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. malcontent

    So why is it so many Christians do not follow his example. Most Christians I know are judgmental and would rather hate people they don't understand, than attempt to make peace with them. The world will only be a better place once religion, and all of the hypocrisy that go with it, have vanished from the Earth.

    April 19, 2011 at 12:35 am |
  2. DMcK

    Unfortunately, the backwards religious/political/social system of Islam is on the rise in several of the nations mentioned here, mostly due to the stupidity of allowing muslims in by the tens of thousands as immigrants.. Want Immigrants – there are Egyptian & Pakistani & Iranian Christians, Myanmar Buddhists, S. American variety, etc. etc – wake up !

    April 18, 2011 at 9:51 pm |
    • malcontent

      What a very Christian thought. You must very a very open minded, peaceful person. Except when it comes to Islam of course...

      April 19, 2011 at 12:37 am |
  3. Robert


    April 18, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
  4. Skull

    Highly unlikely ... it will just be replaced by another religion. Every person with half a brain know what religion that is. It starts with an I in this language. Religion is never going extinct.

    April 18, 2011 at 2:21 pm |
  5. Johnie Kemp

    Wow!! The spirits have indeed been loosed from hell and run rampant in our world... a lot of them evident right here on this board. Absolutely amazing!! It is really true, the things He said! Wow!

    April 18, 2011 at 11:05 am |
  6. JILNK06


    "And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?

    And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you.

    For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.

    And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.

    For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places.

    All these are the beginning of sorrows.

    Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name's sake.

    And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another.

    And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many.

    And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.

    But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.

    And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.

    When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:)" Matthew 24:3-15

    April 18, 2011 at 10:27 am |
  7. JILNK06

    "This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away." (2 Timothy 3:1-5)

    April 18, 2011 at 10:23 am |
  8. JILNK06

    A lot of people are judging and mocking Jesus and they don't even know him. It's like judging a stranger walking down the street. We teach our children not to judge and yet adults do it all the time out of arrogance, pride, ignorance and anger or for whatever other reason.

    Jesus, who never hurt, judged, condemned, cursed or insulted anyone, but instead preaced love, forgiveness, grace, humility, freedom, and told us not to judge and take the law into our hands is getting a lot of hatred?
    He preaced nothing but true love and sacrifice...He preaced hope also, healed the blind, the deaf , cured other sicknesses, and even raised the dead and others. How did they respond to him? They cursed him, spit at him, tried to stone him, mock, ridicule, beat him badly and finally nailed him to the cross.

    April 18, 2011 at 10:18 am |
  9. ramon

    well whatever happened I will keep on knockin until heaven open up for me....

    what about you? yes you!! the eightiest, the nighties and the blasphemest. While you are being eat by worms I'm hopin

    the Lord will raise me up. You guy with the earhworms me with the angels... so I'Il stay positive and be loving.....who


    April 17, 2011 at 12:59 am |
  10. skullysdecision

    Hebrews 10:24 And let us consider one another to incite to love and fine works, 25 not forsaking the gathering of ourselves together, as some have the custom, but encouraging one another, and all the more so as YOU behold the day drawing near.
    Meeting together is part of (Holy Bible) God's arrangement for His true followers. True followers look to God to set the standards of right and wrong and for how they live their life not to so-called experts or their own weak flesh. The Bible has Prophecy for our day about the fall of false religion (Babylon the Great) Revelation 14:8 And another, a second angel, followed, saying: “She has fallen! Babylon the Great has fallen, she who made all the nations drink of the wine of the anger of her fornication!”
    So sorry...it has been foretold.

    April 16, 2011 at 11:22 pm |
  11. Rosemary Peppercorn

    Too bad this study plays right into the Christian's persecution complex. Poor them. Boo-hoo.

    April 16, 2011 at 10:29 am |
  12. Dennis

    Nietcheze said God would die in the 20th century. He always rises up to outlive his pallbearers.

    April 16, 2011 at 6:45 am |
  13. john leddy

    this is wonderful news that religion is on the wane in nine of the most wonderful countries in the world. who would not like to live in any of these nine advanced and educated countries?i am a veteran and a patriotic american but it is good to know that if the radical right republicans and fundamentalists christians are successful in their goal to take control of the good old u.s.a there is someplace i can go to be free of their primitive ideologies!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    April 16, 2011 at 3:12 am |
  14. ramon

    our taxes? your taxes pay for having this kind of lifestyle and they ain't none yours any more.

    so get moving.. go to where taxes is not a lifestyle. go live in amazon jungle.

    April 16, 2011 at 1:49 am |
  15. ramon

    it's amazing how the jews sound those days.......

    it's like this site!!!!!!!!!!!

    April 16, 2011 at 1:38 am |
  16. ramon

    see to it that you live a sinlless life and that will be your religion.

    April 16, 2011 at 1:25 am |
  17. Stacey

    Good, it's best for humankind to move on from this nonsense of religion.
    I wish the models predicted religion gone from Earth entirely.

    April 15, 2011 at 11:40 pm |
  18. Leo

    Belief in God is fine but believing in any organized religion is a joke because ALL religions are nothing more than the 'opinions' of people who fancy themselves experts on the subject. They lead their believers around by the nose, telling them what to think, who to look down on and who to hate. The countries where organized religion is going to disappear are on the right track. The fact that more and more people are walking away from organized hypocrisy (sorry....religion) gives me (some) hope that maybe the human race isn't doomed (probably too much to hope for though).

    April 15, 2011 at 4:59 pm |
  19. Assumptions make what???

    There are two assumptions taken in this article that raise immense doubt. First, that "unaffiliated" means not religious. In reality, studies have been done on this group, and most are Pentecostal who see affiliation as a negative word. There are only 500 Million of them in the world.

    Second, the article equates religious with going to church. Anyone familiar with South America knows that this is a faulty standard. The people there are extraordinarily religious with Catholicism playing a huge role in their day to day culture; but the great majority of them go to mass twice a year.

    While mathematics is valuable, so is working out the definition of your categories.

    April 15, 2011 at 1:43 pm |
  20. sabretooth

    I'm from Australia and I pray to god it'll come true! So many christians so few lions

    April 15, 2011 at 5:35 am |
    • Sigh


      April 17, 2011 at 9:14 am |
    • Artist

      Sigh, do you even know what a nazi is? I have to agree with sabretooth...so many christians, so little lions. The Romans had the right idea. Let them prove their faith and die for it.

      April 18, 2011 at 4:00 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.