The Best Apocalypses in History
The end of the world is near. Again! For centuries, doomsdayers and self-styled prophets have claimed to know about the end of the world, emphasizing that their version of the apolcalypse will come true. Of course, none of the end of the days predictions so far have come true - humankind and the earth is still here, and thriving.
An overview of some of the more notorious doomsday scenarios in history, serves to remind us that predicting the end of days is a tricky business.
The Mayan calendar
The most recent end of the world was predicted to occcur on December 21, 2012, when one of the great cycles in the Mayan calendar came to an end. In the run-up to the day, the internet abounded with predictions about an apocalypse happening on “12/21/12”. Faced with the wealth of alarmist information available on the world wide web, even NASA was compelled to publish an information page about why the world would not end on December 21, 2012.
Camping and the Rapture
The world was also supposed to end on October 21, 2011. American radio host, Harold Camping, had arrived at the date for the apocalypse through a series of calculations that he claimed were based on Jewish feast days and the lunar calendar. In addition to his claims about the end of the world, he also predicted that on May 21, 2011, at precisely 6:00 p.m., God's elect people would be assumed into heaven, in an event he called the “Rapture”. Those who were not raptured, he said, would have to remain on Earth to wait for their doom five months later. According to media reports, some of his followers quit their jobs, sold their homes, and invested large amounts of money to publicize Camping's predictions. When the Rapture did not occur, Camping re-evaluated his predictions saying that the event would take place simultaneously with the end of the world. After October 21, 2011, the self-proclaimed prophet stated that “nobody could know exactly when the time of the apocalypse would come.”
The Black Hole from Geneva
Scientists use the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) near Geneva, Switzerland to set up controlled collisions of particles at very high speeds. The experiments have caused some to believe that the energies set free by the collisions will form a black hole powerful enough to consume Earth and all life on it. No such black hole has been sighted yet, and several high-profile studies have concluded that there are no such dangers associated with the experiments conducted at the LHC.
The Five Apocalypses
Jehova's Witnesses, a religious community, has predicted the end of the world 5 times in the last 150 years. The first apocalypse was predicted to occur in 1874. When the world did not end, the group postponed the world's end to 1914. After the next three failed apocalypses in 1925, 1975 and 2000, the group's leadership distanced themselves from predictions for the end of times.
Y2K and the Millennium Bug
At the end of the second millennium, people around the world feared that the world would end simultaneously with the beginning of the year 2000, or Y2K. This prediction was based on the practice followed by computer programmers of abbreviating year numbers with two digits when developing software. For instance, "1999" would be coded as “99”. At the turn of the century, computers would revert to “00”, assuming that the date was 1900 instead of 2000 and leading to software errors. According to popular belief, this so-called “Millennium Bug” threatened banking systems, planes, and even the safety of weapon systems, leading to an all-consuming chaos on planet Earth. However, at midnight on January 1, 2000, the world celebrated the new millennium, and no planes dropped out of the sky.
Nostradamus and the King of Terror
Renowned seer Nostradamus prophecized 250 years ago that a “king of terror” will come from the sky in 1999. Austrian geologist and Nostradamus buff, Alexander Tollmann, decided to play it safe by sitting it out in a self-built bunker in Austria. Tollmann was convinced that the apocalypse was to come early in August, a fear that was consolidated by the total solar eclipse on August 11, 1999.
The Great Flood and the Flying Saucer
Chicago housewife Dorothy Martin (a.k.a. Marion Keech) claimed to have received a message from planet Clarion in the early 1950s: the world was to end in a great flood before dawn on December 21, 1954. Martin and a group of followers were convinced that a flying saucer would rescue the true believers before the inevitable destruction of Earth. The belief was so strong that some broke completely with their previous lives, quitting their jobs, leaving their spouses, and giving away money and possessions. Social psychologists Leon Festinger, Henry Riecken, and Stanley Schachter infiltrated Martin's group to study the effects of such convictions and the group's reactions when the prophecized event did not occur. Their work, When Prophecy Fails, delivers the first instance of Festinger's noted theory of “cognitive dissonance”.