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. Ajay.S

    Hey, I think alot of people dont think out side the box. All people do is base their beliefs on what they see in front of them.This is ignorent. There is alot people dont have access to alot of things, due to goverment, upper soceity. There is a logical reason behind this people would not know how to act. Main point Dont base your faith on what you see infront of you ,there's alot people who arent seeing or researching the big picture. Boobus

    March 23, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
    • fundies

      I think about being inside the box while I am outside the box. I must say it is quite a wonderous thing to be inside the box. once inside the box for a time, it becomes time to leave the box. I don't like to cuddle when I am outside the box, unless it helps me get back in the box.

      March 23, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
    • fundies

      have you ever jacked in the box?

      March 23, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
  2. dr.mjctaylor

    Good for them! There has been more bloodshed in the name of religion than for any other cause in human history. It is also the biggest BS story ever hoisted upon the shoulders of humanit, as well as the rationale for horrendous human actions. It will good to be rid of it!

    March 23, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
    • fundies

      I think we should declare war on the period. There has been more blood shed by this cycle than anything else. It is also quite disruptive to the household s e x life and general well being of all inhabitants within the proximity of the bleeding gal.

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

      Wrong O there dr.mjctaylor... The last 100 years has seen more people die at the hands of the "irreligious" then all the religions combined, through out all of history. Let's see, Pol Pot, Lenin, Stalin, Mao and most of the higher ranking officers from the Nazi party were all very and I mean VERY anti-religious. Secular humanism finds it self on a very large hook when facing some of humanities most grotesque atrocities. If you want to continue with the condemning of “religion” because of atrocities committed in it's name, then the irreligious ends up in a “juxtaposition” with religion as well.

      March 23, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
  3. Reality

    We are fast overcoming the Muslims. Soon as predicted we we overcome Christians in numbers and truth.


    Religion <<<<<<<<<<<Adherents

    Christianity<<<<<<<<<<<< 2.1 billion

    Islam<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<< 1.5 billion

    Irreligious/agnostic/atheism 1.1 billion

    Hinduism 900 million

    Chinese traditional religion 394 million

    Buddhism 376 million
    Animist religions 300 million
    African traditional/diasporic religions 100 million
    Sikhism 23 million
    Juche 19 million
    Spiritism 15 million
    Judaism 14 million
    Baha'i 7 million
    Jainism 4.2 million
    Shinto 4 million
    Cao Dai 4 million
    Zoroastrianism 2.6 million
    Tenrikyo 2 million
    Neo-Paganism 1 million
    Unitarian Universalism 800,000
    Rastafari Movement 600,000

    March 23, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
    • KinNYC

      Very interesting. .

      March 23, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
    • Tom

      I don't see Pastafarians on there. I think it's a growing Religion that should be about as large as the Agnostics and Atheists.

      March 23, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
  4. enu

    Jesus saves...... and Gretzky gets the rebound he shoots he scores.

    March 23, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
    • fundies

      Jesus blew that save. I want to be on Gretzky's team. Is he affiliated with the unaffiliated?

      March 23, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
    • Mao

      Interesting conversation given Gretzky's Christian upbringing.

      March 23, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
  5. Mao

    Interesting that there is a decline in religion, even when atheists and agnostics have had supernatural experiences (see the responses in "Catholic author says his haunted house deepened his faith" written Oct 29, 2010).
    Should we be so quick to judge individuals who are seeking ancient wisdom regarding the supernatural?

    March 23, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
    • Tom

      Belief without evidence and only anecdotal evidence to go by. Yep that describes both the Religious and people who believe in the super natural. Ancient wisdom? It's ancient for a reason. Just because it's real old doesn't make it true.

      March 23, 2011 at 4:51 pm |
    • Mao

      @ Tom
      You throw atheists under the truck so quickly. Atheists have had supernatural experiences and you reject what they have to say. If that's the way you roll, you have that right. Just know you're at odds with a demographic of atheists.
      Also you shouldn't be so quick to reject the old. The wheel has been used for quite some time.

      March 23, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
  6. Brian

    If you want a good laugh watch the religion channel. It's like watching a side show at the circus. A few days ago they were having a sale on spirituality. For only $2.98 they will sell you $5.00 worth of spirituality. Religion in this country is a mile wide and an inch deep. If Christ came to America today He would vomit at the sight of our churches.

    March 23, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
  7. fundies

    Praise the Ford. it got me home last night.

    March 23, 2011 at 4:24 pm |
  8. TampaMike

    Religion? What's that?

    March 23, 2011 at 4:24 pm |
  9. Megeido

    You are a fool because you dont believe!!

    March 23, 2011 at 4:24 pm |
  10. Fake god

    May Allah have mercy!

    March 23, 2011 at 4:23 pm |
  11. fundies

    The unaffiliated are now accpeting nominations for Apostles of the unaffiliated. Apostles cannot be affiliated with any formal religions. They must be affiliated with the unaffiliateds for consideration as an apostle of the unaffiliated. The first part of our good book will lay out the details of the un-immaculate misconception. This will be followed by the book of Genesis, written by St. Phil and St. Peter G.

    March 23, 2011 at 4:23 pm |
  12. evg

    Just a thought. Perhaps many people check non-affilited to avoid paying taxes. In many of these countries, especially in Europe, people have to pay a church tax which the countries use to maintain the old historic churches etc, for example if you state you are Lutheran, Catholic, etc, the money that is collected goes to that specific orginization.

    March 23, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
  13. fantafantazamaraz

    Organized religion is a giant welfare industry for losers to become bible bashers and live off the fat of the land and their fellow humans beliefs ! It has also produced numerous criminals, rapists, pedophiles and a hoard of other sheisters within the ranks of it's hiearchies ! There are many Countries where the majority of people have NO interest whatsoever in lining the pockets of those who would seek to dominate and control their minds and destinies like witchdoctors ! Take the $$$ out of religion and the carpetbaggers and salespeople akin to insurance and used car types will dissapear quickly ! Because religion is as much an industry as any other commercial project ! The World would be much better off without religion...which is a main driver behind terrorisms today !

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

    Religious people are stupid and violent. They protest at soldiers' funerals. They are against anything but themselves. These stupid SOTB causes more harm than good to the public.

    March 23, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
    • Socrates

      ....damn right!!!!

      March 23, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
    • cleareye1

      You are simply wrong. This from a freethinking agnostic. Just because some looneys demonstrate at a funeral does not mean all religious people are as insensitive. Get real. It's not too late.

      March 23, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
    • Mao

      So every religion, Hindu, Sikh, Jew, Catholic, is like 1 small church...
      try research. It will add credibility to your thinking.

      March 23, 2011 at 4:34 pm |
    • Ed

      please don't assume we are all like fred and his waste of human sperm followers most of us depise him as much or more than you do.

      March 23, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
    • Allan

      Religion is likely to decrease as scientific education increases. Humans were born and wondered what was going on when they saw the sun, the stars, the moon and all sorts of earthly problems and they came up with home made answers. Today each religion has it's own god and each provides different answers to satisfy those people. I know, I have been in many churches and have heard different answers to what a god wanted, and each saitisfied the leader of that church. The humans of eons ago had no answers and what we call religion began as evolution gave them a greater ability to rationalize.

      March 23, 2011 at 4:51 pm |
    • Mao

      Nice to see you're making things up on the fly.

      March 23, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
  15. holycow

    whether we believe the details of any given religion, we can clearly recognize that the objective of moral living as described by any given religion is a utopian world. Admittedly, the notion of 'utopia' differs from one culture to the next, but the major point is the same: living in peace. Would it be so bad?

    March 23, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
    • cleareye1

      Check the list again and tell us which of these countries started a war recently.

      March 23, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
  16. dave

    As a former NFL player with the Bears '69-'74, I was amazed to read I Timothy 4:8, "Physical training is of some valuie, but spiritual training if of more value as it holds promise for the life that now is, and that which is to come." There is a 1:1 chance you and I will die...what happens then? Seek the Lord...you won't be disappointed, now or then.

    March 23, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
    • Lanfear


      March 23, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
    • Courtney

      This is really awesome. really great timing in my own life to see this, thanks for commenting.

      March 23, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
    • Tom

      Not amazed. Very disappointed. You have obviously had too much physical training and not enough Jedi training.

      March 23, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
  17. Terry McIntosh

    And each one of those countries are functional, didn't experience much impact from the economic drama, and the people generally have a good head on their shoulders. Coincidence? I think not...

    History is littered with the bodies of people that took their sci-fi a little too seriously.

    March 23, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
    • just William

      I couldn't agree more.

      I have friends in The Netherlands, and I'm always shocked by the sheer rationality of their culture and government. The general welfare and freedom of citizens is the #1 priority from birth to death, resulting in a healthy and highly educated society. They are not DENIED the freedom to worship a specific deity or follow a religious code of behavior, but fewer and fewer find it a rational or positive source of inspiration.

      The USA is similar in THEORY, but in reality, religion and politics are dangerously intertwined. It leaves us divided and thus consistently dissatisfied with our own culture and government. The shrinking "conservative Christian" segment of the population is highly politicized and wasting precious time, energy and money to impose their ancient dogma on the entire population. It has done more damage to secular conservatives and the GOP than I ever would have imagined.

      March 23, 2011 at 6:43 pm |
  18. Millie Bea

    When you have the Catholic Church- which wrecked itself with Vatican II, starting this year having 15 stations of the Cross- the last one being the elevation of Jesus- I say, sure- make it a cell phone app- because all of the meaning is removed- all of the spirituality is removed. It was explained to me that this was done so that everyone leaves the church on a happy note- WHAT????? If the houses of worship operate on this basis- with nothing to aspire to, nothing to investigate, nothing to inspire- they may as well go out of business. None of them want to be in the religion business now anyway- they all want to be in politics.

    March 23, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
  19. Irony

    So the 'Religion' of 'No Religion' is going to take over 9 countries then? How ironic. It's funny how those who think they aren't religious are actually some of the most religious, intolerant, and violent people on the planet. All these 'No God' religions are just as bad as the abuse of the 'God' religions. Jesus destroyed the necessity for religion a long time ago though...all it takes true faith in Him (not of) to be reconciled to God. Religion, on the other hand, requires you do things to be reconciled to 'god'.

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

      ....no god!

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

      my my, aren't you ignorant? Worshiping Jesus IS a religion. It's called christianity, I believe. It is one of the most violent religions ever. It would also explain your less than pleasant personality.

      March 23, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
    • TexTeach

      "It's funny how those who think they aren't religious are actually some of the most religious, intolerant, and violent people on the planet."
      Couldn't agree more. Every time I hear about a suicide bombing or someone protesting an innocent person's funeral for being gay, I think to myself, "Those darn atheists."

      March 23, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
    • Tom

      Two words. Mumbo + Jumbo = MumboJumbo

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

      I think Irony is just being ironic. He's saying Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Austria, the Czech Republich, Finand and Switzerland are "some of the most religious, intolerant, and violent people on the planet." Which obviously isn't the case.

      A study on US prisons found that athiests and agnostics made up a disproportionately small part of the inmate population. That less religious countries have less crime is not surprising.

      March 23, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
  20. NM

    People may be shedding the superficial religion but that has nothing to do with faith or spiritualism.

    March 23, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
    • Patrick Richardson

      Totally agree.

      March 23, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
    • Tom

      True. There are a lot of new age spiritual beliefs popping up to fill the void. But i think every little step counts. Hopefully within a few more generations we'll see a much more secular society informed by science.

      March 23, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
    • Mao

      As long as science can explain the supernatural. Even atheists and agnostics have had ghost encounters (read the comments in CNN's "Catholic author says his haunted house deepened his faith" written Oct 29th 2010)

      March 23, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
    • fundies

      I wonder if Tim McGraw has deepened Faith? Must be a pleasurable experience.

      March 23, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
    • fundies

      They un-blinded me with science.

      March 23, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
    • Mao

      People tend to blind themselves, even with science.

      March 23, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
    • Tom

      @Mao. That's why you build in Peer review into Science so that even if you are blinded there are thousands of people ready to point out that you are wrong.

      March 23, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Stop fooling yourself NM. The only way to know Jesus is to read His letter He wrote to all of us (the Bible). After you read and comprehend what He wants for us and what He wants from us, then you apply His wisdom to your life to make righteous decisions.

      If you don't, you follow and worship satan.

      Ezekiel 18:4 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.


      March 23, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
    • Mao

      "That's why you build in Peer review into Science so that even if you are blinded there are thousands of people ready to point out that you are wrong."

      Sometimes it's the minority who either are right, or the minorities still carry on in light of what's true. Science does nothing but present events. It's up to people to determine how these events translate into information.
      Peer review is people striving for this information but having a "majority rule" scenario doesn't guarantee correctness, which is contrary to the new-Atheistic dogma.

      March 23, 2011 at 6:04 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.