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. Lee Oates

    As people become more educated religion will decline until it becomes a set of stories equivalent to fairy's and dwarves.

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

      Indeed. Imagine how silly we will look to the first generation not to be sp-oon fed it from birth.

      March 23, 2011 at 1:42 pm |
  2. Julia

    This article fills me with such hope! Christians have destroyed the United States of America with their belief in a fake creator while forcing it on others like it's a fact. Maybe if we let some of this so-called Christianity go, we won't have so many starving people in this country, greedy Republicans who shake their finger at social issues because they think they know best, and most of all, equality for everyone else who isn't a white old Christian man. Christianity can't go soon enough for me!

    March 23, 2011 at 1:31 pm |
  3. GGinSan Diego

    Amen and hallelujah!

    March 23, 2011 at 1:31 pm |
  4. notborncynical

    The sooner the better. More wars, persecutions, bloodshed, greed and discrimination have been waged in God's name over human history than we can possibly count. I'd like to see a new religion that is based on believing in one's self and one's fellow human beings. That would be such a nice change from the many religions today where people are putting all their faith in a nonexistent God and turning against anyone who doesn't share their beliefs.

    March 23, 2011 at 1:31 pm |
  5. Ziggy

    There is a fundamental flaw in this study – when you look at the birth rate of Muslins vs non-muslims around the world, in the next 20+ years, these same countries, if things are left status quo, will become Muslim countries. This will disprove the main premise of this study.

    March 23, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
  6. Anon

    Its always "God" who gets credited for-
    -Recovery from illness (but one never questions why then all those terminally ill, the ill-fed, etc)
    -Walking out of a car wreck (even though all others in the other vehicle died)
    -Missing a flight that crashed (so what if others had ill fate, God chose ME to live)
    -Out of a burning house in the arms of a fireman (although 2 other firemen burnt to death in the process)
    -Bullet that hit your shoulder and not the heart (although millions have gone down a smoking barrel)

    Faith truly is blind. Truly undeserved credit.

    March 23, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
  7. JoeSchmo2000

    Ah, so 9 countries I'll be interested to look into moving to! Religion has a death grip on our government, our policies, and the advancement of science. Can you imagine a world without things like discrimination based on religion, or the Westboro Baptist Church no longer exist? Glorious is the only word I can think of to describe that.

    March 23, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
  8. sahajmohit

    on positive note..may be all religion may become one....i mean everyone celebrating every religion and its teaching with enthusiasm ..and it is HAPPENING!!

    March 23, 2011 at 1:29 pm |
  9. James

    Finally some good news!

    March 23, 2011 at 1:29 pm |
  10. darla

    This is a good thing if we remove all religious affiliation that everyone belongs too. We will see humans who like us have the same capacity to get hurt, love and and be respected. Maybe we'll understand more of our humanity and the values and importance of protecting our species so we can all survive the next catastrophic. cycle of this earth.

    March 23, 2011 at 1:29 pm |
  11. Nick

    If Europe is "peaceful" it's only after the blood and struggle of millions; hardly shining examples of "nonreligious" avoiding war. Europe exists ONLY becuase of those who were willing to defend it-many of them American.

    And aren't we being presumptious here? Was Hitler religious? Was Stalin religious? What about Mao? Pol Pot? The evidence points in the opposite direction. In the name of religion many have killed, but despite the best hopes and wishes of humanist thinkers, without the restraining power of faith, mankind may only let loose the hounds of unbridled evil even more.

    These "unreligious" nations cited, may be unreligious now, but they sleep in their beds at night becuase someone died defending their right to eat Nutella and attend soccer games many years ago. They may have abandoned the faith of their fathers; but they can hardly say they built their nation without them.

    From a non-religious perspective, you may be taking up valuable resources for endangered sea-sponges or spoiling the ecosystem for mud-snails. So in the best interest of mankind you should euthanize yourself and the only people calling for you to hold back are often the religious-telling you that your life matters, God made you and you are valuable. Secular humanists say the oppisite-the population is exploding–stop having children--save the owls--human life is worthless!

    Believe it or not: it can get worse. Eugenics was the brainchild of the NON-religious. N0n-religious people brought us concepts of Nietzche's (hailed by Hitler) superman, genetic superiority, sterilization of undersirables (Margaret Sanger) which led to the Holocaust. What about China: where last year's Nobel prize winner sits in prison?

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

      Hitler was Catholic but please carry on

      March 23, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
    • darla

      This are assumption Nick you don't know that. Your post indicates that you like most people who have low tolerance and have little information are scared of things that you don't know. People who did those stuff had been indoctrinated to believed that one part of society is not valuable to exist anymore. You see when you don't have any doctrines inbeeded to you since childhood you had to follow them no matter what Eugenic are invented by the Nazi propaganda machine and you must know that their leader Adolf Hitler was raised with a strict Christian values.

      March 23, 2011 at 1:41 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      'Eugenics was the brainchild of the NON-religious'
      And yet was practised in the US from the early 1900's to 1960's, unless you wish to claim it was only the 'non-religious' americans that were involved in that.

      March 23, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
  12. fundies

    I think they will try to survive by posing as unorganized religious groups.

    March 23, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
  13. Sam

    Yea some say it is easier to believe in God and just take on a religion, then it is to study all these reports and science studies. But you know what is even easier; to just look at the universe around us, anatomy and physiology, and say it came from evolution. It requires no responsibility or conscientious action on our behalf. The belief of evolution has never and will never pass from being a theory is because it can’t be proven. I’m a person that just looks for the facts. Want to know what is really hard? Finding the truth about it all. Jesus Christ did exist, just think; he effected time for all generations. Everything revolves before or after Christ . I think someone that impacted society to that level must have been pretty important . He too said this would happen (Mathew 7:13-14) He said many would take the easy rout. But sadly that rout just leads to destruction at many levels of society and later at a larger scale. The Bible is a special book. No one really has proven it wrong. It said thousands of years ago that the earth was round and sustained in space. And that was when the rest of the modern worlds thought it was flat! History shows Egypt thought the earth was on top of elephants over a sea turtles back. But The Bible said in those same times what Job 26:7 said. This was scientific fact that was thousands of years ahead of its time. When you read it with no agendas in mind just a meek heart you can understand how things really are. It is the only book in history that to understand it you don’t need to be smart, but you do need to have the right heart and state of mind. People read it trying to prove their point and that’s why there are so many religions that have just divided society. Jesus said that only a few would find the true path. Please READ YOUR BIBLES DAILY. It is true that, FALSE, prophesy is for fools but it is childish to see straight up facts and just deny them. Mathew. 24:7-14, and 2 Timothy. 3:1-5 are True prophesies that were said almost two thousand years ago, and are now, more than ever, being seen in a full worldwide level. Those those are just two of many true prophesies the Bible has said that history has proven correct .

    March 23, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
    • Common sense

      what if you took the same to type it (which probably took you half a day) and do something useful out of yourself? Maybe perform a scientific experiment? 😛

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

      what the point of reading..reading....this is not Lord Jesus said to read Bible..He didnt write the Bible

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

      You say evolution can't be proven and that's why we shouldn't believe in it. I say that the whole "Jesus thing" can't be proven, and that's why I don't believe in it.

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

      'The belief of evolution has never and will never pass from being a theory is because it can’t be proven.'
      Oh lord another one that does not understand the term theory in a scientific setting. sigh.

      'It said thousands of years ago that the earth was round and sustained in space.'
      No it doesnt, it says its a circle and hangs in space. neither of which are correct.

      'And that was when the rest of the modern worlds thought it was flat!'
      Actually the ancient greeks had already determined the earth was not flat, around 6th century BC, so wrong again.

      'History shows Egypt thought the earth was on top of elephants over a sea turtles back. '
      No the Hindu mythology alludes to similar but the egyptians did not have that myth. The egyptian and surrounding areas believed more in a flat circle surrounded by ocean, which is actually closer to what the bible stated.

      Wow so much wrong in one post.

      March 23, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
    • TheGuy

      In science things don't get 'proven' it is all about evidence. If the evidence is abundant about an issue then scientists and others believe that is the direction of truth but if more evidence is discovered to the contrary and is even more abundant then truth goes in another direction....that is how humans have reached the point of knowledge we are at ... and with time we will get closer to the truth of things. Proofs are for mathematicians...trust me I have studied math and certain fields of science very extensively. Religion suppresses or denies scientific evidence until the evidence is so abundant they have no choice but to change their fossilized thinking and beliefs. The Catholic Church once thought the universe revolved around the earth to say otherwise was heresy punishable by death or imprisonment.

      March 23, 2011 at 2:07 pm |
    • Tony

      which gives it way more credibility. Also the fact that it was tretwin by about 40 men, who were regular people over a period of 1610 years, so obviously they didn't write it together, yet their writings agree, even to the smallest detail. Various portions are intertwines expertly, showing that it was inspired from God and not man. This is a quote that was taken from one of our publications. Clearly, all religions do not lead to the same God. But there is one group that stands apart from all others—Jehovah’s Witnesses, now numbering over seven million around the world. By advocating and adhering to God’s Word, the Bible, they have done what no other group or organization has been able to do, namely, unite people of diverse nationalities, languages, ethnic backgrounds, and races in worship of the one true God, Jehovah. The Koran and the Book of Morman were tretwin after the Bible by men who claimed to supercede Jesus. I am pretty sure that both Muslems and Mormans acknowledge the Bible as an accurate Holy Book but they use the other books for their primary information rather than the Bible. The Bible gives NO indication that anybody would supercede Jesus. I just read an article about this but I can't find it. But everything in the Bible points to Jesus being the last which would mean that anything tretwin by men claiming other information, would be false. There are even scriptures warning about twisting the scriptures and warning against writings afterward. I don't have the exact scriptures but if you at all want to continue with this conversation, I would be more than happy to get some exact scriptures. Please let me know if you have any more questions. Our objective isn't to brainwash anybody, we just want to be able to teach those with an open heart and those with questions. In a world with so much insecurity with politics, religion, terrorism and natural disasters, I am in complete peace and do not fear the future at all. I'm not sure many can truly say that!!! Don't worry, I don't jugde people on their views of religion and I don't pick my followers based on that. I avoid the blogs that promote their religion A LOT if I don't share their views but I certainly don't blame someone for sharing their questions and beliefs!! My blogs have NOT focused on religion but I do enjoy talking with those with a hearing ear!Debbi Does Dinner Healthy s last [type] ..[]

      March 3, 2012 at 11:55 pm |
  14. Common sense

    At last a good sign, more and more people are opening their eyes to the deceit offered by couple thousand years old fairy tales!!!! Imagine world without religion... a perfect world!!!

    March 23, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
  15. VirulentShadow

    So God loves all of us so much that he creates us, punishes us for asking questions and caring about Knowledge, then wipes us all out, then chooses only one tribe to love, then decides that after that tribe has killed hundreds of tribes that he wants to sacrifice himself to himself to change a rule he made himself.... and it has to be a blood sacrifice. This is the most ludicrous thing ever.

    March 23, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
    • macj121

      We choose to live sinful lives and God cannot be around sin ... God equals all things good ... when we reject God He leaves us and then we don't experience anything good.

      He did not choose this, we did. Enjoy your freedom of choice.

      March 23, 2011 at 1:40 pm |
  16. I wouldn't exactly call it good news, but it isn't bad either

    People have things like twitter to distract themselves from their fears and such, they don't NEED a god anymore, they have other things to cope with.

    March 23, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
  17. Austin

    Good. The sooner the better.

    "Organized religion" (e.g., "don't think for yourselves, believe whatever we say") is the single greatest impediment to true spiritual awareness.

    March 23, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
    • Kwasi Broni

      I couldn't agree more!

      March 23, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
    • macj121

      Wow ... sounds like you've been clouding your mind with too much Tolle/Oprah.

      March 23, 2011 at 1:35 pm |
  18. Gorteza

    Religion is a contradiction. Always losing to GOD. Whatever... as long as I'm breathing and the world is turning life is good.

    March 23, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
  19. fundies

    watch out for unorganized religion to take over by anarchy and bedlam.

    March 23, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
  20. helper

    It's because too many religions have been corrupted by political influence and by the entertainment minded. That does not mean people don't love God. They just no longer believe in the hypocrisy of men who use religion to their own ends.
    But reports like these cause anti-God radicals to come out of the wood work by the dozens.

    March 23, 2011 at 1:25 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.