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Meditation 244
The First Agnostic

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While we tend to think of agnosticism as starting in the 19thC with Huxley's coining of the word "agnostic," the concept is about 2.500 years old.

Protagoras (c. 490 - c. 411 BCE) was an early Greek philosopher, one of the Older Sophists. He's largely remembered because Plato devoted on of his dialogues to him and to challenging his ideas.

Only a few fragments of what Protagoras had to say have survived. He is chiefly remembered for

"Of all things the measure is man, of the things that are, how they are, and of things that are not, how they are not."

In this he can be considered as the father of relativism.

He also wrote a treatise "On the Gods." While the full document is lost, its opening words are still available to us.

"Concerning the gods, I have no means of knowing whether they exist or not or of what sort they may be. Many things prevent knowledge including the obscurity of the subject and the brevity of human life."

This is perhaps the oldest statement of agnosticism, and Protagoras can legitimately be regarded as the first agnostic. And what he said remains valid. The subject remains obscure, and human life is still too short to determine whether gods exist or not.

In his honour, we have added September 15* to our calendar as Protagoras Day.


* We know neither his specific day of birth or day of death - even the specific years are uncertain - September 15 is an arbitrary selection, largely because September is the next month without an Agnostic holiday, until now.