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. DCBuckeye

    And, sadly, predictably, the bitter, little atheists come on here to spew their intolerance and hatred. Hate to tell you, but your comments on religion are about as relevant as a PETA member commenting on how to cook a sausage.

    March 23, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
    • xabana

      Thank goodness we have you to spread sunshine and rainbows.

      March 23, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      'DCBuckeye – And, sadly, predictably, the bitter, little atheists come on here to spew their intolerance and hatred'
      So its the BITTER and LITTLE atheists that are spewing intolerance and hatred huh? Ah the irony.

      March 23, 2011 at 1:43 pm |
    • DCBuckeye

      Sorry to be stating the truth. Well, okay, not really.

      March 23, 2011 at 2:01 pm |
  2. Matt

    Great! Now hoe do I escape from Jesusland to Sanityville?

    March 23, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
  3. Your God

    Athiests = Winniiing!!!!

    March 23, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
    • Tatiane

      Posted on You can check with the cmoapny; they usually have a toll-free number. But for a quick-check in the store, MOST companies that do not test on animals have a little logo of a rabbit in a crossed out circle and say 'not tested on animals' or 'cruelty free' or something similar. It has become a point of pride to many companies and a selling point as well, as many of us consumers learn about the horrors of animal testing and don't wish to support such practices.

      March 1, 2012 at 1:08 pm |
  4. Cedar Rapids

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

    wow, yep, its certainly under threat in Ireland, lol.

    March 23, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
  5. MasterofLogic

    Thank God! Oh, wait . . .

    March 23, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
  6. Henry Miller

    "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."

    Can't happen soon enough–organised religion is responsible for more misery, destruction, and cruelty than any other single factor in Western history.

    March 23, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
    • DCBuckeye

      You're so wise. Yes, your fellow cuddly atheists like Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, Mao, and Castro haven't caused much misery, have they?

      March 23, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
  7. kayms92

    So many people here are elated with this news. Of course, because Christianity accuses them, it tells them they are sinners. They won't have to stick their fingers in the ears and sing so they can't hear the truth anymore. But the truth will still be.. nothing will have changed.

    March 23, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
  8. vel

    ""The Jewish tradition that says prophecy is for fools and children is probably wise," which is pretty funny since the Torah has prophecies in it and Jews believe it and the Bible has it and Christians believe that. Care to be snarky without shooting yourself in the foot, Mr. Kosmin??

    March 23, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
  9. SR

    God may have created the universe, but man created religion as an attempt to understand the universe. And like man, religion is very flawed. It is capable of inspiring good will, but also wars and other evils. Because of the brainwashing it requires to exist, it is the most powerful weapon on earth, as people will kill "for God" and think they are justified in doing so. I sleep easier as more and more people become "unaffiliated" because that means more people are thinking for themselves. Our species' future will be brighter without the prejudice and ignorance perpetuated by religion.

    March 23, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
  10. Susan H.

    Jesus clearly warned us that false religions would arise in the end times. Remove false religion.....but remove Christ and truth?? – I wouldn't want to be living on this earth.... in what would be the most evil existence imaginable to mankind. Christ did not come to judge, but to save us. John 3:16

    March 23, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
    • xabana

      According to this article, in 50 years we'll be able to call you and your ilk mentally insane. I can't wait.

      March 23, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
    • Susan H.

      Your anger will only continue to destroy you....... sad .... but true.....

      March 23, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
  11. 3N1Amen

    Even though I do not know anyone here, I care enough to share Jesus with you. Have you ever truly read John 3:16,17 and understood it?? God truly loves us and sent His One and Only Son Jesus to take our punishment for our sins. Please seek God with all that you have and seek the Truth...it will set you free.
    Have you ever thought about what is to become of you when you die someday? You do realize that we will all die. My question is where are you going when you die?
    Heaven or Hell?? Turn or burn. Choose Jesus. Eternity is forever. Isn't your soul worth it to find out the Truth??

    PLEASE Believe!

    March 23, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
    • vel

      had to add how nice it is that Christiansn depend on fear and threats to spread their religion. Ooooh, turn or burn. 😛

      March 23, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
    • Sara


      March 23, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
    • xabana

      Please mind your own business and let people live their own lives!

      March 23, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
    • So funny

      Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.

      March 23, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
    • carol

      Some of you are clearly unfamiliar with both the Koran and the Bible. Does anyone remember "I have other sheep of other pastures"? Possibly God was talking about Muslims – or Hindus – or Pagans, for all we know. It isn't up to us to judge, it is our responsibility to "judge not that ye be not judged likewise." And to "love they neighbor", not just the one we agree with or understand. Mysticism, symbolism, poetry might be the way he chooses to speak with us. Why does anyone think He stopped talking twenty centuries ago?

      March 23, 2011 at 1:29 pm |
    • Ujelly


      March 23, 2011 at 1:33 pm |
    • Maqana

      You need a point that is substantiated by something other than the bible. Only people that already believe in those stories will accept them as "proof" or "truth". The bible is a beautiful, poetic work of historical FICTION. Lacking any other source of evidence, you will never convince the educated public that it is anything else.

      March 23, 2011 at 1:35 pm |
    • Marrod

      Amen to that

      March 23, 2011 at 1:35 pm |
    • JC

      AMEN to 3N1Amen, you got it right, blessed be the meek, for they shall inherit the earth!!!

      March 23, 2011 at 1:41 pm |
    • PRISM 1234

      @vel and others...
      Have to add this then also: when 40-50 years ago everyone smoked, and you couldn't go anywhere without going home st'inking .... when those who puffed were told by some that it will kill them, did they not laugh and shr'ub it off?
      Now, when a person goes to the doctor, and he says your smoking has caused your lungs to det'erio'rate, and if you keep doing it, you ahve only short time to live.....
      Say, are you going to hate your doctor for telling you the truth about your co'ndi'tion? Any sane person would know to be thankful, and would not desp'ise the doctor...
      What is my point here?..... Do you hate the person who's warning you what is ahead?
      If you know that there is a gap'ing hole down the road ahead, would you not get out and wave your hands franti'cally trying to stop people from going into their de'ath? Should they hate you for trying to save their life?

      That's what you, and people like you are doing! You are like those who hate the ones who warn them of danger ahead!
      God IS NOT a myth! He sent His son, Jesus Christ to de'clare Him, ex'plain Him, and to redeem the fallen human race. Without Him all people are lost.... There is ONLY two destinies of human souls. Heaven, God's dwelling place, and Hell, the place reserved for satan and his angels. Human souls were never meant to enter there. But those who reject Him ,whom God has sent, they have no other des'tina'tion!
      Do you think that's a threat or warning, because God does NOT want you there?!
      Are you going to mo'ck and laugh at what I wrote here?
      If yes, then, suit yourself. Then, all is left for you is to find it out for yourself!

      March 23, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
    • Susan H.

      AMEN 3N1, JESUS CHRIST REIGNS AND WILL FOREVERMORE. HE DIED FOR ALL OF YOU, only asking that you believe and trust in Him. Living in this broken and evil world merely gives you a glimpse of what real Hell is like. It is a spiritual battle, look at all these responses, don't you see it for what it is?? Seek His truth and be free!!

      March 23, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
    • Craig

      Odin is going to be upset with you when you find yourself before His throne in the Halls of Asgard.

      Or wait, maybe it'll be Quetzalcoatl. Or possibly Zoroaster. Or Zeus. Or Ra. Or ...

      Well, anyway, better believe in them all. You know, just in case.

      March 23, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
  12. Frank

    Well one of the prophecies of end times is that many shall turn away from the faith

    March 23, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
    • vel

      yep, another prophecy is that your god kills everyone who rejects him, lets JC reign for a thousand years, then intentionally releases Satan to corrupt more people. What a "good" god.

      March 23, 2011 at 1:29 pm |
  13. fundies

    I still need new shoes.

    March 23, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
  14. Marc


    March 23, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
    • Carolina


      March 2, 2012 at 4:32 am |
  15. ijreilly

    Great news!

    March 23, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
  16. Truth

    Just another sign that the prophecy found in the book of Revelation is being fulfilled. Too bad that most will be siding with Satan when it all goes down.

    March 23, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
    • Truth

      Siding with him directly....or indirectly

      March 23, 2011 at 1:24 pm |
    • Dan613

      Ah.. how comforting knowing that all of us are going to hell, except you, of course!

      March 23, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
    • Ben

      I agree with you very much, that's the prophesy being fulfilled at the time of his coming there will be not faith left on Earth...
      But every knee shall bow and every tongue confess, if you don't do it now, later you will be forced to do it, but it will be too late.

      March 23, 2011 at 1:29 pm |
    • Truth

      No Dan, you aren't going to hell....study the bible and see that what the "holy roller churches" is false

      March 23, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
    • jheron

      You have no idea what the truth is. Your arrogance is only matched by your ignorance of the reality surrounding the book you put so much value in.
      Your only answer is relying on the last place your god exists..the afterlife...just because science doesn't have an answer. I'd rather have no answer than a made up answer.

      March 23, 2011 at 1:43 pm |
  17. Robert

    That's the correct path to follow. Religion is a story we're told when we are kids, with the fear of not even dare to deny God's existence. There's no God, just humans, plants, animals and the laws of nature.

    March 23, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
  18. Dmoney

    saying, “You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God” (Exodus 20:4-5).
    LOL...he admits he is not perfect when he says he is a Jealous God...so he can mess up...if you believe in this magical tale.

    March 23, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
  19. Susan

    Finally some potential good news that might help save the human race if it would also lead to world population control too. Unfortunately it isn't going to happen soon enough. What will be left of Earth when we have the 'unaffiliated' vs Islam/Muslims?

    March 23, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
    • EvoDevo

      Agreed! Good news.

      March 23, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
    • jheron

      I do like how they use the term "Driven" to extinction...which implies that religion is under attack. The growth comes from people finally feeling comfortable with the idea that they have a choice or that they have been exposed to more ideas including the possibility that no God exists.
      There assumption of growth based on being part of the largest group is idiotic since the majority of people still belong to some religion.
      Anyways, here is to a future where it doesn't matter what God you believe in, just that we are kind and respectful to each other.

      March 23, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
  20. Dan613

    The problem with this article is that identifies "religion" with "Christianity". While the numbers may fit for christianity, it doesn't for other religions. Here in Canada christianity is frankly disappearing, but with lots of immigrants from Muslim countries, Islam grows or at least remains healthy. The future, however, is more likely to be pictured with "pockets" of religion in certain areas.

    March 23, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
    • Peter

      I agree. The sword of the Prophet (name of the book) will get you guys as soon as you abandon true God.

      March 23, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
    • PRISM 1234

      When Christianity gets extinguished and Islam moves in, you'll see what happens! Look only to England! But then, God did give them over to Israel's enemies, because they fought so hard against establishment of Jewish state...
      No matter what happens, the Lord is God and He will accomplish His purposes, and no man will stop them from comming to pass.

      March 23, 2011 at 1:40 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.