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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. i love hitler and stalin

    kill all religions and their followers
    then the world will be a better place

    March 23, 2011 at 10:34 pm |
    • Laury

      Ok? :/
      Your such a brainless!!!!
      God will take you to heaven if you repent of your sins!!!!

      March 23, 2011 at 11:47 pm |
    • Maybe

      Laury,

      You *do* know that this goofball is one of you, don't you.... a dopey poser.

      Also, it is you're, when you are saying you are...not your.

      March 23, 2011 at 11:52 pm |
  2. GodisGreat

    God created earth, sun, moon, stars, animals big and small, flowers, trees, insects and people.... my question is CAN YOU CREATE ANY OF THESE? 🙂

    March 23, 2011 at 10:31 pm |
    • clint

      i see your really into science

      March 23, 2011 at 10:34 pm |
    • i love hitler and stalin

      waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahahahahahahahahaha
      god created those?
      who said the world is flat?
      who tortured and killed those who believed that?
      where is the greatest concentration of pedophiles????in the church!

      March 23, 2011 at 10:35 pm |
    • Observer

      @GodisGreat,
      CAN YOU CREATE ANY OF THESE?

      March 23, 2011 at 10:36 pm |
    • Lee

      To " I love Hitler and Stalin" you're obviously an idiot. Yeah, I bet you do love Hitler and Stalin. You'll probably end up being great friends with them in the afterlife. Murdered millions of people. Nice. Sorry, people were not killed and tortured for believing the world was flat. Can you give me proof of that? If you want us to give proof of God, then at least you should have to give proof as well. Sorry, the church does not have the greatest concentration of pedophiles. Try again. If you want other to deal in facts, then you should be held to the same standards you require.

      March 23, 2011 at 10:44 pm |
  3. herb folks

    losing my religion? http://theholyherb.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=429:losing-my-religion-x&catid=36:cannabis-heals-category&Itemid=53

    March 23, 2011 at 10:30 pm |
  4. chris

    Thank god. only wish the US would grow a brain and follow suit.

    March 23, 2011 at 10:30 pm |
  5. Aussie Atheist

    The United States is a highly religious country and is also world renowned for having a poorly educated public. There is a link here people. Sorry to say it.
    It's the same reason why the most intelligent people in the world are atheists.
    I pity people who spend their whole lives preoccupied with religious nonsense. Is the fact of evolution not interesting enough? Why sit around preying to nothing? What a joke.

    March 23, 2011 at 10:28 pm |
  6. Sean

    "It is a pity that the world has lost its sense of God, a pity. They have no more meaning in their lives."
    -An Anonymous Carthusian

    March 23, 2011 at 10:25 pm |
    • 666

      i fear god
      for i think i may not get the chance to bang a nun before i die

      waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahahahahahaha

      (((((((((((((((((((((666)))))))))))))))))))))))))

      lmao

      March 23, 2011 at 10:29 pm |
  7. OakRamble

    Allah is the Arabic word for God. Arab Christians do not use the word God, but use Allah.

    March 23, 2011 at 10:25 pm |
  8. highnoon

    The story Mary told, that Jesus was the result of the "Holy Spirit" visiting her at night, is one of history's first example of an extramarital affair cover-up gone viral out-of-hand... Good job Mary... Founding a world religion to cover it up... History's biggest red herring... Millions of people have been killed in his name, people burned and tortured... Thanks a bunch Mary... Time people pull the wool out of their eyes...

    March 23, 2011 at 10:24 pm |
  9. On the Sidewalk

    “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the Earth.” From all indications this appears to be true, by which time the ambitious will have inherited the rest of the Universe and the Earth will be left a dried up withered old rock, crawling with the reaming religious zealots, arms raised in what’s left of the air looking skyward for god to save them. The writing is on the wall. As people and nations develop religion like medievalism disappears into the mist of time.

    March 23, 2011 at 10:23 pm |
  10. Laury

    Religion

    True religion comes from an honest heart. It's in the Bible, Isaiah 29:13, NIV. "The Lord says: 'These people come near to Me with their mouth and honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me. Their worship of Me is made up only of rules taught by men.'"

    True religion is focused on Jesus, not philosophies. It's in the Bible, Colossians 2:8, TLB. "Don't let others spoil your faith and joy with their philosophies, their wrong and shallow answers built on men's thoughts and ideas, instead of on what Christ has said."

    True religion bears spiritual fruit. It's in the Bible, Matthew 21:43, NIV. "Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit."

    True religion is doing for others and staying true to the Lord. It's in the Bible, James 1:27, NIV. "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."

    March 23, 2011 at 10:17 pm |
    • 666

      is that from the book of isiah thomas-the basketball player?

      March 23, 2011 at 10:28 pm |
    • Laury

      No is from the Bible thanks for asking though

      March 23, 2011 at 10:36 pm |
  11. Vince

    Well, I believe in and love God. You can ridicule me for that, but you can't argue against it.

    March 23, 2011 at 10:15 pm |
  12. Willyboy

    Jesus Freak: No thanks, really. Keep your prayers for yourself and those who want them. Remember, 21 May all you folks get to get raptured on out of here. 'http://www.ebiblefellowship.com/may21/ so just stay focused on that. I am and will remain just fine.

    March 23, 2011 at 10:15 pm |
  13. Kevin

    all you "end of times" freaks need to chill. you're really creeping us normal folks out. go worship the sun or some nonsense.

    March 23, 2011 at 10:14 pm |
    • John Connor

      Well Kevin, at least the sun actually exists:).

      March 23, 2011 at 10:41 pm |
  14. w

    God is the only way to love.

    March 23, 2011 at 10:11 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      Bullish!t!! I love my wife, parents and children, and hate religion. THERE ARE NO GODS – NOT EVEN JUST ONE!

      March 23, 2011 at 10:36 pm |
  15. Heather

    Whoa... I see so many Americans that forget WHY we are Americans... it is a little thing called freedom. So you are against religion, do not believe in it, think it is the downfall of the world, yada yada yada. Same rant, different day. The first problem I see is that the term religion is automatically transformed into one religion... that is Christianity. Once you have Christianity on the table, who cares about the other religions of the world, right? Forget about the Muslims, the Buddhists, the Jews, the Atheists (because believe it or not, their "non-religion" has almost become a religion in itself)... forget about all of the other religions of the world and start bashing Christians and what THEY believe. That is the cool thing to do, so of course hundreds of you have jumped on board. Now, we are back at freedom. The thing so many Americans forget is that we are a free nation. One of our freedoms just happens to be that we can hang out on the internet and bash everyone we disagree with. Another freedom that is afforded to us is the ability to worship HOW WE CHOOSE. I see so many comments that religion should be done away with (when in actuality, they don't have a problem with religion, just Christianity, but that's beside the point). Why should it be done away with? Because you don't believe in Jesus? Because you think the idea of God is some fairy tale? Lest you forget that we are all part of a free nation. Just as you have the freedom to worship the idea that you are far better than any neanderthal Jesus freak, we Christians have the freedom to keep believing and worshipping in a God that we know is real. It doesn't matter how many times you argue your case (your freedom allows you to do that), the mind of a Christian will never change. So as I go to church on Sunday (which my freedom allows), I will say a prayer for you. You might not agree with "religion" (i.e. the only religion you hate, Christianity), but you didn't exist in the late 1700's... you can't rewrite what we are afforded by the founders of this country.

    March 23, 2011 at 10:09 pm |
    • Amanda

      Atheism is not a religion. There is no ritual, dogma or faith.

      March 23, 2011 at 10:30 pm |
    • kramses86

      Thank you so much Heather. For being a voice of reason.

      March 23, 2011 at 10:31 pm |
    • John Connor

      Amanda, the thing you painfully fail to recognize is the fact that religion is absolutely opposed to freedom, in the american sense. Look at the republican party platform if you don't believe me...

      March 23, 2011 at 10:38 pm |
  16. cas

    As if the content of holly books was not clue enough to who really wrote it; a vengeful God? So what does he/she get from burning people in hell? Satisfaction?

    March 23, 2011 at 10:05 pm |
  17. Unstoppable

    While Christianity might seem to head towards distinction in our egocentrical Western world, it is not the case in the thirld world countries. In fact, whether you all like it or not, Christianity is currently the fast growing "organized religion" out there, with somewhere around 70,000 people coming to know Christ daily. According to these statistics, it WILL take over the world... and THAT is truth... Whoever has an ear, let him hear...

    March 23, 2011 at 9:58 pm |
    • PraiseTheLard

      Yes, there are many uneducated people out there, ready to be indoctrinated by whichever set of fairy tales happens to be popular in the region... Same thing is happening in the Islamic world, and let's not forget about the great "success" in the dumbing down of America.

      In DOG we trust...

      March 23, 2011 at 10:01 pm |
    • Brandon

      Well it depends how you put it, percentage or by people speed in percentage Christianity is high, but in people it's somewhat slow (considering how many people are actually leaving the Christian faith and those who are simply doing it to be "cool"). World wide Islam is the fastest growing religion, many Muslims don't leave Islam due to the society they live in. Whether you like it or not... try reading studies that aren't done by Christians because the fastest growing religion would be considered Atheism if it were a religion.

      March 23, 2011 at 10:16 pm |
    • collins61

      @ praisethelard; It must be boring being all knowing all wise and all dismissive. We all know how you feel so shut it.

      March 23, 2011 at 10:17 pm |
    • Elle

      If I were living in a third world country, and a group of missionaries set up camp, played music, fed and clothed me and my children and brought us some fresh water, I'd probably tell them I accepted Jesus too. If for no other reason than the fear if I didn't I couldn't come back tomorrow for food and entertainment.

      March 23, 2011 at 10:20 pm |
    • Steve Lyons

      @ PraiseTheLard sounds like he thinks he is the Lard DOG himself.

      March 23, 2011 at 10:23 pm |
    • John Connor

      What is truely unstopable is the fact that the atheist population is the fastest growing group in the world...sleep well religious wakos.

      March 23, 2011 at 10:35 pm |
  18. JB

    After reading some of the anti-religious posting and the downright hatred for God, I would prepare, as I believe the end is near.

    March 23, 2011 at 9:57 pm |
    • PraiseTheLard

      There's really not much hatred towards god, as he doesn't exist... There's a lot of contempt for the feeble minded exponents of fabricated religious doctrine.

      March 23, 2011 at 10:02 pm |
    • simonk

      hahaha.

      March 23, 2011 at 10:19 pm |
    • Amanda

      Believing that gods don't exist and thinking that religion is ridiculous is not "hating God" in any way, shape or form. You don't hate something that doesn't exist. I do find the evangelicals tiresome though.

      March 23, 2011 at 10:28 pm |
    • John Connor

      JB you are now the minority, enjoy. Your kind have reveled and profited from this assumption for years. Reap what you have sown and get out of our way or suffer the consequences. The majority has taken the "red pill', you, the minority,the blue. I'm sincerely sorry that you have been left behind but this has been inevitable...

      March 23, 2011 at 10:31 pm |
  19. Mr Green

    I wish the world adopted this policy. religion is simply a tool of division.

    March 23, 2011 at 9:52 pm |
    • Barbara

      Is this the same Green that posted this article?

      March 23, 2011 at 10:18 pm |
    • 3rdMLNM

      Yes, all man made religions/sects/denominations etc. and their "imanigary false gods" on earth should/shall definitely die out in very near future;

      And then one and only real GOD who has thus created His Universe and His Word in a superb "Mathematical Language"
      that no human or no extraterrestrials will never be able to immitate
      shall live and dominate in this Third and Last Day (=Millennium) all over the earth, as one and only true Heavenly Religion here!

      And it has already thus solidly been predicted by Abraham, and Jesus, David, and Muhammad!

      If you want to clearly see the objective, testable, tangible "Ultimate Mathematical Proofs" for this claim now,
      here it is:

      http://www.holy-19-harvest.com

      Believe it or not, remain in Peace on this earth;
      but if you read and truly understand and believe, you shall remain in Peace on this earth, and then also forever!

      March 23, 2011 at 10:24 pm |
  20. See

    "He has confused the proud in their inmost thoughts."

    March 23, 2011 at 9:51 pm |
    • Steve Lyons

      It would do the world some good if "I_s_l_a_m" were to fall into decline. Especially the radicals.

      March 23, 2011 at 10:19 pm |
    • Don

      God certainly does work in mysterious ways!!!

      March 23, 2011 at 10:24 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.