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

Other Words from atheist

atheistic \ ˌā-​thē-​ˈi-​stik How to pronounce atheist (audio) \ or atheistical \ ˌā-​thē-​ˈi-​sti-​kəl How to pronounce atheist (audio) \ adjective
atheistically \ ˌā-​thē-​ˈi-​sti-​k(ə-​)lē How to pronounce atheist (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 His Gnit is a Passion Play without God, an atheist’s Pilgrim’s Progress. Helen Shaw, Vulture, 8 Nov. 2021 Sami Al-Asady met an atheist for the first time in eighth grade., 26 Sep. 2021 Harvard University has appointed a new chaplain who brings a fresh perspective to the role – as an atheist. Peter Aitken, Fox News, 27 Aug. 2021 In 2019, a survey by the Harvard Crimson found that nearly 17 percent of students there identified as atheist., 27 Aug. 2021 The late, great physicist Steven Weinberg, an atheist, who died in July, slaps down the free will argument in his book Dreams of a Final Theory. John Horgan, Scientific American, 14 Aug. 2021 His opposite number, in St. Petersburg, was his contemporary Andrei Andreyevich Markov, an atheist and a bitter enemy of the church. Jordan Ellenberg, Scientific American, 11 June 2021 For example, Athan was a committed atheist but regularly went to church with the deeply religious Nancy, and stood behind Liz's decision to become an ordained Presbyterian minister. Jim Higgins, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 9 July 2021 Unfortunately, new technologies are expanding the opportunity for oppression, an issue addressed in a separate chapter: Faith groups perceived as a direct challenge to a jealous atheist system are, and will increasingly be, watched. Doug Bandow, National Review, 2 May 2021

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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The first known use of atheist was in 1551

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Last Updated

25 Nov 2021

Cite this Entry

“Atheist.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 28 Nov. 2021.

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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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