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. Owen Might

    There's no denying a creator of all that is, but it's stupid assuming that creator is affiliated to religion as you have it practiced in christianity, islam, etc.. You can percive the creator without knowing christ, but in knowing christ, you have seen the creator. Only here does the sham of religion die.

    June 30, 2011 at 5:44 am |
  2. Joe

    When the perversion of organized religion finally dies out, people will finally discover the real God. They will find they needed no book nor church nor preacher nor rabbi to know God.

    May 9, 2011 at 8:49 pm |
    • Hazha

      most parent dont have a clue what to look for in a girl.they just pick one of your cosnius to get her a visa to move to the west.they usually pick the ugliest one.the one thats most incompatible.

      May 21, 2012 at 8:34 pm |
  3. PirateRo

    It should die a horrible, stinking death with a stake through it's heart!

    April 24, 2011 at 7:25 am |
  4. Sanity

    After reading many of these posts, the taunt of the religious to disprove god has made me crack.

    We don't have to disprove anything, that's the point!

    Was an empirical study done to disprove Unicorns? No.
    Is someone checking every rainbow that ever occurs to verify that there is no pot of gold? No.

    Yet somehow, when we grown up, we're able to process the fact that they do not exist. Why is it so difficult then, for so many otherwise intelligent humans, to let go of god?

    Is it really that impossible to be charitable and behave like civilized human beings just because there's no fire and brimstone threat?

    We are a social species – we want to be part of something. And since we're a social species there's always an "us" and a "them." That's how it works. That doesn't mean it's mystical or supernatural.

    If you want to talk about being humbled – appreciate nature for being NATURAL and consider what it took (and I'm talking evolution, mathematics, science, technology, etc) for humans to become the incredible creatures we are today.

    Stop looking up for validation and look within. Those who wish to do evil will always find a reason to justify their actions and those who seek to improve the lives (not the afterlives) of those in need should be appreciated for what they've accomplished here, today, on this planet.

    In the grand scheme of things – why would one WANT a god?

    In the words of Epicurus (340-271 BC):

    Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
    Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
    Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
    Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?

    April 21, 2011 at 1:12 pm |
    • Dawkins Fan

      Thank you! So very well said...

      June 22, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
    • Jim

      Well said, Sanity

      December 10, 2011 at 9:30 am |
  5. 786

    The definition of religion is 'way of life'. How can a 'way of life' die out? Whatever your way of life, everyone will have one...even if that one is labelled by us as "unaffiliated". God say, "If you are ashamed of Me on the Day of Judgement, I will be ashamed of you."

    April 21, 2011 at 1:09 pm |
    • Jim


      Your definition is of 'religion' is faulty. The mathematical model discussed in the article clearly predicts people will gradually chose a 'way of life' that involves few supernatural beliefs.

      December 10, 2011 at 9:34 am |
  6. Tim

    I can't wait for the day when religion is a thing of the past...

    April 21, 2011 at 12:32 pm |
    • PraiseTheLard

      Keep waiting, but don't hold your breath...

      There are more victims of organized religion being born every minute...

      April 21, 2011 at 1:17 pm |
  7. MathematicsIsTheStudy

    As a long time teacher of mathematics I always find the sort of predictions amusing and useful for teaching a valuable lesson to students. All such predictions assume the long term continuation of a short term shift.
    Sometime back a newspaper published are article predicting that women would soon be running the marathon faster than men based on the "rate of increase" in there speeds.
    I had my students calculate the date women would be running at the speed of light based on the assumptions given.
    My only question is why the press continues to publish these sort of ridiculous articles and if the "experts" are duping them or just not so "expert".

    April 21, 2011 at 11:42 am |
    • PraiseTheLard

      Sort of like the Abbott and Costello routine about Lou at 40 years of age being in love with a girl who's 10... 4 times her age... nothing to do but wait... after 5 years, he's 45, she's 15... only 3 times her age... gotta wait... 15 more years, he's 60, she's 30... now he's only twice her age... how long before she catches up?

      Yes, studies can be made to show whatever you want them to show... just as religions can be made up in whatever way the contrivers of said religion wish them to be...

      April 21, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
  8. Truth

    Funny how so many who claim not to believe turn around and attack Christ. It is a truism that the darkness hates the Light. Christ is the Light, and the ignorant and bitter people who deny Him are not satisfied until they attack.

    April 21, 2011 at 10:57 am |
  9. Rob

    Organized religions have become irrational with their dogma and beliefs. (In all honesty they may have always been irrational and I've only recently had the courage to see it.) If God is God then he will understand our hatred of it, and if he doesn't, then he isn't God. This is not to say I would like to see people become God-less, just religion-less.

    April 21, 2011 at 9:43 am |
  10. Van

    Religion will die out? Isn't that what Caesar said when he was throwing Christians to the lions 2000 years ago?

    April 20, 2011 at 11:29 pm |
  11. thesixbull

    looks like 9 countries are going to get much smarter

    April 20, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
    • Scott

      Smarter? Like the Soviet Union an and North Korea? Please. People don't need religion to be stupid, violent, or oppressive. It's just an excuse. The only progress we've made is that we no longer need to distort religion as an excuse. I don't care if you believe in invisible guys in the sky or not, but it you think ending religion will make a bit of difference, you're just as deluded as people who believe in imaginary all-powerful beings.

      April 21, 2011 at 12:28 pm |
  12. Seer

    It's simple enough: religion is a product whose customers have no use for. It was created by its founding prophets to lead people to the bliss of self-realization, and has been corrupted to being a control scheme that benefits the power brokers. If religion concentrated on helping its followers actually achieve the bliss of God-realization by clearing themselves of all the useless concepts, patterns, and habits that clutter their mind and obscure their divinity, then people would be flocking to them. Instead, when religion becomes as materialistic and political as the secular world, people can just skip the dogmatic guilt-inducing distractions it offers and go right for the materialist bliss that they think is the fulfillment of their desires.

    April 20, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
  13. Karen Towns

    I believe in Jesus Christ as Messiah and the Savior of the world. I believe he is coming back to earth. I may be in the minority, but that's what he said would happen. "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it." Matthew 7. Your choice.

    April 20, 2011 at 2:06 pm |
  14. 21k

    amen brother. what can we do to get the us on that list?

    April 19, 2011 at 7:34 pm |
  15. ash

    I have had my own personal thoughts about religion "dying" out and it was neat (i guess) to see there have actually been studies on this. I agree with article, but think there was a valid point made about religion, which is not logical and rational, waxes and wanes in unpredictable ways. I also like the term "unaffiliated" I think that term suits me well. I had always claimed to be agnostic but unaffiliated seems to make more sense to me. I see some people really hate religion, but I think it has great value in proper contexts, but has usually come to cause great evils as well. If only it could be contained. It's like how great the use of dynamite was and then it came to be used for foul purposes instead.

    April 19, 2011 at 12:40 pm |
  16. Mark O. David

    Religion is Santa Claus for adults.A collective delusion that is very useful to the small number of people who control the government in every country on earth. Each one of us finds ourself in a very courious position,all of us alive on this earth and non invited .All of us asking questions the answers to which are quite likely beyond our comprehention .I find it sufficient to but wonder at the mysteries . ALbert E. 1953

    April 19, 2011 at 10:13 am |
  17. Brian

    All this postering about religion to die in 9 countries VS the countries where religion will flourish is all plain BS!!!
    When the Holy book called the BIBLE was made but MAN decides which pages stay in is VANITY initself and is a sort of sin.

    All is vanity and when the missing pages of the holy bible are put back in to show that it is true that GOD is everywhere in all people and all things then this takes power away from MAN and this is what the vatakin does not want.


    April 19, 2011 at 9:49 am |
    • Trey

      Do not vote for YS jagan.... He is one such religious fanaitc of christianity..he will not let us live....he already blew up sunkalamma temple in ananthapur dist. He is a devout christian and never visited a temple before entering in to the politics.He is anti Hindu. I urge VHP to be aggressive in rayalseema and East and west godavari dist. coz religious conversions is on rampage!!!

      May 19, 2012 at 2:21 am |
  18. Darketernal

    There's no proof for God, pascals wager is scientifically unsatisfactory, just because the tooth fairy might exist in a 50,50% wager, doesn't mean you should bet that she does exist. You either have proof, or else it goes into the not proven section. There's no proof for God, so no one should believe in it. Besides even if a so called god exists, what is the use of it? He doesn't pay your bills, you are completely alone, or in other words surviving is something you have to do by yourself, for no one can live your life for you.

    April 19, 2011 at 4:12 am |
    • benny

      sure, you cannot prove God's existence. but can you disprove it? frankly, its still the biggest mystery the world has to offer. that's where faith, or lack thereof, comes into play.

      April 20, 2011 at 11:02 am |
    • Aaron

      Christ will one day return and remove his church first. The events in the book of Revelation will then occur. If you reject Christ now you will be left behind. To get a job or buy food people will be required to take the mark of the anti christ or 666. If you do though it sends you to hell or you can live and die having rejected Christ and go there. This really looks like the last days friends. What a shame to be hopeless and believe a lie that we came from nothing, are here for nothing and are going nowhere when we die. Some things are true even if you don't believe them and Christ is the truth and his kingdom is without end!

      April 22, 2011 at 1:30 am |
    • HotAirAce

      The only mystery is that billions of people continue to believe this crap! As has been said many times, the believers are the ones making the extraordinary claim that god(s) exist, therefore the onus is on them to prove their claim. They have not done so after centuries of trying to. Time to give it up folks – there are no gods, not even just one, no satan or unicorns either.

      April 22, 2011 at 1:39 am |
  19. RileynHenry

    Religion is often based on lied thought up by people that weren't even around when God supposedly was. They have changed things to suit themselves and used the almighty bible against people they don't like. They use it as a devider not as a unifier. Maybe people are finally waking up to this fact that religion is one Big sham concocted by people who wanted to keep people in line

    April 19, 2011 at 4:02 am |
    • Mark

      As a certain famous person said, "Religion is the opiate of the masses." And a certain famous author said, "Religion is not merely the opium of the masses, its the cyanide."

      April 20, 2011 at 9:53 am |
  20. Bazoing

    Why is this rubbish still on CNN after weeks?

    April 19, 2011 at 3:25 am |
    • ka-chow

      Just so you'd ask why...

      April 19, 2011 at 6:39 am |
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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.