What does agnostic mean?
Other uses of the word "agnostic"
Sometimes you'll hear the term "platform-agnostic" or "browser-agnostic", or other variations in the domain of technology. It simply means it doesn't matter which platform or browser you're using; it's set up to work across all of them. For example, a browser-agnostic application will work on Firefox, Chrome, Internet Explorer, Opera or any other browser equally well.
An agnostic believes that the nature of God and/or supernatural are unknown and unknowable by human beings, if they exist at all. An agnostic thinks it is impossible (at least now, with our current understanding of the nature of the world) to conclusively know the truth about the existence of God and the afterlife which Christianity and other religions are concerned with.
If you ask an agnostic "Does God exist?", possible replies might include:
An agnostic is different from an atheist, who believes, with certainty, that God does not exist. Agnostic means, literally, "does not know" (from Greek: the prefix a- means "not/without" + gnosis means "knowledge"
Famous historical agnostics
Thomas Huxley, an English biologist (1825-1895), coined the word "agnostic". In a letter written in 1860, he wrote:
"I neither affirm nor deny the immortality of man. I see no reason for believing it, but, on the other hand, I have no means of disproving it. I have no a priori objections to the doctrine."
He also wrote:
"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; until at last I came to the conclusion that I had neither art nor part with any of these denominations, except the last...So 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..."
Bertrand Russell, and English philosopher (1872-1970) and author of Why I Am Not a Christian, wrote:
"An atheist, like a Christian, holds that we can know whether or not there is a God. The Christian holds that we can know there is a God; the atheist, that we can know there is not. The Agnostic suspends judgment, saying that there are not sufficient grounds either for affirmation or for denial."
Read the entire interview here.
Another quote from Bertrand Russell that is apt here:
"The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts."
Famous contemporary agnostics
Stephen Jay Gould