Jun 7, 2015

The End Was Nigh: Failed Doomsday Prophecies Throughout Time


By on Sunday, June 07, 2015

The world has been about to end for a long time. In fact, if there’s a single philosophical idea that runs like a connecting thread through thousands of years of history, it’s that we definitely don’t have thousands of years left to live. People have been predicting the end of the world – any day now – since before we started smelting iron. The study of humanity’s indecent eagerness to see the world end is so common, it has its own name: eschatology.
Like other outmoded philosophical speculations (suck it, Diogenes), eschatology – which is defined as the study of “death, judgment, heaven and hell” – has never produced a single useful outcome, unless you count easy jobs for the failed prophets who still make a soft living by telling us all the end is nigh.
It’s one thing to promote a vague sense that the world doesn’t have long to live, but some of the more ambitious doomsayers have been rash enough to set an actual date for the event. This is tricky business; you want to set a date that’s close enough to scare the bejesus out of people who have a good credit rating, but not so close that you’ll eventually be exposed and maybe jailed for fraud.
Even the longest-term projections, however, must eventually come to pass, and the world’s persistent failure to die counts as negative data on the reliability of such predictions. Here are a few highlights from this ancient industry.

Religious Visions of the End

Any discussion of doomsday prophecies must begin with various religious attempts to foresee the end. While it would be wrong to use cranks and eccentrics to paint all religions with a broad brush, the fact that these beliefs are inherently irrefutable creates a wide field for frauds to make things up as they go along.

We’re not going to bother with him, though he did predict Armageddon

One of the earliest End Times prophecies we have detailed accounts of came from the Essenes, a Jewish sect active in the first century AD. The Essenes predicted the advent of Zion, going so far as to mint coins announcing the event, sometime between 66 and 70 AD. Of course, they were at war with the Roman Empire at the time, so in a sense the world did end – for them.
In the late fourth century, Martin of Tours predicted the end would come by the year 400. Writing with the sublime confidence common to idiots, Martin claimed: “There is no doubt that the Antichrist has already been born. Firmly established already in his early years, he will, after reaching maturity, achieve supreme power.” For the record, assuming the Antichrist was born in 375, he would be 1,640 years old as of this writing.
Round numbers are attractive to fakes for the same reason your One Direction MP3s cost $1.49, rather than an even $1.50. Human brains have trouble with numbers, so a bunch of zeroes feels oddly comforting. Maybe this is why Hippolytus of Rome, Sextus Julius Africanus, and Irenaeus all predicted the Apocalypse for 500 AD. Their method was based on the non-existent dimensions of Noah’s Ark, which is famous for not actually having existed, and probably being physically impossible besides.

Speaking of round numbers, it doesn’t get rounder than 1000, which was the date predicted by Pope Sylvester II in the fourth century. Ironically, there was a Pope Sylvester III, who was born in the year 1000, amid riots caused by panicky idiots who didn’t know that even the Catholic Church doesn’t place Christ’s birth in the year 0, seeing as how there was no year 0 in the Western calendar, which is another thing the rioters probably didn’t know. Eschatological scientists learned from this mistake and revised their estimates to 1,000 years from Jesus’ death, rather than birth. Nothing happened in 1033 AD, either.


We have better records of the Late Middle Ages than we do from the early period, so naturally there are dozens of lurid prophecies littering the archives dating from the period 1000 to 1500. According to various theologians, cardinal archbishops, and the occasional saint, the world met its doom in: 1260, 1284, 1290, 1335, 1351, 1370, and 1378. It’s worth noting that none of these prophets saw the Black Death (1346) or the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453) coming, which you’d think would be useful information.
Read more at http://all-that-is-interesting.com/failed-doomsday-prophecies/2/#j7OkpuXiGUsEwv6h.99
We have better records of the Late Middle Ages than we do from the early period, so naturally there are dozens of lurid prophecies littering the archives dating from the period 1000 to 1500. According to various theologians, cardinal archbishops, and the occasional saint, the world met its doom in: 1260, 1284, 1290, 1335, 1351, 1370, and 1378. It’s worth noting that none of these prophets saw the Black Death (1346) or the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453) coming, which you’d think would be useful information.

Never mind that, the Moon is kind of red tonight! It’s the END!!! Source: The Huffington Post
Christianity certainly doesn’t have a lock on end times, though that’s ironically what Christian doom preachers claim, and various schools of Islam have blazed their own trail of embarrassments. According to (some versions of) Islam, al-Qiyāmah – the Day of Judgment – is to be preceded by 12 signs. The reasoning here gets more complicated than Lord of the Rings fan fiction, but it boils down to this: the world will be ruled by corrupt men, wars will be fought, things will generally suck, and various other totally unusual occurrences will come to pass right near the end.
Specific dates are hard to come by, probably due to the Muslim abhorrence of mere men claiming to be prophets, but some of the specific signs are the sort of thing you’d expect to notice. Mecca, for example, is slated for total destruction along with the Kaaba. People will also reportedly fornicate in the streets “like donkeys,” and the Sun will rise in the west. So – if you happen to see any of this going on, maybe let someone know about it.

Miscellaneous Frauds


Read more at http://all-that-is-interesting.com/failed-doomsday-prophecies/2/#j7OkpuXiGUsEwv6h.99

Never mind that, the Moon is kind of red tonight! It’s the END!!! 

Christianity certainly doesn’t have a lock on end times, though that’s ironically what Christian doom preachers claim, and various schools of Islam have blazed their own trail of embarrassments. According to (some versions of) Islam, al-Qiyāmah – the Day of Judgment – is to be preceded by 12 signs. The reasoning here gets more complicated than Lord of the Rings fan fiction, but it boils down to this: the world will be ruled by corrupt men, wars will be fought, things will generally suck, and various other totally unusual occurrences will come to pass right near the end.

Specific dates are hard to come by, probably due to the Muslim abhorrence of mere men claiming to be prophets, but some of the specific signs are the sort of thing you’d expect to notice. Mecca, for example, is slated for total destruction along with the Kaaba. People will also reportedly fornicate in the streets “like donkeys,” and the Sun will rise in the west. So – if you happen to see any of this going on, maybe let someone know about it.

Miscellaneous Frauds

Con-men become con-men largely because getting a real job is hard work. To that end, many of the obvious fakes in the doomsday racket like to appropriate existing religious stories, rather than having to come up with their own stuff from scratch. Despite this, some characters practically leap off the page as going above and beyond the call of ordinary crazy. Nostradamus, for example.
Read more at http://all-that-is-interesting.com/failed-doomsday-prophecies/2/#j7OkpuXiGUsEwv6h.99

Con-men become con-men largely because getting a real job is hard work. To that end, many of the obvious fakes in the doomsday racket like to appropriate existing religious stories, rather than having to come up with their own stuff from scratch. Despite this, some characters practically leap off the page as going above and beyond the call of ordinary crazy. Nostradamus, for example.
Did you see that reference coming? Because he didn’t.
Michel de Nostredame was born in 1503 and grew up to be an apothecary, which, in 16th-century Europe, meant he was basically a drug pusher. Nostradamus supplemented his income by uttering purposely vague prophecies that could be taken as accurate predictions, or they could not be, depending on how hard you need them to be true. An example, written in a meter called iambic tetracycline – and backwards in Medieval French, at that:

The year 1999, seventh month,
From the sky will come a great King of Terror.
To bring back to life the great King of the Mongols,
Before and after Mars to reign by good luck.


Those of us who survived the July 8, 1999 release of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban must never forget.

Far from immunizing the modern world against obvious scams, the legacy of failed prophets seems instead to have built up a cultural expectation of them. Unsurprisingly, given that a fool and his money are soon parted, the number of money-gobbling fakes has multiplied with the advent of better communications technologies. A quick rundown:

UFO cult leader Dorothy Martin predicted flooding and worldwide devastation to take place on December 21, 1954.

Celebrity astrologer Jeane Dixon used the absolutely unprecedented occurrence of the Sun, Moon, and visible planets sort of being kind of close to each other (within 17 degrees of arc, with none of the planets visible during the daytime) to predict the destruction of the world. She would later claim to have predicted the assassination of President Kennedy – shortly after it actually happened.

George Van Tassel, channeling an alien named Ashtar, predicted the end in 1967.

American prophet Herbert W. Armstrong, having unsuccessfully predicted the end in 1936 and 1943, pegged 1972 for the total, absolute, take-it-to-the-bank end of days. Also, 1975.

Pseudoscience

The people on that list mostly just made silly predictions, usually citing a mishmash of the bible, crazy number schemas, and their own rectums for sources. Another, purely modern type of prophet may also be found – the pseudoscientist. This sort of doomsday preacher generally skips the religious texts and pitches to a secular audience that doesn’t want to go to church for its sermons anymore. Their usual modus is to glance at the science headlines in USA Today, wildly extrapolate in whatever direction will make them money, then write up a blog article or call in to talk radio shows to get an audience.
Leland Jensen was a good example of this type of doomsday preacher. Technically, he was religious, since he predicted a nuclear disaster and God’s return in 1980, but the splinter faction of the Baha’i religion he founded seems mainly to have been an exercise in mass ego projection, and his “prophecy” was firmly rooted in non-scientific babble.
Jensen told a credulous audience that the close approach of Comet Halley, which has been happening every 76 years for several eons, would end the Earth’s shit in April 1987, which was actually a full year after the comet’s closest approach. It’s hard to parse his nonsense, but he seems to have thought that gravity would stop working the way it always has, and the comet would spiral off course and hit the Earth like an artillery shell – you know, the way it did in 1910, 1835, 1759, 1682, 1607, 1531, 1456 . . .
Another pseudoscientific end was predicted in 1974 by John Gribbin and Stephen Plagemann, who also vigorously misunderstood how gravity works and published a book predicting that a close approach by Jupiter (which is never closer to us than 365 million miles) would trigger a wave of earthquakes and destroy civilization.

Jupiter has such high “surface” pressure that hydrogen exists as a liquid at depth. 
This liquid is metallic, the ocean it forms is almost deep enough to submerge 
the Earth, and its sloshing currents generate Jupiter’s magnetic field, which – 
if we could see it – would appear as large in our sky as the full Moon . . . not that 
John Gribbin would have cared about any of that. Source: Arcadia Street

The year 2000 was another big, round number – based on nothing in particular, with even the length of the year having varied over the millennia – so naturally, the world had to end several times that year. Quite a good living could be had in the late 1990s by various people predicting a ticking time bomb in every computer on Earth crashing civilization on January 1, because programmers in the 1960s chose the wrong number of bits for their operating systems’ calendars.

In the event, one American school district had to use a backup system for student services, $700,000 in tax payments were delayed for 24 hours, and the State of Indiana accidentally issued driver license renewals for five years, rather than the legal maximum of four.
In case you are wondering, the world is still supposed to end, this time because of an arcane statistical argument that predicts the total number of people who will ever live. Mark your great-great-great-grandchildrens’ calendars, because the end is coming around 2200, which is a conveniently round number.

The Actual End . . . For Real

All of this is great fun, unless you’re one of the hundreds of millions of people who have been bilked out of money, or worse, by the doom prophets. But how will the world really end? After all, all things must end eventually, surely there must be some end we can actually predict, right?

As it happens, life on Earth, which is the only kind we really care about, is staring down the barrel of quite a few ends, and surviving any of them is unlikely. The first is a result of the Sun’s increasing radiant heat. We have very good evidence that the Sun has been getting hotter throughout its history, and there’s no theoretical reason why it should reverse the trend over the long term.
Given the present rate of increase, a little over 1 billion years from now Earth will be too hot to sustain green-chlorophyll photosynthesis. When this happens, green plants will no longer exist—though this end is going to happen so gradually it’s possible that plants will have time to evolve new colors, such as black and white, to protect themselves. 1,000,000,000 years from now, meadows might look like spilled salt and pepper.

In 1000000000 AD, the world will resemble an Ansel Adams print.
Another end comes 4 billion years after that, as the Sun – again – expands into a red giant. When this happens, Earth will not only be scorched by the now-very close Sun’s surface, but slowed by friction with the solar atmosphere. This puts a drag on Earth’s orbit, robbing it of energy and causing the planet to spiral closer to the Sun. This will not end well.


Finally, 1 googol years hence (10^100 years), all of the usable energy in the universe will have been consumed, and the last white dwarf stars will cool to near absolute zero. The age of stars, which began when the universe was 300,000 years old, will then be over – forever. No more energy will ever enter the system, and the highest temperature anywhere will be quantum fractions of a degree above 0K.

So . . . How do we know these predictions are the real deal, and not another scam? For starters, nobody is really making money off them, which is a good sign. More importantly, science uses actual data, which can be examined by every skeptic in the world, to arrive at logical models for systems. If new data becomes available, science – unlike every other system of thought ever – changes its conclusions to match the new facts. Take the above with a grain of salt, since it could be wrong, but rest assured that the real doomsday prophets – astrophysicists – are doing likewise.
Source:http://all-that-is-interesting.com/

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