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. Ibrahim

    So people will finally stop believing in fairy tales as adults. It's about time!

    God = fictional. Regardless of which religion's narrative. The wonders of this universe could not have been created by the petty, jealous, angry, abusive being depicted in the Bible, the Quran, or any other faith tradition with a major following today (Hinduism, etc).

    March 24, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
  2. brad

    In the 1960's and 70"s, church teaching was moved aside. A few "newly enlightened people" led millions of sheep into the 6ual revolution. In the same breath these sheep were saying "we can think for ourselves" and "but everyone else is doing it". The sheep also wanted legalized pot so they could think freely with dimmed minds.
    Reason my a$$.

    March 24, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
    • PRISM 1234

      ..... and now, 40-50 years after, we know the rest of the story... The consequences are evedent all around us, even at this blog!

      March 24, 2011 at 9:00 pm |
  3. brad

    During the French Revolution, they threw out the church and introduced the Cult of REason with a ceremony in Notre Dame Cathedral. One of the first things manifested by this cult was the introduction of total war comliments of Napoleon.

    March 24, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
  4. brad

    Only when religion goes extinct will peope face the reality of the cult of reason. Growing up in the 60's, we didn't eat snow because of fear of contamination from nuclear fallout; we knew where our fallout shelters were, and lived in fear of the USSR. A hundred thousand years ago, if tribe A had as many stones, men, and sticks as tribe B, no attack would occur due to mutually assured destruction. During the Cold War, no nuclear exchange occured because of the M.A.D doctrine: Mutually Insured Destruction. In other words, over many millenia, man had only exchanged his rocks and sticks for ICBM's. Human nature had trumped reason – again.

    March 24, 2011 at 2:36 pm |
  5. Steve

    All these sheeple eagerly awaiting the return of Jesus just don't get it. If you had any wits at all you would see how ridiculous the mere concept of salvation is. Do you really believe that penal substi.tution makes sense? Supposedly Adam and Eve mess up and all mankind thereafter are guilty of their crime. Your grandfather steals a loaf of bread and they throw you in jail. How is that fair or moral? Then we come to the part were Jesus is sacrificed on the cross to pay for the sins of man. Pay who? Why does god require a penalty. How come he can't just forgive us the way Jesus tells us to do? Bit of a double standard there I say. And what was paid? Did Jesus die? Well no not really ...he suffered for a bit then sorta died until he came back to life a few days later. Where is the payment when no real sacrifice was made. God didn't lose Jesus for good which would have made more sense as an actual sacrifice. The image of God protrayed in the bible is one of a petulant tyrannical monster who far from deserving worship should be despised. Blasphemy is the least that should be directed at such an abomination if it were real...which of course it isn't.

    March 24, 2011 at 2:36 pm |
    • Magic

      "Then we come to the part were Jesus is sacrificed on the cross to pay for the sins of man. Pay who? Why does god require a penalty. How come he can't just forgive us the way Jesus tells us to do? Bit of a double standard there I say. And what was paid? Did Jesus die? Well no not really ...he suffered for a bit then sorta died until he came back to life a few days later. Where is the payment when no real sacrifice was made. God didn't lose Jesus for good which would have made more sense as an actual sacrifice. The image of God protrayed in the bible is one of a petulant tyrannical monster who far from deserving worship should be despised."

      Good post. I agree.

      March 24, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
  6. jim

    "...the reseachers dont have enough data to predict what will happen, but check this out, no religion is actually the fastest growing part of the population."

    yeah, that makes sense. it all sounds like crap considering the explosions of faith, particularly christian in south american, african and asian countries.

    March 24, 2011 at 1:49 pm |
    • PraiseTheLard

      This "explosion of faith" is primarily taking place among the least educated populations. Nothing new there...

      March 24, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
  7. fsmgroupie

    get on your knees and whorship me you puny humans or burn burn burn in hell for billions of years !!!!! For I am your loving God!!!
    no wonder christianity is dieing-sick sick sick crapola

    March 24, 2011 at 1:43 pm |
  8. PRISM 1234


    "You have no proof of anything that you describe. None. At all. Why should anyone ever listen to you? Let me fill you on something...you do not possess special mental powers that we don't."

    I don't have to fight to prove anything.... I DO have proof. But it is never meant for me to prove it to someone else.... It was meant for me to tell others, not always, but when I'm lead to tell it... It is God who takes it from there, and by His Spirit sifts the intents of hearts of those who hear it.... I never claimed, nor do I think that I have some "special powers" . There is no person on earth that should desire tho hear the cries of the da'mn'ed in that place called Hell. But if God, in His mercy desires to warn one of His wayward ones, in order to bring him/her back, then it is His doing.
    In fact, it is those who look down from their lofty places of their " intelligence/reasoning superiority" that think they posses something that we, who know the Lord, do not . And that's THEIR point of PRIDE, which prevents them from hearing and knowing God. Here I believe , lies your problem also!!

    March 24, 2011 at 12:15 pm |
    • Maybe

      @PRISM 1234
      "I don't have to fight to prove anything.... I DO have proof. But it is never meant for me to prove it to someone else.... It was meant for me to tell others, not always, but when I'm lead to tell it... It is God who takes it from there, and by His Spirit sifts the intents of hearts of those who hear it..."

      Fervent believers in Islam, Hinduism, Scientology, etc. claim exactly the same kind of 'proof' that you do. They claim to have 'holy' guidance too. What's up with that? (Hint: they are every bit as mistaken as you are).

      March 24, 2011 at 1:07 pm |
    • Eric G.

      @PRISM 1234: To have "proof", you must have verifiable evidence. You refuse to present this evidence for verification. This leaves two options on the table...

      1. You have evidence but refuse to present it for verification because you know it may be falsified. This option makes you unsure of your evidence, and thus unsure of your faith.


      2. You have no evidence for verification that you claim. This makes you dishonest.

      Please pick one of these two options before posting in the future. That way, we will all know where your position is based and you will not need to be questioned on it again.

      March 24, 2011 at 1:48 pm |
    • PRISM 1234

      Eric G.
      You have no concept of the nature of God. He is the One who proves Himself to those who seek Him. To the mo'ck'ers and unbelievers He says, the only proof they will have is the one on their day of giving accounts for their lives... Jesus Christ said that if someone came from the dead they would not believe .... But they have the Word, and the testimony of those who know Him... But what they do with those, it will depend how much more proof will be given them!
      If you keep pushing this "prove it" thing, from our lofty Lawyer seat (as if God is on trial and you're the one He has to answer too) , your heart will be so hardened that when the day of your death comes , you'll be readily turned over to the cruel master who will take your soul to eternity without Christ. You see, you have no idea where the path you are on is leading you, friend, and f the one who has you now, in his grip does not want you to know... Yet you refuse to listen!
      I don't think there is any point to say anything else to you, but I will pray for you, because only God can help you at this point. But, He will not force Himself on you or anyone... Your heart must seek Him first!!

      March 24, 2011 at 4:23 pm |
    • PRISM 1234


      Meant to type :"from YOUR lofty Lawyer seat "

      (My keys ar sticking)

      March 24, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
  9. Nelson Rose

    I'd like to think that we are finally drifting away from the ridiculous beliefs of the Bronze Age. Mankind has outgrown the fairy tales of these man made dogmatic and oppresive belief systems. God created man and man destroyed God with ridiculous religions that contradict the creative and perpetual source of life.

    March 24, 2011 at 12:05 pm |
  10. Atheist vs the Spiritual

    Some people will not believe unless they have proof or see it with their own eyes. In a way, Atheist could be the most honest real people of all. I personally dislike fake people. Atheist could end up knowing God before religious people do? On the other hand, religious people can become brained washed, fake, lost and vulnerable. Never the less, those who trust in God and not men, with faith, find peace and joy; the truth sets them free. I feel sorry for Atheists cause they walk around clueless of the gifts they have been given and clueless of who they really are. Someday the Atheists will see and I think religious people will be surprised how close Atheist have gotten to God.

    March 24, 2011 at 11:47 am |
    • Q


      March 24, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
  11. Muneef

    Al-Noor sura 24:
    In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful
    Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The similitude of His light is as a niche wherein is a lamp. The lamp is in a glass. The glass is as it were a shining star. (This lamp is) kindled from a blessed tree, an olive neither of the East nor of the West, whose oil would almost glow forth (of itself) though no fire touched it. Light upon light. Allah guideth unto His light whom He will. And Allah setteth forth for mankind similitudes, for Allah is Knower of all things. (35) (This lamp is found) in houses which Allah hath allowed to be exalted and that His name shall be remembered therein. Therein do offer praise to Him at morn and evening. (36) Men whom neither merchandise nor sale beguileth from remembrance of Allah and constancy in prayer and paying to the poor their due; who fear a day when hearts and eyeballs will be overturned; (37) That Allah may reward them with the best of what they did, and increase reward for them of His bounty. Allah giveth blessings without stint to whom He will. (38) As for those who disbelieve, their deeds are as a mirage in a desert. The thirsty one supposeth it to be water till he cometh unto it and findeth it naught, and findeth, in the place thereof, Allah Who payeth him his due; and Allah is swift at reckoning. (39) Or as darkness on a vast, abysmal sea. There covereth him a wave, above which is a wave, above which is a cloud. Layer upon layer of darkness. When he holdeth out his hand he scarce can see it. And he for whom Allah hath not appointed light, for him there is no light. (40).

    March 24, 2011 at 11:33 am |
    • David


      March 24, 2011 at 12:17 pm |
    • Schlangemann

      'Allah' is to 'Oil Lamp' as "Piano' is to –
      A) Chess
      B) Rubber
      C) Instrument
      D) Marzipan

      March 24, 2011 at 12:45 pm |
    • Muneef

      Easier for you to understand what was meant by the verses visit the link ;


      March 24, 2011 at 7:58 pm |
  12. Jack Kerpan

    Let's hope this trend continues! It will be the best for the women of this world.

    March 24, 2011 at 11:08 am |
  13. LP

    Yeah, but the Muslims are multiplying like rats . All those empty churches will have turrets if countries aren't careful. They should turn them into mini-malls and close their borders while they have the chance.

    March 24, 2011 at 10:55 am |
  14. goingtoheavenforsure

    Mark 9:42 And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea

    March 24, 2011 at 10:37 am |
    • David

      It's because of fools like you that people have turned against the Bible, God's word.

      March 24, 2011 at 12:15 pm |
    • Schlangemann

      Yeah, and theres something in that book about being an egotistical dewshbag that makes assumptions like "im totally goingtoheavenforsure"... If I recall correctly, it's in the book of Joshua, where it says "yay, god said unto thee 'do not be an assumptive, egotistical dewshbag'" (I dont know if cnn will censor 'dewshbag', hence the spelling)

      March 24, 2011 at 12:41 pm |
  15. KidCanada

    I'm going to look past the ignorance of those people who reported on this and go straight to the facts.
    There is a major correlation between intelligence and religion.
    The more intelligent the people or populous become the more they educate themselves. The more the educate themselves the more they realize it's a fraud! When intelligence goes up devotion to religion goes down!

    March 24, 2011 at 10:26 am |
    • Peter

      It is more than obvious you are Kid. Knowledge doesn't mean much when you think about supernatural things. Don't forget that Aristotle 350 B.C. explained atom concept. At that time atom was in the sphere of supernatural relative to humankind knowledge. Nowadays we know much but probably no more than 0.01% of what it is surrounding us.
      My dear kid, It takes some wisdom to think about God. Kids usually don't have wisdom. Their view point is different. Boys think though balls, girls though make up and romance. All those things are gone by 30s and you have to face ugly reality of life that is not easy at all. It takes long time being in ugly reality to develop conscious that can bring you to the level where you even start thinking about God.

      Everything the best for you in your life.

      March 24, 2011 at 12:51 pm |
    • PraiseTheLard

      Peter: and taking the easy route by forgoing the thought process and just accepting a bunch of ancient fairy tales is preferable? For sure it takes your mind off questions that are at the present time almost impossible to answer, but it also discourages the search for these answers under the all-encompassing dogma that "god" (which one, again?) is responsible for everything.

      March 24, 2011 at 12:55 pm |
    • ScottK

      "It takes long time being in ugly reality to develop conscious that can bring you to the level where you even start thinking about God."

      So what you are saying is that it takes some time and persecution to develop the level of depression needed to create a co-dependent need for a God. Essentially its saying "I'm old, i've suffered, thus I need God in my life because I'm depressed and the world is $ hit". I'm not so sure thats a very good reason to adopt a God. It's certainly easier than accepting that this is all there is and that to be happy you need to work hard at being a good person with no one to blame but yourself. It's easier to go to a confessional and "throw your burden on the Lord" than to be a good person. It is, as they say, easier to ask for forgivness than permission.

      March 24, 2011 at 1:39 pm |
    • Maybe


      Many, many of the atheist/agnostic posters here have quite a number of years of life experience under their belts, as well as information about supernatural beliefs - and they have rejected them for lack of proof.

      Also, there are many 'young'ns' who are still not past the brainwashing stage.

      March 24, 2011 at 1:56 pm |
    • Peter

      PraiseTheLard, I absolutely agree with you that is not an option to discourage future advance in science by any religion.
      Actually religion (in my case Christianity) shouldn't encourage kids and people to get higher education, be successful in life including research and development (I partly work in R&D). You know what, my lunch break is over, a have to go back, but let's stay on this frequency for a while, I believe we have common ground.

      March 24, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
    • Peter

      Typo. ...should encourage (or shoudn't discourage)...

      March 24, 2011 at 2:36 pm |
  16. Max

    uh-oh layoffs coming in catholic church and other churches.. time to choose a better skillset preachers (than scamming naive people off their money)

    March 24, 2011 at 10:23 am |
    • AD

      What do you mean? There will always be a need for skilled salesmen. Selling some other product may be a little more difficult than selling the promise of everlasting life (try getting a refund on that if you discover after death you were lied to) but it is the same skill set. Find a problem customer has, show customer how your product will solve thier problem, collect commision.

      March 24, 2011 at 1:14 pm |
  17. jennifer

    people need to understand and distinguish the difference between spirtuality and religion. history has proven that religons preach peace and all it does is create crusades that are evident still today. it creates indifferences, not tolerance, it drives hatred not acceptance, i don't see any religion that is perfect, i see religons as the root of most of our issues around the world. i am not an athiest i believe in my own spirtuality that preaches love peace and understanding it isn't perfect but is hasn't created any wars. everything religion stands for has NO meaning because the laws that govern it's followers are broken everyday by the acts of every man woman and child against eachother. religion has caused our earth to be stained red with the bloodshed over many wars all in the name of GOD, in my eyes it is evident that religion was MAN made, NO GOD would instruct his children to struck a fellow human being. shame, shame on all of us for being lead into a war with no end. God forgive us, for we know what we do and continue to do it...

    March 24, 2011 at 10:22 am |
  18. Apostle Eric vonAnderseck

    {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.}
    Apostle Eric says; No chance! Even Satan will insist on worship and the atheists will believe too. http://www.second8thweek.org/content.php?id=197 http://apostlestoday.net/

    March 24, 2011 at 10:20 am |
  19. Christian Mathematician

    I would say, this research result is misuse of the prestige of the science of mathematics, and it is based on very much simplified theory of human behavior. I mean, with similar arguments (say, based on unsatisfactory results on math. education in the U.S.), it would probably be possible to prove the (untrue fact) that the population of mathematically inteligent Americans became extinct by the year 2011 (which incidentally is the year of the publication of the cited result, you understand?). As you see, these arguments are nonsense.

    March 24, 2011 at 10:09 am |
    • Kafir

      Tell that to the Zoroastrians, or the Nordic theists, or any of the other numerous religions who are extinct or on the verge of becoming extinct.

      March 24, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
    • STW

      You're making a statement about someone misusing mathematics? You must know more about this study than is relayed in the article. Stop being so defensive.

      March 24, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
  20. GeeWhizBeav

    This is the best news I've heard all day!

    "An atheist is a man who has no invisible means of support"

    March 24, 2011 at 9:59 am |
    • MGuiney

      TRUE DAT

      March 24, 2011 at 10:50 am |
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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.