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 combinationThe 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 The SynsorMed platform is a device-agnostic RPM platform. William Thornton |, al, "Alabama Futures Fund investing in medtech company," 22 Jan. 2020 In the past 18 months, the FDA approved the first and second tissue-agnostic therapies. Scientific American, "The Coming Age of Molecular Medicine," 2 Oct. 2019 In the battle over football and brain health, Dr. Camarillo portrays himself as occupying the sensible center, an agnostic caught between ravening ideologues. Michael Powell, New York Times, "This Helmet Will Save Football. Actually, Probably Not.," 14 Dec. 2019 As a result, any Thanksgiving dinner where weed enthusiasts are at the table is likely to also contain place cards for those who are agnostic or strongly opposed. Author: Lisa Bonos, Anchorage Daily News, "How legal weed turned Thanksgiving into a high holiday," 27 Nov. 2019 What if those shares are run by computers that are agnostic, or worse, have been programmed to pursue a narrow objective such as getting firms to pay a dividend at all costs? The Economist, "The rise of the financial machines," 3 Oct. 2019 The purpose of the restaurant, whose owners are mostly omnivorous but spent some time eating vegan to better understand the idea, is to win over agnostics of an occasional vegan diet. Soleil Ho,, "Wildseed is vegan — but don’t call it that," 25 Oct. 2019 Sever says bioRxiv is agnostic about the particular pathways and models that might lead to that future. Jeffrey Brainard, Science | AAAS, "In bid to boost transparency, bioRxiv begins posting peer reviews next to preprints," 10 Oct. 2019 So those agnostics aren't looking forward to the second meeting of KSI and Paul, which takes place on November 9 at Los Angeles' Staples Center. Ben Morse, CNN, "KSI and Logan Paul box smart in 'fight to legitimize' YouTubers," 6 Nov. 2019 Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective Today's driver-assist systems are agnostic to tires. Sebastian Blanco, Car and Driver, "Bridgestone Rolls Out a Connected Tire Concept Claimed to Make You Safer," 8 Jan. 2020 Those identifying as atheist rose from one percent to 3 percent during that 10-year span, while those calling themselves agnostic rose from 2 percent to 4 percent. al, "Losing our religion? Faith is part of identity in the South, but it’s changing," 24 Nov. 2019 The initiative’s backers said they were stunned by the rejection, calling it evidence that Clarno and Vial are not as committed to running a politically agnostic office as the two Republicans have claimed. oregonlive, "Ballot initiative to tighten Oregon forestry laws gets rejected. Advocates blame timber money.," 4 Oct. 2019 An agnostic approach to regulation is therefore absolutely sensible. Alex Webb | Bloomberg, Washington Post, "When Cars Talk, What Language Should They Speak?," 11 Apr. 2019 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

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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Last Updated

8 Feb 2020

Cite this Entry

“Agnostic.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 21 Feb. 2020.

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More Definitions for agnostic


How to pronounce agnostic (audio)

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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