World Ending on May 21? Don’t Count on It

Why do some humans have a fixation on the world coming to an end? From ancient Nostradamus to Marshall Applewhite of Heaven’s Gate fame, there have been a myriad of ultimately failed predictions that the world will meet its demise. The latest prediction comes from Harold Camping, a preacher from California who says the Second Coming of Jesus will occur conveniently at 6 pm local time for each time zone around the world coming up this weekend, on May 21, 2011.

While he claims to have used math to predict this event, perhaps a better use of math would be to count how many times soothsayers and doomsday con artists have incorrectly predicted the end of the world in the past. So far they have all been 100% wrong. Camping himself is guilty of incorrectly predicting the end of the world back in 1994, so his track record is not very good either. So if you’re wondering – mathematically speaking — based on the number of past predictions of the end of the world being right, and the number of past predictions of Camping about the end of the world being right, the odds of Camping being wrong this time are 100%.

So sleep well, and enjoy your weekend!

Need some proof? Here’s a look at some past failed predictions, as well as an infographic from about the many predictions of doom. Humans seem to like doomsday predictions so much that we even like to make movies about it.

And by the way, the end of the world predictions being pure nonsense goes for the 2012 prognostications, as well. You can read our series about why they are all wrong here.

Interestingly, many past predictions of the end of the world coincide with religious fanaticism (from the top image, above, it appears Camping’s prediction has the biblical seal of approval…) and/or trying to make money. (Camping has amassed $120 million in donations from fervent followers). One of the most recent was God’s Church minister Ronald Weinland who pitched his book “2008: God’s Final Witness” by predicting the world would end by 2008, with the “end times” beginning in 2006.

Before that, it was the Heaven’s Gate mess, where Applewhite’s followers actually did kill themselves so that they would be taken by an alien spacecraft coming along with comet Hale-Bopp in 1997, (I guess, unfortunately the world did end for them…). This prediction included accusations of a huge cover-up by NASA who supposedly knew the alien craft was hidden in the comet’s coma.

Televangelist Pat Robertson predicted Judgment Day would come in 1982. Scarily, Robertson later ran for president of the United States.

Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon church predicted the world would end by 1891, and a group that would eventually become the Seventh-Day Adventists predicted the end by 1843.

Some bad-science related predictions include the Y2K scare (which didn’t even burn out a light bulb), several “planetary alignment” predictions that would throw the Earth into tumult (including one in 2000 by Richard Noone), the return of Halley’s Comet in 1910 would envelope Earth in deadly toxic gases, and of course, all the 2012 predictions, which are based on very inaccurate science and the downright mean and nasty tactic of trying to scare people.

Nostradumus, a.k.a. Michel de Nostrdame has been one of the longest-running predictors of doom and gloom, and his vague, metaphorical writings have intrigued people for over 400 years. The vagueness allows for very flexible interpretations, allowing some people to claim that a number of Nostradamus’ predictions have come true. One prediction he gave included a year: “The year 1999, seventh month / From the sky will come great king of terror.”

I’m pretty sure that didn’t happen, just like all the other predictions. The ones listed here are just a sampling of the incorrect predictions throughout time.

 A brief history of doomsdays