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. LOL

    LOL @ all the brainwashed people.

    March 23, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
  2. Happy

    This forum thread layout sucks. Come'on CNN... it's not that hard to get a good system going.

    March 23, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
  3. Fake god

    I still believe in god, but I am against all organized religions and Mega Churches. Those are shams and pedo pastors!

    March 23, 2011 at 4:13 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Fake, if you believe in god and don't read Jesus' truth in the Bible, you are follow satan.


      March 23, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
  4. Bruce H

    Some may respond "UNAFFILIATED" because religion should be private and not a matter of public debate.
    The assumptions being made therefore are unfounded to some extent.
    Perhaps making a census of church attendance could create more concrete statistics.
    Imagine stationing census takers outside of churches to observe and count those attending services.
    Imagine the hue and cry when that became known to the media!

    March 23, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
  5. tom

    the answer:
    Science rules(.)

    March 23, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
    • Kev

      I wonder if science will still rule when a terrorist decides to nuke a city or use a chemical weapon.. Yep, science rules...

      March 23, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Then you never read this scripture tom ...

      1 Timothy 6:20


      March 23, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
  6. Batleneter

    its extremely positive religion is disappearing in a number of countries. Pitty that nutty religion Christianity is so popular in the US, without religion Christians cant hate Muslims and Vice versa

    March 23, 2011 at 4:11 pm |
  7. Chris

    Reasonable people and moral obligations have nothing to do with religion, nor were they created from religion. Some people are born with goodness, others are born with weaknesses. Religions are mythical. Life family and friends are real, embrace them.
    I myself worship the human female – she is tangible…

    March 23, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
  8. Happy

    There is no magical sky being. Grow up, be Adult.

    March 23, 2011 at 4:08 pm |
  9. Pamela

    I find it interesting that the believers of organized religions are the ones who are the most warlike, argumentative, pushy, so have to be right, and all the other adjectives and verbs that go with being aggressive. To me they are the most in need of learning about compassion, love, forgiveness and all the verbs and adjectives that go with being a just and merciful human being. Perhaps thats why they need religion, something has to teach them about being a full and loving human.

    March 23, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
  10. AnnieM

    Trying reading the books before stating that religions are different. They all say the same thing. Just the names and locations have changed. And yes, I've read them – Bible, Koran, Book of Mormon, Catholic Bible, Torah. along with visiting dozens of churches. They just change the rules around to meet their agenda...

    March 23, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
    • horace

      Yep, Koran says there is one God who basically just demands submission and wills death to the Jewish and Christian faith. Torah says there is also one God but who promises deliverance thru a promised Messiah. Christian bible completes Jewish scriptures saying Messiah has already come to reveal triune expression of God and welcomes ALL who would believe. Mormon bible says everybody ends up being gods. so, other than that, they all say the same thing. (rolling my eyes and saying puhleese). Next time you read all of them, try paying attention.

      March 23, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
  11. Marty in MA

    Religion has outlived its use and serves as the big divider, My religion is the best, all others are going to hell. There will be a lot of people in hell, except there is no such place, like heaven, or devils, angels or other mythology sold to the ignorant over the centuries.

    March 23, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
  12. sanjosemike

    Religion ending? GREAT!

    March 23, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
  13. killallthewhiteman

    Thank god!

    March 23, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
  14. no thanks

    how disgusting this crap is, all you new yurk and california idiots thinking they can change how its been for thousands of years THIS IS GODS EARTH YALL ARE HIS CHILDREN!!! (well not the ones saying he isnt real, yall will enjoy the eternal fire waitin for you very nicely HAHAHA IDIOTS

    March 23, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
    • Hypnotized by Father Mulroney's Love Juice


      March 23, 2011 at 4:08 pm |
    • HappyyppaH

      YALL children o' God need to learn how to use proper grammarZ and punkchooashunz on these interwebs1!

      March 23, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
    • larry c. lyons

      demonstrable proof that fanaticism is negatively related to intelligence.

      March 23, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
    • Happy

      Hows things in Westburrough today?

      March 23, 2011 at 4:17 pm |
    • JnAbq

      Delusional tard

      March 23, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
  15. meme believer

    Bring back the Flying Spaghetti Monster!

    March 23, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
  16. I can still see Harvey, even if You Can't

    What, no religion? How will the powerful control the masses? What salve will be applied to make the azz-r aping by the plutocracy tolerable in the future? You took my Tooth Fairy and my Easter Bunny away from me. You can take my Jeebus away from me, but don't touch my Harvey!

    March 23, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
  17. hail Odin!

    Mead is proof that Odin loves us and wants us to be happy.

    March 23, 2011 at 4:04 pm |
    • HappyyppaH

      May Odin purify you in his golden mead!

      March 23, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
  18. truthbetold

    First off, in order to have FAITH in something does NOT mean you have to be part of a RELIGION. That's like saying, since you never went to church and never had an organized way of showing your faith, you're going to be damned to hell (or whatever you prefer to call it). All that matters in your faith is that you were a good person in life. Look at the bible (or whichever Book or writings you believe in) as more of a guideline on how to live. Religion is a way to push fear and control onto people so people will always bow to what their organized religion wants of them! We all have minds and hearts of our own people, its time to start using them!

    March 23, 2011 at 4:04 pm |
    • ears okay thx

      I'm sorry, did you say something?

      March 23, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      truthbetoldNOT, you haven't a clue what truth is. You babble nonsense lies. The only way to understand what Jesus wants for us and what He wants from us is to read His letter He wrote to all of us (the Bible), comprehend what you are reading and apply His wisdom to your life to make righteous decisions.

      That's what you kids get for going against your parents as well as society ... reading those propaganda sites that fill your head with nonsense. We understand that you want to make a better mouse trap, but, too late. Jesus is God that created ALL.

      Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die.

      Ezekiel 18:4


      March 23, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
  19. Billy

    Let me be one of the many Agnostic borderline Atheists to say to this news: Thank God! People are becoming enlightened.

    March 23, 2011 at 4:04 pm |
    • dave ziel

      your a sh!# head Billy.

      March 23, 2011 at 4:11 pm |
    • timd

      You are making the baby jeebuss angry. You won't like him when he's angry. He spits up his Gerbers and fills his breeches with holy poo.

      March 23, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
    • JnAbq

      I'll second that Billy.

      March 23, 2011 at 4:17 pm |
    • xactomundo

      I guess I am a $#!thead too...

      March 23, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
    • Lanfear

      I agree, Billy!

      People are finally waking up - beginning to rely on facts, rather than fiction.

      March 23, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
  20. HappyyppaH

    Thank God!!! 😀

    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.