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

Other Words from atheist

atheistic \ ˌā-​thē-​ˈi-​stik How to pronounce atheist (audio) \ or atheistical \ ˌā-​thē-​ˈi-​sti-​kəl How to pronounce atheist (audio) \ adjective
atheistically \ ˌā-​thē-​ˈi-​sti-​k(ə-​)lē How to pronounce atheist (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 Neither of us -- Arin, a Jewish atheist, nor I, a Catholic agnostic -- ever felt comfortable with the masses, the crossings, the acts of adoration, all the trappings of institutional religion. Dave Lucas, CNN, 15 Apr. 2022 Their atrocious human deeds are, to paraphrase a famous fictional atheist, the manure for our future harmony. James Wood, The New Yorker, 24 Jan. 2022 My father was a Communist and my mother was an atheist! Joseph S. Laughon, National Review, 2 Mar. 2022 In the movie, an evangelical student enrolls in a philosophy class led by an atheist professor. Ryan Burge, WSJ, 24 Feb. 2022 Shaina’s family didn’t look too keen on letting an atheist into their very religious family, and Kyle struggled to win any of them over. Milan Polk, Men's Health, 22 Feb. 2022 But, as with Taylor herself—who presented as a perfectly conventional housewife, despite being an atheist, and a card-carrying Communist in her twenties, and having an affair that lasted more than a decade—there’s more here than meets the eye. Charlie Tyson, The New Yorker, 2 Feb. 2022 Known as one of the world’s leading apologists for Christianity and esteemed Christian theologians, McGrath was once an atheist. Karl Moore, Forbes, 26 Jan. 2022 The sectarian violence demonstrated to Sen, an atheist, the perils of reducing people to a single identity. Barbara Spindel, The Christian Science Monitor, 24 Jan. 2022 See More

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.

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

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The first known use of atheist was in 1551

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Last Updated

5 May 2022

Cite this Entry

“Atheist.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 26 May. 2022.

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More Definitions for atheist


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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