agnostic

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English[edit]

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Etymology[edit]

First attested in 1870; coined by Thomas Huxley. Either from Ancient Greek ἄγνωστος (ágnōstos, ignorant, not knowing) or from a- + Gnostic. Deriving (either way) from Ancient Greek ἀ- (a-, not) + γιγνώσκω (gignṓskō, I know).

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Noun[edit]

agnostic (plural agnostics)

  1. A person who holds to a form of agnosticism, especially uncertainty of the existence of a deity.
    • 1876 June 1, Leslie Stephen, “An Agnostic's Apology”, The Forthnightly Review, volume 25/19, number 114, page 840: 
      The Agnostic is one who asserts—what no one denies—that there are limits to the sphere of human intelligence.
    • 1953 November 3, Bertrand Russell, “What is an Agnostic?”[1], Look: 
      An agnostic thinks it impossible to know the truth in matters such as God and the future life with which Christianity and other religions are concerned.
    • 1985, Carl Sagan, Contact: a novel, New York: Simon and Schuster, ISBN 978-0671434007, page 175:
      When I say I'm an agnostic, I only mean that the evidence isn't in. There isn't compelling evidence that God exists — at least your kind of god — and there isn't compelling evidence that he doesn't.

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Adjective[edit]

agnostic (comparative more agnostic, superlative most agnostic)

  1. Of or relating to agnosticism or its adherents.
    • 1889, Thomas Henry Huxley, Agnosticism[2]:
      In matters of the intellect do not pretend that conclusions are certain which are not demonstrated or demonstrable. That I take to be the agnostic faith, which if a man keep whole and undefiled, he shall not be ashamed to look the universe in the face, whatever the future may have in store for him.
    His agnostic viewpoint is summarized in his book.
  2. Doubtful or uncertain about the existence or demonstrability of God or other deity.
    She left the church when she became agnostic.
  3. (computing) A software component (or other entity) that is unaware or noncommittal regarding the specific nature of the components with which it interacts; polymorphic; modular; pluggable
    The socket communications layer is agnostic with regard to its underlying transport mechanism -- it is “transport-agnostic”.
  4. (usually with a prepositional phrase) Having no firmly held opinions on an issue or matter of uncertainty.
    I'm agnostic on whether ethanol is a green fuel
    He says he's agnostic concerning the Secretary's claims.

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