This morning, while eating breakfast, I wondered about the status of the latest phenomenon to grip the world, the end of the Mayan bak’tun 13 that was scheduled to occur on December 21, 2012 in the Gregorian calendar. During this date, it was prophesied that the world would end, wiping out civilization and mankind as we know it.
But the date passed without the book of Revelation fulfilling itself, and today is January 5. People are still reproducing, some restoring the environment while others continue destroying it.
So I proceeded to re-read the Wikipedia article about the issue, and was surprised by two changes.
- The article is now written in past tense.
- Additional sections were added, primarily describing what people around the world did days before and during December 21, 2012.
I also found a related article, Wikipedia’s “List of dates predicted for apocalyptic events“, which will be the main focus of this blog entry.
Reading through that article, the first thing we notice is that there had been numerous failed predictions for the end of the world in the past, with December 21, 2012 the latest to be added as of writing. Also, there is another list of predictions with dates occurring in the future.
What I’d like to point out, however, is these predictions follow a certain format, a template, depicted as follows.
WHAT: End of the world
DISCLAIMER: This is not true.
And that the process of coming up with these dates that can be summarized by the following flowchart.
End of the world flowchart
Let’s examine deeper each pattern.
The template above can be broken down into two components: constants and variables.
The constants are:
- WHO. End of the world predictions are almost always targeted to all of humankind, regardless of race, culture, nation, or religious orientation, much like a general announcement or an advertisement, though the scope may change (e.g., the destruction of the Roman empire).
- WHAT. The subject does change its wording, but it always pertains to the end of times. As above, the scope may change.
- WHERE. Of course, the “where” is always the Earth, in whole (e.g., the 2012 phenomenon) or in part (e.g., the predictions referring to the destruction of Rome), though I presume that if in the future mankind successfully colonized space, the “where” part will become a variable.
- DISCLAIMER. The last constant is the disclaimer, for as of writing, there are a total of 197 predictions listed on the page, with 187 of them failing to happen. Simple computation yields a 94.92% failure rate. But then, the computation is actually erroneous, for it assumes that 5.08% of the predictions are successes, and simple logic will dictate that you cannot count those future dates for the simple fact that they still have not passed. Thus, discarding the 10 future predictions, we come up with a 100% failure rate, which is consistent with the empirical fact that Earth, and civilization, is currently undestroyed.
Meanwhile, the variables:
- WHEN. This is actually the most entertaining variable, for this is the answer to the core question of when the world would end. As said above, many predicted dates have gone and past, and I sincerely believe that as long as there are people out there with too much free time on their hands, more dates would be cited as “the end of the world”.
- WHY. I believe this is the second most interesting variable, and the main reason that predictions don’t happen. I admit that I do not know by heart (or even by rote) all the events listed in the article, so based on what is listed in the tables, we can categorize the usual WHYs into the following:
- Religious. Usually associated with the second coming. Predictions come from religious works such as the bible, oftentimes with the application of numerology and astrology.
- Terrestrial. Usually about natural disasters predicting the second coming.
- Astronomical. Usually about planetary and galactic alignments, and comets.
- Extraterrestrial. Usually extraterrestrial “ambassadors” relaying alien messages.
To those who want to know why these WHYs are almost always easily discredited, here are some of the answers.
- Religious. For the Christians, the Lord explicitly states that no one really knows except the Father when He will come again, since most of the religious predictions concern the second coming of Christ. I really don’t know what to counter for other religions not believing in Christ, or His Father (which is, in a way, sad, for it demonstrates my ignorance of other theistic paradigms).
- Terrestrial. These events are mostly predictable, and natural. That’s why they’re called “natural disasters”, for they happen naturally, regardless whether humans exist or not.
- Astronomical. The usual argument here depends on what is being leveraged as to be the “cause” of the tribulation. For a real life example, you can visit NASA’s article about the 2012 phenomenon and read the astronomy-related causes supposed to bring about the destruction of the world last December 21, 2012.
- Extraterrestrial. So far, there have been no extraterrestrial life forms detected. Though the theory of panspermia attempts to explain how life on Earth came about (apart from others), this theory has not been conclusively proven as time of writing. Thus, these facts alone can discredit people who boast that they had received information on when the world will end. Please do notify me, however, if any of these have been proven THROUGH SCIENCE, not via crop circles and blurry images of lights during a foggy night.
Of course, I am not saying that these are the only reasons usually posted in the WHY section, but these are the usual ones. Usually, only the wording is modified.
- HOW. This variable describes how the apocalypse will take place, which can be through alien invasions, planetary collisions, or through events outlined in the book of Revelation. This variable usually expands the WHY variable through horrendous events, such as very strong earthquakes. This can be said as the third most interesting variable, and is often the source of ideas for entertainment firms such as Hollywood.
- TODO. This usually tells people what they should do to survive the apocalypse or, in case of the second coming, how to be saved. Common TODOs include repentance and food stockpiling.
- BY. This is the person/s who has/have predicted the destruction. This is a very useful variable in my opinion, for sometimes it helps the public calm down when the person has a history of failed predictions.
It cannot actually be helped that there is such a thing as a “prediction flowchart”, since all predictions to date have failed (see the DISCLAIMER argument for discussion). The usual process is that when an initial prediction fails to pass, the predictor almost always says that he/she miscalculated/misinterpreted something, then proceeds to publish a revised date with an accompanying explanation of the encountered “anomaly”. A case in point is the predictions of Harold Camping on 2011, which have cast fear upon the Filipino people during that time.
Even the scientifically accepted date of the end of the world, the time when the sun expands to a red giant as it nears the end of its life, is not expressed in exact dates but in estimates. But then, it still can be said that this prediction follows the flowchart, for it may be revised as man gain more knowledge about the interactions of astronomical bodies in space.
As far as end-of-the-world predictions go, we can only conclude the following facts.
- No one knows the exact time when the world will end.
- Many more predictions will come and go until the world truly ends.
But then, maybe the business of predicting the end of the world is not a waste of time, after all. Just like the entertainment industry, it is somewhat an easy way to be famous, though some do become infamous after their predictions fail. They can also serve as a meter to “measure” public gullibility and ignorance of some basic phenomena, for in most predictions the implications of simple events, which really have no implications at all if experts are to be consulted (e.g., the gravitational effect of galactic and planetary alignments to Earth), are explained through esoteric ways
Consulting again the Wikipedia article, it seems that the world is again due on May 19, 2013 according to Ronald Weinland. Following our template above, here is a summary of what he essentially talks about on his website (as of January 5, 2013).
WHAT: End of the world
WHEN: May 19, 2013
WHY: Second Coming of Christ
HOW: See book of Revelation*.
TODO: Repent and prepare
BY: Ronald Weinland**
DISCLAIMER: This is not true.
*This is an assumption, for his blog entries are really long and I’m not patient enough to read them.
**According to Wikipedia, this is his third prediction.
Let’s see each other again on May 20, 2013.