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 There is no mention of the famous atheists of the last century: no Madalyn Murray O’Hair, no Christopher Hitchens. Mark Oppenheimer, Washington Post, 10 Apr. 2023 There are as many of them as atheists and agnostics combined (7% each). Peter Smith, Fortune, 5 Oct. 2023 The right to freedom of conscience for atheists and religious minorities silenced school prayer. David D. Kirkpatrick, The New Yorker, 2 Oct. 2023 Many groups are new since 2017, some have thousands of members and represent Christians, Muslims and Jews, along with Sikhs, Buddhists, Baha’is and even atheists. Jennifer Miller, New York Times, 22 Sep. 2023 According to the Pew Research Center, 54 percent of American Catholics say the planet is warming mostly because of human activity — in line with the average among all American adults, but well behind the 90 percent figure among atheists. Chico Harlan, Washington Post, 4 Oct. 2023 My wife is a Jewish atheist who has lately taken to baking challah and lighting Shabbat candles on Fridays. Casey Cep, The New Yorker, 30 Sep. 2023 That is partly because some of the most traditionally religious groups and some of the least religious people, like atheists, are less likely to report interactions with deceased family members, two of the center’s researchers wrote in a report on the survey. Ashley R. Williams, CNN, 27 Aug. 2023 Our Lady of the Manifest, who has travelled across continents from one volunteer for refugees to another, started with an atheist. Phil Klay, Time, 17 Aug. 2023 See More

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 3 Dec. 2023.

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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