Agnosticism is the belief that it is impossible to know if the supernatural, including God, exists.
Agnosticism holds that the nature of God, gods, or supernatural phenomena is such that humanity can never know if they exist or not. It is a statement about what kind of knowledge a person can possess and about what kind of belief is proper or moral to hold. According to the term’s originator, British biologist Thomas Huxley (1825-95), the term describes a method of how people can use their intellect to come to hold, or refuse to hold, any particular belief.
Even though the term “agnosticism” did not come into popular use until Huxley coined it in 1869, the idea has existed for approaching 3,000 years. The earliest known expression of the idea comes from the Hindu Vedas, produced between c. 1500 and 500 BCE, which expressed skepticism at the ability to answer fundamental questions about existence. The Rigveda states, “Who knows for certain? … None knoweth whence creation has arisen …”
Ancient Greek philosophers voiced similar opinions about the nature of certainty and knowledge. When Huxley introduced the term, he created it from the Greek roots: a, for “without,” and gnosis, for “knowledge.” His belief was that the knowledge of God is unattainable, and a rational person can hold no belief about it.
In modern times, people often use “agnostic” to denote those who describe themselves as being unsure about whether a God exists. Yet the existence of the divine is not something agnosticism purports to answer. It expresses skepticism, especially regarding the extent of human comprehension. It is also a statement about the morality of hubris, holding that it is immoral to believe in something that has no basis or to assert an answer to an unanswerable question.