Twitter icon

Facebook icon

About this site
About us
Our beliefs
Is this your first visit?
Contact us
External links

Recommended books

Visitors' essays
Our forum
New essays
Other features
Buy a CD of this site
Vital notes

World religions
-Christian definition
 -Shared beliefs
 -Handling change
 -Bible topics
 -Bible inerrancy
 -Bible harmony
 -Interpret the Bible
 -Beliefs & creeds
 -Da Vinci code
 -Revelation, 666
Other religions
Cults and NRMs
Comparing Religions

Non-theistic beliefs

About all religions
Main topics
Basic information
Gods & Goddesses
Handling change
Doubt & security
Confusing terms
End of the World?
True religion?
Seasonal events
Science vs. Religion
More information

Morality & ethics
Absolute truth

Attaining peace
Religious tolerance
Religious freedom
Religious hatred
Religious conflict
Religious violence

"Hot" topics
Very hot topics
Ten Commandments
Abortion access
Assisted suicide
Death penalty

Same-sex marriage

Human rights
Gays in the military
Sex & gender
Stem cells
Other topics

Laws and news
Religious laws
Religious news


Religious Tolerance logo


Definitions of "Atheism" in dictionaries
and according to most Atheists. They differ.

horizontal rule

Sponsored link.

horizontal rule

Read some news feeds of current topics of interest to Atheists

horizontal rule

"Atheist" according to most modern dictionaries:

Most dictionaries define an "Atheist" as a person who either passively believes that no God exists, and/or who actively asserts this belief. For example:

bulletWebster's New World Dictionary®, Third College Edition defines an Atheist as "a person who believes that there is no God." 1 This definition implies that Atheists have investigated proofs and for the existence and non-existence of God, and have decided that no God exists or that the probability of one existing is phenomenally small. It seems to include a "closet" Atheist: one who believes that there is no God but does not assert this belief to others. This definition would seem to imply that a person who believes in the existence of a Goddess, but not a God, is also an Atheist. This definition will probably not satisfy many Goddess worshipers. Webster Dictionary, 1913 had a more inclusive definition that includes non-male deities: "One who disbelieves or denies the existence of a God, or supreme intelligent Being." 2 So did Webster's 1828 Dictionary:  "One who disbelieves the existence of a God, or Supreme intelligent Being." 2

bullet Webster's Collegiate® Dictionary defines an Atheist as "one who denies the existence of God." This is a particularly vague definition, because it does not define which God is being referred to. If Websters means the Christian God, then it would seem to imply that anyone who does not believe in the Trinity is an Atheist -- including Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Wiccans, Sikhs, and Atheists. The word "denies" would seem to imply that the individual actively promotes their belief.

bulletOther definitions: 2
bulletThe American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition: "One who disbelieves or denies the existence of God or gods."

bulletThe Cambridge International dictionary of English: "someone who believes that god or gods do not exist."

bulletThe Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edition: "Disbelief in, or denial of, the existence of a god."

bulletThe Masonic Dictionary: "One who does not believe in God."

horizontal rule

More inclusive definitions of "Atheist" from some sources:

bulletThe Barnes & Noble Encyclopedia defines Atheism as "The denial of the existence of God or gods." The Encyclopedia goes further and includes within Atheism both:

bullet"The rejection of any specific belief in God or gods."

bullet"skepticism" towards "claims about divine existence..." 3

The term "God" and "god" usually imply male deities. Whether a Goddess worshiper is also an Atheist is not clear.

This definition covers a lot of ground:
bulletThe primary definition includes a person who actively denies the existence of all Gods.

bullet Some might find the secondary definition confusing. One "specific belief in God" is promoted by Christians who believe that God is a Trinity. That is rejected by Muslims who believe that God/Allah is a unity. If one is to literally interpret the secondary definition, this would seem to imply that Muslims can be considered Atheists -- a charge that Muslims would very strongly reject. Similarly, Christians reject the pure monotheistic concept of God as taught in Islam; so Christians could be considered Atheists by this definition. This would anger them as well. One wonders if the writers of this definition intended to use the word "all" in place of "any." If so, then this definition would include only persons who reject all Gods.

bulletThe third definition would include those who have reached no conclusion about the existence of a deity, and remain skeptical -- i.e. undecided -- about whether a God exists.

bulletThe World Almanac and Book of Facts lists "adherents of all religions" in six continental areas of the world. The list includes adherents of 15 specific religions, New-Religionists, Other Religionists, Nonreligions and Atheists. They define Atheists as a catchall group, including: "Persons professing atheism, skepticism, disbelief or irreligion, including antireligious (opposed to all religions)." 4

horizontal rule

Definitions according to some Atheists:

It is important to realize that most dictionaries attempt to reflect the general public usage of the terms that they define. Since the vast majority of adults in North America are theists -- that is they actively believe in at least one God and/or Goddess -- the dictionary definitions follow their beliefs. Dictionaries do not necessarily reflect the meaning by those who consider themselves to be Atheists.

The Atheism Web has collected some definitions of "Atheism" from authors who consider themselves to be Atheists: 5

bulletDan Barker: "There is a difference between believing there is no god and not believing there is a god -- both are atheistic, though popular usage has ignored the latter..." 6

bulletAntony Flew: "I want the originally Greek prefix 'a' to be read in the same way in 'atheist' as it customarily is read in such other Greco-English words as 'amoral,' 'atypical,' and 'asymmetrical'. In this interpretation an atheist becomes: someone who is simply not a theist." 7

bulletMichael Martin: " atheist would simply be someone without a belief in God, not necessarily someone who believes that God does not exist." 8

bulletGordon Stein, Ed., "To be without a belief in God merely means that the term 'god' has no importance or possibly no meaning to you. Belief in God is not a factor in your life. Surely this is quite different from denying the existence of God. Atheism is not a belief as such. It is the lack of belief." 9

Other definitions include:

bulletAl Case," webmaster at "If you answer the question, 'Do you believe in god?' with an affirmative, then you are a theist. If your answer is 'no' or 'I don't know' then you are an atheist due to your lack of an affirmative belief." 10

bullet George Smith: "Atheism ... is the absence of theistic belief. One who does not believe in the existence of a god or supernatural being is properly designated as an atheist. Atheism is sometimes defined as 'the belief that there is no God of any kind,' or the claim that a god cannot exist. While these are categories of atheism, they do not exhaust the meaning of atheism--and are somewhat misleading with respect to the basic nature of atheism. Atheism, in its basic form, is not a belief: it is the absence of belief. An atheist is primarily a person who believes that a god does not exist, rather he does not believe in the existence of a god."  11

bulletDean W. Austin: "[Atheism is to possess] belief in God. This definition is logically tenable. It is in full accordance with Occam's Razor in that it discards the more complex hypothesis (A supernatural consciousness exists and is responsible for all other existence, we just have no evidence.) for the simpler one (Existence is most likely explained by natural processes which we know exist and have evidence of such workings.)." 12

horizontal rule

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Webster's New World Dictionary; 3rd college edition," Page 86
  2. "One Look® dictionaries: Search dictionary web sites for words and phrases," at:
  3. The Barnes & Noble Encyclopedia," (1993), Page 81.
  4. The World Almanac and Book of Facts (2001), Page 692.
  5. "More on definitions on atheism," at:
  6. Dan Barker, "Losing Faith in Faith: From preacher to Atheist," Freedom From Religion Foundation, (1992), Page 99. Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store
  7. Antony G.N. Flew, "God, Freedom and Immortality: A Critical Analysis," Prometheus Books, (1984), Page 14 Read reviews or order this book
  8. Michael Martin, "Atheism: A Philosophical Justification," Temple University Press, (1992), Page 463. Read reviews or order this book
  9. Gordon Stein, Ed, "An Anthology of Atheism and Rationalism," Prometheus Books, (1980), Page 3. Read reviews or order this book
  10. Al Case. "What is atheism?," at:
  11. George Smith, "Atheism: The case against God," Prometheus Books (1989), Page 7. Read reviews or order this book
  12. Dean W. Austin, "My Reasons for Being an Atheist," at:

horizontal rule

Site navigation:

 Home > Religions of the world > Atheism > here

or Home > Christianity > Christian personalities > God > Atheism > here

or Home > Religious information > God > Atheism > here

or Home > Spirituality > God > Atheism > here

 Home > Definitions > here

 Home > Religious Information > Glossary of terms > Multiple definitions > here

or Home > Religious Information > Multiple definitions > here

horizontal rule

Copyright © 2002 to 2018 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2018-SEP-24
Author: B.A. Robinson

line.gif (538 bytes)
Sponsored link

horizontal rule

Go to the previous page, or to the Atheist menu, or go to the "Religious terms with multiple meanings" menu, or choose:

Custom Search

Go to home page  We would really appreciate your help

E-mail us about errors, etc.  Purchase a CD of this web site

FreeFind search, lists of new essays...  Having problems printing our essays?

Twitter link

Facebook icon

Google Page Translator:

This page translator works on Firefox,
Opera, Chrome, and Safari browsers only

After translating, click on the "show
original" button at the top of this
page to restore page to English.








Sponsored links