1870, "one who professes that the existence of a First Cause and the essential nature of things are not and cannot be known" [Klein]; coined by T.H. Huxley, supposedly in September 1869, from Greek agnostos "unknown, unknowable," from a- "not" (see a- (3)) + gnōstos "(to be) known," from PIE root *gno- "to know." Sometimes said to be a reference to Paul's mention of the altar to "the Unknown God" in Acts, but according to Huxley it was coined with reference to the early Church movement known as Gnosticism (see Gnostic). The adjective also is first recorded 1870.
I ... invented what I conceived to be the appropriate title of 'agnostic,' ... antithetic to the 'Gnostic' of Church history who professed to know so much about the very things of which I was ignorant. [T.H. Huxley, "Science and Christian Tradition," 1889]
The agnostic does not simply say, "I do not know." He goes another step, and he says, with great emphasis, that you do not know. [Robert G. Ingersoll, "Reply to Dr. Lyman Abbott," 1890]
In words from Greek, such as abysmal, adamant, amethyst; also partly nativized as a prefix of negation (asexual, amoral, agnostic). The ancient alpha privatum, denoting want or absence.
Greek also had an alpha copulativum, a- or ha-, expressing union or likeness, which is the a- expressing "together" in acolyte, acoustic, Adelphi, etc. It is from PIE root *sem- (1) "one; as one, together with."
*gnō-, Proto-Indo-European root meaning "to know."
It forms all or part of: acknowledge; acquaint; agnostic; anagnorisis; astrognosy; can (v.1) "have power to, be able;" cognition; cognizance; con (n.2) "study;" connoisseur; could; couth; cunning; diagnosis; ennoble; gnome; (n.2) "short, pithy statement of general truth;" gnomic; gnomon; gnosis; gnostic; Gnostic; ignoble; ignorant; ignore; incognito; ken (n.1) "cognizance, intellectual view;" kenning; kith; know; knowledge; narrate; narration; nobility; noble; notice; notify; notion; notorious; physiognomy; prognosis; quaint; recognize; reconnaissance; reconnoiter; uncouth; Zend.
It is the hypothetical source of/evidence for its existence is provided by: Sanskrit jna- "know;" Avestan zainti- "knowledge," Old Persian xšnasatiy "he shall know;" Old Church Slavonic znati "recognizes," Russian znat "to know;" Latin gnoscere "get to know," nobilis "known, famous, noble;" Greek gignōskein "to know," gnōtos "known," gnōsis "knowledge, inquiry;" Old Irish gnath "known;" German kennen "to know," Gothic kannjan "to make known."