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
3a : 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
b : 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: Noun VisuWall is brand category agnostic and works with private landlords, institutional owners and brokers. Essence, "The Build Your Legacy Contest Winners Have Been Announced!," 4 July 2020 And until cloud gaming, there was no mass-market Netflix for videogames—on-demand content that’s device-agnostic. Cecilia D'anastasio, Wired, "An Infrastructure Arms Race Is Fueling the Future of Gaming," 29 June 2020 But the wider global culture seems to present either a homogenized agnostic or atheistic and capitalist worldview, or some version of Christianity. Aneesa Bodiat, New York Times, "Prayer Mats, ‘Peppa Pig’ and Patience: How I’m Raising My Muslim Kids," 12 May 2020 When the sun shines through and paints floors, walls, and people with moving color, the effect is aleatoric, agnostic, and otherworldly. Susan Tallman, The New York Review of Books, "The Master of Unknowing," 25 Apr. 2020 To make millions of tests available per week, the NIH project is agnostic about technology. Robert F. Service, Science | AAAS, "NIH launches competition to speed COVID-19 diagnostics," 29 Apr. 2020 This virus is a threat to Democrats and Republicans and Christians and Jews and Muslims and agnostics and atheists and people of all description. John Archibald |, al, "Falwell and Fox are fairly unbalanced," 13 Mar. 2020 Making this role location agnostic allows us to recruit from a global pool of data scientists and helps us solve this resource crunch. Quartz India, "Naveen Tewari on the jobs that will define India’s future," 11 Feb. 2020 Ask a specialist at agencies like for a great, but affordable experience—agnostic of destination. Eimear Lynch, WSJ, "A Guide to the Best Spring Skiing—From Banff to Breckenridge," 8 Feb. 2020 Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective The free market is agnostic on American leadership of defense-critical industries; Americans should not be. Nicholas Phillips, National Review, "End the Tariff Taboo," 25 Jan. 2021 Given those divisions and Biden’s commitment to unifying the country, some experts suspect DeVos’s successor will be someone who’s agnostic on the subject of charters. Chris Quintana, USA TODAY, "Betsy DeVos vowed to change American education. For the most part, she didn’t.," 3 Dec. 2020 Google and Apple’s application programming interface, a type of device-agnostic code, ducks the biggest Big Brother concerns by directly alerting anyone at risk of infection instead of storing individuals’ locations in a centralized database. Popular Science, "The most significant security innovations of 2020," 2 Dec. 2020 At this moment, both in politics and the pandemic, in which women have been disproportionately sidelined and burdened, this kind of meritocratic, gender-agnostic fiction is desperately needed. New York Times, "I Want to Live in the Reality of ‘The Queen’s Gambit’," 2 Dec. 2020 The reality is that Shopify long ago ceased to be just an agnostic builder of e-commerce websites. New York Times, "Can Shopify Compete with Amazon Without Becoming Amazon?," 17 Nov. 2020 Contrary to the commission, the court’s attitude to antitrust appears to be business model–agnostic. Henrique Schneider, National Review, "Weaponizing Antitrust: The EU’s Protectionist Agenda," 11 Nov. 2020 This is an agnostic solution that doesn’t attempt to judge the quality of each model. Scott K. Johnson, Ars Technica, "Newest climate models shouldn’t raise future warming projections," 17 Nov. 2020 Stepping into politics represents a daring turn for pro athletes, many of whom are dependent on corporate sponsors that might prefer them to be politically agnostic rather than risk ostracizing their customer base. Gregory Thomas,, "Politics on Instagram: Mountain athletes reach out to millions of voters before Election Day," 1 Nov. 2020

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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Time Traveler for agnostic

Time Traveler

The first known use of agnostic was in 1861

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Cite this Entry

“Agnostic.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 27 Feb. 2021.

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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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