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 Two years ago, the atheist Sam Harris told Ezra Klein that Charles Murray was cancel culture’s patient zero. Alex Shephard, The New Republic, "Charles Murray Is Never Going Away," 28 Jan. 2020 In 2014, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a group of atheists and agnostics that uses advocacy and litigation to wall off government from religion, filed a lawsuit challenging the practice. Joe Palazzolo, WSJ, "Prayers at School Board Meetings Test Church-State Divide," 27 Dec. 2018 Gervais, who is an atheist, appended to the tweet a photo of himself being licked by a dog. Jon Brown, Washington Examiner, "'It's what Jesus would do': Ricky Gervais defends 'accepting' conservative fans," 10 Jan. 2020 The fire station itself was under threat, and people began to pray, even the atheists among them. Washington Post, "Family’s fortress no match for rapacious Australian fires," 8 Jan. 2020 Several other atheists, bloggers and foreigners were killed by suspected militants in 2015. San Diego Union-Tribune, "Bangladesh indicts 8 for 2015 killing of publisher," 13 Oct. 2019 Koller, whose middle name is God but who has called himself an atheist, refused to speak with the media following his arraignment, KOIN 6 News reports. oregonlive, "Daniel Koller, Beaverton veterinarian who had license revoked and then returned, pleads not guilty to animal abuse," 26 Nov. 2019 Those identifying as atheist rose from one percent to 3 percent during that 10-year span, while those calling themselves agnostic rose from 2 percent to 4 percent. al, "Losing our religion? Faith is part of identity in the South, but it’s changing," 24 Nov. 2019 Then each hand became marked with a simple label: Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Scientologist or atheist. The Economist, "Does your brain care about other people? It depends," 4 Nov. 2019

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

14 Feb 2020

Cite this Entry

“Atheist.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 18 Feb. 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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More from Merriam-Webster on atheist

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for atheist

Spanish Central: Translation of atheist

Nglish: Translation of atheist for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of atheist for Arabic Speakers

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