The End of the World is Nigh, But Don’t Worry, The Predictions Are Usually Wrong

Seeing as I write this on the afternoon of May 22, 2011, it would seem that the predicted Rapture has passed without effect, and as certain as I was that this prophecy was false in the days and weeks leading up to May 21st 2011, I know that there were many people who believed wholeheartedly that the end was nigh.

It seems to be yet another defining feature of humanity, in that no other creature on the planet is silly enough to waste time and energy on such predictions.  Below are four broad examples of doomsday predictions.  Some started out as something completely benign, while others have foretold of doom for centuries…or have they?

The Rapture and Armageddon

As we’ve recently seen, the Bible and its followers have their hands in the collective prophecy pot as well, and there has been no shortage of people willing to put a date on the end.

For clarity sake, it should be stated that the Rapture and Armageddon are two different events.  One is the judgement and ascension of devout followers into paradise (Heaven) or unbelievers into a period of tribulation here on Earth[1], which ultimately ends with the second event, Armageddon, or the end of the world.

Some notable Rapture predictions are as follows:

  • 1844 – William Miller predicted Christ would return between March 21, 1843 and March 21, 1844, then revised his prediction, claiming to have miscalculated Scripture, to October 22, 1844. The realization that the predictions were incorrect resulted in a Great Disappointment.
  • 1914, 1918, 1925, 1942 – Dates set for the end by the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
  • 1981 – Chuck Smith predicted that Jesus would probably return by 1981.[2]
  • 1988 – Publication of 88 Reasons why the Rapture is in 1988, by Edgar C. Whisenant.
  • 1989 – Publication of The final shout: Rapture report 1989, by Edgar Whisenant. This author made further predictions of the Rapture for 1992, 1995, and other years.
  • 1992 – A Korean group, “Mission for the Coming Days”, predicted October 28, 1992 as being the date of the Rapture.[3]
  • 1993 – Seven years before the year 2000; the Rapture would have to start to allow for seven years of the Tribulation before the Return in 2000. Multiple predictions.
  • 1994 – Pastor John Hinkle of Christ Church in Los Angeles predicted that the Rapture would occur on June 9, 1994. Radio evangelist Harold Camping predicted September 6, 1994.
  • 2011 – Harold Camping’s revised prediction had May 21, 2011 as the date of the Rapture.
  • 2060 – Sir Isaac Newton proposed, based upon his calculations using figures from the Book of Daniel that the Apocalypse could happen no earlier than 2060.

Y2K

Y2K, otherwise known as the year 2000 problem was widely heralded as a potential apocalyptic event, though it didn’t start out that way.

In the late 1990’s, computer programmers and electronic systems engineers discovered that there was a problem that would occur at the turn of the millennium, it was a computer problem, namely that standard abbreviated date codes could not handle the transition from ’99 to ’00. The idea was that this transition would cause a logic error that would replicate through the affected systems, essentially causing such systems to crash.

Many, many people and corporations spent many millions of dollars on fixes and fail-safes, though some believe that their efforts were unnecessary.  Some suggest that the original problem was exaggerated by enterprising computer technicians in the hopes of creating a niche for their work, a rather lucrative niche at that.

Y2K, like many other predictions and legends in popular culture was turned into a prediction for the end of the world, though its origin was purely technical.  Many hypothesized that the expected system crashes would render modern life unliveable, though others simply spoke with unerring authority, drawing on vague notions of the 2012 legend and planetary alignments.  None of which were true, obviously.

Nostradamus

Perhaps the most famous prophet of doom and disaster the world has ever known, Michel de Nostredame or as he is most commonly known, Nostradamus, has provided modern culture with pages and pages of carefully prescribed quatrains, poetry that is supposed to tell the future.  He has a nearly religious following of intellectuals and pseudo-intellectuals who espouse his ability to foretell future events with what is ultimately questionable accuracy.

Perhaps his most famous prophecies were the death of King Henry II by way of a duel at age 40, and the Great Fire of London in 1666, or even the rise and fall of Adolf Hitler.

Unfortunately for Nostradamus followers, his quatrains cannot be translated literally, and require much interpretation, though in this sense, interpretation should be read as amendment.  Typically whole words and phrases need to be changed in order to make the vast majority of his predictions fit with historical events.  Not one of Nostradamus’ prophecies has foretold of an event before it happened.  Though as should be noted here, Nostradamus has not foretold of the end of the world, in fact, his own writings tell that his predictions will go on for thousands of years, namely until the year 3797.  This, however, should not be viewed as a prediction that the world will end in that year, but rather, that his predictions simply end that year.

2012

2012 is perhaps the most popular or well known doomsday myth in circulation today, and it is the result of much misunderstanding and misinterpretation. The 2012 legend specifically relates to the end of the Mayan Calendar on December 21st 2012, it is the end of a Baktun or 10,000 year calendar cycle, but what most people seem to be ignoring, is that fact that the Maya were not prophetic people.  Foretelling the future was simply not a part of their culture, and as such all of the legends that follow from the end of their calendar are not only erroneous, but pernicious.  Some of these theories are as follows:

  • Planetary Alignment – Some believe that there will be a detrimental planetary alignment on the 21st of December in 2012, though exactly what mechanism will bring destruction is largely left untreated in writings about this prediction.
  • Nibiru – Some believe that the long lost planet Nibiru will make a pass or even make contact with Earth, bringing destruction by way of the collision or by way of the return of the Annunaki (Ancient Aliens believed to have been the progenitors of humanity).
  • Ascension – Others still believe that there will be a rapturous event, bringing increased consciousness to mankind, allowing ascension to another plane of existence.
  • Asteroid – Simultaneously the most benign and most destructive event in the 2012 cannon, believers suggest that the Earth is on a collision course with a deep orbit asteroid.
  • Polarity Shift – Some of the more metaphysical among us believe that there will be a massive and abrupt polarity shift in the Earths magnetosphere, ultimately switching the north and south poles.  Such an event would be catastrophic, though there is little evidence that such an event could happen.  The mechanism of change is usually said to be the result of a major coronal mass ejection from our sun.
  • Tectonic Activity (earthquakes) – This may be the most widely believed prediction for the end of days, though it isn’t exclusive to 2012.  Conspiracy theorists are already tracking earthquake data, some with an eye toward connecting an increase in tectonic activity to HAARP (High Altitude Auroral Research Project), but there is a general consensus that the mechanism of our demise will be the Earth opening up and swallowing us whole.

As you can see, there is no shortage of doom-saying in our culture, everyone believes something different and everyone is willing to inject their ideas into an already convoluted pool of information.  The bottom line is simply that all of these predictions were made and subsequently disproved by the passage of time (with the exception of 2012), and since we have nothing but time to give, we may as well stop worrying about the end.  Will there be a great catastrophe in the future?  Probably, there usually is.  Will we overcome such tragedy and move forward with our lives?  Most definitely, no one knows when or how the world will end, it is a thing that cannot be known, and we humans have shown time and again, our capacity for adapting to a changing world.  Rest easy and plan for tomorrow, for she is coming whether you want her or not.


[1] There is argument as to whether the rapture will occur pre, mid or post tribulation.

[2] Smith, Chuck (1978), Future Survival, The Word for Today, p.17

[3] “The World Did Not End Yesterday”. Boston Globe (Associated Press). 29 October 1992

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