I thought I knew the meaning of the word agnostic until I read this in an article about the Common Core State Standards:
Some teachers were angered, not by his pedagogical vision per se but by the fact that the author of the standards seemed to be telling them how to teach, even when the standards themselves are agnostic about pedagogy.
Thomas Huxley (1825-1895) coined the word agnostic to describe his attitude towards God and religion. He felt he lacked sufficient knowledge to determine if God existed or not. He formed the word by adding the prefix a- to the word gnostic. The prefix added the sense of “without, not, -less.” Gnostic means “knowledge.” Agnostic means “lack of knowledge.”
The word agnostic can be a noun or an adjective. An agnostic is a person who withholds an opinion as to whether or not God exists. As an adjective, agnostic means “relating to the belief that the existence of anything beyond and behind material phenomena is unknown and (as far as can be judged) unknowable.”
The use of agnostic in a nonreligious context led me to uses I’d been unaware of. Here are some examples:
Progressive adherents defend the Common Core State Standards Initiative as culturally and morally agnostic.
I had to [think of] a recipe that would be apple agnostic—it had to work no matter if they were sweet or tart, red or green, tender or crisp.
“Political agnostics” are people who ignore politics and current events.
“The rescues I knew that did foster homes were mostly purebred rescues, like for collies or Persian [cats],” says Wootton,…”I didn’t know of any that just took dogs, or just took cats…We are breed-agnostic — we don’t discriminate.”
I am coming round to a sugar-agnostic position.
The burgeoning use of the word agnostic in nonreligious contexts may derive from its use in the world of technology. A software program that will run on any computer operating system is said to be “platform agnostic.”
In extended use, agnostic can mean “not committed to a particular point of view, “non-partisan,” or “equivocal.”
To me, the use of agnostic to refer to apples, sugar, and dogs seems more than a little inapt. And a word that can mean “equivocal” doesn’t seem the best choice to describe educational standards.
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