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Various media outlets have noted a study that predicts that in nine countries religion is set for extinction :

The study found a steady rise in those claiming no religious affiliation.

The team’s mathematical model attempts to account for the interplay between the number of religious respondents and the social motives behind being one.

The result, reported at the American Physical Society meeting in Dallas, US, indicates that religion will all but die out altogether in those countries.

The team took census data stretching back as far as a century from countries in which the census queried religious affiliation: Australia, Austria, Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Switzerland.

What is the basis for such a peculiar prediction? The study is based on a similar model that put a numerical basis behind the decline of lesser-spoken world languages:

At its heart is the competition between speakers of different languages, and the “utility” of speaking one instead of another.

“The idea is pretty simple,” said Richard Wiener of the Research Corporation for Science Advancement, and the University of Arizona.

“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.

“For example in languages, there can be greater utility or status in speaking Spanish instead of [the dying language] Quechuan in Peru, and similarly there’s some kind of status or utility in being a member of a religion or not.”

So what’s the connection between the social utility of a common language and the decline of religion? Well, there isn’t one. Once you get past the complex formulas and the applied math jargon (dynamical systems, perturbation theory) it turns out to be a rather silly conjecture based on models that have no connection with how humans actually behave (e.g., people don’t stop believing in God simply because it makes them popular in school). Additionally, the model is premised on the assumption that each person in a country is equally influenced by every other person in a country. Even the authors of the study don’t believe that is true:
“Obviously we don’t really believe this is the network structure of a modern society, where each person is influenced equally by all the other people in society,” he said.

However, he told BBC News that he thought it was “a suggestive result”.

Um, yeah, it suggets that science journalists will report on just about any nonsense and that gullible bloggers (like me!) will link to it.

What is most interesting is that no one seems to have asked the obvious question: If religion goes extinct in societies where non-religious affiliation is more socially useful than religious affiliation, wouldn’t it also follow that religion would reach a saturation point in societies where religious affiliation is more socially useful than non-religious affiliation?

Can you imagine the panic that would result from a conclusive mathematical model that predicted America would soon be 100% religious?

(Via: Rod Dreher)

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