ag·​nos·​tic | \ ag-ˈnä-stik How to pronounce agnostic (audio) , əg-\

Definition of agnostic

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : 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
2 : a person who is unwilling to commit to an opinion about something political agnostics



Definition of agnostic (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : of, relating to, or being an agnostic : involving or characterized by agnosticism

3 usually used after a noun

a : not preferring a particular device or system "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
b : designed to be compatible with different devices (such as computers or smartphones) or operating systems 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


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


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: Noun

While Christians value these gestures from religious people, some atheists and agnostics would pay money to avoid them, according to a study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Allen Kim, CNN, "Not everybody wants thoughts and prayers after a disaster, according to a study of hurricane survivors," 16 Sep. 2019 Odd Future’s yin-and-yang leaders—were the pioneers of a certain type of genre-agnostic, free-associative music, and Brockhampton is one of its beneficiaries. Carrie Battan, The New Yorker, "Brockhampton Grows Up," 2 Sep. 2019 Atheists, agnostics and others who don't believe in God can be barred from giving invocations at the Pennsylvania statehouse, a federal appeals court ruled Friday. Elisha Fieldstadt, NBC News, "Atheists can be barred from giving invocation at Pennsylvania statehouse, federal court rules," 28 Aug. 2019 And many agnostic or atheist scientists still see themselves as spiritual, according to Ecklund and Christopher Scheitle, assistant professor of sociology at West Virginia University. Dan Zak, Washington Post, "One of America’s top climate scientists is an evangelical Christian. She’s on a mission to convert skeptics.," 15 July 2019 Tickets for the concert — which will also include performances by the DJ Marshmello and the genre-agnostic singer Quinn XCII — are sold out, but the resale market is well-stocked. New York Times, "The Week in Arts: Alton Brown Returns; Lil Nas X Plays the Hit," 24 Aug. 2019 Where Buchheim and Petersen took an agnostic, documentary approach to the all-male crews aboard their boats, this new Das Boot frames the U-boat war as a form of toxic masculinity. Adrian Daub, The New Republic, "Hulu’s Das Boot Gets Lost at Sea," 19 June 2019 Although she was raised Mormon, Ardern now identifies as agnostic, according to The New Zealand Herald. Tiffany Diane Tso,, "The Cosmic Connection Between Marianne Williamson & Jacinda Ardern," 28 June 2019 Gazing at the stars—dreaming of what’s out there—is an almost innate aspect of the human condition, agnostic of language, geographic location, socioeconomic class, or culture. Eric Desatnik, Quartz, "We should care more about the deep sea than we do deep space," 20 June 2019

Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective

This allows the novel to remain agnostic about his true abilities, and about its own stance toward psychic powers more generally. Garth Greenwell, The New Yorker, "Caleb Crain’s “Overthrow” and the Power of Literary Form," 28 Aug. 2019 Fortunately for them, Ikea has so far taken a platform agnostic approach, supporting the Google Assistant, Siri, and Alexa ecosystems through its Tradfri gateway. Thomas Ricker, The Verge, "Ikea goes all in on smart home tech," 17 Aug. 2019 More broadly, its agnostic approach to energy sources provides a way for oil and gas to stay viable economically compared to more dramatic climate change proposals that would seek to phase out fossil fuels more rapidly. Justin Worland, Time, "The World's Largest Automakers Asked Trump Not to Loosen a Climate Change Standard. Here's Why," 7 June 2019 All else being equal, a 62-year-old white, Christian Democrats who lives in rural Montana will loathe Republicans less than a 23-year-old Hispanic, agnostic Democrat who lives in Los Angeles. Ezra Klein, Vox, "The political tribalism of Andrew Sullivan," 11 Dec. 2018 Paradoxically, the central European country that has tried hardest to plug itself into the EU’s heart often seems most agnostic about its orientation. The Economist, "A struggle between authoritarians and liberals in the heart of Europe," 26 May 2018 In their shared legal brief, however, the CLS and NAE remain agnostic about the president’s motives. Tobin Grant, Washington Post, "Why some religious-freedom groups won’t take a stand on the travel ban," 25 Apr. 2018 And with a Disney streaming service coming, Netflix’s agnostic approach to quality may come back to haunt it. Alex Shephard, The New Republic, "Can Netflix Take Over Hollywood?," 24 Apr. 2018 For example, the study in press used the agnostic approach. Nicholette Zeliadt, Scientific American, "Some Mutations Tied to Autism May Be Passed Down from Fathers," 19 Apr. 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'agnostic.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of agnostic


1861, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1870, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for agnostic


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

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More Definitions for agnostic



English Language Learners Definition of agnostic

: a person who does not have a definite belief about whether God exists or not
: a person who does not believe or is unsure of something

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More from Merriam-Webster on agnostic

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for agnostic

Spanish Central: Translation of agnostic

Nglish: Translation of agnostic for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of agnostic for Arabic Speakers

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