A rather provocative headline caught my eye the other day, so I just had to check out the story: “Religion may become extinct in nine nations, study says.”
The nine nations, according to researchers from several U.S. universities, are Australia, Austria, Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Switzerland. The researchers used census data and mathematical models to build their predictions, which are based on a growing number of people in those countries saying they are “unaffiliated” with any sort of religion.
Their reasoning behind the growth is interesting, being a blend of math and sociology. Religion will die out in these places because of a sort of snowball effect, the researchers said.
“It posits 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,” said Richard Wiener of the Research Corporation for Science Advancement, and the University of Arizona. In other words, people want to be part of the majority, so as more people become non-religious, they in turn attract more people to do the same.
The study is of particular to interest to me because the death of religion will figure prominently in my next book. I was coming at the idea from a very different perspective, though. My theory is that religion’s decline for the past few centuries has moved in lock step with our exponentially growing understanding of science. To put it another way, the smarter we get, the less we believe in religion.
There are many correlations. One of the easiest ones to do, for example, is to compare religious belief with economic affluence, which is almost always highest in well-educated areas. Take a look at U.S. states – the people who live in the most well-heeled ones also go to church or synagogues the least. If you check out those links, you’ll see that South Carolina, Mississippi and Utah place in the top five with the most church and synagogue-goers and not coincidentally in the bottom five in terms of GDP per capita. They also don’t fare well in education rankings.
Things may seem muddier when you apply this theory globally, particularly to the Middle East, but not really. Although many Middle Eastern nations are seemingly rich because of oil, the ones that pass the wealth around the most are also the ones that tend to be less religious and most educated.
It’s not a simple topic – and it’s definitely a hot-button issue – so I don’t mean to give it short shrift here, but it is a correlation that I’m looking to prove as causality in book #2.
One last side note to this whole story – the U.S. researchers were only able to come up with their theories thanks to good, solid information gleaned from years of census reports. This is information the current government of Canada is basically depriving future researchers of by axing the long-form census. We can add that to its list of failures I talked about yesterday.