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What is Ignosticism?

Updated on August 22, 2010

At first, you'll probably think I've made a spelling booboo. "Surely he means Agnosticism?" you'll ask. Well it's definitely in the same ballpark. Ignosticism is related to agnosticism, as well as atheism and other forms of non-belief.

I used to associate myself with agnosticism. It's one of those things that hardly anyone understands, except agnostics themselves. Agnosticism holds that, in supernatural matters, NOTHING can be "known". It's all conjecture. You can't test if there is a God or gods. Agnostics are therefore called fence-sitters; normally in a derogatory manner. Theists (believers) and Atheists (purist non-believers) both, ironically, agree that Agnostics are simply copping out of the debate by not being confident in their decision. This is not true.

ATHEIST DEFINITION: One who disbelieves or denies the existence of God or gods.
One who believes that it is impossible to know whether there is a God.
IGNOSTIC DEFINITION: <see picture above right>

The reason I aligned myself with Agnosticism is purely a logical one. The absolute extent of human knowledge - which like the Universe is continually expanding and dynamic - is confined to science. The etymology of the word science is from the Latin: Scio - I know. Hence, it means knowledge. Human knowledge is what we know. It is all we know. Everything beyond that is either hypothesis or simply fantasy. Sometimes fantasy and hypothesis are proved correct. However, they are only proved correct through scientific method. It is therefore logical that one can only define their world and the universe through science.

Science can not ever prove the existence of a God or gods. This theological conundrum is confined to the area of philosophy and not science. Someone who is a scientific purist will maintain a neutral position in terms of theology. A neutral position is agnosticism.

Atheists, on the other hand, are determined to DENY the existence of a God or gods. They simply say that it is an impossibility. However, I have a problem with atheism. A number of problems actually. Firstly, you can not, from an ontological or epistemological point of view maintain an absolute knowledge of anything (See: Solipsism). Theory is not absolute truth. Theories whose subject matter exists outside of empirical data, but rather in the realm of ideas are called philosophical theories as opposed to scientific theories. At least some of the elementary theorems of a philosophical theory are statements whose truth cannot necessarily be scientifically tested through empirical observation.

Even scientific theories that have been proven "true" simply mean that we have enough evidence at hand that aligns with the theory and we have no other pertinent opposing ideas about the matter. With enough evidence and lack of alternative theory, we then "assume" it to be proven true. The theory of gravity for example.

Atheists deny the existence of God, but it is not the same as denying... say someone's theory that gravity doesn't exist. We have evidence that gravity exists, we have no evidence that God or gods exist, and therefore you can't deny it, because you can't prove it. Sure, we have evidence that the ideas of Christianity that are garnered from the Bible are incorrect, but the philosophical idea of a "supreme being or power" can not be denied (nor proven). 

This is where agnostics are often then lumped with being theists, because they do not deny the existence of a God. Incorrect! Agnostics simply say that you can not deny it, nor can you accept it, because there is no proof for either standpoint.

Secondly, by maintaining a position of denial, you actually give the theists more credence. By offering any form of opposition to something, by its nature, actually validates the opposite opinion in a way. You're offering an opposing theory, which means that the theory is still something that may have validity.

Agnostics, on the other hand, would prefer not to give either position validity.

Now that's my stance on agnosticism as it relates to atheism and theism, but now what in God's name (yes, a little theistic humour thrown in there) is Ignosticism? And why do I now prefer to align with it?


For clarification, I'm going to post the Wikipedia definition of Ignosticism:

Ignosticism, or igtheism, is the theological position that every other theological position (including agnosticism) assumes too much about the concept of god and many other theological concepts.

It can be defined as encompassing two related views about the existence of god:

  1. The view that a coherent definition of god must be presented before the question of the existence of god can be meaningfully discussed. Furthermore, if that definition is unfalsifiable, the ignostic takes the theological noncognitivist position that the question of the existence of god (per that definition) is meaningless. In this case, the concept of god is not considered meaningless; the term "god" is considered meaningless.
  2. The second view is synonymous with theological noncognitivism, and skips the step of first asking "What is meant by 'god'?" before proclaiming the original question "Does god exist?" as meaningless.

This makes perfect sense to me. I have engaged in hundreds of theological debates, both in real life and online, and what often happens is that people go round and round in circles trying to argue their position:

  • God doesn't exist
  • My God exists
  • Catholicism is the way
  • Creationism and Intelligent design is correct
  • I'm Muslim and Allah is the greatest

The problem arises that each of these people is not comparing apples with apples. As they say, we are all unique, like snowflakes... just like everybody else. Religion and spirituality are extremely personal issues. Everyone has their own personal idea about what they define as a God, or gods, or superior power, or whatever.

For example, Christians love saying that Einstein was a Christian, since he would state things such as "God does not play dice with the universe". But, as it has come to be known, Einstein's "God" is not the personal God of Christianity. In fact, it can't really even be defined as a God, or can it? I believe that Einstein saw the awesome beauty of the universe and its laws and, to him, this feeling of awe is what he described as a God. It's not even a supreme being. It's just the universe, or existence, or EVERYTHING. Is that a God? Maybe.

So everyone sits around debating the existence of something and nobody actually agrees on what that something is. Nobody ever will. We can try. It reminds me of "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the the Galaxy", when the computer "Deep Thought" is asked for the answer to life, the universe and everything. The answer - according to the computer - is 42. Humans, finding this quite unacceptable, are told by the computer that they don't even know the meaning of the question and thus will not comprehend the answer. The computer is then directed to find the question.

As an Ignostic, we simply ignore ALL discussions as to the nature of or existence of a God, gods, or supreme power. Sometimes this is called apatheism, where you are apathetic about the whole thing, but not necessarily. An ignostic does care. Firstly, because religion is a powerful human force. It affects humans in fundamental ways. Wars are waged over one side's definition of a God versus anothers. This is, quite simply, a form of insanity.

To sum it up, an ignostic feels that theists, atheists and agnostics are ALL committing themselves to useless standpoints. Each of them, by even defining a stance on the existence or non-existence of a God, or gods, or superior power, are actually giving credence to the notion that one could exist at all.

The question is meaningless. The answer, on the other hand, is not. Should we explore these concepts philosophically? Without doubt. But should we convict ourselves to a position either for or against? Absolutely not. 

So, as much as I dislike putting myself in to a pigeonhole when determining something so amorphous, I align my lifestance with Ignostic Humanism, which is basically Secular Humanism. I feel this lifestance is both defensible and acceptable by everyone. 

Despite not being an atheist myself, I highly recommend reading "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins

What Is Secular Humanism?

Secular Humanism is a term which has come into use in the last thirty years to describe a world view with the following elements and principles:

  • A conviction that dogmas, ideologies and traditions, whether religious, political or social, must be weighed and tested by each individual and not simply accepted on faith. 
  • Commitment to the use of critical reason, factual evidence, and scientific methods of inquiry, rather than faith and mysticism, in seeking solutions to human problems and answers to important human questions.
  • A primary concern with fulfillment, growth, and creativity for both the individual and humankind in general.
  • A constant search for objective truth, with the understanding that new knowledge and experience constantly alter our imperfect perception of it.
  • A concern for this life and a commitment to making it meaningful through better understanding of ourselves, our history, our intellectual and artistic achievements, and the outlooks of those who differ from us.
  • A search for viable individual, social and political principles of ethical conduct, judging them on their ability to enhance human well-being and individual responsibility.
  • A conviction that with reason, an open marketplace of ideas, good will, and tolerance, progress can be made in building a better world for ourselves and our children.

I hope you all apply these principles in your daily life. I also hope that this Hub has helped many of you to more closely formulate your convictions, whatever they may be. You have a right to believe whatever makes you happy. Above all, one love amongst all humanity and peace be to all mankind.


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    • profile image


      3 years ago

      Your definition of atheism is faulty. Atheism is not the assertion that there is no deity. Nor is atheism the belief that there is no deity. Atheism literally means no/without theism. It is to lack theism. To say, then, that an atheist believes the opposite of a theist as you do is nonsensical. If I say X exists and show no evidence to support my claim and you say you do not believe X exists as a result, am I to presume you believe X does not exist? No. You lack belief in X.

    • Alexis Cogwell profile image

      Ashley Cogdill 

      4 years ago from Indiana/Chicagoland

      Very interesting. There are so many new names for things! I've been agnostic (for lack of a better name) most of my life, but am realizing lateley I may fall under something closer to this. Thanks for the hub, good read. :)

    • profile image

      Walter Burton 

      4 years ago

      While I support the promotion of ignosticism, this author does the reader a disservice by using the classic straw man "absolutist" definition of "atheism," with no regard for the concept of "provisional (dis)belief," which is one of the pillars of science and critical thinking.

      This is a poor article. Nice try though.

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Heck of a job there, it ablsoutely helps me out.

    • profile image

      Khalihs Seraphim 

      6 years ago

      Very limited understanding of Ignosticism. Wiki, unfortunately, is only as useful as the contributions made to it.

      Have you researched the person that coined the term? Did you really examine the words in what he wrote, the context of the phrase, or what he personally shared in his teachings (Rabbi Sherwin Wine, founder of Humanistic Judaism)?

      Rabbi Wine was discussing interfaith communicating, and that it is impossible to discuss God/s, whether they exist, and what it means to say "i do/don't believe in God/s"; without first agreeing to what is meant by "God/s". That is, with all the different ways in which people ascribe personal understanding to the word/s, without agreeing to the word/s first for the purpose of that specific discussion, the discussion lacks a foundation for conversation.

      An ignostic does not simply say, "God is a meaningless concept, and so I cannot discuss if I believe in it."

      An ignostic says, "What do you mean by the word "God", and the phrase "God exists"? Once you provide me with your definition, and we agree that such binds the conversational context, I can answer your question."

      Also, your definition of Atheist is incomplete - if not outright incorrect. An atheist is simply someone that lacks a belief in god(s) - they do not need to actively disbelieve or deny God(s) in order to be an atheist. Atheists do not need to deny anything.

      Your understanding of Apatheist is also incorrect - what you have used to describe ignosticism is, in actuality, apatheism bolstered with theological noncognitivism.

      Also, nothing supernatural exists in our reality. Period. Please don't quote science and logic, and also speak about being unable to test the existence of the supernatural. If it exists outside of nature in a way that does not affect our existence reality, then for all intents and practical applications, it does not exist.

      Anything that acts upon, contains, or is contained by our reality (universe); whether currently understood or discovered by science, or not; is de facto "natural".

      Your confusion in the term "ignostic" is understood, however. As a previous commenter pointed out, that definition leads to the understanding that there are gradients of ignosticism. All that ignosticism definitively states is that there can be no discussion about God/s without first reaching an accord as to what is meant by "God/s".

      You can still be a theist or an atheist, and be ignostic. You can be agnostic and ignostic. You can also be religious and an atheist. You can believe in vampires and ghosts really, factually existing - and still be an atheist. You can believe that god exists subjectively while objectively being open to the possibility that god does not exist - an agnostic theist.

      Words have meanings.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      This past Monday an old friend I hadn't seen for quite some time and I got into a metaphysical discussion probably continued from our younger days. A few days later I came across the term ignosticism and I was amazed at how well it fit into my friend and my discussion. My guess is that my friend and I could be both considered provisional ignostics. I believe when you are talking with theists or atheists and you ask , "What do you mean by God?" you would come up with nothing that is consistent amongst all of the people you talk with. For many, if they don't get defensive over being asked the question, the God they believe in or don't believe in is their own personal definition or the definition they garnered from their religious upbringing or lack thereof. As an ignostic this would confirm the idea that there is no coherent definition of God. However, I would take exception that this is a practical or desirable characterization. If the definition of God presented to me was the childishly conceived anthropomorphic God of many fundamentalist religions, I would firmly be an atheist. In fact, I have made the statement that if I had any inkling that such a God really existed, I would be an atheist out of spite. If, however, one were to consider more bonafide theologians like Thomas Aquinas or Thomas Merton I would be an agnostic from a scientific viewpoint and maybe a believer from a philosophical one. Being that there is no consistent coherent definition of God, the position of an absolute ignostic would be untenable. We need to evaluate each definition in its own context. This is also why any absolutist definition of agnosticism is not useful for me either. And atheism; well, if you try to convince me that the God described by fundamentalist Christianity doesn't exist, it would not be a hard sell. And so I have added the question "What do you mean by God?" to my intellectual arsenal after my discovery of ignosticism, but I still need to evaluate the answer in its own context.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Interesting post, however, I disagree with your position towards, and definition of, Atheism. Until recently I felt that my position could best be described as an "Agnostic Atheist." I believe Humans lack the capacity to 'know' whether or not gods or God exists, and I also don't 'believe' that any gods or God exists, or have ever existed. The reasons for my position are another topic entirely, so I won't elaborate any further. So, I digress. Regarding the Atheist aspect of my position, I never make the claim that it's an "impossibility" that God exists, as you've stated above. I simply maintain the position that, based on the vast yet (relatively) limited extent of our scientific knowledge in the 21st century, it is "unlikely" that gods or God exists, or have ever existed. This is a position I share with "professional atheists" such as Richard Dawkins, Lawrence Krauss, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and the late Christopher Hitchens. That being said, I think it's unfair for you to claim that Atheists hold any position of certainty, either strong or weak, or that we have stated it is impossible for gods or God to exist. Based on 21st century scientific knowledge, I feel that it's 'unlikely' that a god or God exists, or has ever existed, and therefore, I do not 'believe' in gods or God. I have evolved recently into that of perhaps, an Ignostic, which I am beginning to think more accurately describes my current position. But, as a potential former Atheist (more specifically an Agnostic Atheist), I don't think you're above description regarding Atheism is completely accurate.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      thanks Craig. im glad Tatjana resurfaced too.

    • Craig Suits profile image

      Craig Suits 

      7 years ago from Florida

      Very well done! I agree wth every word.

      You should think about writing a book or two. You have an amazing understanding of the English language.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I lost a connection then so will start again. I thought I was an atheist, but just discovered ignosticism, which I love as a word. Secular Humanism sounds cool too, but makes me feel conceited.

      I feel a real revulsion towards organised religion, especially the empty boxes that are Abrahamic Monotheism. Christopher Hitchens made a great point in one of his last interviews and to paraphrase inadequately it concerned the acceptability towards the behaviour of deluded religious types entering hospitals to try and convert the terminally ill and he postulated the direct opposite, and how that would be reacted to. Offering terminally ill patients the chance to become free thinkers and denounce the mental chains of religious indoctrination and slavery in their last few hours / days of existence...hmmmm.

      Anyway I'm also aware that philosophy can lead to a sense of going round in circles and develop a certain sense of futility so here's me in layman's terms...

      There is no God for me, there is a God, indeed gods, for many people but I think they've been indoctrinated from birth and are deluded. I don't care if I offend people who are religious with my opinions, they have already offended me with their delusional mindset which, however polite or insidious they may be, tells them that I am wrong.

      Fanaticism from Islamicists to Creationists is the ugly toxic tip of a lethal set of beliefs that science discredits with each passing moment.

      I have a fundamental deep seated conviction that religion is nothing more than superstition and has been a means of social control since its inception. However I am open to every new fact that science puts before me and thus willing to change my mind on what constitutes life and the Universe.

      So, help me out here, can I call myself an Ignostic, a Secular Humanist or an Atheist? it's only for the purposes of confounding Jehovah's Witnesses or Plymouth Brethren, rhough I don't encounter these Evangelical types as much as I used to...

      I'm quite happy with who I am... a rock n roller at heart.

      I will go and check out Nominalism because I love words and hate not knowing what they mean.




      Watch out.


    • profile image


      8 years ago

      "Ignosticism" seems to be nothing other than a form of nominalism. I thought Alice's simple conversation with Humpty Dumpty showed the inconsistencies of such an untenable position. Get real(ism)! Ignosticism poses not so prettily as another way of sitting on the fence.

    • burning bush profile image

      burning bush 

      9 years ago

      Thank you - its a difficult concept to convey much like speaking in Latin to explain tying one's shoes. Much enjoyed.

    • Cattleprod Media profile imageAUTHOR

      Cattleprod Media 

      9 years ago from Johannesburg

      Oh and another thing. I notice a lot of Christian ads appearing on this Hub. This says something to me. The attempts by Christians to convert people really irks me. These "churches" have obviously targeted the keywords like atheism and agnosticism to serve their ads on those pages. This is like guerrilla marketing. If the Christian God is so powerful and so right, why would he need guerrilla marketing? Just saying.

    • Cattleprod Media profile imageAUTHOR

      Cattleprod Media 

      9 years ago from Johannesburg

      Philosophically, I also agree with God being beyond the sphere of human perception. An omnipotent force would not be defined by the "Laws" of humans, nor perhaps even the "Laws" of the universe. I can relate to that definition of God, but once again, we are defining God, or trying to define God, and that's what ignosticism is all about. Instead of arguing about what we think is the correct definition, we should all be trying to think of what a definition of "God" could mean to us. To me, I could easily define God as the universe, non-partisan and impersonal but still filled with beauty and awe. Whatever your perception of what a god is or isn't, it is yours and yours alone and it most probably will never be the same as someone else's. This makes all the argument and debate about god/gods/supernatural powers etc meaningless.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      God is the 'unknowable point'; once we try to define God we have missed the point.

      First of the line: IGNOSTIC DEFINITION: on my screen pointed me to an advert for a mercedes . . . that seemed to fit somehow . . . . :-)

      Its an interesting journey of thought and so much of the content I agree with but I guess it comes down to the individual. I believe I do have an upfront and personal relationship with GOD. I cant define it or capsulate it - I don't want to give it to anyone else either - but are we saying here that no-one IS capable of a relationship with a creator? And this is where you get into sticky stuff . . so tell me what a banana tastes like? You cant, unless you've had one and even then its a tough ask.

      So each person can have a relationship with God - and I know that because I have one and I don't believe my purpose on earth is to define it. If you want one - you can have one too I'm sure - like finding out what a banana tastes like - or not. :-) I find it a little strange really why we have to come up with names for people who don't want to walk that road . . . but its nice to know something that I can call them now. :-)

      Truth is one thing, and if we really search for it we'll all end up there - wherever "there" is - and then we can all look back and smile at all the roads we took and the meanderings that brought us all round and about.

      Happy trails! I celebrate that this perspective makes you smile! :-)

    • Cattleprod Media profile imageAUTHOR

      Cattleprod Media 

      9 years ago from Johannesburg

      Thanks Chasuk. I'm putting it out there because I feel that my perception on these matters is constantly evolving, so feedback is appreciated.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      A thoughtful hub, well-reasoned and well-written.

      Thank you!


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