[ ag-nos-tik ]
See synonyms for agnostic on
  1. a person who holds that the answers to the basic questions of existence, such as the nature of the ultimate cause and whether or not there is a supreme being, are unknown or unknowable.

  2. a person who denies or doubts the possibility of ultimate knowledge in some area of study.

  1. a person who holds neither of two opposing positions on a topic: Socrates was an agnostic on the subject of immortality.

  1. of or relating to agnostics or their doctrines, attitudes, or beliefs.

  2. asserting the uncertainty of all claims to knowledge.

  1. not taking a stand on something, especially not holding either of two usually strongly opposed positions (often used in combination): He's known to take an agnostic view of technological progress. The governor's fuel-agnostic energy policies were highly controversial.

  2. (especially of digital technology) not limited or dedicated to a particular device, system, etc. (often used in combination): platform agnostic software.

Origin of agnostic

Coined in 1869 by English biologist Thomas Henry Huxley (1825–95); from Greek ágnōst(os), variant of ágnōtos “not known, incapable of being known” (a- “not, without” + gnōtós “known,” adjective derivative of gignṓskein “to know”) + -ic, after gnostic; see a-6

synonym study For agnostic

Agnostic, atheist, infidel, skeptic refer to persons not inclined toward religious belief or a particular form of religious belief. An agnostic is one who believes it impossible to know anything about God or about the creation of the universe, or who refrains from commitment to any religious doctrine because of a lack of knowledge about God or the creation of the universe. An atheist is one who does not believe in or denies the existence of a deity or of divine beings. Infidel means an unbeliever, especially a nonbeliever in Islam or Christianity, and is often disparaging and offensive, in contrast to atheist and agnostic, which are often used in self-identification. A skeptic doubts and is critical of all accepted doctrines and creeds; while a person may self-identify in this way, the term can also be applied by others.

word story For agnostic

The word agnostic was coined by the English biologist T.H. Huxley in 1869 as a member of the now defunct Metaphysical Society, in response to what he perceived as an abundance there of strongly held beliefs. The original usage of the term was confined to philosophy and religion, and referred to Huxley's assertion that anything beyond the material world, including the existence and nature of God, was unknowable. Today the word can be seen applied to questions of politics, culture, and science, as when someone claims to be a “political agnostic.”
In a more recent trend, one can be agnostic simply by not taking a stand on something. In 2010, President Obama called himself “agnostic” on tax cuts until he had seen all available options. At a forum on sustainable energy in 2008, GE CEO Jeff Immelt said he was “fuel agnostic.” In technology, software or hardware can be said to be agnostic as well. Computer code that can run on any operating system is called “platform agnostic,” and such services as phone and electric may be considered “agnostic” if not dedicated to a particular carrier, device, or user interface.

Other words for agnostic

Other words from agnostic

  • ag·nos·ti·cal·ly, adverb

Words that may be confused with agnostic

  • agnostic , atheist (see synonym study at the current entry)

Words Nearby agnostic Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023

How to use agnostic in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for agnostic


/ (æɡˈnɒstɪk) /

  1. a person who holds that knowledge of a Supreme Being, ultimate cause, etc, is impossible: Compare atheist, theist

  2. a person who claims, with respect to any particular question, that the answer cannot be known with certainty

  1. of or relating to agnostics

Origin of agnostic

C19: coined 1869 by T. H. Huxley from a- 1 + gnostic

Derived forms of agnostic

  • agnosticism, noun

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012