Hugh Pickens writes writes: "The tools of statistical mechanics and nonlinear dynamics have been used successfully in the past to analyze models of social phenomena ranging from language choice to political party affiliation to war and peace. Now the BBC reports that a mathematical model that explains historical census data of religious affiliation from 85 countries also predicts that religion is heading towards extinction in nine countries including Australia, Austria, Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Switzerland where increasingly high rates of citizens identify 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%," says Richard Wiener of the Research Corporation for Science Advancement. The idea behind the model 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," says Wiener adding that the model is similar to one proposed in 2003 that put a numerical basis behind the decline of lesser-spoken world languages by examining the competition between speakers of different languages, and the "utility" of speaking one instead of another. "It's interesting that a fairly simple model captures the data (PDF), and if those simple ideas are correct, it suggests where this might be going. Obviously much more complicated things are going on with any one individual, but maybe a lot of that averages out.""
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