home
RSS
March 23rd, 2011
10:56 AM ET

Organized religion 'will be driven toward extinction' in 9 countries, experts predict

By Richard Allen Greene, CNN

Organized religion will all but vanish eventually from nine Western-style democracies, a team of mathematicians predict in a new paper based on census data stretching back 100 years.

It won't die out completely, but "religion will be driven toward extinction" in countries including Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the Netherlands, they say.

It will also wither away in Austria, the Czech Republic, Finland and Switzerland, they anticipate.

They can't make a prediction about the United States because the U.S. census doesn't ask about religion, lead author Daniel Abrams told CNN.

But nine other countries provide enough data for detailed mathematical modeling, he said.

"If you look at the data, 'unaffiliated' is the fastest-growing group" in those countries, he said.

"We start with two big assumptions based on sociology," he explained.

The first is that it's more attractive to be part of the majority than the minority, so as religious affiliation declines, it becomes more popular not to be a churchgoer than to be one, he said - what Abrams calls the majority effect.

"People are more likely to switch to groups with more members," he said.

Social networks can have a powerful influence, he said.

"Just a few connections to people who are (religiously) unaffiliated is enough to drive the effect," he said.

The other assumption underlying the prediction is that there are social, economic and political advantages to being unaffiliated with a religion in the countries where it's in decline - what Abrams calls the utility effect.

"The utility of being unaffiliated seems to be higher than affiliated in Western democracies," he said.

Abrams and his co-authors are not passing any judgment on religion, he's quick to say - they're just modeling a prediction based on trends.

"We're not trying to make any commentary about religion or whether people should be religious or not," he said.

"I became interested in this because I saw survey data results for the U.S. and was surprised by how large the unaffiliated group was," he said, referring to a number of studies done by universities and think tanks on trends in religion.

Studies suggest that "unaffiliated" is the fastest-growing religious group in the United States, with about 15% of the population falling into a category experts call the "nones."

They're not necessarily atheists or non-believers, experts say, just people who do not associate themselves with a particular religion or house of worship at the time of the survey.

Abrams had done an earlier study looking into the extinction of languages spoken by small numbers of people.

When he saw the religion data, his co-author "Richard Wiener suggested we try to apply a similar technique to religious affiliation," Abrams said.

The paper, by Abrams, Wiener and Haley A. Yaple, is called "A mathematical model of social group competition with application to the growth of religious non-affiliation." They presented it this week at the Dallas meeting of the American Physical Society.

Only the Czech Republic already has a majority of people who are unaffiliated with religion, but the Netherlands, for example, will go from about 40% unaffiliated today to more than 70% by 2050, they expect.

Even deeply Catholic Ireland will see religion die out, the model predicts.

"They've gone from 0.04% unaffiliated in 1961 to 4.2% in 2006, our most recent data point," Abrams says.

He admits that the increase in Muslim immigration to Europe may throw off the model, but he thinks the trend is robust enough to withstand some challenges.

"Netherlands data goes back to 1860," he pointed out. "Every single data that we were able to find shows that people are moving from the affiliated to unaffiliated. I can't imagine that will change, but that's personal opinion, not what the data shows."

But Barry Kosmin, a demographer of religion at Trinity College in Connecticut, is doubtful.

"Religion relies on human beings. They aren't rational or predictable according to the laws of physics. Religious fervor waxes and wanes in unpredictable ways," he said.

"The Jewish tradition that says prophecy is for fools and children is probably wise," he added.

And Abrams, Wiener and Yaple are not the first to predict the end of religion.

Peter Berger, a former president of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, once said that, "People will become so bored with what religious groups have to offer that they will look elsewhere."

He said Protestantism "has reached the strange state of self-liquidation," that Catholicism was in severe crisis, and anticipated that "religions are likely to survive in small enclaves and pockets" in the United States.

He made those predictions in February 1968.

- Newsdesk editor, The CNN Wire

Filed under: Atheism • Austria • Ireland

soundoff (3,551 Responses)
  1. 101101

    History goes in cycles. Constantine outlawed the persecution of Christians by Jews. Humans did not make the universe. The universe was started by god. If god came down and said obey life wouldn't be much of a test for the afterlife. Being agnostic or religious is having an open mind.

    March 23, 2011 at 11:38 am |
    • Seriously...

      Dude, Constantine outlawed the persecution of Christians by the ROMANS, who were, incidentally, also persecuting the Jews. Get your facts straight.

      March 23, 2011 at 11:54 am |
  2. Pete

    I understand the sentiments expressed so far, but I'm a little worried as to what people might put in place of religion after it goes away. People do need something to put faith in, and if they didn't I believe religion would have actually died out much (much) earlier.

    March 23, 2011 at 11:38 am |
    • Gnodges

      So, we have to delude ourselves to succeed?.....nonsense.

      March 23, 2011 at 11:48 am |
    • Patrick

      I have never had faith in any myths such as the Christian or Islamic teachings. I have never had to replace it with anything, as I never had it in the first place. I have always had things to believe in: the empirical world, love, family, the fact that the driver in the next lane is not going to careen into me.
      Faith is something we all have, and we all have it in different ways.

      March 23, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
  3. PC

    Very UNINFORMED mathematicians!!! Unaffiliated means nondenominational: as in the Bride of Christ, the body of born again believers and lovers of Jesus Christ, which is growing astronomically in each such countries as "Religion" (which is a form only of godliness lacking the power thereof) is conquered!

    March 23, 2011 at 11:37 am |
    • Kafir

      So you're telling me you would check off "unaffiliated" instead of "christian" ?

      March 23, 2011 at 12:25 pm |
  4. Leo

    Good riddance

    March 23, 2011 at 11:37 am |
    • William

      Leo,

      Any more words on this matter? You sound angry and he who is angry first has lost the war. Remember that.

      March 23, 2011 at 11:59 am |
  5. TRH

    Good.

    March 23, 2011 at 11:37 am |
  6. BibleBelt

    Why does CNN hire atheists to write articles about spiritualism and things they don't have an inkling of understanding about? None of those countries, NOT A SINGLE ONE, is going to lose Christianity. You are all Godless fools!

    March 23, 2011 at 11:37 am |
    • Kelly

      Not being christian doesn't mean you are Godless. I am FAR from Godless. I worship MANY Gods. LOL

      March 23, 2011 at 11:39 am |
    • Kafir

      If there are 10,000 alleged gods in all of history, then an atheist does not worship 10,000 gods, and a christian does not worship 9,999 gods. So, christians and atheists are very similar as you can see.

      March 23, 2011 at 12:24 pm |
    • susie

      Did I miss where it was stated that the authors of the study or anyone else involved in preparing this story is an atheist? Why does BibleBelt say CNN only hires atheist?

      March 23, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
  7. Toph

    Great news. This world will be a much better place once religion is removed from the equation.

    March 23, 2011 at 11:37 am |
  8. Robble

    Atheism increases with IQ. Hopefully we are evolving to be smarter and therefore stop believing in the ridiculous, childish notion that some parental figure is watching and cares about us. We are on our own and therefore responsible for our destiny.
    It's time we stopped being divisive with these silly beliefs and begin healing the planet and ourselves in the process.

    March 23, 2011 at 11:37 am |
    • BibleBelt

      You are seriously mistaken if you actually BELIEVE IQ increases with atheism. That's like saying American patriotism increases with gasoline consumption. You are lost and will die lost.

      March 23, 2011 at 11:40 am |
    • sp

      "atheism increases with i.q" my new facebook status

      March 23, 2011 at 11:47 am |
    • sp

      "atheism increases with i.q" . my new facebook status

      March 23, 2011 at 11:47 am |
    • William

      That's great if you have a high Intelligence Quota. But what about your morals and ability to judge between right and wrong?

      Maybe two words there. Moral and Compass?

      Let me know,.

      March 23, 2011 at 11:58 am |
    • SeanNJ

      @BibleBelt: That's not what Robbie said.
      @William: It's Intelligence Quotient, not Quota.

      The irony in these two posts is just delicious. Yummy.

      March 23, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
    • William

      Sean,
      Are here to dazzle us with your super fast Google skills?
      I am not referring to the Einstein theory.
      Keep hitting those links!

      March 23, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
    • CK

      "The einstein theory"? What... what does that even mean? Also in several of your posts you seem to have mixed up "inferring" and "Referring". Might wanna google those.

      March 23, 2011 at 12:39 pm |
    • SeanNJ

      @William: You win. You've confused me into submission.

      March 23, 2011 at 12:59 pm |
    • derp

      "That's great if you have a high Intelligence Quota."

      Oh, that is priceless. Is that quota used to limit the number of smart people involved in religion?

      "i'm sorry, this church has reached its intelligence quota, only idiots allowed in from now on"

      Fabulous, best laugh of the day.

      March 23, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
    • HH

      So Williams, without religion you are incapable to judge between right and wrong or have no morals?

      March 23, 2011 at 2:07 pm |
    • Carolyn

      Trust me your science heroes are just as corrupt and stupid as those you bash. Hawkins married-fooled around left wife married next wife-that wife's likes to hurt him-getting divorce. Faith is personal not intellectual.

      March 23, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
    • SeanNJ

      @Carolyn: I'm sure that somehow made sense to you.

      March 23, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
    • Patrick

      @William:
      I am not sure what you are getting at. What do morals and the ability to judge right from wrong have to do with atheism or intelligence? Are you suggesting intelligence is tied to morality and an individual moral code?

      March 23, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
  9. Pete

    Did anyone else notice how each one of those nine nations is safe and peaceful?

    March 23, 2011 at 11:36 am |
  10. Bob Smith

    "Prophecy is for fools."

    Ironically, this article helps confirm at least one biblical prophecy.
    http://www.watchtower.org/e/kn37/article_01.htm

    March 23, 2011 at 11:36 am |
    • BibleBelt

      haha I know! It's funny how atheists disprove themselves in their petty arguments concerning their worship of themselves.

      March 23, 2011 at 11:38 am |
    • William

      So, Bob.

      You are to call us fools for believing in truth? And to market your scheme?
      Please spare us.

      March 23, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
    • thisis4u

      I can't lie, I didn't watch the video. However, I have hard time believing the credibility of your source as a proof of a prophecy being fulfilled. This is just my opinion, but, it seems to me that a huge theme in the Bible is the eventual erosion of religion (I guess the Abrahamic religions, in particular.) I think the popularity of these religions may be in decline. However, I do not think this is a new phenomenon. I do believe in the Bible, but take a less literal interpretation of it. That is just my opinion, though.

      March 23, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
  11. Paul

    I don't see how they can say religion will die out in Ireland, which is only 4.2% unaffiliated. The USA is 15% unaffiliated and, unfortunately, a large part of the nation is intensely dominated by evangelical Christianity. We see it now with Latinos in the USA... old-school Catholicism is decreasing, but the more emotional "PRAISE JESUS!" (in espanol) is taking its place.

    March 23, 2011 at 11:36 am |
    • Laup

      Is that a fact?

      March 23, 2011 at 11:43 am |
    • Fuyuko

      I honestly do not see the evangelizing in the latino community.

      March 23, 2011 at 6:28 pm |
  12. Mike Buzan

    Makes me want to learn Dutch and move to the Netherlands

    March 23, 2011 at 11:36 am |
  13. dwl

    Welcome to the animal world....

    March 23, 2011 at 11:35 am |
  14. Andrew

    1000 yrs ago religions were a necessary device humans used to cope with the world. Today religion is used as a tool for a relative few to control the masses. The advent of the age of science has rendered religions virtually useless to the educated minority. If you look at countries where religion is in steep decline you will find that their populations contain the most highly educated intelligent humans on earth.

    March 23, 2011 at 11:35 am |
    • Grayson

      Exactly.
      Great comment!

      March 23, 2011 at 11:46 am |
    • thisis4u

      Correlation does not show causation.

      March 23, 2011 at 11:51 am |
    • William

      the advent of science in no disproves religion or the existence of God. We had this conversation for many years and keep falling back on it.

      March 23, 2011 at 11:53 am |
    • thisis4u

      That's not really the point I'm trying to make. There is no way to scientifically study the existence of God. You either BELIEVE in some kind of spirituality, or you BELIEVE there is nothing spiritual. Either way, you're taking a leap of faith that can never be backed up scientifically. What I was trying to say is exactly what I said. Correlation does not prove causation. You made a comment stating that societies with declining rate of religion have a higher amount of highly educated individuals. If that is, in fact true, we cannot infer that the cause of the high amount of educated individuals is the declining rate of religion.

      March 23, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
    • William

      And always remember me. The guy who is searching for the faithful. And NOT trying to win a popularity contest. Is does not matter to me what or who you agree with. Light stands out clear from darkness. Hold on to the rope of God THAT WILL NEVER BRAKE!

      March 23, 2011 at 12:02 pm |
    • Kafir

      Correlation does not imply causation – true.

      But the evidence supporting it gives credence to it. An educated person tends to understand the causes of religion better than a person still trapped by religious thinking. Knowledge is power. And anecdotally, you will find that many people who lost their religion did so in the pursuit of knowledge. Better knowledge supplants inferior knowledge – this isn't rocket science.

      March 23, 2011 at 12:16 pm |
    • conrad

      Which branch of 'Science' disproves Gods existence?

      Just because I've dissected something down to the molecule, given a name to every part, can describe it's processes and even manipulate it, by no means suggest that it wasn't intelligently created. Where did your intellect come from?

      Sure, science has effectively demonstrated that the creation stories of the bible aren't literally true, but the bible and God are not the same thing. Disproving the bible doesn't mean disproving God.

      Beyond that, the bible when written wasn't intended to be taken literally – its a collection of wisdom teachings meant to pass on the profound insights of inspired individuals. It doesn't need to be scientifically 'true' to serve its purpose in offering people peace and a means to uncovering one's own capacity for compassion. Being born again, resurrection, etc. don't have to be literally true to still make sense from a spiritual perspective. And it doesn't mean that the bible is the sole source of helpful guidance to those who suffer.

      I'm not even Christian or religious or atheist or anything – It just stands out as strange that people on both sides of the argument don't see the obvious leaps of reasoning that are being made simply for the sake of polarizing the issue. More specifically so the science side can feel intellectually superior and the religion side can feel morally superior. The same human weakness is behind both.

      Science and Religion are not opposites and they don't cancel each other out. Every theory proposed by science could be true and God could still exist.

      March 23, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
    • Patrick

      @Conrad – that is an important point. Over the history of the world there have been thousands of gods worshiped, many of which have come and gone, many of which will come and go (or just go) in the future.

      Not a single one of them has been disproved by science.

      March 23, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
  15. J F

    This would be a better world if we would get rid of religion altogether.

    March 23, 2011 at 11:35 am |
    • BibleBelt

      Awww... looks who's going to live the rest of their life in disappointment?

      March 23, 2011 at 11:42 am |
    • William

      Maybe you are inferring to human perception of God. Try looking up the word Religion. I guarantee you will come back to this post with a new perspective.

      March 23, 2011 at 11:46 am |
    • thisis4u

      The world would be a better place without closed minded people telling others what to think or believe in (and that includes atheists).

      March 23, 2011 at 11:47 am |
  16. scott

    I'm concerned about how many people care about what other people believe.

    March 23, 2011 at 11:35 am |
    • the Marquis

      Indeed!

      March 23, 2011 at 11:44 am |
    • William

      Always remember, You will never take away from God majesty....EVER... He is not in need of us nor does He require us to worship Him. This warning is for your own soul.

      March 23, 2011 at 11:44 am |
    • William

      Maybe, possible if you look at your own purpose in life. You will find that humans beings must become broad in their social interests. Not just concerned about your own life in Iowa or Oklahoma.

      March 23, 2011 at 11:48 am |
    • the Marquis

      "Indeed!" was to Scott's comment, not WIlliam's. Some people literally become more concerned with what others are believing and thinking rather than helping others or showing kindness and love to them. Good will and love is the message, not to convince everyone to think the same.

      March 23, 2011 at 11:49 am |
    • Fuyuko

      it only matters to me when their belief affects me. since certain religions feel morally obligated to preach and convert, and tell me about hell, and other fun stuff, I find it is my business sadly.

      March 23, 2011 at 6:15 pm |
  17. William

    With the disintegration of religion comes a decline of moral values. This decrease in any acknowledgment of the unseen that moves the seen, the profound explanations of human origin as well as human destiny is being forgotten and what is being left is a serious decay of social order and backwardness. Would you like to talk about the lofty order of knowledge and principle? Or would you rather have a beer and be a fool? Let me know.

    March 23, 2011 at 11:34 am |
    • Kelly

      Not true!!!! I know MANY people who are Atheist that have extremely high morals.

      March 23, 2011 at 11:37 am |
    • Dan

      I would say that a review of the countries listed here against a list of countries with very very high levels of religious practice would refute your argument. I've never understood those saying that without god, and the ensuing fear of either hell or not going to heaven, people have no moral compass. I always believed that if your only reason for acting morally is fear that is the lesser of two positions.

      March 23, 2011 at 11:46 am |
    • ostifari

      I'd have to say quite the contrary, my friend. George Bush claims that god told him to invade Afghanistan. Muslims claim that the West are infidels and need to be handled as such. On the other hand, most atheists I know are also philanthropists... god, not money, is the root of all evil.

      March 23, 2011 at 11:54 am |
    • Kafir

      The countries of Scandinavia, Germany, France, and even the UK have lower murder rates than the US.

      Also, there's a higher proportion of americans in prison than any other country's population (0.75%).

      March 23, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
    • thisis4u

      Can't I have a beer, have a serious discussion on the order of knowledge and principle, and act a divine fool once I am done talking?

      March 23, 2011 at 12:12 pm |
    • Patrick

      Serious decay of social order and backwardness?

      Were you around for the last six thousand years of human history? We are ascending Toynbee's mountain, if anything. We are evolving and enlightening. Just because your delusion will not allow you to accept aspects of reality does not mean the world is not a better place today. If you want to be take seriously, make a logical case using rational thought and discourse.

      March 23, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
    • Fuyuko

      I think with the loss of religion you will see those who were held in check only because of their fear of hell and damnation no longer fear such things and thus behave worse than before. However, it is more likely that the lack of proper parenting which is to blame. people in china- for instance- have moral values which reflect their culture and tradition. They are not held in check by religion but by tradition.

      March 23, 2011 at 6:23 pm |
  18. Amadea

    So, all you who say there is no God , hands up if you believe in science. GOTCHA! The point is, if you believe in anything, you are believing in a god ... something bigger than you, something that explains your life on planet earth. Putting all your faith in science instead of in the One that Created it all, is worshiping a false god ... an idol. That I choose to believe in the Creator means that, in the end, if I am right and you are wrong, I get to go to heaven. So, enjoy your life ... you sure won't enjoy your death.

    March 23, 2011 at 11:34 am |
    • andystats

      Thanks, I will enjoy my life.

      March 23, 2011 at 11:39 am |
    • Observer

      "if you believe in anything, you are believing in a god"

      If I believe that 1 + 1 = 2 means that I believe in a god? What nonsense.

      March 23, 2011 at 11:40 am |
    • EL

      OUCH! So true..... See you there Amadea.

      March 23, 2011 at 11:40 am |
    • PRW

      Christians sure are hafeful....

      March 23, 2011 at 11:42 am |
    • Gnodges

      Complete bunk.....I BELIEVE that science is a quest for knowledge. I don't BELIEVE IN SCEINCE as my god. You, on the other hand, are wasting your time with myth and legend. Pull your nose out of that good book of yours, and you'll see that the Universe is sufficiently miraculous and awe inspiring without the need for a God that looks and acts lke us. Oh, and death will not be kind for either of us, it will be the end, however, I will have lived everyday to the fullest without the burden of your god/sins/repentance, and you will have spent much of this life waiting for the fantasy of the next life.

      March 23, 2011 at 11:43 am |
    • Gene

      Depends on what you mean by "believing in science." If one has an unabiding belief in the Big Bang, then yes, it is the equivalent of religious faith. But preferring a process in which theories are developed based on available and repeatable observations, and are subject to being tested, revised and discarded as new information becomes available is another matter.

      March 23, 2011 at 11:48 am |
    • Kafir

      Science is a tool, a methodology, not an assertion.

      You can't "believe in science" any more than you can believe in 401Ks, or the bell curve. They just are.

      March 23, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
    • CK

      The end point is Pascal's Wager (Why not believe in God, if the alternative is possible hellfire and/or nothing?) and it is a fallacy. It can easily be applied with equal importance to every god in existence, from Thor to YHWH.

      March 23, 2011 at 12:35 pm |
    • HH

      Observer; 1 + 1 = 2 and that is a fact. Nothing to believe. Facts and believe are 2 different things. If you have a heart attack, you take your medicine to get well, or pray and see what happen.

      March 23, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
    • Craig

      The difference is one doesn't "believe" in science the way one "believes" in God. I believe gravity exists because so far I haven't floated off into space. Even though I can't see them I believe germs exist and cause disease because there is evidence for them. I believe atoms exist because you can do experiments that demonstrate that they do.

      What experiment can I do to test for God?

      March 23, 2011 at 2:42 pm |
    • Susan H.

      Amen to you my friend

      March 23, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
    • Patrick

      Everyone has belief. One cannot exist without some notion of how the world works, of their paradigm...

      Nevermind. I just finished reading your comment and recognized your delusion.

      March 23, 2011 at 4:32 pm |
    • Fuyuko

      nope. science is not god. not really an accurate statement.

      March 23, 2011 at 6:19 pm |
  19. Adam

    Wow! this IS great news. We can be spiritually connected without following mans interpretation of a ghost? I hope I'm still around!

    March 23, 2011 at 11:34 am |
    • thisis4u

      you already can....you dont have to wait

      March 23, 2011 at 11:41 am |
    • BibleBelt

      No Adam... you can just connect yourself with other men based on their interpretation of you. Steve is waiting.

      March 23, 2011 at 11:50 am |
  20. Kelly

    unaffiliated, does not me "no religion" I have a religion that I follow (I am Pagan) , but must choose unaffiliated' most of the time in surveys because Paganism,, Wicca, or Druidry is not listed as a choice. Also, unaffiliated could mean that you are religious but are not affiliated with any religious organization.

    March 23, 2011 at 11:34 am |
    • ostifari

      Please cast some sort of spell that would result in my wallet exploding with cash please??? I know it doesn't work like that, but no other god out there is willing to help me out.

      March 23, 2011 at 11:43 am |
    • BibleBelt

      You're a Pagan? Really? Could you do me a big favor and fly to Mecca and please convince the billions of Muslims worldwide that they are paying homage to an ancient Pagan idol. Yes, the object they call the Kabaa is actually a pre-Islamic Pagan temple of worship. Islam steals and destroys everything and has created nothing.

      March 23, 2011 at 11:47 am |
    • thisis4u

      Biblebelt.....i've heard that Jesus was based on a pagan idol as well. What are your thoughts about that?

      March 23, 2011 at 11:49 am |
    • BibleBelt

      @thisis4u
      Paganism and early Christianity are strongly inter-related. In fact the first generation of Christians were predominately Pagan converts. As far as Paganism influence on Christianity... look toward to Celts 😉 Good question! 🙂

      March 23, 2011 at 11:52 am |
    • thisis4u

      Biblebelt....good answer. I'll definately check it out.

      March 23, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
    • Patrick

      @ BibleBelt: The Christians did it first. They built their mythos off of the Old Testament and created the New Testament. Islam followed suit by taking the OT and NT and making a third book, the Koran.

      Everybody borrows from someone before.

      March 23, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
    • Fuyuko

      It could also simply mean non-denominational.

      March 23, 2011 at 6:17 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64
Advertisement
About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.