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. Futurist


    March 23, 2011 at 6:40 pm |
    • Rocket

      Christianity=Freedom (from sin, fear and death)

      March 23, 2011 at 6:50 pm |
  2. Adam

    "Organized religion will all but vanish eventually from nine Western-style democracies"

    This the most positive and uplifting news I have read in weeks!!!

    March 23, 2011 at 6:39 pm |
  3. Ron

    Good !!! Who needs that BS anyway !!! Stop it people there is no "Invisible Man in the Sky" !!!

    March 23, 2011 at 6:38 pm |
    • God

      I exist. Norman Greenbaum said so...

      March 23, 2011 at 6:43 pm |
  4. DaedelusEcks

    Would it be ironic if I simply stated "Thank god, its about time!" in relation to this article?

    In any case, organized religion is simply a divisive tool created by the human imagination. This can be likened to how things such as nationalism and racism keep people divided. Hopefully (as the article states), this will be one of the first toppling blocks set in the path of a unified Earth. After major religious lines have been mitigated, I can easily see governments and nation states moving towards a singular government/economy. It is only in this way that the Human race will truly be free to evolve and proper as a whole.

    March 23, 2011 at 6:36 pm |
    • God

      I love irony....just look at the Log Cabin Republicans...

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

    Finally, some good news.

    March 23, 2011 at 6:36 pm |
    • God

      I like pasta, it beats the stale wafers they serve at other places.

      March 23, 2011 at 6:40 pm |
  6. Peter

    I was expecting some facts, some ideas, some creative approach. Huge disappointment.

    March 23, 2011 at 6:34 pm |
  7. DMAT

    "If God were alive today he would be an atheist" Kurt Vonnegut
    "Imagine no religion" John Lennon

    March 23, 2011 at 6:33 pm |
    • God

      Love Kurt, but I am a Mormon.

      March 23, 2011 at 7:01 pm |
  8. adrifter

    I'm an atheist in Canada and I've felt for a long time that religion has been declining in this country. Many people may still identify themselves as belonging to a certain religious denomination – mostly for family reasons – and may even attend church on Christmas. However, when you talk to them about religion, many of them think it as silly as we atheists do. The last census showed 16 per cent of Canadians claimed no religious affiliation. I expect that percentage will only continue to grow in the coming years. Still, even I don't believe religion will be driven towards extinction. That just seems like a ridiculous prediction. Some people need to believe in a god, despite common sense.

    March 23, 2011 at 6:28 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      Regardless of whether their prediction turns out to be accurate or not, the trend is encouraging. We will know that we have made real and significant progress when the references to god are removed from O'Canada and our const!tuition.

      March 23, 2011 at 6:44 pm |
  9. fungo

    A revelation is believing a hallucination. Religion is believing someone else's hallucination.

    March 23, 2011 at 6:24 pm |
    • God

      John of Patmos was a "Dead Head"... but we decided to keep Revelations, it was groovy...

      March 23, 2011 at 6:32 pm |
    • standingwave

      Heard John the Baptist was also a "Dead Head".

      March 23, 2011 at 6:45 pm |
    • God

      Good one. John is a bit cranky about that. I tell him he is dead from the neck up....

      March 23, 2011 at 6:56 pm |
  10. eliot

    Wow, I thought many of you would have been a little more "evolved" by now with your intolerant comments....those who hate religion mask it with "tolerance" but beneath it all you are just as wicked as the people you loathe...SICK Hypocrites!

    March 23, 2011 at 6:22 pm |
    • God


      March 23, 2011 at 6:30 pm |
  11. Religions are BS

    Fundies are always fundies! Regardless, 99% of them mastur-bate! 🙂

    March 23, 2011 at 6:22 pm |
    • God

      That is part of the job I could without... the constant watching... oy vey...

      March 23, 2011 at 6:29 pm |
  12. beenherelongtime

    Education and religious education are two different things. Indoctrination is not education!....

    March 23, 2011 at 6:22 pm |
  13. Maureen Mower

    LOL – I took the CNN poll on Facebook after reading/commenting on the article. There was a 3-way split between atheists, unaffiliated, and affiliated w/a religion. As an atheist myself, I find that result immensely refreshing!!

    March 23, 2011 at 6:21 pm |
  14. RobA

    I will rejoice at the demise of organized religion. It really is the sick offspring of idealistic faith and the lowest, most foul aspects of human nature. It's like politics only with more excuses to kill.

    March 23, 2011 at 6:19 pm |
  15. B Dyson

    .....all religions are an insult to the human intellect!

    March 23, 2011 at 6:18 pm |
    • Tony

      Yes indeed!!

      March 23, 2011 at 6:28 pm |
    • your worst nightmare

      load of bull

      March 23, 2011 at 6:32 pm |
  16. Don

    It's time already for man to come of age and drop the silly nonsense.

    March 23, 2011 at 6:18 pm |
    • SaintBetty


      March 23, 2011 at 6:32 pm |
    • Dixie

      Christianity is growing at unprecedented rates in China. Brazil is also seeing large numbers of people embracing Christian faith. (Google Christianity in China, Brazil, Korea, or many other country not listed in the article)

      Eamine the facts and refrain from throwing out tired cliches.

      March 23, 2011 at 6:36 pm |
    • PraiseTheLard

      Dixie: that just shows that there are a lot of gullible people in China... As for Brazil: the church has had a powerful and destructive influence in South and Central America for centuries.

      In DOG we trust...

      March 23, 2011 at 6:40 pm |
  17. RK

    This whole thing cracks me up... who ever said that loving God and having religion are the same thing? Loved the comments, I think they say more than the article does. : D

    March 23, 2011 at 6:17 pm |
    • God

      Paul, my PR guy.

      March 23, 2011 at 6:28 pm |
  18. uglyTruth

    Hopefully religion will become extinct.
    If this occurs it would be positive proof that evolution of humanity continues.

    March 23, 2011 at 6:16 pm |
    • your worst nightmare

      so much wrong with this comment

      March 23, 2011 at 6:30 pm |
    • Teeray

      Contrary to scientific dogma, organisms left to themselves devolve over time. The temporary movement from belief in the supernatural is a devolution for humanity.

      March 23, 2011 at 6:40 pm |
    • StevieBoy

      It would DEFINITELY be a positive step for humanity.... CHEERS to that!

      March 23, 2011 at 6:42 pm |
  19. Peter

    I guess just "Jays atheists" who spend most of the time in front of Tv stay in their deception that nothings else exists that what they see on Tv. If fire would burn across the street they would turn CNN to see what is going on instead walking out or watching though the window. Sorry guys, I don't want to be rough but these are facts.

    March 23, 2011 at 6:16 pm |
    • God

      They need to get away from the myth creating TV and into the real world....

      March 23, 2011 at 6:27 pm |
    • praisepeanuts

      1.something that actually exists; reality; truth.

      March 23, 2011 at 6:31 pm |
    • Angelo

      Just because Atheist do not believe in God, doesn't mean they are apathic or lack compassion for their fellow human being and the world he/she lives in. The "Atheist have no morals and no direction" that the religious love to preach and use as a scare tactic is a myth.

      March 23, 2011 at 6:32 pm |
    • PraiseTheLard

      Do you think it's better to develop one's view on the world from the likes of Pat Robertson? Let's not forget Jimmy Swagart and other religious beacons... how much money was sent to them??

      In DOG we trust...

      March 23, 2011 at 6:34 pm |
    • God

      The Fear of Me is a useful marketing tool.

      March 23, 2011 at 6:36 pm |
    • Peter

      I was expecting some facts, some ideas, some creative approach. Huge disappointment.
      I am getting feeling that Atheist brothers have some hard feeling and even hate threat toward me. Please correct me if I am wrong.

      March 23, 2011 at 6:37 pm |
    • God

      I have some dogs, but Mohammed isn't that crazy about them.

      March 23, 2011 at 6:37 pm |
    • huh

      I assume you have proof of these "facts"?

      March 23, 2011 at 6:38 pm |
    • God

      Peter, you would not be the first person to be disappointed in me.... but do not lose faith because I work in mysterious ways.

      March 23, 2011 at 6:38 pm |
    • Michael

      Those aren't "facts" those are CLEARLY YOUR opinions.

      March 23, 2011 at 6:44 pm |
    • MrEO

      Chill, dude. No one's hunting you down today. We're booked up until November anyway. Look, why don't you go outside and enjoy what's left of the day? And take your religion with you. We don't allow those in here.

      March 23, 2011 at 6:46 pm |
  20. Nick

    Being non-affiliated most likely means they do not affiliate with a "denominational" church, but does not mean they are not Christian. Many Christians today are unhappy with organized "church", not with God. Even so-called Non-denoms are still considered "organized". Many are just tired of seeing it be about money and not Salvation as it should be. If asked today, I would say I am unaffiliated, however I am very Christian!

    March 23, 2011 at 6:16 pm |
    • Mao

      I guess so.
      Another example is Ann Rice

      March 23, 2011 at 6:26 pm |
    • Teeray

      As a Christian, your Lord has called you to be a part of His body. His plan is that the body, with Christ as head, be the agent of salvation for the earth. The church is the bride of Christ; can you love Jesus and hate His bride? If you can't find a real body of Christ...start one!

      March 23, 2011 at 6:49 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.