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ag·​nos·​tic ag-ˈnä-stik How to pronounce agnostic (audio)
: a person who holds the view that any ultimate reality (such as God) is unknown and probably unknowable
broadly : one who is not committed to believing in either the existence or the nonexistence of God or a god
: a person who is unwilling to commit to an opinion about something
political agnostics


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: of, relating to, or being an agnostic : involving or characterized by agnosticism
: not preferring a particular device or system
usually used after a noun
"Children are platform agnostic," said Alice Cahn, vice-president of development for Cartoon Network. "If you want to look foolish with a preschooler, say, 'Sorry, you can't watch that. It's not on.' It's TiVoed, it's online, it's on video on demand."Business Wire
: designed to be compatible with different devices (such as computers or smartphones) or operating systems
usually used after a noun
content that is OS agnostic
often used in combination
The application is platform-agnostic, so it can work on your tablet or cell phone.

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How Agnostic Differs From Atheist

Many people are interested in distinguishing between the words agnostic and atheist. The difference is quite simple: atheist refers to someone who does not believe in the existence of a god or any gods, and agnostic refers to someone who doesn’t know whether there is a god, or even if such a thing is knowable. This distinction can be troublesome to remember, but examining the origins of the two words can help.

Agnostic first appeared in 1869, (possibly coined by the English biologist Thomas Henry Huxley), and was formed from the Greek agnōstos (meaning "unknown, unknowable"). Atheist came to English from the French athéisme. Although both words share a prefix (which is probably the source of much of the confusion) the main body of each word is quite different. Agnostic shares part of its history with words such as prognosticate and prognosis, words which have something to do with knowledge or knowing something. Atheist shares roots with words such as theology and theism, which generally have something to do with God.

Examples of agnostic in a Sentence

Noun Even polytheists … were in fact tolerated, as Islamic rule spread to most of India. Only the total unbeliever—the agnostic or atheist—was beyond the pale of tolerance … Bernard Lewis, Islam in History, 1993
Supporters of education vouchers … will love what Norman Macrae has to say on the subject. Teachers' unions and other opponents of vouchers … will deplore it. Voucher agnostics (and I include myself) might find that the proposal not only answers most doubts but also makes sense on issues they've never much thought about. William Raspberry, Springfield (Massachusetts) Union, 14 Aug. 1987
I call myself an agnostic. I do not really have any faith, any coherent religious faith, and yet the one thing in my life that I feel passionate and evangelical about is poetry. Maxine Kumin, "An Interview at Interlochen," 1977, in To Make a Prairie1979
Adjective Cladistics classifies organisms in nested hierarchies based exclusively on their order of branching. (I should say that I am quite agnostic about this theory, so I do not write as a shill.) Stephen Jay Gould, Natural History, March 1995
The composition comes alive in stanzas V and VI. This is the dark night. I hoped my readers would remember John of the Cross's poem. My night is not gracious, but secular, puritan, and agnostic. An existentialist night. Robert Lowell, Collected Prose, 1987
… I thought that by the time I was past thirty-five—at the very least agnostic and surely swept by the bleak winds of existentialism—I had abandoned the Presbyterian precepts of my childhood. William Styron, This Quiet Dust and Other Writings, 1982
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Recent Examples on the Web
But for Larson agnostics, the effect is like being dragged to see a band you’re not quite sold on by a pal who’s all-in. Chris Klimek, Washington Post, 29 Jan. 2024 There are as many of them as atheists and agnostics combined (7% each). Peter Smith, Fortune, 5 Oct. 2023 Marian would continue to play the serious agnostic to her husband’s unruffled atheist. James Wood, The New Yorker, 4 Sep. 2023 The devout may call it weak of faith — likely those who can’t grasp the disdain for the Christian church that major media seeds among liberal agnostics. Jonathan Rowe, Spin, 24 Aug. 2023 Ferrara aligns Forgione’s agon with the self-conscious struggles of modern agnostics — Pio’s mysticism is interpreted by actor-activist Shia LaBeouf in terms of secular anguish, familiar from Ferrara’s American-set exploitation/art movies The Funeral, Bad Lieutenant, and The King of New York. Armond White, National Review, 2 June 2023 At the same time, Biden has prioritized some Clinton-esque quality of life issues that could appeal to political agnostics, such as strong-arming airlines into letting families sit together and encouraging Congress to take action to protect kids’ privacy online. Patrick T. Brown, CNN, 10 Mar. 2023 There are not a lot of agnostics on the subject of AI—people tend to have strong opinions on whether or not these new tools are good for society. Ainsley MacLean, Forbes, 27 Mar. 2023 Catherine Zeta Jones as Morticia, Luis Guzman as Gomez, Fred Armisen as Uncle Lester, a CGI hand as Thing) proved plenty transporting even for this horror/fantasy agnostic. Los Angeles Times, 6 Jan. 2023
Targeting scale through agnostic solutions Over the past 10 years, TerraPay’s network has grown to cover 140 countries and 60 wallets, and covers acquiring, money transfers and pay-outs, as well as wallet enablement and virtual cards. Daniel Webber, Forbes, 19 Feb. 2024 Concerning race, white adults had higher rates of identifying as atheist or agnostic instead of nothing in particular over respondents who identified themselves as Black, Hispanic or Asian: 2% of Black people identified as atheist, and 4% as agnostic. Emily Deletter, USA TODAY, 26 Jan. 2024 Trending This should shock no one who has witnessed the series’ evolution from feeling agnostic at best about the royals to being fully converted to the concept. Alan Sepinwall, Rolling Stone, 14 Dec. 2023 The onus is currently on charities to do so when a well-resourced, affiliated, and platform agnostic organization would be better-equipped. Geoffrey Bunting, WIRED, 11 Dec. 2023 Some GPUs run specific games better than others, and developers can choose to spend more time optimizing for Nvidia cards or AMD cards, but generally the model is hardware agnostic. Andrew Cunningham, Ars Technica, 7 Feb. 2024 During an annual autumnal pagan celebration, Grace (Evie Templeton) the daughter of the town’s new minister, Rebecca Holland (Tuppence Middleton) and her agnostic husband, Henry (Matt Stoke), disappears. Richard Newby, The Hollywood Reporter, 21 Dec. 2023 The pandemic has also made the Indian audience language agnostic. Naman Ramachandran, Variety, 27 Dec. 2023 Celebrity is the reigning currency recently, and the museum is widely agnostic about what kinds of fame are honored. Philip Kennicott, Washington Post, 13 Dec. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'agnostic.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History



Greek ágnōstos "unknown, unknowable" (from a- a- entry 2 + gnōstós "known," variant of gnōtós, verbal adjective of gignṓskein "to know entry 1") + -ic entry 2 (after gnostic)


derivative of agnostic entry 1

First Known Use


1861, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1870, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of agnostic was in 1861

Dictionary Entries Near agnostic

Cite this Entry

“Agnostic.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 24 Feb. 2024.

Kids Definition


: a person who believes that whether God exists is not known and probably cannot be known
agnostic adjective


from Greek agnōstos "unknown," from a- "not" and gnōstos "known"

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