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-​ˈis-​tik How to pronounce atheistic (audio) \ or atheistical \ ˌā-​thē-​ˈis-​ti-​kəl How to pronounce atheistical (audio) \ adjective
atheistically \ -​ti-​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

As a teen atheist and the sole child of a single mom who raised him in soulless suburbs around New York City, Michael was well on his way to becoming such a man. Kyle Smith, National Review, "The Millennial Who Rejects Hipness and Irony," 14 June 2019 This particular online community is known for zealous atheists. Eli Reiter, Washington Post, "I was raised an Orthodox Jew. Then someone from Reddit sent me Stephen Hawking’s book.," 14 Mar. 2018 Among Canadian women, theists are more fertile than atheists, and American men and women who are politically extreme have more children. Rafil Kroll-zaidi, Harper's magazine, "Findings," 10 Mar. 2019 The Saudis were religious and conservative, and very much opposed the atheist wave led by the Soviet Union. Alex Ward, Vox, "Why the US won’t break up with Saudi Arabia over Jamal Khashoggi’s murder," 20 Nov. 2018 Mark and his twin brother are atheists like me, and their older brother is worried for our souls. Sara Eckel, Longreads, "The Hole in My Soul," 1 June 2018 The church became the target of an easy, useful anger manipulated by the faithless, the secularists, the atheists, and the angry Catholics who felt betrayed. Christine M. Flowers,, "We won't back down from the fight to end abortion | Christine Flowers," 28 May 2018 One study, by Cara MacInnis and Gordon Hodson, found that vegans are viewed more negatively than atheists, immigrants, homosexuals, and asexuals. Abigail Higgins, Vox, "Why do people hate vegans so much?," 3 Nov. 2018 The Freedom From Religion Foundation is an educational nonprofit and association of atheists, agnostics and skeptics. Erica Snow, WSJ, "Religious Groups, Atheists Clash Over Tax-Free Housing for Clergy," 24 Oct. 2018

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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Statistics for atheist

Last Updated

4 Jul 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for atheist

The first known use of atheist was in 1551

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More Definitions for atheist



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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