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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. BL

    Religion is the opposite of spirituality. Religion is all about process, dogma, rigid belief systems, ritual, hierarchy and mythology. There's always a "to do" list to accomplish in order to get somewhere in some indeterminate future. And there's always a middle man to go through who is the real "authority." Spirituality is realizing that everything is here right now. You don't need to do something to get somewhere. Just slow down the incessant mush we call thoughts that churn in our heads for a few moments and simply "be still and know that I am God." It surrounds you every second.

    March 23, 2011 at 5:59 pm |
    • NL

      See, I think you can be 'spiritual' just by looking through a telescope and contemplating how incredibly small our little corner of the cosmos actually is. No need to call anything by any name because, once you do, you step into the preconceived meanings we have given those words.

      March 23, 2011 at 6:08 pm |
  2. Daithi mac curtáin

    It says it in the new testament when the lord returns will there still be faith , It's fully expected there may not be .

    March 23, 2011 at 5:55 pm |
  3. christopher

    There is a God. His name is Crom. When I die he will ask me 'The Riddle of Steel" and if I do not know the answer he will laugh at me and cast me out of Valhalla. That is Crom. Strong on his mountain.

    March 23, 2011 at 5:55 pm |
    • rachel

      Okay!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!Yeah!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!I know!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!You're so right!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!Of course!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      March 23, 2011 at 5:57 pm |
    • God

      Thou shall not overuse exclamation points. It displeases me.

      March 23, 2011 at 6:01 pm |
  4. JoeT

    But if we stop using religion, how will we know who the heretics are?

    March 23, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
    • God

      Watch Fox and Friends so sayeth your Lord.

      March 23, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
  5. Peter

    If science would use your approach Mr. Poodlejumpe, it would never discover atom, molecules, cells, current and all those great inventions that brought humankind where it is now. Science day by day is confirming genius mind behind everything made. Take for example atom. If we scale atom up it would have proton size of about 1mm (0.039") and electron would be the size of the hair moving around proton several million times per second on 3/4 mile distance. Can you imagine power built into one single atom that keep those particles together at those speeds? No wonder they need Large Hadron Collider to break apart only one atom. An there are zillions of atoms in just one cell. And there are zillions of those cells in our body. There are simple cells, there are defenders, there oxygen transfers, there are hormones, there genes, there are enzymes....they all work together until clocks stops. And what to say about different state of matter, stones, water, ice, jelly, fire, light... things are dynamic and moving around at incredible speed per God's laws that humans still can't comprehend.

    March 23, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
    • Kyle

      1) those things do not indicate a god. OMG the speed of light is 3.0 x 10^8th m/s...thats FAST...doesn't mean a god made it that fast.
      2) Human minds DO understand all that stuff. Yes we may not know exactly what gives matter mass yet, or why there is random quantum fluxuation but we are getting there, closer every day no thanks to god.

      March 23, 2011 at 6:01 pm |
    • God

      Jesus/Holy Spirit/I went to MIT, and we have dedicated DSL line (so "we" are fast).

      March 23, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
  6. MarkG

    My ancestors came from Switzerland, maybe I should consider moving back there?

    March 23, 2011 at 5:50 pm |
    • God

      My descendants are from Africa. I started creating you all Black like Jesus/Holy Ghost/I but some of you got that sneaky recessive gene... I blame the blue eyed, blond hair, Caucasian Satan....

      March 23, 2011 at 6:00 pm |
    • fuyuko

      ah, I think you should blame yourself then, for you created Satan.

      March 23, 2011 at 6:47 pm |
  7. Gumby

    Good riddance, and long overdue when it does happen. Religion is the most vile and evil monstrosity ever conceived by the mind of man.

    March 23, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
  8. Annunaki

    It's about time! Literally and figuratively.

    March 23, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
  9. Christian

    Being a Christian I am disappointed that we who are Christians have not done a better job of showing who our teacher is. This whole deboggle appears to be proof of that. So many still lost. Not able to discern what is Truth for their own selves. Just like anything a worldly person would want to or choose to follow....you study it, read it, share it, see what the believers have to say. Study the history, not just from a Christian point of view but from others as well. Jesus was a man, one that has countless times proven to have been born, and lived and died. History through many venues has PROVEN that. Why not study ALL the aspects of what the worldly people have to say. Then read the inherant word of the One True Almighty God. Talk with him earnestly seeking HIM and the answers you need and HE will make himself known to you. Jesus is the son of the living God and sits at HIS right side. There will come a day, and I believe very soon, that the whole world will learn the truth and all at once. If you are not a believer then you will see a great tribulation period the likes of which you coult NOT possibly imagine. I would rather be wrong in your eyes, living the life He wnated me to lead, than to follow the non-believer into oblivion. Whether you believe in Jesus or not or science or not, we all have an eternal spirit. When we die our spirit can only go to one of two places...the question is...where will yours go. Go ahead try to tear me apart, you see you can hurt me physically but my spirit will always be at ease in knowing my Lord. I pray that if anyone of you would just try to do honest research and NOT just assume on what you read here, and seek HIM you will find HIM. God Bless

    March 23, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
    • Gumby

      I stopped reading after your sentences "Jesus was a man, one that has countless times proven to have been born, and lived and died. History through many venues has PROVEN that." That is an outright fiction. Not only is there no evidence a historical Jesus lived, there aren't even any contemporaneous writings about him. Next time, try getting your information from places other than lying Christian apologetics books and websites.

      March 23, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
    • pithymcgee

      I have some ocean front property I'd like to sell you, and (GREAT NEWS)... It's in sunny Arizona!! I'm sure you'll love it there.

      March 23, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
    • God

      Hang on to the Arizona property, I am about to teach California a lesson...

      March 23, 2011 at 5:57 pm |
    • Cindy

      I stopped reading after you spelled the word "debacle" as "deboggle". Do Christians hate spellcheck?

      March 23, 2011 at 6:06 pm |
    • God

      Cindy, they do have spell check....but they know correcting words is a sin.

      March 23, 2011 at 6:09 pm |
    • Chakka

      I'm a non-hating atheist. Some people just don't buy into the concept of not just a 'god' but any 'gods'. I am not against the freedom to believe what you want but I'm against a religion when it comes to human laws. My non-belief should not affect your belief whatsoever and I'm sure it doesn't. 🙂

      March 23, 2011 at 6:31 pm |
    • fuyuko

      you are free to believe as you wish, but your beliefs aren't free to remain unchallenged. the old testament for instance, does not show god in a good light. I think people fail to bring people over to christ because the text they used is fundamentally flawed and not the word of god.

      God only wants us to love our neigbors, but the bible is full of punishment, sin, opression and violence. its a tough sell for many to hear how loving god is when he kills and murders innocents and wants you to conver or die.

      March 23, 2011 at 6:38 pm |
  10. Richicago

    Oh darn the luck. Whatever will the world do?

    March 23, 2011 at 5:45 pm |
  11. Hector

    Yay!!!

    March 23, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
  12. Whit

    Religion is an archaic form of social control that is not only outdated but pointless... I could only wish it would fade away in America.

    March 23, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
    • rachel

      Good point.

      March 23, 2011 at 5:56 pm |
  13. Clevelandben

    I do believe these guys are correct. I applaud the "dying out" of organized religion/beliefs. They've led us into nothing but trouble; No redemptive value! Wars grounded in a fundamentalist and fanatic belief that "they" are right with might and their god.

    March 23, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
  14. Selfish Gene Simmons

    Well. The more intelligence, sciences advances, mathematics, and the more you are required that you must learn science and so on, then the more you must relinquish any if not ALL concepts or beliefs in religion.

    If you do NOT want to be part a solution that offers science as its basis for advancements in medical breakthroughs and ecological advancements, then you have a choice to stay in religion because the divide in the future will not be rich and poor but ignorant and educated. (fun on sentence I dont care right now, speed commenting)

    So in essence, countries that are highly religious like for instance Mexico, they paint the mother mary on their small grocery stores exteriors, etc., will be on one side while other more advancing countries will be on the other.

    Cultures are hard to change and there is NO way you can change them unless they want to. They'll take their culture where they go, its all they WANT to know. Thus, contributing to the holding back of other countries they migrate too. The UK is having to deal with this, but luckily they have important British figures to fight this effect. The USA doesn't care, they're too PC...

    So, yes, you stay in the Old World or joing the New World. Your choice, suffer or benefit the consequences.

    March 23, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
    • Clevelandben

      Ohhhh...I'm a-scared of you!

      March 23, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
    • Layne

      You've adopted non-religion as your religion, and you sound just as bigoted and self-righteous as any fundamentalist. I hope you're proud of what you've become.

      March 23, 2011 at 6:00 pm |
  15. annieLD

    Interesting concept about people wanting to be affiliated with the majority belief system or sect, whether religious or secular. Tradition is also a big factor I would imagine. Not many people leave the faith of their parents entirely. It's kind of "inherited." However, what the math model fails to take into account, I think, is faith by force and official decree, i.e., theocracy. Religion has always been used to gain political/military power or expand empires. That is clear even in our times and in our country.

    March 23, 2011 at 5:39 pm |
  16. c

    Believers dont need proof there is a God. Non-believers dont want proof there is a God. My sorrow is how hateful these groups are towards each other. Why do non believers get so amped out over a believer. Calling them uneducated and stupid because they believe is ridiculous. I have met plenty of educated people who are quite naive and dumb. On the other hand why do believers think they are so superior to non believers and that they must be the one to 'save' them. God does not ask you to save a non believer, He has already done that. He just wants you to love them and be a witness.
    My daughter came home the other day. Had learned about how man came from apes. She is 10 and she asked me " Mommy, if man came from apes changing, why havent we changed into something different and why are there still apes?"

    March 23, 2011 at 5:39 pm |
    • fuyuko

      believers tell non-believers they are going to hell, and will face damnation and judgement if they don't believe 'their way'. that to me is offensive. And the reason there are apes today is because they are a successful the way they were, and never needed to adapt and change. other apes evolved to suit an environment and thus mankind existed.

      as far as the human goes we do adapt and change. we have no use for our appendix, but it served a purpose when we needed to re-colonorize our intestines after stomach illness.

      March 23, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
    • Brandon

      Explain to your daughter that we didn't come from apes, but rather apes and humans have the same ancestors. Additionally, we are different from apes in many ways – more than I will bother listing here...

      March 23, 2011 at 5:59 pm |
    • Cindy

      And did you tell your daughter that it's because humans were never apes, though we looked and acted a lot like apes, we were always on separate genetic lineages, both evolving as individual species? If so, congratulations, you told her the truth. I love the way people seize onto old wives tales and believe they are the truth – not!

      March 23, 2011 at 6:01 pm |
    • DWebb

      And what was your reply?

      Apes and humans (both primates) share a common ancestor. Modern apes are the surving members of their branch from the common ancestor. Humans are the surviving members of their branch from the common ancestor. Apes do not spontaneously become humans and humans do not spontaneously become apes. This is an ongoing proces.

      March 23, 2011 at 6:06 pm |
    • Rob

      The idea of God torturing people in hell is one of the most evil ideas ever put forth on planet Earth. FACT!

      March 23, 2011 at 6:08 pm |
  17. brad

    I can't speak for the "fundies". But it takes the average catholic about two minutes to tell you everything he knows about Catholicism. The atheist even less. So when these folks leave the church, we'll have as many genuine catholics in the church as we did before.

    March 23, 2011 at 5:39 pm |
    • MarkG

      Brad, do you realize that studies have shown that atheists actually know more about religion than the most faithful adherents?

      March 23, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
    • pithymcgee

      Actually, Brad, you're wrong. Atheists and agnostics tend to know more about religion.
      http://www.tuftsdaily.com/atheists-and-agnostics-know-more-about-religion-than-believers-survey-finds-1.2364185

      March 23, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
    • Rob

      Most atheists and agnostics that I have met were from a religious family and had spent some serious time soul searching to find the truth.

      March 23, 2011 at 6:05 pm |
    • Agnostic Atheist

      It is funny that Agnostic Atheists and Agnostic Theists know more than gnostic theists because they are more logical and don't just accept the answer "God did it." especially when it comes to gnostic's religion...

      March 23, 2011 at 6:08 pm |
    • God

      I take credit for the good stuff... the bad stuff was Satan, your fault/Free Will or I was working in a mysterious way.

      March 23, 2011 at 6:13 pm |
  18. Siege

    The Bible is the word of God because it says that it is.

    March 23, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
    • Clevelandben

      Does your god use spell-check? I'm sure you can find a passage in your book that suits your dogma.

      March 23, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
    • God

      Yeah, that is what I said.

      March 23, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
    • God

      I use spell check... I should use the Thesaurus more often, too many "begats" in there...

      March 23, 2011 at 5:45 pm |
    • MarkG

      A perfect example of circular reasoning.

      March 23, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
    • Cindy

      ha ha – good one.

      March 23, 2011 at 5:57 pm |
  19. Joe

    Take a moment and read these posts... who are the "haters" here?

    March 23, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
    • brad

      The same haters as always, Joe. When religion is gone, these haters will turn on each other and have a feeding frenzy.

      March 23, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
    • God

      Hate me? Well, they must not know me then....

      March 23, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
    • NL

      And if all non-believers were just to magically disappear believers wouldn't turn on each other? Ever hear of the Inquisitions? Rooting out heretics goes all the way back to the beginning and continues to this day. Just read the articles about Bell in this blog. Sorry buddy, but if we atheists were to disappear the crosshairs will just start roving for a new target because there's gotta be an 'enemy' to rally the faithful against, right?

      March 23, 2011 at 6:01 pm |
    • God

      The only people disappearing are my chosen people: The Mormons. I dig their underwear, plural marriage and the Osmonds.

      March 23, 2011 at 6:04 pm |
    • fuyuko

      both sides of the fence spread harm. I don't see a lot of buddhism bashing here. that is because buddhists aren't telling people they are sinners and going to hell, or will face judgement day someday. there is usually a reason people respond with negativity. there are many who are offended by those religious people who tell others not believing their way is the path to damnation.

      March 23, 2011 at 6:45 pm |
  20. pithymcgee

    Everybody just wants to hop on the cool kids' bandwagon. I'm ok with that, just don't tip us over.

    March 23, 2011 at 5:36 pm |
    • God

      My bandwagon only has so much room..... it gets good gas mileage, I only lease, I trade in every so often, I find that the faithful like a new bandwagon ever so often... they do not like the old rules that go along with the earlier models....

      March 23, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
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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.