Are Religions Going Extinct?

dodo birdRecently an intriguing research report was published suggesting that in religion has the same chances in the long run as the Dodo bird.

The research was presented to the American Physical Society meeting in Dallas and was authored by Daniel M. Abrams Haley A. Yaple and Richard J. Wiener. For the mathematically minded and truly curious, you’ll find the full document below.

For the rest, here’s a quick summary and explanation. The foundation of the research is quite simple. The “network effect” is a widely observed non-linear phenomena that posits that the value of a group or network increases with the number of individuals within that group.

There are a myriad applications of the network effect. The most intuitive for us to understand is language. Languages are living breathing things that are born, change, evolve and ultimately die. The popularity of a specific language, say English, varies according to the value that it offers the person who speaks it.

There is little value to be gained by learning to speak a language that few speak. But much to be gained if we learn a language that opens doors around the world. As the group of English language speakers grows, so does the value of learning to speak English. And so, with each new English speaker that joins the group, the network effect creates a virtuous feedback loop increasing the utility of English.

The reverse can also be observed as a language is abandoned. Once enough people stop using it, the network effect goes into reverse and it declines quite rapidly as it loses value in a non-linear fashion. In fact, Abrams, one of the authors of this research study applied a similar model to language in a study published in 2003.

We can also observe the network effect in many online communities. For example, the incredible rise and popularity of social networks like twitter and facebook. As well as the quick death of myspace (as people migrated to facebook and others).

The findings of this recent research study are based on this simple concept and they show that in a number of countries, the future will belong to the “non-affiliated” group. In other words, those that have no religious or denominational affiliation – agnostics or atheists.

These countries are Australia, Austria, Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Switzerland.

You might notice that these countries have something in common. They are all secular liberal democracies located in the economically advantaged areas of the world. As the Pew study from a few years ago showed already, the level of religious conviction is directly related to financial wealth.

According to this recent study, if the same trends persist, then non-affiliated will be the majority in these countries. In Canada it will be 61% by 2050. According to the latest census data, unaffiliated persons in Ireland represent 4.2% of the population (2006 data). Back in 1961, they were a puny 0.04% of the population. Currently, in the Netherlands, those claiming non-affiliated status number 40% and the highest level of non-affiliation belongs to those beer guzzling heathens, the Czechs.

Niels Bohr, the famous physicist and Yogi Berra are both quoted as saying “It’s hard to make predictions, especially about the future.”

This is after all just an extrapolation based on a sensible model and the best available data. It is in no way a guarantee that this is how the future will unfold. But I must confess that I do find it amusing to imagine a future where religion and atheism switch places.

Can you picture it?

We’ll have ‘heretics’ tied to the stake and forced to listen to a monotone recitation of “On the Origin of Species”. Brace yourself to be disturbed during dinner by atheists who knock on your door to share with you the good news of the scientific method. Worse yet, imagine enduring cries and moans of “Friction! Oh friction!” coming through the wall during a rather energetic bout of love making by your atheist neighbors.

The horror… the horror.

  • Concourse on Low

    â€?Friction! Oh friction!â€? coming through the wall during a rather energetic bout of love making by your atheist neighbors.”

    What kind of douchebag understanding of atheists do you have, Baquia?

    You’re right, only conventionally religious people with affiliations to organized religion have an understanding of love, passion and the numinous while non-believers are robots.


  • Concourse on Low

    Baquia, I didn’t mean to be humorless, but I have a short fuse for the smug caricaturization of the irreligious by the religious. But it’s all good. A joke’s a joke.

  • Steve

    I’m struck by how pervasive religion is in the US, compared to my own country, New Zealand. A belief in god – at least a stated belief in God – is getting to be a net liability for politicians here, whereas it’s still something of a requirement in the US. I agree that the tide is turning in countries like New Zealand.

    One sign of that is that NZ atheists don’t seem to be angry and in-your-face like English and US ones can be.


    I don’t agree with direction that the headline, “Are Religions Going Extinct?” takes us. I know the headline is designed as a teaser, and not a truth-statement, but I don’t see the extinction of religion as being a likely outcome. I anticipate the opposite – a radical renewal of religion in its wider sense. Hierarchical organised religion out, an individualised sense of spirituality in. God-talk out, a sense of deep connection with others and a wonder-at-life in.

    Here’s an example of the rethinking of religion that may be taking place:

    Rabbi Geoffrey A. Mitelman
    Why ‘Do You Believe in God?’ is the Wrong Question to Ask

  • Baquia

    It seems my obnoxious sense of humor has misfired yet again. Le sigh.

  • Hayy

    I think you totally missed the point of Baquia’s tone.

  • Carlo Martello

    hello and ALLAHuabha to all non bahais and bahais
    to Ahebba and to aghyar

    I think the question is the definition of the religion.
    For example the islamic religion of muhammadans(including all the branches from khavarij to ahmadiyyah… and all the branches of bahai “faith”) IS a big big SECT and this is difficult to disapear is a way of creating the group of pressure … apropriating others (blievers) money travelling worldwide without paying a penny … having power Manbar or being a member of the bahai organization …. talking nonsense and dejavoodoo and receiving applause! abusing the right of the fellow believers manipulating the minds … this will never ever will disapear ,….

    So dear bahais sleep tranquilos Dios existe!!

    khoda(Allah) hafez

  • Bozorg

    No. I did not.

  • Baquia

    guilty as charged – the title was a teaser and not meant to be taken literally. The trend is clear but we are far from seeing religion going extinct. As it has always, it will change and transform along with people to meet their needs.

    The kind of religion that dictates to people the jot and tittle of their lives is being ignored. So if churches want to remain relevant, they must move to where the collective consciousness is.

    The religion of the future will be unrecognizable from the violent, barbaric affair that we see in the pages of history.

  • Baquia

    In caricaturing the banality of atheism, I was attempting to say that its rise is welcome. Personally I don’t see it producing anything except a more mellow and moderate society.

  • Concourse on Low

    Interesting. Yet you remain a Baha’i.

  • Steve

    Atheists are everywhere – even in Bahai. We take the concept of an unknowable God very seriously.

  • Ali Sina

    What is religion and what is not is a complex question. No two religions are alike. There are some similarities between Judaism and Christianity because they share common roots. However, Hinduism is a lot different. Hinduism is a vast set of philosophies coming from many sages. There is a common thread going through them and that is why we classify them in one group and call them Hinduism. Hinduism is basically the collective philosophies of Indians.

    Buddhism is also a philosophy. It is not even theistic. In Buddhism the belief in God is optional. However, we classify Hinduism and Buddhism as religion because they have moral and mystical teachings, which are the domains of religion. They also have rituals which is characteristic of religion.

    Then we have Confucianism and Daoism. It is difficult to call these beliefs religion. Daoism has a mystical dimension shared by religions. Confucianism is entirely this worldly. The teachings of Confucius are about ethics and social order. There is no mention of God or revelation in Confucianism.

    There are also animistic religions such as shamanism. The belief in these religions is focused on spirits and magical power. They don’t focus on morality and ethics. They focus on personal empowerment.

    Islam is influenced by Christianity and Judaism and shares many features with these religions. However, it has a dimension that these two faiths don’t and that is its political dimension. While Jesus was clear that his kingdom is not of this world, Muhammad’s main objective was to conquer the world and dominate it. This goal is so paramount that for its achievement morality and ethics can be sacrificed. Muslims are allowed and even encouraged to break the rules of ethics and fairness in order to make Islam dominant.

    The Bahai Faith also proposed a world government supervised by a Universal House of Justice, composed of nine elected men who are deemed to be infallible. In this Orwellian system of government opposition has no place. At the same time morality and ethics among Bahais is of paramount importance. They are even taught it is better to be killed than kill.

    As you see religions come in all shapes and forms. Cults are also religion. We call them cult because their members are few and they have little power. Once they become powerful with millions of devotees they graduate as religion. Christianity was deemed to be cult when it was still at its infancy.

    What is a religion cannot be well defined. Each person’s definition is different and there can never be a consensus. Should religion be theistic? In that case Buddhism cannot be defined as religion. Should it have one god or can it have many? Should it believe in afterlife?

    I believe in Bugs Bunny. I worship his holiness Bugs Bunny dearly. I practice my religion by making a bowl of popcorns and watch his blessed cartoons any time I feel tired or not feel great. He gives me immense joy and I can forget all my problems. Tell me why my religion should not be recognized as a religion. I admit that there are not many practitioners in my church. Some children also believe in Bugs Bunny but unfortunately as they age, they lose their innocence, become distracted by other things and apostatize. Nonetheless I know for a fact that my faith is real. Why I cannot form a tax exempt church consisting of me, myself and my person? Does number matter? How many people should I proselytize so my church is recognized as a legitimate religion? My religion teaches me that animals are also humans. His holiness Bugs Bunny pbuh is a rabbit. I can recruit my cat and all the cats and dogs in my neighbourhood. Who can say no. Is that irrational. Maybe, but that is the beauty of faith. Show me one faith that is not irrational. That is why they are called faith.

    This question will lead us to a slippery slope. It is better not to get into the discussion whether Islam, or any faith for that matter, is a religion or not. If their followers say it is, then we should accept it as such.

    The problem with Islam is not because it is a religion. People can believe in what they want to believe. The problem with Islam is with its political dimension. Islam wants to take over the world through Jihad. Jihad has two wings – deception and terror. Islam has declared a war on Mankind. We must fight it. Islam must be destroyed not because it is a religion but because it aims to subdue us with terror.

    Instead of trying to declassify Islam as a religion, something we can never do, we can easily ban its objectives. We can ban the Sharia and we can ban preaching most of the Quran because it incites hate and violence.

    Islam is a chameleon system of belief. It is political but it operates as religion. It is religion but it has political goal. It intrudes in personal lives of all living beings, not just its believers. Even dogs and pigs are not spared from its onslaught.

    We cannot attack Islam as a religion but we can attack it as a political system that is at odds with our constitution and at war with our system of government.

    There is however, one thing that all religions share and that is the Golden Rule. Virtually all religions, no matter how diverse they are, have at their core the belief that one should treat others as one wishes to be treated. This Golden Rule is absent in Islam. In this sense Islam can be compared to KKK, Nazism and other racist supremacist groups. We can ban Islam because of this. If KKK can be banned why can’t Islam be banned?