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

This act also provoked the ire of Madalyn O’Hair, an atheist activist who had successfully banned Bible reading in public schools only a few years before. Daniel Oberhaus, WIRED, "Spaceflight and Spirituality, a Complicated Relationship," 16 July 2019 In addition to being the targets of skeptics, cynics, atheists and certain religious denominations, people who promote themselves as magical practitioners sometimes attract the attention of law enforcement. Deborah Netburn,, "The working witches of Los Angeles just want you to be your best self," 11 June 2019 Many atheists believe religion is an atavistic impulse rooted in our genes. Jonah Goldberg, National Review, "Political Leanings Can’t Be Reduced to Genetic Programming," 10 July 2019 While the primary audience will be Christians seeking on-demand sermons, Osteen’s unique position within his community may make the show an informative listen even for atheists. New York Times, "8 Podcasts for the Spiritual Searcher," 21 June 2019 Other plaintiffs who had been denied permission to give the invocations included an atheist and a Jewish woman. Anchorage Daily News, "Satanic Temple invocation prompts walkout at Kenai borough assembly meeting," 20 June 2019 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

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

15 Aug 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

Comments on atheist

What made you want to look up atheist? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


a period when something is suspended

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