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16th century Middle French athéisme, from athée (atheist), a loan from Ancient Greek ἄθεος (átheos, godless), from ἀ- (a-, without) + θεός (theós, deity, god). First English attestation dates to 1587 (OED).


  • IPA(key): /ˈeɪθiɪzəm/
  • (file)


atheism (usually uncountable, plural atheisms)

  1. (strictly) Belief that no deities exist (sometimes including rejection of other religious beliefs).
    • 2002, Martin, Michael, “Should atheists be agnostics?”, in Baggini, Julian, editor, The Philosophers' Magazine[1], number 19, →ISSN, archived from the original on 20 December 2002, page 18:
      For atheism to be rationally justified it is only necessary that it be more probable than not or at least more probable than theism. Certainty is no more required in the case of atheism than it is in the case of scientific theories.
  2. (broadly) Rejection of belief that any deities exist (with or without a belief that no deities exist).
    • 1857, Buchanan, James, Modern Atheism: under its forms of Pantheism, Materialism, Secularism, Development, and Natural Laws[2], Boston: Gould and Lincoln, page 365:
      The theory of Secularism is a form, not of dogmatic, but of skeptical, Atheism; it is dogmatic only in denying the sufficiency of the evidence for the being and perfections of God. It does not deny, it only does not believe, His existence.
    • 1896, Foote, George William, “First Night”, in Theism or Athiesm: Which is the more reasonable?[3], London: R. Forder, page 17:
      ...but Atheism per se simply means, not denial, but rejection, in the sense of not accepting the Theistic theory of the universe which Mr. Lee has put forward tonight.
  3. (very broadly) Absence of belief that any deities exist (including absence of the concept of deities).
    • 1829, Wesley, John, Sermons, on Several Occasions, 10th edition, volume 2, page 373:
      What can parents do, and mothers more especially, [] with regard to the atheism that is natural to all the children of men?
    • 1979, Smith, George H., Atheism: The Case Against God, Buffalo, New York: Prometheus, →ISBN, →LCCN, LCC BL2747.3.S6 1979, page 7:
      Atheism, in its basic form, is not a belief; it is the absence of belief. An atheist is not primarily a person who believes that a god does not exist; rather, he does not believe in the existence of a god.
  4. (historical) Absence of belief in a particular deity, pantheon, or religious doctrine (notwithstanding belief in other deities).
    • 1995, McBrien, Richard P., editor, The HarperCollins Encyclopedia of Catholicism[4], HarperCollins, →ISBN, keyword Domitilla, Flavia, page 431:
      Domitilla, Flavia, niece of the emperor Domitian (81-96). She and her husband, Flavius Clemens (consul in 95 and cousin of Domitian), were probably Christians; charged with atheism and adoption of Jewish ways, they were punished (95) with death (Clemens) and exile (Domitilla).
    • 2010, Thompson, Ross, Buddhist Christianity: A Passionate Openness[5], O-Books, →ISBN, page 260:
      Sacrificial religion becomes redundant – which is why Christianity did indeed have a reputation in the ancient world for atheism: it rejected the key duty humans are thought to owe to the gods, namely sacrifice.
  5. (obsolete) Absence of belief in the One True God, defined by Moore as personal, immaterial and trinitarian (thus Islam, Judaism and unitarian Christianity), as opposed to monotheism.

Usage notes[edit]

The term atheism may refer either to:

  • (rejection of belief): an explicit rejection of belief, with or without a denial that any deities exist (explicit atheism),
  • (absence of belief): an absence of belief in the existence of any deities (weak atheism or soft atheism),
  • (affirmative belief): an explicit belief that no gods exist (strong atheism or hard atheism).


For more quotations using this term, see Citations:atheism.

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