Agnostic religion | History, Beliefs, & Definition &More


Agnostic religion or Agnosticism is the philosophical view that the existence of God, of the divine or the supernatural, is unknown or unknowable. Another definition provided is the view that “human reason is incapable of providing sufficient rational grounds to justify either the belief that God exists or the belief that God does not exist.

The agnostic theist (Follower of Agnostic religion) may also or alternatively be agnostic regarding the properties of the God or gods that they believe in.

Agnosticism from Greek agnōstos, Meaning: Unknowable.


Agnostic religion Origin, Beliefs, & History

The terms “agnostic” and “agnosticism” were famously coined in the late nineteenth century by the English biologist, T.H. Huxley. He said that he originally

including of course the matter of God’s existence. He did not, however, define “agnosticism” simply as the state of being an agnostic. Instead, he often used that term to refer to a normative epistemological principle, something similar to (though weaker than) what we now call “evidentialism”.

Roughly, Huxley’s principle says that it is wrong to say that one knows or believes that a proposition is true without logically satisfactory evidence (Huxley 1884 &1889). But it was Huxley’s application of this principle to the theistic and atheistic belief that ultimately had the greatest influence on the meaning of the term. He argued that, since neither of those beliefs is adequately supported by evidence, we ought to suspend judgment on the issue of whether or not there is a God.

Nowadays, the term “agnostic” is often used (when the issue is God’s existence) to refer to those who follow the recommendation expressed in the conclusion of Huxley’s argument: An agnostic is a person who has entertained the proposition that there is a God but believes neither that it is true nor that it is false.

Not surprisingly, then, the term “agnosticism” is often defined, both in and outside of philosophy, not as a principle or any other sort of proposition but instead as the psychological state of being an agnostic. Call this the “psychological” sense of the term. It is certainly useful to have a term to refer to people who are neither theists nor atheists, but philosophers might wish that some other term besides “agnostic” (“theological skeptic”, perhaps?) were used.

The problem is that it is also very useful for philosophical purposes to have a name for the epistemological position that follows from the premise of Huxley’s argument, the position that neither theism nor atheism is known, or most ambitiously, that neither the belief that God exists nor the belief that God does not exist has the positive epistemic status of any sort. Just as the metaphysical question of God’s existence is central to the philosophy of religion, so too is the epistemological question of whether or not theism or atheism is known or has some other sort of positive epistemic status. And given the etymology of “agnostic”, what better term could there be for a negative answer to that epistemological question than “Agnostic religion”? Further, as suggested earlier, it is, for very good reason, typical in philosophy to use the suffix “-ism” to refer to a proposition instead of to a state or condition, since only the former can sensibly be tested by argument.

If, however, “agnosticism” is defined as a proposition, then “agnostic” must be defined in terms of “Agnostic religion” instead of the other way around. Specifically, “agnostic” must be defined as a person who believes that the proposition “agnosticism” is true instead of “agnosticism” being defined as the state of being an agnostic.

And if the proposition in question is that neither theism nor atheism is known to be true, then the term “agnostic” can no longer serve as a label for those who are neither theists nor atheists since one can consistently believe that atheism (or theism) is true while denying that atheism (or theism) is known to be true.

When used in this epistemological sense, the term “Agnostic religion” can very naturally be extended beyond the issue of what is or can be known to cover a large family of positions, depending on what sort of “positive epistemic status” is at issue. For example, it might be identified with any of the following positions: that neither theistic belief nor atheistic belief is justified, that neither theistic belief nor atheistic belief is rationally required, that neither belief is rationally permissible, that neither has a warrant, that neither is reasonable or that neither is probable.

Also, in order to avoid the vexed issue of the nature of knowledge, one can simply distinguish as distinct members of the “agnosticism family” each of the following claims about intellectually sophisticated people: neither theism nor atheism is adequately supported by the internal states of such people, neither theistic belief nor atheistic belief coheres with the rest of their beliefs, neither theistic nor atheistic belief results from reliable belief-producing processes, neither theistic belief nor atheistic belief results from faculties aimed at a truth that is functioning properly in an appropriate environment, and so on.

Notice too that, even if agnosticism were defined as the rather extreme position that neither theistic belief nor atheistic belief ever has the positive epistemic status of any sort, it wouldn’t follow by definition that no agnostic is either a theist or an atheist.

Some fideists, for example, believe that neither atheistic belief nor theistic belief is supported or sanctioned in any way at all by reason because reason leaves the matter of God’s existence completely unresolved. Yet they have faith that God exists and such faith (at least in some cases) involves belief. Thus, some fideists are extreme agnostics in the epistemological sense even though they are not agnostics in the psychological sense.

It is also worth mentioning that, even in Huxley’s time, some apophatic theists embraced the term “agnostic”, claiming that all good Christians worshipped an “unknown God”. More recently, some atheists proudly call themselves “agnostic atheists”, although with further reflection the symmetry between this position and fideism might give them pause.

More likely, though, what is being claimed by these self-identified agnostic atheists is that, while their belief that God does not exist has the positive epistemic status of some sort (minimally, it is not irrational), it does not have the sort of positive epistemic status that can turn true belief into knowledge.

No doubt both senses of “Agnostic religion”, the psychological and the epistemological, will continue to be used both inside and outside of philosophy. Hopefully, context will help to disambiguate. In the remainder of this entry, however, the term “agnosticism” will be used in its epistemological sense. This makes a huge difference to the issue of justification. Consider, for example, this passage written by the agnostic, Anthony Kenny (1983: 84–85):

It is one thing to ask whether Kenny’s inability to find arguments that convince him of God’s existence or non-existence justifies him personally in suspending judgment about the existence of God. It is quite another to ask whether this inability (or anything else) would justify his believing that no one (or at least no one who is sufficiently intelligent and well-informed) has a justified belief about God’s existence.

If Agnostic religion (in one sense of the word) is the position that neither theism nor atheism is known, then it might be useful to use the term “Gnosticism” to refer to the contradictory of that position, that is, to the position that either theism or atheism is known. That view would, of course, come in two flavors: theistic Gnosticism—the view that theism is known (and hence atheism is not)—and atheistic Gnosticism—the view that atheism is known (and hence theism is not).

What is the difference between agnostic religion and atheist religion?

An agnostic is one who believes it impossible to know anything about God or about the creation of the universe and refrains from the commitment to any religious doctrine. An atheist is one who denies the existence of a deity or of divine beings.

Religious agnosticism

It is also possible to speak of religious agnosticism. But if this expression is not to be contradictory, it has to be taken to refer to an acceptance of the agnostic principle, combined either with a conviction that at least some minimum of affirmative doctrine can be established on adequate grounds, or else with the sort of religion or religiousness that makes no very substantial or disputatious doctrinal demands.

If these two varieties of agnosticism are admitted, then Huxley’s original agnosticism may be marked off from the latter as (not religious but) secular and from the former as (not religious but) atheist construing “atheist” here as a word as wholly negative and neutral as “atypical” or “asymmetrical.” These, without pejorative insinuations, mean merely “not typical” or “not symmetrical” (the atheist is thus one who is simply without a belief in God).

Are there any Agnostic religious churches?

Unitarian Universalist (U.U.) congregations include many atheists, agnostics, and theists within their membership and there are U.U. churches, fellowships, congregations, and societies all over America as well as others around the world.

World Religions

Sources: 1, 2


The church of the flying spaghetti monster | All about it

Taoism beliefs | What are the core beliefs of Taoism

Pagan religion | History, Types, beliefs, worship &More


Was this article helpful?
Mercy CuthbertMercy Cuthbert
Mom, Wife, Author, Bachelor of Arts Comparative Religion.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back To Top