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. Pee Wee Herman

    What no people knocking on your door asking if you heard the word of the lord. No psychos yelling at the bus stop yelling at everybody that Jesus is coming. No judgemental bigot Christians telling non belivers there going to hell. I wished it was already like that.

    March 23, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
  2. Paul

    1 Corinthians 2:14
    The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.

    March 23, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
    • Doogle

      You need to quote the bible to have an opinion? Sad.

      March 23, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
    • fundies

      I can't wait to get home and get a few spirits in me. Not a lot, just a little.

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

      1 Fundies 3:41 I like Grey Goose spirits inside me.

      March 23, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
    • LadyAnon

      The problem with this is: Not everyone in the US or the world shares your beliefs. When people of one faith go and recite religious quotes from their chosen Holy Book/Writings (whether it be the Bible [any version], the Koran, the Lotus Sutra or even the Wiccan Rede, for example) and direct them toward others that DO NOT share their faith, as if it should have some impact, they may as well be reciting Mother Goose Rhymes with the same intent.

      Why don't people get that? You cannot assume that everyone shares your religious beliefs or views. You also have no right to try to force others to behave according to the dictates of your religious doctrines. This is America and in this country we have the freedom of religion and that includes not only religions OTHER THAN CHRISTIANITY, but NO RELIGION as well. Deal with that.

      March 23, 2011 at 3:51 pm |
  3. Religions are BS

    All religions are one big pile of dung! Some eat it; others avoid or accidentally step on! Regardless, the putrid stench lingers!

    March 23, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
  4. fundies

    I beginning to like math more and more. It's fun.

    March 23, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
  5. Rick

    Wow.. lucky countries..

    March 23, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
  6. Eric G.

    Jesus built my HotRod.

    March 23, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
  7. LadyAnon

    1st – Man created God to control the masses. It's that simple.

    2nd – You can raise well behaved, well adjusted children without religion. My son is proof of that. Doesn't drink or use drugs, has aspirations to pursue physics after HS, caring person, great sense of humor...all around wonderful kid. Although he did ask me one year (when he was about 11 years old) what the Christians were celebrating at Easter. I told him it was the resurrection of Jesus after he died. He got a confused look on his face and asked, "Jesus was a Zombie?" Kids are awesome.

    March 23, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
    • GwT

      I disagree. Religion was created to explain life and the universe. It was men that used these beliefs to control others. But, I do agree with you that there are certain cultural constants and core beliefs amongst cultures and societies that allow for the raising of children without religion.

      March 23, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
  8. Annexian

    I hear people say that the Devil's greatest triumph is to convince man he doesn't exist. I disagree, I say it's Religion...

    What better way to seperate Man from God than a bunch of opressive rules that over ages become "Bronze Age Taboo" and either an excuse for those in power to justify rule or a way of a priest to get away with shoving his herpetic d-ck in a little boy's a– in "St Simon of Trent's home for wayward boys"? To justify slavery and colonialism? To indulge quite sinful people from the backwoods into multi-millionaires 'cause they can charismatically rave a holy text while they scream about the immorality of a person from the backwoods who made their millions from naughty pictures but at least made a product that other people bought?

    Claiming it's the only way to heaven, then using the absurd contrast of slightly different faiths and the alienation of all other men from different cultures, then tying it to man's failure, greed, lust...

    People then go to church fearing public scorn, the inquisition, the law even... They obey the "Rules" only for fear of being punished, do good deeds only for hope of reward, rendering both spiritually worthless. Likewise, they fear God, desire heaven, fear h-, but inside they feel so oppressed they secretly hate him and then fear no matter what they do they are condemned, hating him more for creating such an absurd world. Most "Good Christians" would likely pick a fight with Jesus if they met him in RL...

    And, it worked on me. Despite being brought up with a lot of exposure to religion, I was an athiest/pagan but really believing NOTHING.

    Then, I had an experience. No, not near death, and I won't get into it here. I simply believe in God absolutely now.

    I won't make any claims of any "Special" authority, no edicts that are "Official"... It's tempting, the thought of starting my own religion and getting access not to boyz but young (not children) women and having fanatics obey me... Except that I'd know it was wrong. Not fearing h-ll for it, or desiring favor for it. I saw God and in that instant it changed me, I'd simply know such behavior would be wrong. I won't tell what I was told, but I'll tell what I was NOT told to do; to shout that people are immoral from street corners and shove Chick Tracts in other's faces...

    We do NOT need Religion. Certainly not it's authority.

    Really, we are getting near Easter now, remember the Passion story. Besides the crucifixion and the "His blood be upon us..." thing the Jews cry about? They (and all religionists) should fear later in the story; The temple was shattered. The "Holy of Holies" laid bare for all to see...

    The symbolism there is that from that day forward there could be no authority no intermediary between Man and God. God wants people to come to him, to love him, not to obey rules from people claiming to be his eyes and ears. (and other parts of the anatomy) To love him and accept his promise, not fear/hate him and obey irrelevant bronze age rules made indistinguishable from good rules fearing his wrath. To include others, not curse them because their 'definition' of belief differs. To forgive others, not in hopes of, but the spirit of accepting forgiveness for your sins and failings.

    March 23, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
  9. Dave Dawkins

    Thank "god"! *LMAO*

    March 23, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
  10. Jesus Lives !!!

    You guys need to stop letting satan takeover your minds and let JESUS in your hearts.

    March 23, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
    • Satan is a Backseat Driver

      I only let Satan takeover when I am driving and either really tired or trying to eat.

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

      Jesus lives, but he's in the barrio. He can't be bothered. Si.

      March 23, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
  11. Zebula

    Best news I've read all day.

    March 23, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
  12. matt

    makes me proud to be a Canadian

    March 23, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
  13. veggolove

    Funny, those countries they mention seem to have the lowest crime rates.....

    March 23, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
    • Colin

      And highest standards of living, best education and always finish at the top of the least corrupt

      March 23, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
    • NoFluf

      Colin –

      Not true on standards of living – the standards of living in the 5 poorest states (US) is afar and away higher than the 5 richest countries in the E.U. according to a study completed by 2 Swedish economists for the E.U.

      March 23, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
    • Colin

      @nofluf. Don't know where yo uread that, but I am skeptical. I have been to all the countries listed, save Finaland. I can assure you they top Mississippi anyday.

      March 23, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
  14. NoFluf

    Write the conclusion with a pencil not a pen, and keep an eraser in your other hand.

    "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."

    Seems like a slightly illogical conclusion given that religions grew from non-existence to regional/global dominance. I.E. – there was a time when there were 120 followers of Jesus but in time it became the dominant religion in the West with 100's of millions of followers globally.

    So it's possible that people will identify with the majority but certainly not even likely or even necessary. There must be other factors taken into account.

    March 23, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
    • Doogle

      There was no religion before Christianity? Holy Zeus!!

      March 23, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
    • NoFluf

      Doogle –

      There was no Christianity before there was Christianity . . . duh . . .

      Sad to think that would even need to be pointed out but at least you can spell.

      March 23, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
    • RealisticHumanist_986487563

      I think Doogle's point was that the majority of people believed in some kind of religion. Christianity is attractive because its adherents are instantly "forgiven" for any wrongdoing, securing their eternal place in heaven without any real effort. It makes sense that it would gain popularity very quickly.

      What's really sad is how quickly you, and other religious adherents, go into attack mode against people who disagree...like you did with Doogle. That's one of the most harmful effects of religion. If people think they're "righteous" than hurting others is of little consequence in the big scheme of things.

      March 23, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
    • Doogle

      God is love; why is he jealous? God is Jesus and the Holy Spirit; why need the Sybil approach?
      My point was polytheism has a wonderful long history and I personally think you have the right to think or believe whatever rubbish you want...whatever that may be. Religion (monotheism or polytheism), astrology, astronomy, cosmology or the rules of scrabble. If you are an empiricist, you live in a world where religion is hard to swallow, yet most empiricists are believers...it is fun to have this great debate. It is fun to rile up both sides...simple questions, like what is the point of an omnipotent sentient being creating us, setting us up to fail, etc.? So he can be worshiped? Why bother?
      And on the other hand, what is the point of the universe in general? Big bang to the big freeze...to what end? If I don't worship and I incapable of love? What if I worship the wrong god or several gods? Are polytheists going to hell because their culture didn't invent monotheism? That isn't their fault, surely...Is the Holy Trinity going to make exceptions in these cases?
      As you can tell, I am not a theologian...or else I'd have all the answers. I am just a mortal with the belief that nobody I've met is convincing me either way. So do I burn in hell because of that? Why would a loving god bother with torture?

      March 23, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
  15. Locode

    Good riddance to religion. Only when religion is gone will we be able to properly live.

    March 23, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
    • NoFluf

      what set of beliefs do you approve? Are the adherents to those beliefs perfectly consistent (never hypocritical) and always making the world a better place?

      March 23, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
  16. Sgt. Joe

    This is great news; there's hope for education afterall! The world is no longer flat.

    March 23, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
    • D

      Take. That. Back.

      March 23, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
  17. Maty

    To be replaced with what? Facebook and the pharmaceutical companies? No, thank you.

    March 23, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
    • Colin

      Science, reason and freethought.

      March 23, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
    • Maty

      We have that, Colin. Can't we enjoy having a selection of opinions? Or just yours?

      March 23, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
    • HiddenShadows

      All science has done is make it easier to kill people who you don't agree with. I also hope those who bash religion are including the muslim faith as well.

      March 23, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
    • SeanNJ

      @HiddenShadows: Yes, we include Muslims. We lump all of your invisible friends into the categories of unsubstantiated and silly.

      March 23, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
    • RealisticHumanist_986487563

      Opinions are fine, Maty, but think about it for a second. If people believe that this life is just a temporary dress rehearsal for the REAL, eternal one that follows, wouldn't that make it much easier for them to disregard natural human empathy and pull the trigger on the "infidels"? "Nuke 'em all, let god sort 'em out"... ever heard that?

      People use religious "righteousness" to justify their own hatred for gays, muslims, liberals, etc., all the time.

      March 23, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
    • SeanNJ


      You said: "We have that, Colin. Can't we enjoy having a selection of opinions? Or just yours?"

      Atheists aren't saying you can't hold this opinion. We're just calling you silly for having it. Believe it all you want. We won't stop you, but we reserve the right to mock you for it.

      March 23, 2011 at 3:51 pm |
  18. Colin

    Now I know how elated the Egyptians and Tunisians felt when they threw off their evil dictators. This is such good news. I want to thank god, but, well, not much point. Seems he's terminally ill.

    March 23, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Whewwwwwwwwwww. So much for your education. You've got it backward poindexter.

      March 23, 2011 at 3:42 pm |

    For those of us who read the the bible, Revelation already fortold the end of False Religion. Babylon the Great...aka...false religion will fall. We have taught children that there is no God and we have crawled out of the slime of swamps. God is no- longer politicaly correct and as been pushed aside by mankind. Read your Bible and you will see that the things that Jesus said will be the signs of the last days, are here. Closeing your eyes will not make it go-away.

    March 23, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
    • Colin

      This is the very sort of nonsense that is going to go away. Cool.

      March 23, 2011 at 3:23 pm |

      In the end we will ALL know

      March 23, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Colin, we'll wave to you from the other side of the divide, right before you take that ride down, down, down to the eternal flames. Blotted out. No eternity for you or your kind in this generation.


      March 23, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
    • D

      You refering to those silly false idols like mathematics, science, and general cognitive reasoning?

      March 23, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
    • Jason G.

      Although Christianity may be the most popular religion in the U.S., it is not the most popular religion in the world. So if your arguement is that if the religion is faltering in popularity it's false according to your book, then Christianity too could be false. I love it when people try to use the bible to prove Christianity is true.

      March 23, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
  20. Bill

    WHEN HE PROVES HIMSELF, THEN I MAY BELIEVE, UNTIL THEN. NO! A loving god," wars, death and destruction", are you kidding!

    March 23, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
    • HiddenShadows

      You blame God for mans stupidity? If God does not exist then it is still mans own fault. Put the blame where it belongs.

      March 23, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
    • Altro

      Mankinds sinful and selfish nature is the cause of all these Wars and Suffering. God has only allowed these things to occur to prove the point that man is not capable of Governing himself. Intervention on behalf of God is imminent, and following the previous example of the Flood of Noah's day, will be widescale and sudden. Likely you voted for someone who is directly or indirectly involved in the politics of this failed system. Those who continue to put their trust in man will find the cost is their lives. Seek God while he may yet be found...

      March 23, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
    • believer

      He already proved himself! look at the greatness of creation, look at the perfection of your brain, look at the miracle of life, look at the Cross where God died to build the bridge we destroyed..... Wars, destruction and evil are the result of man kind choosing their own way far from God. let's not blame God for the terrible choices we have made.

      March 23, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      How arrogant of you Bill. Typical response in your generation of know nothings, do nothings.

      But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away.

      2 Timothy 3:1-5


      March 23, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
    • Zee

      You ignore free will and Satan. Don't blame God for war, etc. If you don't want Him in your life He'll stay out and then how can you expect blessings. But if you believe in Him and pray and have faith and know there's a greater purpose to life, you'll "hopefully" be able to get through trials and grow. Trials come whether you believe in God or not. But if we're on His side and do His will, He'll be on our side and bless us. Otherwise, Satan takes over and all hell breaks loose. People want to believe in God but break all His commandments. They want pleasure now instead of Heaven later. How can He bless us for sinning? He's waiting to bless us, but how can He if we mock Him with our so called modern lifestyle? If you don't believe in God, there's no reason for Him to manifest Himself in your life. You want Him to show Himself to you before you believe in Him? It doesn't work that way. Faith precedes the miracle. He doesn't have to prove a thing to you. We have to come to Him. Religion will never die. God is alive and well. Don't worry, you'll see Him soon enough.

      March 23, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
    • Magic



      Why do you believe the words of Paul of Tarsus... a ranting, neurotic, delusional, misogynistic, misanthropic, propaganda expert?

      Oh wait... he's your twin.

      p.s. You have NO IDEA what generation Bill is from.

      March 23, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Generation of know-nothing, do nothings?
      Do you automatically assume that all atheists are young?
      How old do you think I am?

      And yep – we're all waiting for the apocalypse. Any day now, the gates of hell will open and swarms of locusts wearing tiny tiaras, sporting the face of a man, the hair of a woman and the tail of scoprion will wreak terrible vengeance in advance of the 7 headed dragon who spews water from his mouth and follows pregnant women around to eat their babies.
      So sayeth the Book of Revelations.

      Then again maybe L. Ron Hubbard was right and The Galactic Overlod Xenu will return and detonate another atomic bomb in a volcano and we'll join the Thetans as disembodies spirits forever seeking home.

      Both scenarios are equally likely based on the evidence.
      They both have vast numbers of believers with Holy Books to back them up.

      March 23, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
    • Megeido

      Everyone blames God for everything that man has done, we are always blaming others instead of blaming ourselves.!! God gave us a free will of choice and we messed it up. One day God will rapture the church and you will have your world with no God for seven years, and you know what is going to happen? Read it for yourselves if your AIN'T to scare to read it!! Book of revelations if you dare?

      March 23, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
    • Magic


      "Book of revelations if you dare"

      1. It is ti.tled, the Book of Revelation... no 's'

      2. It is an early science-fiction / horror / fantasy story. Not real.

      March 23, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
    • Doogle

      @Megeido: Didn't this book kinda already describe that we would mess it up? Are we all starring on the Truman Show?

      March 23, 2011 at 4:04 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.