During the course of all human history the answers to existence have been sought after by virtually every society and culture. Trying to make sense of the world, people have developed many different philosophies and religions to answer those questions. One form of belief is particularly unique from the others. Instead of a system of belief it instead is a form of non-belief. This form is called agnosticism.
Thomas Henry Huxley coined the term "agnostic" to give a name to a way of thinking that has been around for hundreds of years in some form or another. Huxley was an essayist and man of science who came to prominence in Britain during the Victorian age. He first used the word "agnostic" during a speech to the Metaphysical Society in the late 19th century. In a later essay he described the necessity for creating a word to describe the way of thinking he followed as a need to be on equal footing with those who had a name for their belief structures.
Agnosticism is hard to pin down as a belief system; rather it is a framework for thinking and a system of non-belief. While there are different types of classifications for agnostics, including atheist agnostic and strict agnostic, the core set of thinking remains consistent. The core sentiment of agnostics is that the answers of existence, be they the existence of God, a higher being or the afterlife, are unknowable or unanswerable. This sentiment can take many forms, such as believing in the existence of a higher power but being unable to know a higher power or believing that the knowledge of a higher power is unattainable by anyone.
Agnostics Versus Atheists
The line between atheists and agnostics is often a blurry one. In many surveys and studies, agnostics are often classified as atheists. The distinction of agnostics from atheists lies in the difference between unknowable and outright denial. Atheism at its core stresses the non-existence of a higher power. Agnostics at the core stress that it is impossible to prove or in some cases even comprehend the existence or non-existence of a higher power. Atheism and agnosticism are not mutually exclusive; atheist agnostics tend to believe that there is no higher power but acknowledge that it is impossible to prove the non-existence of one.
The number of proclaimed agnostics in the United States is steadily rising. In a study conducted by the American Religious Identification Survey in 2008, it estimated that the number of Americans who identify themselves as having agnostic beliefs was 0.9 percent of the population, totaling over 2 million people; this was up from 0.5 percent in the 2001 survey.
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