What Does Agnostic Mean?
Are Agnostics merely confused Athiests?
Many people do not understand the difference between Agnostics and Athiests, believing that the two are the same and that an Agnostic is just an undecided Athiest. This is not true. The meaning of the words "agnostic" and "athiest" have different etymologies and it is through this history that the meaning of these words become clear.
The etymology of the word "gnostic" dates back to the late 16th century. It means knowing. When gnostic uses a capital "G" as in "Gnostic", it refers to a person who believes in religion.
In Greek, from which the word "gnostic" comes, adding the prefix "a" means not, away, or against. So the word "agnostic" means against knowing or away from knowing or not knowing. When referring to a specific type of person and the "a" is capitalized as in "Agnostic", it refers to a person who believes that the type of knowledge needed to provide the basis for religion, namely the existence of God, is not possible.
The etymology of the word "agnostic" dates back to the late 19th century and was coined by T.H. Huxley. He coined the word in opposition to those religious people who claimed to know things that seemed impossible, like the origin of the Universe and the nature of things.
An Agnostic differs from an Athiest in that an Agnostic does not take a specific position on the existence of God. An agnostic asserts that one cannot have knowledge about the existence of God. From an agnostic point-of-view, God could exist, but human beings cannot have the knowledge to know one way or the other. An Athiest believes that God does not exist.