lump. For these believers, an "atheist" is any faithless person who doesn't believe in God.

Among those who have not decided whether to believe in God, or to disbelieve in Him, there are two main groups:

  1. Those who simply haven't made a decision
  2. Those who declare no rational decision is possible, on the grounds that the existence of God is not knowable.

Bertrand Russell once wrote that, in describing his beliefs,

I never know whether I should say 'Agnostic' or whether I should say 'Atheist'.... As a philosopher, if I were speaking to a purely philosophic audience I should say that I ought to describe myself as an Agnostic, because I do not think that there is a conclusive argument by which one [can] prove that there is not a God. On the other hand, if I am to convey the right impression to the ordinary man in the street I think I ought to say that I am an Atheist, because when I say that I cannot prove that there is not a God, I ought to add equally that I cannot prove that there are not the Homeric gods.[3]

Norman Geisler on Complete Agnosticism

Christian apologist Norman Geisler wrote on complete agnosticism:

Complete agnosticism is self-defeating; it reduces to the self-destructing assertion that "one knows enough about reality in order to affirm that nothing can be known about reality." This statement provides within itself all that is necessary to falsify itself. For if one knows something about reality, then he surely cannot affirm in the same breath that all of reality is unknowable. And of course if one knows nothing whatsoever about reality, then he has no basis whatsoever for making a statement about reality. It will not suffice to say that his knowledge about reality is purely and completely negative, that is, a knowledge of what one cannot meaningfully affirm that something is not – that it follows that total agnosticism is self-defeating because it assumes some knowledge about reality in order to deny any knowledge of reality (Geisler, Apologetics, p. 20).[4]


Financial Times (FT)/Harris Poll among adults in 5 countries in 2006

Agnosticism has become a fairly common belief system in Western culture with 14% of people in the United States, 32% of people in France and 35% of people in Great Britain self-identifying as agnostics.[5]

Agnosticism and Uncharitableness

Per capita atheists and agnostics in the United States give significantly less to charity than theists.

Famous Agnostics

Agnostic population and health habits

For more information please see: Agnosticism, obesity and self-esteem

Two of the major risk factors for becoming obese according to the Mayo Clinic are poor dietary choices and inactivity.[7] Thus, it appears as if agnostics/non-religious are more prone to becoming obese than very religious individuals.[8][9]

(photo obtained from Flickr, see license agreement)

According to the Gallup Organization, "Very religious Americans are more likely to practice healthy behaviors than those who are moderately religious or nonreligious."[10]

Gallup further declares:

Very religious Americans make healthier choices than their moderately religious and nonreligious counterparts across all four of the Healthy Behavior Index metrics, including smoking, healthy eating, and regular exercise. Smoking is one area of particular differentiation between the very religious and less religious Americans, with the nonreligious 85% more likely to be smokers than those who are very religious.[11]

Two of the major risk factors for becoming obese according to the Mayo Clinic are poor dietary choices and inactivity, thus it appears as if agnostics/non-religious may be more prone to becoming obese than very religious individuals.[12]

Comparing Agnosticism, Atheism, and Theism from an Acultural Standpoint

In the absence of any cultural, metaphysical, and scientific history, as passed from one individual to another, the default position is a 'seeking theism'. Atheism and agnosticism are, at best, merely self-preserving coping responses to others' personally existentially unsatisfactory claims to having 'found God'. In their strongest forms, atheism and agnosticism are, for the individual, comparable respectively to what communist dictatorship and regressive anarchy are for the society: the presence of ontological disharmonies between individuals motivating, for lack of a complete basic knowledge of the world, an oppressive civil structure and a randomly destructive lack of civil structure.

See also

External Links


  1. T. H. Huxley was also an early and influential supporter of Darwinism.
  2. London, Jack (1913), Martin Eden, Chapter 13
  3. Russell, Bertrand (1947) Am I An Atheist Or An Agnostic? Most online sources say "by which one prove," probably a mistake.