Human religion has evolved over the centuries. Is it heading to extinction in some parts? The BBC reports that using the mathematical model of nonlinear dynamics, a Northwestern University team suggests religion is going the way of the dinosaur and the trilobite in nine selected countries. A similar model was used to predict the extinction of the world’s minor languages. Does the parallel hold? Is religion just a cultural marker like language? Or will we faithful end up hidden to view like living fossils?
The report, titled, “A mathematical model of social group competition with application to the growth of religious non-affiliation” is here.
From Richard Wiener, one of the co-authors:
The idea is pretty simple. 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.
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%
And what were the other countries? Australia, Austria, Canada, Finland, Ireland, New Zealand and Switzerland. Lest you think this is a recent phenomenon, the research team used data going back well over a century for nations where it was available. Was the handwriting on the wall before the Great War? Why weren’t the knees of religious leaders of the last century knocking?
As a man of faith, I’d like to think that religion goes deeper than tribal languages. Still, you have liberals chased out of organized religion by conservatives who, in turn, implode in sex scandals and coopt secular political models to run what’s left of their show.
Dr Wiener again:
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.
Is the greater utility to be found in acting like Republicans? I don’t really think so. I think the Church maintains a sufficient number to remain viable, and we have enough diversity and differentiation not to stagnate philosophically. And the study focuses too much on the non-religious. It’s possible to deduce things from that, but it makes as much sense to determine what’s Catholic from sampling not-Catholics–in other words, Protestants.