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. Jeffision

    God is a fairy tale. Religiosity and spirituality is a common psychosis. Religion is a multi-billion dollar business. Heaven and Hell are the carrot and stick used to generate profit. Good riddance. Visualize a post-religious era.

    March 23, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
  2. HeIsGod

    You know what makes me sad, is to see how so many ignorant Atheists (who are commenting on any news network) can never tolerate anyone that comments anything positive about anyone or anything when they mention God. They are the most ignorant, mean, miserable, THE MOST NEGATIVE, and immature people I have ever met in my entire life!!!!!! Seriously, I know that not all Atheists are as ignorant as the MAJORITY, but these MAJORITY idiots’ makes ALL Atheists look very BAD!!

    Atheism is a group of undisciplined people who are just too lazy to do spiritual research for themselves, INDIVIDUALLY, instead they wait on others, such as scientists or religious people, to bring them proof of all things and since science or no one can prove or disprove God, they just sit back and accept that there is no God. Science, by its very nature, is never capable of proving the non-existence of anything. Some take the position that if science doesn't give us reason to believe in something, then no good reason exists. That's simply the false assumption of scientism. One can never accurately claim that science has proven God doesn't exist. That's a misuse of the discipline. Such a claim would require omniscience. The only way one can say a thing does not exist is not by using the inductive method, but by using a deductive method, by showing that there's something about the concept itself that is contradictory. If you want to know something for certain, with no possibility of error–what's called apodictic certainty in philosophy–you must employ the deductive method.

    One ignorant Atheist said that people who believe in God have no common sense. That stupid comment made me laugh, Soooo……..we have over 2 billion Christians all over the world (even though not all of them are true followers of Christ), over 1 billion Jews and over 1 billion Muslims and ONLY as little as just “1 MILLION” Atheists (which the MAJORITY of them are BACKSLIDERS of the Word & Will of God) AND THEY ARE THE ONLY ONES WITH “COMMON SENSE”, 1 MILLION, REALLY????!! WOW, talk about Atheists having “common sense”! They say, “There is no God”, but the moment disaster strikes or some one commits ANY type of crime(s); it never fails to see one of them, if not the majority of them, quickly attack God and/or blame it ALL on religion!! What a laugh, really1!! How can Atheists say there is no God, but turn around and blame Him? You know why they do, because they know within the depths of their dark heart that there is a God, but they are so rebellious as many religious/Christian people are, they want to hide behind their lifestyle and not be exposed, which pretty much, it’s impossible because Christ sees all things, for ALL things are exposed and can not be hidden. But don’ they say that we are living in the 21st Century, but all the while, they are the ones living in the STONE AGE by taking the Torah that doesn’t pertain to TODAY’S CHRISTIANS to attack us?? These are just simpleton Atheists! People that claim to be non-believers are by far the most vocal about God on these message boards. I find that interesting. Seems like something is knocking at the door of your heart to me.

    They talk about religious and/or Christian people being ignorant, pre-historic, delusional, and evil; yet they seem to forget and/or turn the blind eye about their ignorance, pre-historic, delusional (because you have to be delusional NOT to believe in the Lord) AND evil…..by their actions and comments, they are just as bad as fanatical religious types. I would hate to live in a world ruled by atheists; it sure would be beyond hell for all of us.......what a sad and miserable little place it would be. I know that not all Christians are tolerant, but the Majority of the Atheists seem to lump us all in one wagon when they seem to be doing the same thing to their fellow Atheists.

    March 23, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
    • g

      I've seen your twisted posts before. You need to take your meds and have a nap, I think, granpa. You refuse to acknowledge honest-to-god TRUTH in the name of your religious dogma that has been burned into your thick skull....so who will listen to you if you don't care enough to do things right?
      Not me. I don't mind giving you a bit of shlt about your lack of integrity, but I understand that you probably just don't know any better, either, so it could be worse, you see....!

      March 23, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
    • HeIsGod

      @ g – THANKS for proving my point of my comment!!

      March 23, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
    • Martin

      Don't you know no one reads posts this long (except g that is...)

      March 23, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
    • HotAirAce


      Once you stop ranting and raving, you should do a few minutes of research about the number of atheists in the world. You are 2 – 3 orders of magnitude wrong.

      March 23, 2011 at 5:56 pm |
    • Magic


      Heh. HIG will ask you if you want fries with those orders of magnitude. 🙂

      March 23, 2011 at 6:04 pm |
    • Magic

      p.s. HIG is a bear of a very little brain and long words confuse her.

      "“When you are a Bear of Very Little Brain, and you Think of Things, you find sometimes that a Thing which seemed very Thingish inside you is quite different when it gets out into the open and has other people looking at it.”

      March 23, 2011 at 6:13 pm |
    • Kev

      HeIsGod... Well Said... Nothing like an Anti-religious blog on CNN to bring out a wolf pack of "Hatetheists"...

      March 23, 2011 at 7:39 pm |
  3. swohio

    The Bible talks about a future time when there will be a "great falling away" in which many will leave the faith. It also speaks of a time when many will gather around them teachers who will preach what their itching ears want to hear.

    March 23, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
  4. NoFluf

    Hate to burst your bubble but Christianity is exploding in China, Africa, India and Central and South America. The authors seem to be unaware but there's a huge youth movement in the Netherlands.

    Will be interesting to see the count in 20 years.

    March 23, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
    • PraiseTheLard

      Since ignorance has no limitation, the ignorant just multiply...

      In DOG we trust...

      March 23, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
  5. Non Believer

    Christianity: The idea that a cosmic zombie Jew can help you live forever if you symbolically eat his flesh and telopathically accept him as your master, so he can rid your body of evil spirits that are only there because a rib woman was convinced by a talking snake to eat forbidden fruit from a magical tree.

    March 23, 2011 at 5:15 pm |
    • Marrod

      That zombie's name is Jesus. He died for our sins. Even though you don't believe in him it doesn't give you the right to say that. I am sure he forgives you. Where is your soul going to end up when you die.

      March 23, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
    • God

      I forgive you... and between you and me that zombie business gave me the creeps too.

      March 23, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
  6. cybertonian

    Why do people still believe in magical supernatural beings in this day and age. It made some sense hundreds and thousands of years ago when humanity was ignorant of the universe and the natural world around us, but today we know why the sun shines and why weather events happen. Its not a strange mystery anymore. As we progress, we learn more about life, physics, chemistry etc and none if has any connection to a magical god like creature. It amazes me to hear people prescribe events to a mythical being when they should know better. Religion is just organized BS. Lets put it swiftly in our past like so many other strange practices we have overcome through knowledge.

    March 23, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
  7. Larian LeQuella

    The most important thing to remember is that freedom of religion, if it is going to apply to everyone, also requires freedom from religion. Why is that? You do not truly have the freedom to practice your religious beliefs if you are also required to adhere to any of the religious beliefs or rules of other religions.

    As an obvious example, could we really say that Jews and Muslims would have freedom of religion if they were required to show same respect to images of Jesus that Christians have? Would Christians and Muslims really have freedom of their religion if they were required to wear yarmulkes? Would Christians and Jews have freedom of religion if they were required to adhere to Muslim dietary restrictions?

    Simply pointing out that people have the freedom to pray however they wish is not enough. Forcing people to accept some particular idea or adhere to behavioral standards from someone else’s religion means that their religious freedom is being infringed upon.

    Freedom from religion does not mean, as some mistakenly seem to claim, being free from seeing religion in society. No one has the right not to see churches, religious expression, and other examples of religious belief in our nation — and those who advocate freedom of religion do not claim otherwise.

    What freedom from religion does mean, however, is the freedom from the rules and dogmas of other people’s religious beliefs so that we can be free to follow the demands of our own conscience, whether they take a religious form or not. Thus, we have both freedom of religion and freedom from religion because they are two sides of the same coin.

    Interestingly, the misunderstandings here can be found in many other myths, misconceptions and misunderstandings as well. Many people don’t realize — or don’t care — that real religious liberty must exist for everyone, not just for themselves. It’s no coincidence that people who object to the principle of “freedom from religion” are adherents of religious groups whose doctrines or standards would be the ones enforced by the state.

    Since they already voluntarily accept these doctrines or standards, they don’t expect to experience any conflicts with state enforcement or endorsement. What we have, then, is a failure of moral imagination: these people are unable to really imagine themselves in the shoes of religious minorities who don’t voluntarily accept these doctrines or standards and, hence, experience an infringement on their religious liberties through state enforcement or endorsement.

    That, or they simply don’t care what religious minorities experience because they think they have the One True Religion. And maybe that's their point?

    March 23, 2011 at 5:13 pm |
    • g

      I think I love you!

      March 23, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
  8. Greg

    I have read many of the comments here. There is some degree of truth in many of them. Yes, religion has had a negative impact on society, when you look at all the wars that has been fought in its name. So many people have lost their lives. I do not believe God is to blame, but religion is. The religions of the world will continue to loose their hold on its members. But do not loose your faith in God. Everything that is happening is doing so exactly as the bible foretells. False religion will be destroyed soon, and there will be many other events that will cause men to become "faint out of fear". If you continue to look for God though, he promises to let himself be found by you, and you can have a very happy future.

    March 23, 2011 at 5:13 pm |
    • God

      *whew* I am off the hook. Thanks, Greg

      March 23, 2011 at 5:36 pm |
  9. El Duderino (if you're not into the whole brevity thing)

    I wonder whether Dudeism, and Jediism hava a future.

    March 23, 2011 at 5:13 pm |
  10. fundies

    This stinks. I was hoping Jesus would be my health insurance. Anyone got the number for Aetna?

    March 23, 2011 at 5:13 pm |
    • God

      Jesus/Holy Spirit/I do not have insurance, we were turned down because of pre-existing condition (carpal issues).

      March 23, 2011 at 5:35 pm |
  11. Rapier40

    Ireland is a surprise. I guess they had enough of the pedophile clergy there.

    March 23, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
  12. Ryan

    Jehovah's Witnesses have been saying this for over a century now. Religion will not only go away in 9 countries, it will be completely destroyed world wide as is prophesied in Revelation 17:16 – 18. They also state this here on their website: http://www.watchtower.org/e/kn37/article_01.htm

    March 23, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
    • Dan

      Yeah they say a lot of things. But at least the lead man that headed up the group that translated their version of Bible is sitting in jail in Scotland doing a life sentence for translation fraud. So best take a few more grains of salt with their preachings.

      March 23, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
  13. Guy

    Seriously, every sentence in this article ends with "he said."

    March 23, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
    • g

      Maybe not every sentence, but good grief! What a sad job of writing. Who takes journalism courses anymore? Next they'll be tweeting everything and making a mess of that as well...

      March 23, 2011 at 5:15 pm |
    • God

      That's what he said.

      I am I said...

      March 23, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
  14. Jargon

    Its only by technicality that its not called a "religion" but science is the new way of understanding the universe. Does it make me less spiritual to say I believe in the omnipotence of physics and education is the path to enlightenment?

    March 23, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
    • Martin

      Science has nothing to do with faith. That is the difference. People who prefer a rational view consider religion to be an abdication of the intellect.

      March 23, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
  15. TheRationale

    Religion in general will probably be driven towards extinction if people think rationally.

    March 23, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
  16. Progressive-atheist

    People who believe in god are suckers....
    I know...I know jesus would roll over in his grave if he heard me say that...err I mean zeus, wotan, thor, ra...in a few hundred years Christianity will be as obscure as Scientology...they will both be left to the crazies that need myths to explain the world, because facts & evidence are too difficult to understand.

    March 23, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
    • Jackson

      I am an atheist as well, but that does not mean I have a license tobe rude about other people's belief systems, which you are. You are rude, and you are an embarrassment to atheists everywhere. Quite frankly, your brand of atheism is no different than the propaganda spewed by those of faith. Your mutual insistence thart your belief system is the right way to go is beyond hypcritical

      March 23, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
    • Martin

      I am agnostic, but I find that "facts and evidence" provide an incomplete explanation and leave a gap that I am satisfied to accept will always remain a mystery. And the neat, pat explanations offered by the various religions are like simplistic fairy tales. If only people didn't take them literally. That causes so much trouble!

      March 23, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
    • JFKman

      Why do I need to 'respect' people who make a choice to be delusional? Especially when they are in my face about it... No, my brand of atheism will call you out on your irrationality.

      March 23, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
    • Jared

      Not everyone who believes in a higher power uses it as an explanation for everything. Science and Religion can co-exist peacefully. There's nothing crazy about believing in a higher power. There are enough unknowns in the universe that I see no reason in claiming a higher power can't exist. I won't believe in it until I can verify its existence, but I won't claim that it couldn't exist. We've discovered a lot of things over time, and we have a lot left to go.

      March 23, 2011 at 5:39 pm |
  17. Ryan

    Hooray for some good news!

    Religion may help some, but its irrationality breeds violence in weak minded people.

    Any ideology based on faith that IGNORES evidence is primitive and dangerous.

    I have no issue with people who believe in God, but when they want their God in my government I have a huge problem with that.

    March 23, 2011 at 5:04 pm |
  18. NoFluf

    Carlos Marin

    "The authors of the study only claim that the 'majority effect' is one of obviously many forces that influence religious affiliation. To claim that the fact that a minority once became a majority disproves the effect is like saying that the theory of gravity is false because not all things (eg clouds and gas balloons) fall. In fact the authors claim that a group that is currently a minority (the unaffiliated) may eventually become a majority."

    Actually they claim that they start with two big assumptions based on sociology . . . the majority effect being one.

    Good catch – saying "proven false" was going a bit too far. I should have at least said, "Mitigating the force of the majority effect. . ."

    Still – the gravity analogy is a bit skewed since gravity is a known to be a constant in this world and the "majority effect" has been overturned time and time and time again – history is replete with examples of people moving towards a minority position and the minority becoming a majority.

    It just depends on what people believe they have to gain or lose – which would bring the "utility effect" into play. But who is to say that the current terms of utility might be suddenly and quickly overturned. Certainly has happened many, many times in the West in the 20th century alone.

    March 23, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
  19. Ardie Allen

    God has been stolen from many by money hungry preachers and pervert priests. God is love..which will last forever in the hearts of those which seek Him.

    March 23, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
    • RobinM

      a person doesn't have to belong to an organized religion to believe in God or read the bible. I consider myself agnostic, and I do believe in God. I just don't believe in religion. Perhaps with Religion gone, man will have less reason to fight.
      I wonder what John Lennon would think about this...

      March 23, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
    • Dan

      I'm pretty sure there's a wrathful, judgemental, prideful and egoist side of your God too you're forgetting to mention besides love.

      March 23, 2011 at 5:15 pm |
    • Tom

      God can be stolen from someone? Why would God allow the innocent to fall victim to people who would drive then not to believe in him and therefore end up in Hell? That makes perfect non-sense.

      March 23, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
  20. Aezel

    Well, there are 9 countries on this planet that are ready to grow up and live in the age of modern reason.

    More will follow. Take a good look at religion, it is on it's way out in the world. Someday people will look back and view believing in imaginary men in the sky as primitively as living in a cave, and they will be right.

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

      Religion will never disappear completely, it'll only change into something more spiritual and less life controlling. It will always be part of humanity, it'll just stop being used as an explanation for everything that happens.

      March 23, 2011 at 5:04 pm |
    • Will

      Agreed with Jared.

      March 23, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
    • Tom

      @Jared. I think what you mean is that belief in oddball stuff will always be around, I would agree with that. I think that we can make the case that once the major religions are small enough we can start calling them Cults again.

      March 23, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
    • BethTX

      This report is not talking about religion declining. It's talking about organized religion declining. Very big distinction. People like myself, who consider ourselves generic Christians, choose not to claim that one denomination has all the answers. That doesn't mean we're atheists.

      March 23, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
    • Tom

      @BethTX. Generic Christian the intermediate step between Organized Christian and Agnostic. You are almost there!

      March 23, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
    • God


      I really like this job... good pay, great pension and the retirement was just a little piece of Heaven...

      March 23, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
    • NL

      Superst.ition will never disappear completely either, and religion is just another form of it.

      March 23, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
    • eternityisReal

      "One day", if you fail to repent you will surprised when you watch religion wax stronger and stronger, in hell. Repent today, else, it will be too late. For what is seen is temporal but what is not is seen is Spiritual. After death no time for repentance. What does it cost you to be a christian. Realise you are a sinner, confess your sins to God in Jesus Name, ask for forgiveness and cleansing by the blood of Jesus, make up your mind not to go back again and have faith you have been forgiven. that's all. Must you steal? it doesn't even sound moral, must you fornicate? HIV is by the door, Must you fight or abuse someone? the law is there waiting. So, everything christianity offers are good and are not inconvinient. Accept Him today and you wont regret in eternity. May the light of the Word shine into your heart. Amen

      March 23, 2011 at 6:03 pm |
    • Dorothy

      The sky is falling, the sky is falling! Amen
      Put the fear of God into the people so they will behave! Amen
      Love everyone but not those that disagree with me! Amen
      Your wrong, wrong, wrong! Amen

      March 23, 2011 at 6:07 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.