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.

Examples of atheist in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Indeed, only about 4% of U.S. adults identify as an atheist. Katie Corcoran, The Conversation, 6 May 2024 Many Americans eye atheists with suspicion and distaste. Katie Corcoran, The Conversation, 6 May 2024 His parents returned to France three years later, and raised him as an atheist while imparting a respect for all religious-minded people, including his Hasidic Jewish ancestors. Manvir Singh, The New Yorker, 15 Apr. 2024 Corrections officials agreed Thursday to permit the plaintiffs – a Baptist, a Muslim, a Seventh-Day Adventist, two practitioners of Santeria and an atheist – to view the eclipse in exchange for the lawsuit's dismissal, department spokesman Thomas Mailey told USA TODAY. Eric Lagatta, USA TODAY, 5 Apr. 2024 See all Example Sentences for atheist 

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'atheist.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


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.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 13 Jun. 2024.

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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