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. dave

    the study is based on affiliated or unaffiliated to a certain denomination ...what does that mean? if an anglican becomes a non denomination christian he is still a christian. there was another barna poll that told us christians have a slightly higher divorce rate but the poll falls apart when you obtain the study group criteria. the criteria for the 'christian' poll was that they only had to believe in Jesus. Not the virgin birth, nor the trinity, nor reverence of the Bible and some did not even believe in the resurrection. the bible says straight up that if Jesus did not rise from the dead then we are to be pitied as fools and your religion is vain for the whole bible points to Christ and the resurrection. so in other words people say there are christians but do not believe what the bible says- according to the bible that makes them a non believer. it is self deception and they are proven as hypocrites, on that subject the only way a real christian can truly be judged as a hypocrite is if they claimed to be perfect. i know many christians and none of them claim to be perfect, they struggle like the next guy. as for divorce, i know of thousands of christians and in my own little study i would say the divorce rate is about 3 percent.

    March 23, 2011 at 9:06 pm |
  2. Joe Christianson

    I believe that the article is correct, especially for people with little faith and grounding/education in their religious and cultural heritage. I sincerely doubt the same can be said for ANY Islamic nation. In addition, the Jewish people have a long history of keeping their faith alive in their children approximately three to four thousand years long, LOL. Those two groups will be here for the next millenium.

    March 23, 2011 at 9:05 pm |
  3. SouthJersey1959

    Only 9? I was hoping for around 100. The time for fantasy is over people.

    March 23, 2011 at 9:03 pm |
  4. Iman Athiest

    Finally !!!!!!

    It is about time sane, rational, free thinking people come to their senses, and openly denounce all religeons. I have been a non believer for 50 years, and laugh at the mere idea of any kind of supreme being. Get over it Bible thumpers, your days are numbered !!!!

    March 23, 2011 at 9:03 pm |
  5. Darrold

    The 10 most religious States... are the poorest! I GET the connection!

    March 23, 2011 at 9:01 pm |
  6. Thomas Aquinas

    Genesis 38:8-10

    March 23, 2011 at 9:00 pm |
  7. David

    I love these nine countries.

    March 23, 2011 at 8:59 pm |
  8. Wayne

    The meek shall inherit the earth, and the rest of you will get Walmart.

    March 23, 2011 at 8:53 pm |
  9. Thomas Aquinas

    Deuteronomy 23:1

    March 23, 2011 at 8:53 pm |
  10. huxley

    Time to move to Sweden and start spreading rumors of trolls under bridges and faeries in the forest.

    March 23, 2011 at 8:53 pm |
  11. Wayne

    Seems the countries with the most educated people are unaffliated. Thus, the fables and heaven and hell, and the other tools of fear and control don't have much power when you educate the masses. America is ranked toward the bottom in the polls of western nations with an educated populace. Thus, religion and religious based conservatism thrive.

    March 23, 2011 at 8:52 pm |
    • jon jacobs

      you got that right, sista!
      the usa is always at the bottom when compared to other nations in terms of education!
      that is a fact!

      March 23, 2011 at 8:55 pm |
    • me

      With your comment all the way.

      March 23, 2011 at 9:22 pm |
  12. Al Dope Capone

    What about all those who think they are so far superior to religious people?

    What will they use next to feel intellectually superior?

    March 23, 2011 at 8:51 pm |
  13. Thomas Aquinas

    Malachi 2:3

    March 23, 2011 at 8:50 pm |
    • jon jacobs

      bite me,tom boy!

      March 23, 2011 at 8:53 pm |
    • Thomas Aquinas

      Hang on. I got God one the grilled cheese. I gotta take this one.

      March 23, 2011 at 8:55 pm |
  14. Allen Russell

    Atheism is man's way of saying ' I call BS on your whole game, Kiddo'

    March 23, 2011 at 8:49 pm |
  15. Don Paw

    Interesting, comments especially.
    Uses term "unaffiliated", which may mean, none of your business, to I am not a member of any religion, but I believe in god, or I am an atheist but i go to church.
    Guess I'd answer unaffiliated too, even though I believe strongly in something thing.
    Spirituality verse Religion maybe, gosh really?
    Most interesting is some of the atheist comments.
    They believe in nothing, but are happy think that there "belief" is some how now confirmed.
    It's not.
    Sorry your confusing religion, spirituality and belief.
    Of course this study has nothing to do with any of that.

    March 23, 2011 at 8:46 pm |
    • Thade

      Yes atheist believe in nothing that cannot be proven sorry. We do believe in family, kindness, charity, and the science that allows you too post here, and also that has put a remote controlled robot on mars. Faith by definition is the belief in something without proof. A miracle is defined as suspension of the natural order. So forgive us for not being gullible.

      March 23, 2011 at 8:58 pm |
  16. Muneef

    Our faith of belief;

    Al-Ikhlas (Faith) sura 112:
    In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful
    Say: He is Allah, the One! (1) Allah, the eternally Besought of all! (2) He begetteth not nor was begotten. (3) And there is none comparable unto Him. (4).

    Al-Baqara (The Cow) sura 02:
    Allah! There is no God save Him, the Alive, the Eternal. Neither slumber nor sleep overtaketh Him. Unto Him belongeth whatsoever is in the heavens and whatsoever is in the earth. Who is he that intercedeth with Him save by His leave? He knoweth that which is in front of them and that which is behind them, while they encompass nothing of His knowledge save what He will. His throne includeth the heavens and the earth, and He is never weary of preserving them. He is the Sublime, the Tremendous. (255) There is no compulsion in religion. The right direction is henceforth distinct from error. And he who rejecteth false deities and believeth in Allah hath grasped a firm handhold which will never break. Allah is Hearer, Knower. (256) Allah is the Protecting Guardian of those who believe. He bringeth them out of darkness into light. As for those who disbelieve, their patrons are false deities. They bring them out of light into darkness. Such are rightful owners of the Fire. They will abide therein. (257).

    Al-Baqara sura 02:
    "Alif. Lam. Mim. (1) This is the Scripture whereof there is no doubt, a guidance unto those who ward off (evil). (2) Who believe in the Unseen, and establish worship, and spend of that We have bestowed upon them; (3) And who believe in that which is revealed unto thee (Muhammad) and that which was revealed before thee, and are certain of the Hereafter. (4) These depend on guidance from their Lord. These are the successful. (5)". 

    Al-Baqara sura 02:
    "The messenger believeth in that which hath been revealed unto him from his Lord and (so do) believers. Each one believeth in Allah and His angels and His scriptures and His messengers – We make no distinction between any of His messengers – and they say: We hear, and we obey. (Grant us) Thy forgiveness, our Lord. Unto Thee is the journeying. (285) Allah tasketh not a soul beyond its scope. For it (is only) that which it hath earned, and against it (only) that which it hath deserved. Our Lord! Condemn us not if we forget, or miss the mark! Our Lord! Lay not on us such a burden as thou didst lay on those before us! Our Lord! Impose not on us that which we have not the strength to bear! Pardon us, absolve us and have mercy on us, Thou, our Protector, and give us victory over the disbelieving folk. (286)".


    March 23, 2011 at 8:43 pm |
    • jon jacobs

      allah is a pig-eating moron
      jesus is a fake
      all gods are losers and figments of losers imaginations

      March 23, 2011 at 8:51 pm |
    • PRISM 1234

      Oh, for crying out loud, Muneef ! ! !

      You keep posting pages and pages of your quran.... Every page, every forum ! Do you really think someone is reading them? If you want to get into discussions and contribute your own thoughts, fine!.... but the posts you paste from your quran are just weraring people out!

      You're just wasting your time.....

      March 23, 2011 at 8:59 pm |
    • Thade

      Sorry i am not into Dungeons and Dragons, seeing that your muhammad resembles that of a dirty wizard.

      March 23, 2011 at 9:06 pm |
    • Muneef

      PRISM 1234

      Sorry if I am messing things up if you might think but why couldn't you just ignore it as many do?

      God only knows if I am wasting my time or not, I just hope that I am not ...

      By the way that who sworn there must have been a Satan who got burnt from the 02:255 ....!!! If not yet burnt then very soon he will be...

      March 23, 2011 at 9:11 pm |
    • Muneef


      What do you know of him? Nil nothing and yet you speak dirty...go and brush your mouth and brains from dirt first before commenting on some rhino you know not....

      March 23, 2011 at 9:15 pm |
    • PRISM 1234

      @ Muneef
      "By the way that who sworn there must have been a Satan who got burnt from the 02:255"


      Look, buddy, I'm not against you, and you're not messing me up! I do not read your quotes... It's just they're everywhere, and you're quoting most of the time, saying nothing!

      March 23, 2011 at 9:55 pm |
  17. jon jacobs

    good riddance!
    and not a moment too soon!

    March 23, 2011 at 8:41 pm |
  18. Jill

    No worries! You can always pick up a box of cornflakes to "find" Jesus! haha

    March 23, 2011 at 8:40 pm |
  19. MM

    Yes religion is dying in all the European countries and growing leaps and bounds in all the non-European countries. Plus the population growth in non-European countries are growing at a rapid rate while the population growth in European countries is dying. So, it's not that there are less religious people in these countries but less people.

    March 23, 2011 at 8:39 pm |
  20. Ojay

    logan actually the god particle replaces the requirement for a creator, get it right. I suppose you will retort with"its just a theory anyway"

    March 23, 2011 at 8:37 pm |
    • thorrsman

      Well of course it is just a theory. Hardly even that, really. More like an idea from a science-fiction writer who didn't know what to do with it. Not everyone can be a Hubbard and turn a bad plot into a multi-million dollar scheme.

      March 23, 2011 at 8:43 pm |
    • Thade

      I'll take a scientists theory over Thorrsman opinion anyday.

      March 23, 2011 at 9:02 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64
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.