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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. Dream On..

    The article is just a dream that never comes true.

    December 9, 2011 at 10:38 pm |
  2. R

    With how many rednecks are online these days I scrolled down to the comments to get some laughs at their expense. I'm very surprised they're not trying to put up a fight over here.

    December 9, 2011 at 10:17 pm |
  3. george busch

    Religion can't disappear fast enough. I am tired of dealing with all these scheming hypocrites who wrap themselves in the bible and stab everyone in the back, then justify their actions using religion. As soon as someone claims their faith I back up and grab my billfold to keep their greedy hands from it.

    December 9, 2011 at 8:05 pm |
    • The real john

      Your feelings and opinion are extremely religious. Hate to tell you that, but true. Funny how you become what you most despise

      December 9, 2011 at 9:04 pm |
  4. Bruce McGlory

    If only this would spread worldwide. Then, someday we will have world peace.

    December 9, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
    • The real john

      Some of the most unpeaceful and war torn countries have very little religion

      December 9, 2011 at 9:05 pm |
  5. Yahweh

    I pray for the day religion goes extinct

    December 9, 2011 at 5:37 am |
    • The real john

      Religion is never about god, it is manmade. That is why it will never go away. That is why Jesus despised it

      December 9, 2011 at 9:06 pm |
  6. Nelson the Cat

    This is about the most naive analysis I've seen. There are dozens of long standing persecuted minority religious views that don't "disappear." The Copts in Egypt, the Republicans in California, the Jews just about everywhere but Israel, only to name a few. I have no idea where the authors get this notion of a "majority effect" and a "utility effect" but it sounds like an analysis driven primarily by wishful thinking. Religious movements, including religious skepticism, have been moving in and out of favor since the beginning of recorded history. Maybe that's why it's on CNN instead of in a journal. Perhaps these mathematicians should stick to math.

    December 9, 2011 at 4:01 am |
    • Richard

      The idea here is that the majority of people won't be religious. It doesn't say all religions will disappear completely. There will always be smaller groups of this or that but for the most part most people won't be religious. I also hope it means that because we're less religious that we are neutral enough to leave the people that are religious alone and in peace.

      December 9, 2011 at 10:13 am |
    • WinWinSituation

      'Republicans in California"

      Hahaha... that was classic/

      December 9, 2011 at 7:35 pm |
  7. brett

    You mean all those backwoods rednecks speaking in tongues are wrong?! I don't believe it!

    December 9, 2011 at 3:35 am |
  8. Bryan Kirchoff

    Actually, the only reason religion might die out in these countries is because these countries themselves might die out. The secularization of Europe and its demographic stagnation are not unrelated. Look at the shift of House seats, electoral votes, and federal funding after the last census, and it becomes apparent the same applies to the more secular portions of the U. S.

    Bryan Kirchoff
    St. Louis

    December 8, 2011 at 11:44 pm |
    • Richard

      It's science and understanding of your environment as well as deeper questioning that are destroying religion. If you sit and honestly think about the miracle of existence the whole Jesus, Bible thing falls apart quite dramatically.

      December 9, 2011 at 10:15 am |
    • The real john

      Richard, what you just explained is an enlightened connection to god. You are tangled in semantics. I wish people would wake up and stop taking sides and start seeing..

      December 9, 2011 at 9:09 pm |
    • GPC

      Actually, the more secular countries in Europe have the highest birth rates. The most religious countries have the lowest births rates. Google "Is Secularization Responsible for Lower Birth Rates?" to see the numbers.

      "While all of these countries (compared in the article) have birth rates below replacement rate (2.1%), there is no correlation between high rates of atheism or nontraditional beliefs and low birth rates. The more religious countries actually have lower birth rates with Ireland being the exception."

      December 9, 2011 at 10:10 pm |
  9. DD

    If believers REALLY believed God exists, they would not act the way they do. If they truly did believe that what the Bible says is true, then they really would, as Jesus told the rich man, sell all that they had and give the money to the poor.

    If God existed, people wouldn't have to BELIEVE it. They'd KNOW it.

    December 8, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
  10. DD

    Ireland is going to be religion-free? Really? Kind of ironic after all those Catholic-Protestant clashes over the years.

    December 8, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
    • TheMoMo

      I think the younger generation that grew up watching that insanity is driving the movement. The Catholic Church used to have a stranglehold on Ireland and the people finally rebelled...it's a beautiful thing.

      December 8, 2011 at 9:31 pm |
  11. Lucifer's Evil Twin

    I'll make a prediction. If Perry or any of the other as.sorted christian cultists gets elected and actually manages to start applying their theocracy upon us, I will join or lead the insurgency to remove them. "All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent". – Thomas Jefferson

    December 8, 2011 at 12:16 pm |
    • Richard

      Awesome!

      December 9, 2011 at 10:17 am |
  12. GOD_OF_MAN

    This post will serve as proof that I exist so STFU you atheist.

    December 8, 2011 at 10:50 am |
    • MarkinFL

      God posts on a CNN blog? Oh how the might have fallen!

      December 8, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
  13. God

    Here is your proof, this posting.. now STFU atheist.

    December 8, 2011 at 10:49 am |
    • trippp

      Goto "hell" god. Since you dont exist the whole notion of "god" is moot.

      December 8, 2011 at 2:11 pm |
    • Bruce McGlory

      WEll sure. If God existed, he would post misspelled, internet-meme filled gibberish on CNN's website.

      December 9, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
  14. testosterona

    Yo realmente amor por ti para los huéspedes publicación en religion.blogs.cnn.com

    December 5, 2011 at 1:04 pm |
  15. comprar Proviron

    Usted ha hecho algunos buenos puntos de allí. Hice una búsqueda sobre el tema y encontró la mayoría de la gente estará de acuerdo con religion.blogs.cnn.com

    December 4, 2011 at 12:18 pm |
  16. Somatrope 15 IU

    Problemas tremendos en religion.blogs.cnn.com. Estoy muy satisfecho con compañeros de su artículo. Muchas gracias y estoy mirando hacia adelante para tocar. Será tan amable de enviarme un correo?

    November 30, 2011 at 8:59 pm |
  17. Golden Rule

    My whole life as a Christian, I never saw a bit of proof. Ever. From anyone at anytime. It didn't matter to me because I was insane and participating in a group psychosis. Now I am free. I'm not in your nasty little cult anymore.
    Sincerity is not proof that something is true.
    Dying for something does not make it true.
    We are not liable for what other people do if we were not involved in the first place.
    Emotional feedback is not proof that something is true.
    Emotions and feelings have no relation to the truth. They are caused by brain chemicals, not by anything supernatural.
    The Bible is a mishmash of different fables and extreme exaggerations and outright lies.
    Every so-called holy text in existence is made-up.
    I could go on, but why should I bother? When you are a participant in the group psychosis, you are a prisoner of the mind.
    What believer will listen to reason regarding their faith or what it's based on...when reason opposes religion?
    Many believers do not like to think about other religions in a way that might show the weaknesses in their own religion.
    They refuse to question the very causes of their religion. They think they already know it, yet they have never seen any proof of it themselves.
    I remember what it was like and how lobotomized I felt when deep in "faith."
    I can recreate my "faith" just by remembering how it felt.
    I KNOW that "faith" is a mental disconnect with perception and reality and awareness.
    It is a mental filter that strangles a person's ability to think realistically about almost everything.

    Religion has shown time and time again that it is nothing but group-psychosis that is also a giant hoax on the victims.
    Like any group-psychosis, most inside of it find companionship, comfort, and repeated reinforcement of the "tenets" and special propaganda and anything that can be used to explain any obvious hole in the shared-psychotic-belief.

    Hey, when I busted out of it, I made sure I was correct in every supposition. My faith was deep, but I clawed my way out and escaped the clutches of anyone who might use my religion against me by making sure I was being reasonable about it.
    Logic and common sense and science knowledge are tools for freedom from delusion. Any delusion.

    Proof is impossible because there is no "God", no "Jesus", no "Holy Spirit", no supernatural anything.
    There is no way I'd ever willingly pretend that a lie is true.

    That's why I'm an atheist. I'm more honest than you believers.

    October 21, 2011 at 9:58 pm |
    • Jacob Cremer

      I applaud your argument. Thank you for putting it so simply.

      December 8, 2011 at 8:47 pm |
    • TheMoMo

      Well said. If it didn't feel good to believe, people wouldn't do it (especially now that most societies don't require it as they used to). Honestly, it just boggles my mind when I meet an intelligent adult and find out they still believe in what is, to me, an obviously man-made attempt to explain the inexplicable.

      December 8, 2011 at 9:36 pm |
    • Richard

      I'm not a believer in someone as imperfect as God or Jesus or the bible. According to the religious in my imperfect, sinning self I would never measure up to God but I could never imagine burning someone for eternity because they didn't believe in me or love me. Just the same there is quite the mystery behind our existence and the same thoughts that keep me from believing in Jesus are the same thoughts that keep me from not believing in something. I don't know the answer is and I won't take any man made answer to my questions but there's got to be something somewhere. Otherwise, like the Bible or Jesus or whatever god or thing you believe in none of this makes any sense. If we look at nature nothing is ever wasted and there's always a reason for something happening or existing.

      December 9, 2011 at 10:25 am |
  18. Laura

    I would hope that people aren't so flippant about their religion that they would abandon it just because it's what the majority is doing. It's one thing to wear the clothes that are "in" right now, but if people abandon their religions because they're no longer "in" then they were probably not real believers to begin with.

    August 4, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
    • Eth-Jade

      Well yeah. I doubt half of today's religious people actually acknowledge let alone fullheartedly believe in any of the junk they claim to follow. But it's hard to blame them for that... considering most religious teachings are rife with contradictions and plain absurdities that make it essentially impossible to believe in absolutely every thing your book or your teachers tell you to.

      Let's be real. Most people don't even read their holy books (provided their religion even has one). Most Christians, for example, are only aware of the few oft-repeated bible stories they hear from their parents, their Church leader, or just in general...and even those stories are usually watered down or heavily edited so as to be appropriate for children, since they're often told in cartoons, films and picture books.

      If more people read their bibles... there'd be less believers. Hey – we should check to see if the spread of literacy has had a correlation to conversion of believers to non.

      August 6, 2011 at 12:39 am |
    • Richard

      Are you serious? This sort of behavior happens all the time. Look at Germany and Hitler...don't think any group of people or nation are above this sort of en masse thinking.

      December 9, 2011 at 10:29 am |
    • Bruce McGlory

      WHy? The only reason most people believe is because those around them do. The staggering majority of people stick with the religion of their parents. It's just monkey-see, monkey-do anyways.

      December 9, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
  19. Dawn

    Does this guy Richard Allen Greene have a facebook page?

    July 29, 2011 at 1:40 am |
  20. Alpha

    Very sad to hear almost nobody believes in Christ anymore.

    July 1, 2011 at 1:40 am |
    • Stygius

      Don't worry. Anders Brevik still believes in jesus.

      August 1, 2011 at 9:55 am |
    • dwerbil

      Well Alpha, when you look at one of Christianity's utterly basic premise of "If one rejects God or Jesus, they burn in hell for eternity" and then make it more personable like....."If you reject me, you will burn in hell for eternity"....be honest now....just how sick and perverted is that?
      That's just for starters. For more reasons to keep religion out of their life, look over the Skeptic's Annotated Bible web site. While on site, you could click on "Cruelty and Violence" for starters.

      December 8, 2011 at 11:56 am |
    • trippp

      Why? I do not understand the need to beleive in something that is not real just to make yourself have meaning. Its a waste of time. Your time would be better spent making you and your family a better home, a better world.

      December 8, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
    • dwerbil

      trippp, bless you.

      December 8, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
    • Tom Snowy Tom

      @Stygius

      While Loughner never trust God.

      December 9, 2011 at 10:22 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.