Is religion heading for extinction?

Can mathematical models predict whether religion is heading for extinction? Researchers used census data from nine countries — Australia, Austria, Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Switzerland — and noted that religious affiliation was on the decline in all of them:

“In a large number of modern secular democracies, there’s been a trend that folk are identifying themselves as non-affiliated with religion; in the Netherlands the number was 40%, and the highest we saw was in the Czech Republic, where the number was 60%,” Dr Wiener said.

The team then applied their nonlinear dynamics model, adjusting parameters for the relative social and utilitarian merits of membership of the “non-religious” category.

They found, in a study published online, that those parameters were similar across all the countries studied, suggesting that similar behaviour drives the mathematics in all of them.

 

And in all the countries, the indications were that religion was headed toward extinction.

The numbers may be clear, but of more immediate interest is why religion is on the decline in these countries. The study suggests that “social groups that have more members are going to be more attractive to join, and it posits that social groups have a social status or utility.” But has religious belief ever been accounted for in strict “utilitarian” terms? What else is going on here? That seems to be the crucial question.

Margaret Cabaniss

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Margaret Cabaniss is the former managing editor of Crisis Magazine. She joined Crisis in 2002 after graduating from the University of the South with a degree in English Literature and currently lives in Baltimore, Maryland. She now blogs at SlowMama.com.

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