atheist

noun

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.

Example Sentences

Recent Examples on the Web One example is Terrisa Bukovinac, the founder of Pro-Life San Francisco, who identifies as an atheist, a feminist and a Democrat with progressive values. Michela Moscufo, ABC News, 8 Nov. 2022 This person, an atheist, was invited to a bar mitzvah and didn’t want to go. Amy Dickinson, BostonGlobe.com, 13 Oct. 2022 This person, an atheist, was invited to a Bar Mitzvah and didn’t want to go. Amy Dickinson, Chicago Tribune, 13 Oct. 2022 This person, an atheist, was invited to a Bar Mitzvah and didn’t want to go. Tribune Content Agency, Detroit Free Press, 13 Oct. 2022 This person, an atheist, was invited to a bar mitzvah and didn’t want to go. Amy Dickinson, Washington Post, 13 Oct. 2022 This person, an atheist, was invited to a Bar Mitzvah and didn’t want to go. Amy Dickinson, cleveland, 13 Oct. 2022 But some clips were preserved online and shared by Hemant Mehta, a writer and atheist advocate. Scottie Andrew And Sandra Gonzalez, CNN, 8 Aug. 2022 The film’s writing-directing team the Daniels (Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, respectively Asian and Caucasian) challenge the real world by surrounding Evelyn in a circus-like multiverse — the new atheist box-office utopia. Armond White, National Review, 8 July 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.

Word History

Etymology

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.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/atheist. Accessed 1 Dec. 2022.

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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