athe·​ist ˈā-thē-ist How to pronounce atheist (audio)
: a person who does not believe in the existence of a god or any gods : one who subscribes to or advocates atheism
atheistic adjective
or atheistical
atheistically adverb

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How Agnostic Differs From Atheist

Many people are interested in distinguishing between the words agnostic and atheist. The difference is quite simple: atheist refers to someone who does not believe in the existence of a god or any gods, and agnostic refers to someone who doesn’t know whether there is a god, or even if such a thing is knowable. This distinction can be troublesome to remember, but examining the origins of the two words can help.

Agnostic first appeared in 1869, (possibly coined by the English biologist Thomas Henry Huxley), and was formed from the Greek agnōstos (meaning "unknown, unknowable"). Atheist came to English from the French athéisme. Although both words share a prefix (which is probably the source of much of the confusion) the main body of each word is quite different. Agnostic shares part of its history with words such as prognosticate and prognosis, words which have something to do with knowledge or knowing something. Atheist shares roots with words such as theology and theism, which generally have something to do with God.

Examples of atheist in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Many Americans eye atheists with suspicion and distaste. Katie Corcoran, The Conversation, 6 May 2024 His parents returned to France three years later, and raised him as an atheist while imparting a respect for all religious-minded people, including his Hasidic Jewish ancestors. Manvir Singh, The New Yorker, 15 Apr. 2024 Corrections officials agreed Thursday to permit the plaintiffs – a Baptist, a Muslim, a Seventh-Day Adventist, two practitioners of Santeria and an atheist – to view the eclipse in exchange for the lawsuit's dismissal, department spokesman Thomas Mailey told USA TODAY. Eric Lagatta, USA TODAY, 5 Apr. 2024 Jeremy Zielinski, an atheist and one of the plaintiffs, was granted permission to view the eclipse on religious grounds in March before the statewide lockdown was announced, according to the lawsuit. Daniel Wu, Washington Post, 5 Apr. 2024 The inmates who filed the lawsuit represent multiple religious backgrounds: Zielinski is an atheist, one is a Muslim, one is a Baptist, one is a Seventh-Day Adventist and two practice Santería. Sarah Kuta, Smithsonian Magazine, 4 Apr. 2024 Six inmates — an atheist, a Baptist, a Muslim, a Seventh Day Adventist and two men who practice Santeria — are suing the department in charge of the state’s prisons in the hopes that they will be allowed out in the prison yard to view the total solar eclipse April 8. Julia Marnin, Miami Herald, 2 Apr. 2024 What is the difference between an atheist and an agnostic? Harmeet Kaur, CNN, 10 Mar. 2024 But in a world without providential design, chances, unanticipated opportunities, tend to be for atheists. Frederick Kaufman, Harper's Magazine, 26 Feb. 2024

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'atheist.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


see atheism

First Known Use

1551, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of atheist was in 1551

Dictionary Entries Near atheist

Cite this Entry

“Atheist.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 21 May. 2024.

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