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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. Louie

    Considering that most religions are to blame for wars, the destruction of other cultures and the exploitation of human beings as a whole I would say that this is very good news.

    March 27, 2011 at 10:30 pm |
  2. Rami

    As I been saying for long time, Christianity is a dying religion, because it does not have its own merits.
    However, Islam is the path and it’s the fastest growing religion in the world. So, people are religious but not for Christianity

    March 27, 2011 at 9:22 pm |
  3. JSimmons

    WOW. Judging from the comments above, it actually makes it a little harder to believe in evolution because it doesnt look like we have evolved that much at all. It is so hard for me to understand why in 2011 we still cant accept people for who they are. Not with judgment or all out hatred, but just acceptance. I do happen to be a non-believer but i would never think to completely disrespect anothers religion. Most religious people believe in those ideas down to their very core and base their whole life around them. To call those ideas stupid or ignorant is to call their whole life stupid. I understand that some of the groups and their actions can be frustrating, "those seen in local and national news" but that is the group and we cant judge an individuals ideas based on the group. I group of Muslims flew planes into the WTC, but that doesnt mean that every Muslim is insane and wants to kill us. People are people and they are going to believe the way they believe, but if all sides can be a little more concered with themselves than the others then the world may just start becoming a little bit better place to live.

    March 27, 2011 at 8:48 pm |
  4. Merp

    I think. Everyone needs to shut up.

    Honestly, science is undebatable, but that's only because science is founded SOLELY on what is/almost is solid knowledge. YES, most organized religions are under fire because scientifically it's stupid to believe in something you can't even see. But what makes it different from something as unsolid as string theory or white holes? I get it, Christians' rebuttal of "the absence of evidence is NOT the evidence of absence" seems ridiculous, but you know what?

    What's the point of arguing? If i want to believe in what you call stupid or ridiculous or unreasonable to believe in, it's my decision. I don't get why atheists argue for the sake of arguing. You don't own me or my thoughts, I'll think what I want.

    March 27, 2011 at 4:08 pm |
  5. AnotherVoice

    All religion is all just made up. It's a bunch of ancient mythology invented millennias ago to control the population by holding mythical "knowledge" in the hands of a few high priests. Nothing more. As George Carlin said, "It's the original BS story!" The Christian religion is but an amalgam of stories and themes from earlier, sun-centric religions. This is why Jesus' birth is celebrated by Christians in late December – to coincide with the earlier Pagan winter festivals. Emperor Constantine adopted Christianity at the Council of Nicea in 325 AD in order to unify his empire and subsume the various non-Christian religions that existed in many place at the time. The Christian "3 days dead" story is derived from earlier religions that observed the Sun's zenith in winter got lower and lower, appeared to "die" in the sky for three days, and then magically started "rising" from the dead. The pagans celebrated this "rising" as the start of a new cycle of life. This became the Christian Easter story. Read up, people... Religion is just a bunch of ancient mythological stories... in which adults should not be so naive as to believe.

    March 27, 2011 at 11:28 am |
  6. TING

    Research proves (fact) that high school dropouts, prison populations, and people that lack intellectual curiosity are more likely to be religious conservatives. Research also displays factual evidence that the most highly intelligent individuals, with advanced university degrees, or simply self-taught and well educated are more likely to be atheists at a statistically significant correlation. I am too intelligent to believe in god. Are you?

    March 26, 2011 at 11:39 pm |
  7. Jeff

    In all of those listed countries with the exception of Ireland, the decline in religion has mirrored an increase in rational thinking and a decrease in religion being used to justify violence. Even in Ireland, as religion has been dying out, violence has been decreasing. It would be so much more peaceful on earth if all religions died out once and for all.

    March 26, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
  8. Shiela

    Shamrock6

    Wow! This just made my day!! This is some of the best news that the world could ever hope to hear. Finally, FINALLY – we are evolving beyond the point where this old way of thinking will no longer be necessary. This is a great thing for humanity as a whole. This means that we, as a group of people, are finally rejecting old, judgmental ways of divisive thinking and slowly embracing a system of thought that will hopefully unite us and allow us to live another 1000 years. WOOHOO!

    WOW Shamrock..God does not change! He is the same today, as he was back then. How you can discount part of your being, the spiritual one, the soul, and say that your flesh is all you need, is amazing at least! Even if there was no God, do you think all evil will be gone,lol? How silly of you! No c-u-mbaya there!

    At best you may see the world of anti-christ...but rest assured, when all the Holy Spirit exits this world, I guarantee what you have wished for, you will be regretting a million times over. For then the one that decieves you all, will be made for your eyes to see!
    There will be no more blogs in which to express your hate for God, nor for anything else for that matter. Your freedoms will be taken away, each and everyone. The one you hate will be gone, for awhile, and the one you have let control you, will be your own worst enemy, for he has no loyalty..the devil.

    You will need to take the mark of the be-ast, or you won't be able to buy, sell, or trade without it. It's a chip, gets implanted under your skin.
    Have a look..go to youtube, and type this in the search box How RFID Chip Works....very scientific pie-ce here.
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yNPDgudPmXE&w=640&h=390]

    You will need this, if you refuse it, there will be frightening consequences,

    Let no one be decieved...The Book of Revelation, has NOT been fulfilled yet. Should anyone try to dredge up the Nero story. Sorry. Null.

    Your One World Goverment Is at your door.

    I hope you all reconsider your thoughts, lest you are absolutely willing to suffer the dread to come. Some won't have to wait till death, they may be alive when these ho-rrors happen.

    I think then you will discover...Gee...I really DID have a soul!

    March 26, 2011 at 12:28 pm |
  9. Kevin

    This article was not about athiesim or Christianity so all of you seem to have missed the point, lets get it on track! This article stated that religion was dying out fast in several western countries. I will state that Christianity certainly seems to have mostly disappeared in those countries but theyall have growing Muslim populations which seems to have been entirely overlooked. Was that out of complete ignorance or is this article dishonest? Ae the Muslims becoming athiests or agnostics at a rapid pace once they are exposed to western liberal decadance? I don't believe that they are. I don't believe that Muslims answerred the se polls or if they did they did so dishonestly. They might not desire their numbers to be kmade known, preferring to remain in the back drop as they increase among the agnostic westerners who are not having children and will soon be out-populated. Western nations with no religion may just be kidding themselves as they are slowly Islamsized. The arrogance of the intellectual left will be their undoing if that is true.

    March 26, 2011 at 9:48 am |
  10. Gerrie Warner

    Draw mohamad Day is just around the corner folks!! 🙂

    March 26, 2011 at 6:12 am |
  11. Nelson Blaine

    So it is and so it shall be! If you have ears to ear, why don't you hear? I am a recovery alcoholic and Native American Indian, I did my research, too! I believe the god of the Native American Indians to be weak or non-existent! I came to believe the White man's God was more powerful, because if the Native American Indian God was stronger, None of you would be living on our lands! Since January 5, 1977, I have been looking, searching for the answer to why did the Native American Indian God permit the White man to take all of our lands between Canada and Mexico and conquer us? In my life I have died 7 times, I had out of body experiences, on December 14, 1974 I died on the operating table and I floated in a tunnel and came out into a clear light blue sky, I can not describe the feelings nor the peace I felt. there were 2 people in front of me. When a man holding a book seen me, he motioned for me to go back and I moved my head no. The 2 people in front of me left and this man or heavenly being told me, it was not my time to die and I must go back to lead the whole Indian Race! I said ok! and I woke up in the recovery room. I had my right leg amputated 8in below the right kneecap. I believe and am waiting for the 7 year peace treaty/agreement to be signed with Israel. Those of you who do not believe in God, the Creator, Sustainer and End of all Things will be given a second chance to accept Jesus as your Savior or die at the hands of the anti-christ! You will either accept the 666 or die for Jesus! It sure looks like most of you cater to the on scene thing or go where the crowd goes! Ludifer has your soul all ready! So remember when the anti-christ comes to power I told you so! peace and hope you will find Jesus now before it is too late!

    March 26, 2011 at 2:31 am |
  12. Nelson Blaine

    March 26, 2011-So it is and so it shall be! If you have ears to ear, why don't you hear? I am a recovery alcoholic and Native American Indian, I did my research, too! I believe the god of the Native American Indians to be weak or non-existent! I came to believe the White man's God was more powerful, because if the Native American Indian God was stronger, None of you would be living on our lands! Since January 5, 1977, I have been looking, searching for the answer to why did the Native American Indian God permit the White man to take all of our lands between Canada and Mexico and conquer us? In my life I have died 7 times, I had out of body experiences, on December 14, 1974 I died on the operating table and I floated in a tunnel and came out into a clear light blue sky, I can not describe the feelings nor the peace I felt. there were 2 people in front of me. When a man holding a book seen me, he motioned for me to go back and I moved my head no. The 2 people in front of me left and this man or heavenly being told me, it was not my time to die and I must go back to lead the whole Indian Race! I said ok! and I woke up in the recovery room. I had my right leg amputated 8in below the right kneecap. I believe and am waiting for the 7 year peace treaty/agreement to be signed with Israel. Those of you who do not believe in God, the Creator, Sustainer and End of all Things will be given a second chance to accept Jesus as your Savior or die at the hands of the anti-christ! You will either accept the 666 or die for Jesus! It sure looks like most of you cater to the on scene thing or go where the crowd goes! Ludifer has your soul all ready! So remember when the anti-christ comes to power I told you so! peace and hope you will find Jesus now before it is too late!

    March 26, 2011 at 2:29 am |
  13. Equal Rights

    why am i not allowed to believe in what i believe? you can tell me that i'm wrong but yet i'm shallow, ignorant or a mad hatter if i tell you what i believe. the problem with religion is the ppl. there will come a time, sooner than we think, that we will be FORCED to decide one religion... or die. mulsim nations are surrounding israel – and the oil. extremist muslims, not all muslims, hate the jews, christians, america... in that order. read it up on the muslim brotherhood website. these nations will attack israel, with weapons we supplied them, and we won't do anything bc we need their oil. our economy will be destroyed. with no one to defend them israel will be forced to sign a 7 yr peace pact with them. their 'leader' will claim he is the christ, perform a bunch of miracles and say 'i was wrong, the muslims are right.' we will be forced to choose who to follow – and die if we answer wrong. after 3.5 yrs, this 'leader' will break the peace pact and all hell will break loose. 3.5 yrs after that...... everything is going the way it's been predicted. i believe it will happen in my lifetime and i am willing to be murdered for what i believe... christians around the world have been choosing everyday around the world... a lot of ppl of 'religion' will decide otherwise... you decide what to believe... you think i'm foolish, so what... but what if the christians are right? what then... watch the middle east... watch our government... see if i'm wrong... i don't think i am...

    March 25, 2011 at 11:18 pm |
    • Nodak thought

      It is in the bible so it must be so! PLEASE! Did you never stop to think that mortal man wrote the bible, and that maybe some of these men had their own agenda? Maybe it is a test to see if we are smart enough to realize that religion only divides us, gives reason to hate, and is the most destructive force on earth. Maybe it is just the earth's way of ridding itself of the parasite that humans have become. If there is a god there is only one, and he created all the universe. Some seem to think that the earth was created for man! How egotistical!

      March 26, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
  14. maxhedroom

    Finally John Lennon's vision of a world of people caring for people instead of worrying about some bogus afterlife may be on the horizon. And maybe someday the hatred and violence spawned by zealots will be a thing of the past.

    March 25, 2011 at 10:59 pm |
    • Acaraho

      ... and in the words of John Lennon:

      "Say the word and you'll be free
      Say the word and be like me
      Say the word I'm thinking of
      Have you heard the word is love?
      It's so fine, it's sunshine
      It's the word, love."

      March 26, 2011 at 8:06 pm |
  15. Luigi

    Well, I certainly believe it. Look up ANY statistic, they will all tell you that in the past 100 years (if more that had been collected prior to that, there would be even more evidence) a lot of religious groups have split up, to form other less strict groups who tend to be more liberal about the whole thing. Just in the past 50 years more and more people started (or completely stopped) believing in the God mentioned in the bible, or any other type of God.
    Just read up and do some research, you will find it to be true.

    - From one who isn't afraid to accept life as it is and doesn't need an invisible man to feel better about himself -

    March 25, 2011 at 8:42 pm |
    • glenn robert

      As people are educated they have less need for faith.

      March 26, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
  16. zero gods

    Wow, some good news for once. It's heartening to think that this might be possible, though I'm not sure how much confidence I have in the analysis. Imagine all the people, living for today 🙂

    March 25, 2011 at 7:26 pm |
  17. Richard

    Jesus Saves - At Winn-Dixie

    March 25, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
    • Nodak thought

      Saves what, when, how? Why is it that devout christians can never explain their believes in thier own words. They only spout the lines they learned in their confirmation classses. Surly if you have a life guiding beleif you should be able to speak about it without using time worn canned lines.

      March 26, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
    • Luke

      @Nodak–
      Chill out mate. Winn-Dixie is a supermarket. "Jesus saves at winn-dixie" is a joke. Relax and have a laugh.

      March 28, 2011 at 2:36 am |
  18. Highlander Zazen

    At the end of this century, Religion will be looked at like a nutter's hobby. Seen as the cults they really are.
    So many zealots can't wait for the end of days, and to go on to a better place. Soon as the baby boomers pass away, you will see a big drop in organized religion in the US too.

    Science, Reason and Critical Thinking. Teach your children the facts.

    March 25, 2011 at 2:32 pm |
    • Eddie

      My question is why one cannot believe in God and Science? Science is not the cure to everything... What has science really proven other than a few laws.. String theory, membrane theory, nothing more than physicists with a lot of time on there hands.. The math only proves what they want, which proves nothing... One can believe in both..

      March 25, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
    • glenn robert

      Eddie string theory is not a theory but a hypothesis. It is not testable yet. It would sure make fit nice and looks good, but just the facts, Mam!

      March 26, 2011 at 2:45 pm |
    • Acaraho

      The true test of religions are to compare them to each other. The only common denominator are beings coming down from the heavens with fire, defeating vast human armies, performing superhuman feats, and then ascending back into the heavens on wings of fire. Sounds like it won't be the second coming of Christ we have to look forward to but a future visit from E.T.

      March 26, 2011 at 7:56 pm |
  19. Matthew

    All of you who disbelieve need to stop being so cynical. Christianity is historical, and the only reason you don't believe it is because you have never actually tested it. Give yourself for a period of time to the study of it and the study of the Bible. And stop being so full of yourself thinking that you are the only rational being. I'm sure Saul thought his actions were rational until Jesus himself stopped him in his path to kill more Christians. I'm sure Jane Roe thought she was rational when she had abortion legalized in Roe v. Wade – and look at her now completely changed – all by the power of Christ. Can someone who claims to be rational switch positions and still be rational? Certainly. I believe also that your evolution and big bang is irrational, simply because we do not have any complete certainty about anything that stretches further than written history. For all we know constants that are constants now could actually not be constant – Simply because the time which we can observe is too small. I find that to be perfectly rational. Now what it means, that is something for the imaginations. But my point is STOP being cynical. You are so set in your ways that you don't even look at your fellow human being as rational? Take a chance and ask a few questions. You'll probably find out that things aren't as you think they are.

    March 25, 2011 at 1:16 pm |
    • ScienceSoma

      Matthew,
      Obviously, I do not speak for all atheists, but you may be confusing criticism with cynicism. I am critical at the claim of the existence of Zeus, but I am not cynical about his existence. As for the claim that an atheist does not believe because Christianity has not been tested for them, I must disagree on the basis that the majority of American atheists are apostates and left precisely because Christianity failed the test when scrutinized for evidence of its claims. I would ask you to do the same with Islam: try Islam out, test it before you reject it for Christianity. Do the same with Buddhism, Paganism, Satanism, Judaism, Hinduism, Shinto, etc. Ignorance of other religions does mean mean you do not actively reject them with your choice of Christianity, it just means Christianity is the only belief you are familiar with. It is certainly not the case that religious followers cannot be rational, but it is the case that they do not employ that rationality when examining their theologies and the mythological constructs they are based upon. It is not rational to say God exists because I feel him, or because I know someone who survived a car accident as this is merely confirmation bias – you ascribe the characteristics you want to your idea of God, but there is no objective evidence. Living in a predominantly Christian population, I have many people close to me that are Christians, but that does not make their belief true, nor does it make me care about them any less. I would encourage you to study the history behind the Bible, read it completely, and do the same with other religions and their claims. Emotion and how one wishes the universe to be should never factor into evaluated whether claims are true or false. I am more concerned with whether what I believe is true, not how it makes me and others feel. Hence, no cynicism, but certainly criticism of claims.

      March 25, 2011 at 4:17 pm |
    • Michael

      Matthew, you advise others to withhold judgment on Christianity until they have spent serious time studying it with an open mind and in genuine humility. This is fine as long as you have taken the time to study Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Wicca, and atheism with an open mind and in genuine humility. Otherwise you are a bit of a hypocrite, or maybe just a bit naive.
      I am not being cynical with you, BTW. I did all of the above and boy, was it an eye-opener.

      March 25, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
    • glenn robert

      To sciencesoma: That is one of the most rational things I have ever read on the subject of religion! One side says there is a God the other side says no! Neither position is testable. The word faith is of no use!

      March 26, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
    • Acaraho

      Mathew, if you reject evolution because the time line is too long compared to our written history then examine the field of microbiology and you will see evolution in effect. How do you think viruses mutate? Evolution my son.

      March 26, 2011 at 7:50 pm |
  20. AH

    This is the most pitiful grouping of statistics I have ever seen. Researchers? Really? Or a 25 year old sitting in his moms basis trying to get attention and get a break.

    March 25, 2011 at 12:17 pm |
    • AH

      basement***

      March 25, 2011 at 12:18 pm |
    • Judith S

      Belief in religion is Santa Claus for adults. What we know is that WE DO NOT KNOW. We need to be able to live with that unknowing – that is what is real. Pie in the sky if you grin and bear it is not real.

      March 25, 2011 at 2:15 pm |
    • RSA

      Comparing Santa Clause to Religion? You've got to be kidding me. Santa Clause is fake without a reasonable doubt. God, Creator, Highest Power, Elloh, Jehovah, Allah, etc... In other words, a Creator of every single thing that exists, or can be physically seen, or physically felt, or even that which cannot be physically seen or physically felt, but we know exist. It may not be the end of days, but it sure is heading that way with the way the world is turning. Every human being have only lived for less than a century, but the world has existed for millions of years. I don't think humans can ever understand, because they race to try to know everything when we only know so little and just hope/pray for each other. May God help us.

      March 26, 2011 at 5:58 pm |
    • Maybe

      RSA,

      "May God help us."

      Whatever that is.

      p.s. It's Santa Claus - no 'e' at the end.

      March 26, 2011 at 6:05 pm |
    • PraiseTheLard

      RSA wrote: God... a Creator of every single thing that exists, or can be physically seen, or physically felt, or even that which cannot be physically seen or physically felt, but we know exist... May God help us."

      To which of the thousands of gods invented by mankind over the millenia are you referring? What if you guessed wrong? The currently popular religions out there are based on nothing but ancient fairy tales... They have proved useful in controlling the gullible portions of the population just as Santa Claus has proved useful in controlling gullible children...

      March 26, 2011 at 6:06 pm |
    • Greg

      RSA:

      Wake up. There is no grand creator of the cosmos. We just aren't smart enough yet, (mankind that is) to have answers but in time we will, unfortunately not in my lifetime. Some people just have to have a reason to explain everything, hence religion. It helps them cope from day to day with their existence.

      March 27, 2011 at 2:59 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.