Friday, May 22, 2009

The agnostic atheist

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by Nick Spencer -

Thanks to Crapsquire for the link.

The question: What is agnosticism?

When Thomas Huxley coined the term "agnostic" in 1869 he did it to make a point.

A member of the "Metaphysical Society", a monthly discussion group of liberal churchmen, deists, Unitarians, positivists and the occasional atheist, Huxley found himself confronted with people who "were quite sure they had attained a certain 'gnosis,' – [who] had, more or less successfully, solved the problem of existence."

Huxley was "quite sure" that he had not reached any such resolution and, indeed, "had a pretty strong conviction that the problem was insoluble." Looking for a term that would free him from such certainties – and from accusations of atheism and materialism that were regularly, if inaccurately, levelled at him – he coined the word agnostic.

Huxley's neologism was not some arbitrary midway point between theism and atheism, as it has subsequently been treated. The "-theism" suffix is deliberately absent.
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