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 Frank was an atheist by the age of thirteen; Michael entered the Anglican Church and became the Archbishop of Canterbury. Anthony Gottlieb, The New Yorker, "The Man Who Thought Too Fast," 27 Apr. 2020 There are no atheists in foxholes, so the saying goes. Bonnie Kristian, TheWeek, "What libertarians would do in response to coronavirus," 13 Mar. 2020 Writing for the Atlantic, Caitlin Flanagan, whose interrogations of gender are as welcome by young feminists as hymnals are by atheists, was the first to wonder why Grace, pushed beyond her point of interest, had not simply gone home. Ginia Bellafante, New York Times, "#MeToo and the Marketing of Female Narrative," 18 Jan. 2018 According to a Pew Research Center report cited by Williams' research team, the percentage of Americans describing themselves as agnostic or atheist has been trending upwards, from 16.1% in 2007 to 22.8% in 2014. Arman Azad, CNN, "Anti-vaxxers may be exploiting widespread religious exemptions, research suggests," 4 Nov. 2019 The subject of suffering has troubled even such devout Christian thinkers as Thomas Aquinas and C.S. Lewis, who both wrote famous treatises on the issue, while atheists have argued the existence of misery proves God doesn’t exist. James Ward, Detroit Free Press, "‘I Still Believe’ fails to pull heartstrings," 12 Mar. 2020 If Smith is free to warn that atheists can expect eternal agony, Jones is free to call religion a mammoth fraud. Steve Chapman,, "Column: Attorney General William Barr to nonbelievers: Go to hell," 17 Oct. 2019 According to Pew Research, the number of Americans who identify with being an atheist has increased over the last decade (from 2 percent to 4 percent). Jason Duaine Hahn,, "Aaron Rodgers Opens Up About Religion to Danica Patrick: ‘I Don’t Know How You Can Believe in a God’," 22 Jan. 2020 While Hindus, Parsis, Jains, Sikhs, Buddhists and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan will be put on a fast track to naturalisation, Muslims, Jews and atheists will receive no such benefit. The Economist, "India passes a bill purporting to help refugees. In fact, it seeks to hurt Muslims," 11 Dec. 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

22 May 2020

Cite this Entry

“Atheist.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 2 Jun. 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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