The term (derived from Acts 17:23, “to the unknown god”) was introduced by T.H. Huxley in 1869 to denote the doctrine that man does not and cannot know whether God exists. He based his case on Locke's maxim that man ought not to accept “propositions with more certainty than the evidence warrants,” and this dogma in opposition to faith characterizes agnosticism. The term is now used in several senses in addition to the above: (1) as the view that we should suspend judgment on all ultimate issues, such as God, free will, immortality; (2) to describe a secular attitude to life, i.e., that God is irrelevant to modern man; (3) for an emotionally tinged anti-Christian and anticlerical attitude; (4) as a synonym for atheism.
The modern agnostic often argues on the basis of the open- mindedness required in science, but if we cannot in science know the answer until we have collected evidence, how can we expect to know the answer beforehand in religion? The basic principle of agnosticism is belied by what Koestler has called “the act of creation”: a study of creativity and invention in the artistic, literary, and scientific fields proves that confidence in the truth of propositions beyond what is intellectually justified by available facts is usually essential to success.
T.H. Huxley, Science and the Christian Tradition (1900); A.O.J. Cockshut, The Unbelievers (1946); A.W. Brown, The Metaphysical Society (1947); B. Ghiselin (ed.), The Creative Process (1952); A. Koestler, The Act of Creation (1966).