Thursday, March 24, 2011

Religion will NOT become extinct, but thanks for playing

A new study has been making the rounds, and generating a lot of chatter online. It claims that religion may be going extinct in 9 countries, which many commentators use as evidence that belief in God overall is on the way out. The same methodology was used previously to predict the extinction of traditional languages in favor or various trade languages like English.

Dr Wiener continued: "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%."

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.
There is no doubt that religious affiliation and practice is on the decline in many secular democracies. The last study I read indicated that only America among the Western states remains vibrant religiously, but noted that affiliation with organized religion is still on the wane.

But the fact is that while religions wax and wane with time, they (1) serve useful social functions in perpetuating ethics and providing hope in adversity, and (2) there seems to be a primal human desire for God. It is likely while religion was on the wane during the boom years of the 90s and early 2000s (which is most of the data being studied now), that as adversity was on the rise post-9/11 and in the time of tsunamis, people will be turning back to religion for comfort and a reminder that there are truths larger than ourselves.

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