Author Behind ‘Religion to Disappear By 2041’ Headlines: That’s Not What I Said

I swear, I saw this headline and story all over the Internet last week:

Author and noted biopsychologist Nigel Barber has completed a new study that shows Atheism is most prevalent in developed countries, and, according to his projections, religion will completely disappear by 2041. His findings are discussed in his new book “Why Atheism Will Replace Religion.” A new study that clarifies his earlier research will be published in August. His findings focus on studying trends within countries around the world and the fact that “Atheists are heavily concentrated in economically developed countries”-

Turns out the story’s not-at-all accurate. What Barber actually said is that, according to his calculations, religious people will be in the minority by 2041. The Nones will have come into the majority.

In other words, the headlines are only a few billion people off the mark.

Religion won’t go away. But its power will dissipate.

(In fact, Barber’s claim isn’t even news. He said it in 2011 and 2012, too. No word yet on how many copies of his book have sold as a result of the publicity…)

Here’s the better question: Is it a fair prediction?

Barber’s claim is based on the fact that countries that are economically strong are less religious — the U.S. being a major exception to that rule.

Clearly there is less of a market for religion in societies where ordinary people feel secure in their daily lives. In the most developed countries, such as Japan and Sweden, the quality of life is so good that the majority is already secular.

Using GDP, the human development index (HDI), and some math, Barber extrapolates the trend and hits upon 2041 as the year when the world tips over to the non-religious side.

As much as I’d like to believe it, Barber works off of a lot of assumptions (decreasing fertility rates, rising economies worldwide, no major catastrophes) and assumes that things will continue into the future just as they have been. That’s quite a big leap.

As much as I want him to be right, there’s no reason to think his claim, even if there’s some math to it, is anything more than wishful thinking.

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