In view of such utterances—and of many similar ones in other writings of both Spencer and Huxley—it seems that a positive and affirmative word, or set of words, capable of expressing the agnostic idea, if to be found or framed, would not only be applicable, but would be acceptable to them and fit for the system of thought with which the essay of the evening is concerned.
The words proposed come from the same root as the words gnostic, agnostic, prognostic, and diagnostic.
The root is verbal and affirmative. It means to know; and with the prefix meta, means to know beyond. The noun means beyond-knowledge. Beyond-knowledge may be knowledge "beyond the sphere of sense," and correspond to Spencer's definition of religion, or, as you will, it may refer to all knowledge beyond mere sense-perception, and so include all human knowledge that exceeds that of the brute animal and is derived from or limited by the senses. As for myself, I prefer the total meaning: for then, as the civil engineer uses his base-line and two known angles to measure distances and relations of things beyond the river where he can not go with his tape-line, and the astronomer the distances, actual and relative, of the heavenly bodies, so we may use our actual hither-knowledge for the purpose of dealing with the field of beyond-knowledge—or of the Unknowable—where the senses can give us no direct aid.
As to the appropriateness of the adoption of the proposed words into the English nomenclature of religion, the evidence at hand is still more authoritative and conclusive than in the case of science and philosophy.
In his preceding essay—Religion: A Retrospect and a Prospect—Mr. Spencer begins with these words:
"Unlike the ordinary consciousness, the religious consciousness is concerned with that which lies beyond the sphere of sense. A brute thinks only of things which can be touched, seen, heard, tasted, etc.; and the like is true of the untaught child, the deaf-mute, and the lowest savage. But the developing man has thoughts about existences which he regards as usually intangible, inaudible, invisible; and yet which he regards as operative upon him."
If you ask the source from which the proposed words are derived, the reply is that, as to the second form, it is found in the New Testament, and is the supreme word in the messages of John the Baptist, of St. Paul, of Jesus Christ, and of the gospel generally, wherein it is believed truly to have the precise meaning—as shown by the context—of the proposed English word or words under discussion; and that, as to the first form, it is constructed by throwing out the prefix—a—from the word agnosticism, and substituting the prefix—meta.
Prof. Huxley, the inventor of the word agnostic, is said to