Agnosticism (from the Greek a, meaning "without" and gnosis, "knowledge") is the philosophical view that the truth value of certain claims is unknown or perhaps inherently unknowable; particularly metaphysical or theological claims regarding an afterlife or the existence of God, gods, or deities. Agnosticism is not to be confused with religious views opposing doctrines of gnosis or Gnosticism — these are religious oppositions which are not specifically related to agnosticism. Agnostics claim either that it is not possible to have absolute or certain knowledge (strong agnosticism), or that while certainty of something might be possible, they personally have no knowledge (weak agnosticism). Agnosticism in both cases involves some form of skepticism. Agnosticism in relation to the subjects of God or gods is often contrasted with positions of theism and atheism. Many stances of generalized strong agnosticism are identified as forms of Absurdism.
- Alphabetized by author
- I say that I am an agnostic. People think that's pusillanimous and covering your bets. But it's not based on any belief or yearning for an afterlife but on the fact that we actually know so little about the cosmos. It is a tribute to the complexity and, at our present stage of development, the unknowability of the universe.
- Martin Amis, in "The New Amis" in The Telegraph (13 May 2000)
- Belief is otiose; reality is sufficiently awesome as it stands.
- Martin Amis, "The voice of the lonely crowd", The Guardian (1 June 2002)
- Every notion that any man, dead, living, or unborn, might form as to the universe will necessarily prove wrong.
- Stephen Colbert: So you're an agnostic?
Bart Ehrman: That's right.
Colbert: Isn't that just an atheist without balls?
- I do not consider it an insult, but rather a compliment to be called an agnostic. I do not pretend to know where many ignorant men are sure — that is all that agnosticism means.
- I am a skeptic about everything, including God and atheism. I am not certain about issues of cosmology. Sometimes I believe that our universe is the result of random forces. Other times I believe that there must be some order or purpose, though I do not begin to understand what or who it could be. I do not expect that these cosmic doubts will ever be resolved in my mind. I am more certain that the miraculous stories that form the basis of most religious beliefs are myths. Yet I respect the Bible and enjoy reading and teaching it. Indeed, I find it even more fascinating as a human creation than as a divine revelation. I consider myself a committed Jew, but I do not believe that being a Jew requires belief in the supernatural. When I attend synagogue, as I often do, or conduct Sabbath, Passover, or Chanukah services at home, I recite prayers. I am comfortable with these apparent contradictions. I am part of a long tradition that links to my heritage through the words and melodies of prayer. Indeed, it is while praying that I experience my greatest doubts about God, and it is while looking at the stars that I make the leap of faith. But it is not faith in the empirical truths of religious stories or in the authority of hierarchical religious organizations. If there is a governing force, He (or She or It) is certainly not in touch with those who purport to be speaking on His behalf.
- Alan Dershowitz, in "Taking Disbelief out of the Closet" in Free Inquiry, Vol. 19, (Summer 1999)
- I do not know whether there are gods, but there ought to be.
- Diogenes of Sinope, as quoted in The Home Book of Quotations, Classical and Modern (1937) by Burton Egbert Stevenson
- One should not have the arrogance to declare that God does not exist.
- Agnosticism is a perfectly respectable and tenable philosophical position; it is not dogmatic and makes no pronouncements about the ultimate truths of the universe. It remains open to evidence and persuasion; lacking faith, it nevertheless does not deride faith. Atheism, on the other hand, is as unyielding and dogmatic about religious belief as true believers are about heathens. It tries to use reason to demolish a structure that is not built upon reason; because, though rational argument may take us to the edge of belief, we require a "leap of faith" to jump the chasm.
- Sydney J. Harris, in "Atheists, Like Fundamentalists, are Dogmatic" in Pieces of Eight (1982)
- When I reached intellectual maturity, and began to ask myself whether I was an atheist, a theist or a pantheist, a materialist or an idealist, a Christian or a freethinker, I found that the more I learned and reflected, the less ready was the answer. The one thing on which most of these good people were agreed was the one thing in which I differed from them. They were quite sure they had attained a certain "gnosis" — had more or less successfully, solved the problem of existence; while I was quite sure that I had not, and had a pretty strong conviction that the problem was insoluble.
- Thomas Huxley, in ''Christianity and Agnosticism: A Controversy (1889)
- I took thought, and invented what I conceived to be the appropriate title of "agnostic." It came into my head as suggestively antithetic to the "gnostic" of Church history, who professed to know so much about the very things of which I was ignorant. To my great satisfaction the term took.
- Thomas Huxley, in ''Christianity and Agnosticism: A Controversy (1889)
- Agnosticism is not properly described as a "negative" creed, nor indeed as a creed of any kind, except in so far as it expresses absolute faith in the validity of a principle which is as much ethical as intellectual. This principle may be stated in various ways, but they all amount to this: that it is wrong for a man to say that he is certain of the objective truth of any proposition unless he can produce evidence which logically justifies that certainty. This is what agnosticism asserts; and, in my opinion, it is all that is essential to agnosticism.
- Agnosticism simply means that a man shall not say he knows or believes that for which he has no grounds for professing to believe.
- With most men, unbelief in one thing springs from blind belief in another.
- Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, in Notebook L (1793-1796), aphorism 81
- In the province of the mind, what one believes to be true is true or becomes true, within certain limits to be found experientially and experimentally. These limits are further beliefs to be transcended. In the mind, there are no limits... In the province of connected minds, what the network believes to be true, either is true or becomes true within certain limits to be found experientially and experimentally. These limits are further beliefs to be transcended. In the network's mind there are no limits.
- John C. Lilly, in The Human Biocomputer (1974)
- The essence of agnosticism is not to be dogmatic. It would be un-agnostic to dictate that people define themselves only in the way that we think they should. We can certainly argue against any position that we believe to be illogical, but there is a significant difference between arguing and dictating. There is a significant difference between "I believe that you are wrong and here is my argument why" and "you cannot think this way." … It's important to remember that Thomas Huxley recognized Socrates as the first agnostic. Socrates very much believed in a God, although his deity was somewhat vague and outside of his people's polytheistic religion. Philosophically Socrates was the very essence of agnosticism.
- James Kirk Wall, in Agnosticism : The Battle Against Shameless Ignorance (2011), p. 10
- It's important to abolish the unconscious dogmatism that makes people think their way of looking at reality is the only sane way of viewing the world. My goal is to try to get people into a state of generalized agnosticism, not agnosticism about God alone, but agnosticism about everything. If one can only see things according to one's own belief system, one is destined to become virtually deaf, dumb, and blind.
|Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article Agnosticism.|
- Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry
- Agnosticism from INTERS - Interdisciplinary Encyclopedia of Religion and Science
- "Agnosticism" at ReligiousTolerance.org
- "Why I Am An Agnostic" by Robert G. Ingersoll (1896)
- "Agnosticism" in the Dictionary of the History of Ideas
- What do Agnostics Believe? - A Jewish perspective
- Fides et Ratio – the relationship between faith and reason by Pope John Paul II (1998)