Difference Between Gnostic and Agnostic (with Table)

The difference between gnostic and agnostic is that a gnostic person accepts the existence of a supreme ethereal power or God, while an agnostic person believes that the existence of God can neither be proved nor disproved.

Ancient Gnosticism was a collection of various spiritual ideas that endorsed the existence of a supreme divinity prevailing in the form of an esoteric light. This mystical power is believed to have created the materialistic universe in which humans live.

On the contrary, agnosticism is the belief that there is no way to tell whether God exists or not. People who identify with the ideology believe that God’s existence is unknown since there are no scientific testimonies that clear the doubt.

Comparison Table Between Gnostic and Agnostic

Parameters of ComparisonGnosticAgnostic
Meaning‘Gnostic’ is a term designated to people who identify with the concept of Gnosticism.‘Agnostic’ is a term designated to people who identify with the concept of agnosticism.
BeliefA Gnostic person holds the belief that God or a supreme ethereal power which is beyond human reason exists; this power is believed to have created the materialistic universe which is burdened with illusion and temptation.An agnostic person believes that whether or not God exists is unknown or unknowable and that human reason is incapable of justifying either of the beliefs.
ApproachGnosticism emphasizes an ‘inward feeling’ relating to the perception of God which is created through personal experience. Agnosticism emphasizes on the principles of science which demand a theory to be proved or disproved before it is considered factual.
KnowledgeGnosticism asserts that a human being can attain salvation from the materialistic universe by gaining the knowledge of the supreme and divine God.Agnostics believe that there is no such knowledge with scientific grounds and thus, there is no way to come to a conclusion; they deny the existence of anything beyond the material phenomena.
OriginThe place where Gnosticism originated from is uncertain, however, some scholars believe that it has Judaeo-Christian roots; the recent discovery of the Nag-Hammadi manuscripts suggests that Gnosticism existed in Ancient Egypt.The term ‘agnostic’ was coined in 1869 by the biologist Thomas Henry Huxley.

What is Gnostic?

‘Gnostic’ is a term attributed to a person who identifies with the ideology of Gnosticism. This ideology is believed to have developed alongside Judaism and Christianity over 2000 years ago. At that time, the concept involved various religious beliefs and ideas revolving around God.

However, the lost Coptic manuscripts that were discovered near Nag-Hammadi, Egypt, shed entirely new light on what was considered to be a gnostic belief in ancient times. Instead of trusting in the Authority of Church and Orthodox teachings, in that period, Gnosticism rather emphasized on gaining spiritual knowledge.

The term ‘Gnostic’ was derived from the Greek word ‘gnosis’ which translates to ‘having knowledge’. Gnosticism revolved around the belief of having knowledge of the existence of a supreme ethereal power that is beyond the physical realm. It meant believing in one’s own perception of God that was created through personal experiences.

On the other hand, Modern Gnosticism has no such specific features that can help identify or categorize the group. However, there are many groups that have one or more features that relate to the ancient belief system.

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What is Agnostic?

‘Agnostic’ is a term attributed to a person who identifies with the ideology of agnosticism. This ideology is often confused to be a religion or creed. However, agnosticism simply means that whether or not God exists is unknown, and possibly unknowable.

The term ‘agnostic’ was coined in 1869 by the biologist, Thomas Henry Huxley. He mentioned it in his speech at a meeting of the Metaphysical society while rejecting the idea of the existence of anything beyond material phenomena.

Agnosticism was laid out to be a method of scientific inquiry based on proof and evidence. It inspired many great thinkers and philosophers including David Hume and Immanuel Kant. Moreover, it has been observed that agnosticism has many similarities with Hindu Philosophy, such as in the Rig Veda, which cites an agnostic view regarding the creation of the universe.

Whether it be ancient or modern, agnosticism is believed to have the essence of science. The ideology simply means that since there are no scientific grounds that prove or disprove the existence of God, one must not profess to know or believe in it.

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Main Differences Between Gnostic and Agnostic

  1. A gnostic person identifies with Gnosticism while an agnostic person identifies with agnosticism.
  2. Ancient Gnosticism was a set of spiritual beliefs that emphasized on attaining salvation through knowledge of the supreme divine whereas Agnosticism simply means that the existence of any such divine power is unknown and possibly unknowable.
  3. Gnosticism emphasized on an ‘inward feeling’ about one’s perception of God while agnosticism emphasizes that there is no knowledge of God based on scientific grounds.
  4. Gnosticism asserted that humans need to attain salvation from this material universe and return to the divine light that humans flow out (are born) from. On the other hand, agnosticism denies the existence of anything beyond the material phenomena.
  5. Gnosticism is believed to have developed alongside Judaism and Christianity while ‘agnostic’ was a term coined by Thomas Henry Huxley in 1869.

Conclusion

Gnosticism and agnosticism are two terms that have different meanings, but they cannot be considered as contraries. While Gnosticism believes in the existence of God, agnosticism does not deny it. It simply claims that whether or not God exists is unknown.

Since modern Gnosticism has evolved massively with time, it is difficult to name any group as gnostic according to the ancient definition. However, there are many features of the ancient belief which match with the ideologies of present groups.

References

  1. https://www.jstor.org/stable/40982356
  2. https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=WlwYDAAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PP1&dq=agnostic+meaning&ots=0nhmH2BeaO&sig=tRHt-vrlIBwLtvORO6A0SH6yud4