Will religion ever go away?

Religion has been a fundamental part of human civilization for thousands of years. Even as society and culture have evolved dramatically over time, religion has persisted and remains a major force shaping human life in the 21st century. However, recent trends like secularization, declining religious affiliation, and advances in science and technology have led some to wonder if religion will eventually fade away or even disappear entirely.

Quick Answers

Religion seems unlikely to completely disappear anytime soon. Surveys show that the vast majority of the world’s population still identifies with a religion. However, traditional organized religion may continue to decline in some parts of the world. Factors like increasing secularization, especially in developed nations, and growth in the share of people who identify as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular” point to a future where religion may be less dominant in some societies than it is today.

Will Traditional Organized Religion Decline?

In recent decades, developed countries have experienced a notable decline in traditional organized religion. For example:

  • In the United States, the percentage of adults who describe themselves as Christian dropped from 78% in 2007 to just 63% in 2021, according to Pew Research Center surveys.
  • In the United Kingdom, a British Social Attitudes survey found that the portion of adults who identify as belonging to a religion fell from 68% in 1983 to just 38% in 2020.
  • In Australia, census data indicates that the share of the population reporting no religion jumped from 19% in 2006 to 30% in 2016.

Rates of religious affiliation and service attendance have decreased across European nations as well. Reasons for declining traditional religion in the West include:

  • Secularization – As education, material security and quality of life have improved, religious authority has weakened and supernatural explanations are less prevalent.
  • Scientific worldview – Advances in science provide alternate explanations for life’s big questions previously addressed by religion.
  • Individualism – Personal spirituality and self-determination have replaced organized religion for some.
  • Disillusionment – Scandals, perceived hypocrisy and strict doctrines have turned some people away from organized religion.

This decline of traditional religion is likely to continue in developed nations as societies become more prosperous and educated. However, the trends currently underway do not mean religion will vanish entirely from the West.

What About the Rest of the World?

While the West has experienced falling religious affiliation, the rest of the world has not seen the same rapid secularization. The Pew Research Center projects that from 2015 to 2060:

  • The global Muslim population will grow by 70%.
  • Hindus, Jews, adherents of folk religions and members of other faiths will see religion-related population growth as well.
  • Christians will continue to make up about one-third of the world’s population.

In societies that are agrarian, developing, or experience instability, religion often retains a strong hold by providing comfort, community and authority. Factors dampening religion’s influence in the West like material security, education and individualism tend to be less prevalent in the developing world.

Will Atheism Overtake Religion?

Alongside declining religious affiliation, the share of atheists, agnostics and people claiming no particular religion has risen in Western nations. For example:

  • In the US, atheists, agnostics and those identifying as “nothing in particular” rose from 16% in 2007 to 29% in 2021.
  • Australians reporting no religion increased from 19% to 30% between 2006 and 2016.
  • The portion of Canadians identifying as atheist or agnostic grew from 12% in 2001 to 23% in 2011.

But demographers expect growth in secular populations to plateau. The unaffiliated remain a minority worldwide. It will likely take considerable time before nonbelievers even approach the numbers of religiously affiliated people globally. And many religions like Islam and Christianity actively proselytize, winning converts to offset those leaving the faith.

Will Science Disprove Religion’s Supernatural Claims?

Some argue that as science progresses, it will eventually invalidate religion’s supernatural claims and lead to the end of faith. But while science has explained much of the natural world, it has limits:

  • Science focuses on the natural, material realm – it cannot prove or disprove the existence of the supernatural.
  • There are phenomena like consciousness and the origins of the universe that science has yet to fully understand or explain.
  • Most religions make unfalsifiable claims centered on faith, not empirical facts, putting them outside science’s ability to disprove.

Rather than eliminating religion, advancements in fields like neuroscience, astronomy and physics often raise new metaphysical questions and curiosities that religion seeks to address. Many scientists themselves hold religious beliefs they find compatible with the scientific method and inquiry.

Will Education and Development Erode Religion?

As education increases and developing societies modernize, religion might seem destined for obsolescence. But the connection is not so clear cut. Research suggests that education has a complex, nonlinear relationship with religious belief. Findings include:

  • Basic education does little to decrease religiosity at a societal level.
  • Higher education and academic achievement can weaken religious beliefs in some contexts.
  • But highly educated individuals remain affiliated at significant rates, including many scientists.

And while economic development and existential security encourage secularization, countries do not show a straightforward path from poverty to prosperity leading to extinction of religion. China and Vietnam are relatively wealthy and stable but have high religiosity. Ultimately, no society has achieved development advanced enough to completely transcend religion’s appeal.

Do Humans Have an Inherent Need for Religion?

Some scholars argue that religion meets fundamental human needs that persist despite modernization. Religion provides existential comfort; a source of community; mechanisms for coping with tragedy and loss; moral guidance; and ways to mark important life transitions like birth, marriage and death. Attempts to create secular substitutes for these religious functions have not demonstrated the same lasting resonance. From this perspective, religion satisfies enduring human needs too deeply rooted to disappear any time soon.


Religion has shown itself to be remarkably resilient over millennia, adapting as circumstances change. While secularization in the West points to a future where religion plays a less prominent public role in some societies, it remains a powerful force in much of the world. And as long as humanity grapples with existential questions of purpose, morality and the nature of the divine, religion is likely to retain its appeal. Religion would have to cease meeting basic human needs and entertaining the mysteries that science cannot explain for it to truly disappear. But all signs suggest it will continue shaping human civilization for the foreseeable future.

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