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 An interesting aspect of this race for Americans is that the candidate of the conservative party, Park Geun-Hye, may be an atheist, running against a Roman Catholic liberal. Razib Khan, Discover Magazine, 17 Dec. 2012 An atheist’s visions and manifestations of wounds like those of the crucified Christ prompt the Vatican to send an investigator. Ed Stockly, Los Angeles Times, 9 Apr. 2021 In The Theory of Everything, Stephen Hawking is a gleeful atheist who is relentless in rebutting his wife's heartfelt Anglicanism. Corey S Powell, Discover Magazine, 5 Nov. 2014 The ruling came in a case filed by an atheist, Michael Newdow, against a school district near Sacramento, where his daughter attended elementary school. Richard Sandomir,, 15 Jan. 2023 The rabble-rousing atheist from Boca Raton, a First Amendment activist with a long resume of poking fun at government officials who dare to ignore the separation of church and state, is at it again. Susannah Bryan, Sun Sentinel, 14 Jan. 2023 Another atheist has responded brilliantly to P.Z. Meyers. Keith Kloor, Discover Magazine, 14 Feb. 2013 During their press conference at the state Capitol last week, the speakers included Republicans, Democrats, Roman Catholics, evangelicals, a Muslim and an atheist. Jon Brown, Fox News, 12 Oct. 2022 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 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


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 24 Mar. 2023.

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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