The Future of Secularism: a Biologically Informed Theory Supplemented with Cross-Cultural Evidence

  • Lee Ellis
  • Anthony W. Hoskin
  • Edward Dutton
  • Helmuth Nyborg
Research Article

DOI: 10.1007/s40806-017-0090-z

Cite this article as:
Ellis, L., Hoskin, A.W., Dutton, E. et al. Evolutionary Psychological Science (2017). doi:10.1007/s40806-017-0090-z


For over a century, social scientists have predicted declines in religious beliefs and their replacement with more scientific/naturalistic outlooks, a prediction known as the secularization hypothesis. However, skepticism surrounding this hypothesis has been expressed by some researchers in recent decades. After reviewing the pertinent evidence and arguments, we examined some aspects of the secularization hypothesis from what is termed a biologically informed perspective. Based on large samples of college students in Malaysia and the USA, religiosity, religious affiliation, and parental fertility were measured using self-reports. Three religiosity indicators were factor analyzed, resulting in an index for religiosity. Results reveal that average parental fertility varied considerably according to religious groups, with Muslims being the most religious and the most fertile and Jews and Buddhists being the least. Within most religious groupings, religiosity was positively associated with parental fertility. While cross-sectional in nature, when our results are combined with evidence that both religiosity and fertility are substantially heritable traits, findings are consistent with view that earlier trends toward secularization (due to science education surrounding advancements in science) are currently being counter-balanced by genetic and reproductive forces. We also propose that the inverse association between intelligence and religiosity, and the inverse correlation between intelligence and fertility lead to predictions of a decline in secularism in the foreseeable future. A contra-secularization hypothesis is proposed and defended in the discussion. It states that secularism is likely to undergo a decline throughout the remainder of the twenty-first century, including Europe and other industrial societies.


Religions Religiosity Secularization Parental fertility Cross-cultural 

Funding information

Funder NameGrant NumberFunding Note
Universiti Malaya
  • Number RG143-10HNE

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lee Ellis
    • 1
  • Anthony W. Hoskin
    • 2
  • Edward Dutton
    • 3
  • Helmuth Nyborg
    • 4
  1. 1.University of MalayaKuala LumpurMalaysia
  2. 2.Idaho State UniversityPocatelloUSA
  3. 3.University of OuluOuluFinland
  4. 4.University of AarhusAarhusDenmark

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