Agnosticism: Definition & Types

Instructor: Devin Kowalczyk

Devin has taught psychology and has a master's degree in clinical forensic psychology. He is working on his PhD.

This lesson explores the definition and ideas of agnosticism as well as the specific sub-types. What does it mean to be an agnostic? How can other belief systems interact with agnosticism? Review the lesson and then follow up with a short quiz.

Agnosticism

Coined by Professor Huxley at a party in London to found the Metaphysical Society in 1869, Huxley combined the a- prefix for 'without' and -gnostic meaning 'knowledge.' Agnosticism is an extreme empiricism view, which means we humans would never be able to know about the ultimate origin and causes of the universe. It is the act of questioning, doubting, or disbelieving in a higher order because it is impossible to know.

George Smith put it well when he said, 'Properly considered, agnosticism is not a third alternative to theism and atheism because it is concerned with a different aspect of religious belief. Theism and atheism refer to the presence or absence of belief in a god; agnosticism refers to the impossibility of knowledge with regard to a god or supernatural being. The term agnostic does not, in itself, indicate whether or not one believes in a god. Agnosticism can be either theistic or atheistic.'

Types

Agnosticism is divided into different types based on what ideology it has been attached to.

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Strong Agnosticism

'I cannot know whether there is or is not a deity, and neither can you.' To a Strong Agnostic, the world is only experienced through subjective experience and nothing is ever truly objective. Ultimate and true empiricism is impossible due to the fact that humans are inherently unable to see beyond their own limitations.

Weak Agnosticism

'Maybe one day, we will know by proof if there is a deity.' A Weak Agnostic holds the same idea as a Strong Agnostic (that we do not know if there is a deity) but allows for the possibility that man's continual exploration and expanding knowledge may one day prove if there is or is not a deity.

Agnostic Atheism

'I don't believe in a deity, but I don't know if there is one or not.' An Agnostic Atheist acknowledges that there is no proof for or against a deity, but holds the belief that a deity does not exist.

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