athe·​ist | \ ˈā-thē-ist How to pronounce atheist (audio) \

Definition of atheist

: a person who does not believe in the existence of a god or any gods : one who subscribes to or advocates atheism

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Other Words from atheist

atheistic \ ˌā-​thē-​ˈi-​stik How to pronounce atheistic (audio) \ or atheistical \ ˌā-​thē-​ˈi-​sti-​kəl How to pronounce atheistical (audio) \ adjective
atheistically \ ˌā-​thē-​ˈi-​sti-​k(ə-​)lē How to pronounce atheistically (audio) \ adverb

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 But in this era of increasing diversity and the breaking of long-rigid political-demographic barriers, there is no self-identifying atheist in national politics. Phil Zuckerman, The Conversation, "Why is it so hard for atheists to get voted in to Congress?," 5 Oct. 2020 The backstory of who reprogrammed her—a former Mithraic scientist turned atheist named Campion Sturges (Cosmo Jarvis), who then fell in love with her, just like Pygmalion—is fascinating; there just wasn't enough of it. Jennifer Ouellette, Ars Technica, "Review: Raised by Wolves squanders early promise with clumsy, bizarre finale," 2 Oct. 2020 The lead plaintiff, an atheist, Randal Cragun, has sought to register to vote in Alabama since November 2019, using a mail-in form downloaded from the secretary of state’s website. al, "Freedom From Religion group sues Alabama over ‘So help me God’ voter oath," 1 Oct. 2020 No one in the Miles family is heartened by the appearance of a wayward white atheist in Della’s life. Casey Cep, The New Yorker, "Marilynne Robinson’s Essential American Stories," 25 Sep. 2020 For starters, Luther was, of course, anything but a godless atheist. Paul Kengor, National Review, "It’s High Time We Tell the Truth about the Evils of Marx and Marxism," 9 Sep. 2020 Unlike some of the freethinkers in the movement, who were critical of Christianity but did not deny belief in God, Rose was an atheist. The Salt Lake Tribune, "Beyond belief: Religion as a motivating force for 5 women suffragists," 19 Aug. 2020 This is no more alarming than the casual atheist secularisms heard on a TV show such as blackish, but it’s one of those hateful conceits that progressive hacks now take for granted. Armond White, National Review, "Summerland’s Progressive Sentimentality," 12 Aug. 2020 Fox, an atheist at the time, started going to Trammell with questions about religion. Sophie Carson, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "He 'gave freedom to everyone’s voice': A week after shooting death of Bernell Trammell, friends keep his legacy alive," 31 July 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'atheist.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of atheist

1551, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for atheist

see atheism

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Time Traveler for atheist

Time Traveler

The first known use of atheist was in 1551

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Statistics for atheist

Last Updated

19 Oct 2020

Cite this Entry

“Atheist.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 30 Oct. 2020.

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More Definitions for atheist


How to pronounce atheist (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of atheist

: a person who believes that God does not exist


athe·​ist | \ ˈā-thē-ist How to pronounce atheist (audio) \

Kids Definition of atheist

: a person who believes there is no God

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