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. infonomics

    Amen (or finally).

    March 23, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
  2. Ironhouse

    Is religion dying or common sense rising?

    March 23, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
  3. byebyereligion

    The sooner it's gone the better. Maybe then we can all start to get along and prevent from destroying ourselves.

    March 23, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
  4. arejaye

    Good riddance to religions of ALL types. They're the scourge of the earth anyway, and for only the weak with no mind and backbone of their own.

    March 23, 2011 at 2:02 pm |
  5. Kimberly

    I'm glad this article doesn't say it's a good or bad thing that religion is dying out in those countries. As a member of a very religious country (the USA) and being an agnostic I am glad there are more people who are living free from religion in my country as well as elsewhere. I wonder how long it will be till the USA sees similar numbers.

    March 23, 2011 at 2:02 pm |
  6. Citizen X

    Maybe then we can start letting critical thinking and logic steer our countries decisions... religion = a way to control the masses

    March 23, 2011 at 2:02 pm |
  7. Hellbound

    @heavensent, You know I wouldn't mind reading Jesus' truth in the Bible. But since he hasn't authored SQUAT in it and its all written by foulable humans and edited by 2000 years of greedy, controlling, and manipulative religous leaders, I think I will stick to facts and common sense. But you have a good day now.

    March 23, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
    • exp6121

      spoken like a rational, sane, person.

      March 23, 2011 at 2:08 pm |
  8. ZeeMan

    @Michael, Chapel Hill. I would not worry about Muslims in these countries. The author did mention that the increase in Muslim immigration to Europe may throw off the model. It may not seem like it right now but the Muslim population will also catch up. I was raised a Muslim and have many many Muslim friends who at worst (or best) can be described as skeptics. Muslims need more exposure to other cultures and religions, something social media and tv, movies are doing really well. The current problems in Muslim countries are related to social and political transformation, masked in religious upheaval and terrorism. Once the political front is sorted out terrorism and religous fundamentalism will die out. Look no further than Ireland over the last 50 years and you will understand.

    March 23, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
  9. Mr Manny

    Eh, Religion is world's biggest lie. If you ask someone if they are religious people assume they are good people. Religion blacks hearts, but religion also gives hope, calm, and happiness. Is to one's choice and personally i don't care about religion just don't throw it to my face,I respect your religious view so please respect my views of not believing in your god.

    March 23, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
  10. tray117

    Yeah, when I saw Ireland I was like, idiots. But the rest make sense. Religion really takes hold in poor countries, where the people have nothing.

    March 23, 2011 at 1:59 pm |
  11. David

    Religion is like the never-ending metaphor that always is reworded to apply to your situation; people are just stupid enough to believe it

    March 23, 2011 at 1:59 pm |
  12. fundies

    Holy spirit? I lke spirits. Grey Goose is my favorite.

    March 23, 2011 at 1:59 pm |
    • macj121

      Actually, you are onto something here. This is why the Bible encourages people not to get drunk on 'Spirits' but to be filled with the Holy Spirit.

      'Spirits' will only bring out the worse inside of of us.

      The Holy Spirit guides us to Christ-like living.

      March 23, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
    • Dv8er

      Amen to that!!!! ....oooppps...I mean I concur to that!

      March 23, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
  13. isaac mau

    this artical made my day 🙂

    March 23, 2011 at 1:58 pm |
  14. Haemisch

    All arguments about true faith aside, I happen to agree that religion is dying out - especially in Europe. Christians call it the "Great Apostacy" or the "Great Falling Away." It was foretold by Christ (Matt ch 24) and by Paul (I Timothy 4:1).

    March 23, 2011 at 1:58 pm |
    • Neeneko

      It also happens every couple hundred years. People tend to flock to religion when times are bad and wander away from it when times are good. This is one of the problems with biblical predictions, they happen OVER AND OVER. The end of the world has come an gone at least a dozen times....

      March 23, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
  15. mr blue

    My favorite Sci Fi creator said it best.

    We must question the story logic of having an all-knowing all-powerful God, who creates faulty Humans, and then blames them for his own mistakes.
    Gene Roddenberry

    March 23, 2011 at 1:57 pm |
    • DJL329


      March 23, 2011 at 2:01 pm |
    • macj121

      There is only one God. God chose to give humans free choice – out of love. People used their free choice to try to become like God. This is what created the problem ... we tried to become something we were not intended to be.

      March 23, 2011 at 2:01 pm |
    • Ironhouse


      March 23, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
    • Enoch100

      Except he did not create them faulty. Humanity brought that upon themselves. Quoting Rodenberry's misunderstanding doesn't help.

      March 23, 2011 at 2:07 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      'Enoch100 – Except he did not create them faulty. Humanity brought that upon themselves.'
      They did huh? and how did they do that then? by eating of a tree that god slapped in there for some reason, telling them not to eat and acting all surprised when they did? lol.

      March 23, 2011 at 2:12 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      'There is only one God. God chose to give humans free choice – out of love'
      And if they apparently dont make the right choice he will burn them forever in the pits of hell – out of love.

      March 23, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
  16. Han

    Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid.

    March 23, 2011 at 1:57 pm |
  17. Tim

    The Bible prophetically states that false "religion", called in the Bible book of Revelation as Babylon the Great (Rev 17:5), would be done away by the "ten horns" or the entire governmental system of things (that Satan created) under the direction of the United Nations at Revelation 17:16, 17.

    However, this will not truly originate with this central body of nations, but rather Revelation 17:17 says that "God put it into their hearts to carry out his thought, even to carry out their one thought by giving their kingdom (the "ten horns" or all nations of the earth, for the number ten represents earthly completeness) to the wild beast (all nations of the earth under one heading called a "wild beast"), until the words of God will have been accomplished."

    At Revelation 16:12, it says that the sixth angel "poured out his bowl upon the great river Euphrates, and its waters were dried up, that the way might be prepared for the kings of the rising of the sun". Revelation 17:15 explains what is meant by the "great river Euphrates"(for the Euphrates River in ancient Babylon was its protective boundary, keeping it "alive"), by saying: "The waters that you saw, where the harlot is sitting, mean peoples and crowds and nations and tongues."

    Thus, the support system of false religion, consisting of "peoples and crowds and nations and tongues" from around the earth are "drying up", and that at God's appointed time in the near future, he will start the domino effect, by putting into the heart of the United Nations or "scarlet-colored wild beast", his one "thought" to permanently remove false religion from the earth. and make way "for the kings of the rising of the sun", Jehovah God and his Son, Jesus Christ, to then bring Satan's entire political system down.(Rev 6:12-17; 19:17, 18; Matt 24:29, 30)

    March 23, 2011 at 1:56 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      actually i am going to hazard a guess here and say the bible does not say 'united nations' and is merely your intepretation of events.

      March 23, 2011 at 2:10 pm |
    • fellowbeliever

      Excellent explanation. Only those on the narrow road will understand.

      March 23, 2011 at 2:26 pm |
    • ScottK

      Ah, I can spot a JW a mile away. At least they actually read their bibles, better than I can say for most religions out there.

      From the JW co-workers I know, even if none of the bible is true, the world might be a better place if they lived by those principles of theirs.

      March 23, 2011 at 3:08 pm |
  18. Joe

    I lost 20 pounds this year. Scientists predict that within 10 years I'll weigh 0 pounds. Based on current trends.

    March 23, 2011 at 1:55 pm |
    • DJL329

      One year does not a trend make.

      March 23, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
    • Haemisch

      LOL...Exactly! That is why Sociology is not considered a true science. You cannot make predictions on human behavior.

      March 23, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
    • Ruck

      sorry Joe, but no scientists predict.... you're weight loss follows a logarithmic curve, i.e. it will appoach but never reach go beyond a certain point

      March 23, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
  19. Peter

    It is always sad to hear people with so narrow views. You feel pain but you don't see it. You feel heat but you don't see it. You are happy or sad but see emotions. Do you see gravity, electricity, magnetic fields? They are all affecting our daily life. Can't you guys understand that we see 0.01% of everything that is surrounding us? God, soul, angles, demons...they all belong to energy levels and can't be seen by human eyes. Unless materialize (like in Star Wars) in front of us. Go in nature, relax, buy books about atoms, stars, cosmos, life of cell. Start thinking, don't read CNN and listen some losers, that try to make extra buck coming out with so called "mathematical models". My mathematical model shows religion will grow fast, very fast. But those gods will be false gods. You will worship to humanists, to scientists, to politicians, to atheism, to all kind of ideologies. There is always something. Human being has religion built in-embedded deeply inside. Everyone feels need for God, just some people are suppressing that feeling with the power of their mind. They are fighting Him. That is actually freedom we got from God and is absolutely fine. Don't complain later.
    You guys have long time to go to develop enough so you can believe. Every day science is showing more and more prove of God's existence (for those who need those proves). The bottom line is if nothing you will face death one day and then everything will be clear but I guess it will be too late.

    March 23, 2011 at 1:55 pm |
    • antireligion

      I have no need for god embedded within me. Do apply your personal shortcomings to others.

      March 23, 2011 at 1:59 pm |

      Those phenomena you speak of can be measured objectively. Your inability to comprehend this is a sad reminder of the failure of your educational system.

      March 23, 2011 at 2:02 pm |
    • surfdog11

      What will be too late?!!?? According to your scriptures, nimrod, god is a forgiving god in death as in life. The bible was rewitten by Christians because they didn't like what the Jews wrote in the deadsea scrolls. Words written by humans, for humans, about humans, concerning human issues. Not magic, not martians. Grow up

      March 23, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
    • Ruck

      wow! now that's dillusional

      March 23, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
    • PraiseTheLard

      Peter wrote: "God, soul, angles, demons...they all belong to energy levels and can't be seen by human eyes."

      Actually, they all belong in fairy tales. That anyone can actually take them seriously is and has been a tragedy – in more ways than one.

      March 23, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
    • George McLeod

      Which angle should I make my guardian 45 or 90 or somewhere between the two.

      March 23, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      'Every day science is showing more and more prove of God's existence '
      Oh please do cite these sources, they should be good.

      March 23, 2011 at 2:08 pm |
    • Craig

      No, no I don't feel a need for God. And I'm rather insulted that you think I need to "develop" more.

      March 23, 2011 at 2:08 pm |
    • Dan

      I believe there is a higher power, a God, but I don't believe in organized religions organized by men to control their fellow human beings. There is a big difference. Read Destiny of Souls, a most amazing, eye opening, and comforting book.

      March 23, 2011 at 2:11 pm |
    • Eric

      if god wanted sheep he shouldn't have given free will. if god did make us and gave us free will then he's probably smart enough to realize that those who exercise that free will and realize there's not really any evidence for his existence he'd probably under stand. There's plenty of things that god could do if he actually wanted people to believe in him. natural forces that are"signs" interpreted by humans are not cutting it. Plus, with Christianity being the largest religion in the world and still only 33%, and that's being generous, that means at a minimum 66% of the planet is wrong, at a minimum. And then what if the followers of joseph smith and his conveniently absent golden source material is correct. Heaven is going to be a very lonely place and not to mention no starbucks.

      March 23, 2011 at 2:11 pm |
    • Poodlejumper

      No. No science is not "finding proove". I'm afraid that chain email your received from your support group about the scientist who found god and did a pretzel logic study that prooved nothing and did not rock the scientific world.


      It doesn't work that way.

      March 23, 2011 at 2:45 pm |
  20. Megeido

    Human1: you see Jesus is God!!
    John 20:27-29: “Then He said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.’ Thomas said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Then Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’"

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

      That's why I believe in Santa..... He doesn't bring you presents if you don't Believe

      March 23, 2011 at 2:01 pm |
    • Tuut

      Quoting from a fairytale doesn't mean anything.

      March 23, 2011 at 2:02 pm |
    • John Sharp

      I will be so grateful when organized religion is just a part of history. It cant come soon enough. I am so fed up with these silly people and their silly beliefs dominating the cultural conversation.

      March 23, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
    • Enoch100

      its not a fairy tale. It is truth -that you will cling to on your death bed. If you are lucky enough to have one.

      March 23, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
    • Haemisch

      John Sharp:

      Be careful. That kind of hatred sometimes leads to violence. Teh Soviets tried to purge their lands of religion and murdeed millions in the process.

      March 23, 2011 at 2:06 pm |
    • John Sharp

      A Truth? You have to be kidding right?
      This is what makes these people scary, that they think the know the answer. The worst atrocities in human history were created by these same people. The ones that know the truth.

      March 23, 2011 at 2:08 pm |
    • John Sharp


      There is no hatred in my conversation. Just a distaste for ignorant. I no more hate organized religion then I hate children with downs syndrome.
      But I am not willing to allow those children to make all of our cultural decisions.

      March 23, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
    • John

      I think this article has a bias. It says that the authors are not trying to predict the end of religion, just organized denominations. Yet near the bottom says "And Abrams, Wiener and Yaple are not the first to predict the end of religion." So, it IS predicting the end of religion then??

      The strange thing about faith in something you cannot see is you cannot prove it...to do so would defeat the need and purpose to have to demonstrate faith.

      For whatever it's worth, there is absolutely no question in my mind God exists. Once you're faithful, you will absolutely get proof....even though it no longer matters at that point. I'm a evolution-believing, math and science driven kind-of guy who grew up in the MENSA crowd. Trust me when I say that I understand the why many agnostics and atheists feel the way they do. But I've also found one can skip that whole argument, and just try (100%) to be faithful. If you can get there, you won't go back to the questions and doubts. There's a reason why people like Hawking or Einstein or Fermi held religious views alongside of science.

      March 23, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
    • John Leonard

      Yes! We must believe in the Bible because the Bible says we must believe in the Bible. I see nothing wrong with that logic.

      March 23, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
    • Poodlejumper

      Yes...scare me some more with paper and lack of demonstrative fact.

      That will work.

      On morons...

      March 23, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
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About this blog

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.