We’ve been forewarned of the end of times for centuries by groups and individuals who’ve been convinced that they’d got it right...
From fires, technological meltdowns, disease and comets to the second coming of Jesus Christ and Armageddon – astronomers, clerics and scientists, as well as the general public, have whipped up panic with apocalypse predictions.
The first millennium
In the year 999, Christian clerics were convinced that the world would end on the first day of the new millennium in 1000. This led to riots across Europe, and last-minute pilgrimages to Jerusalem. When the world didn’t end, it was recalculated to occur 1,000 years after Christ’s crucifixion, in 1033.
The Black Death of 1348-50 – a plague that killed between 75 and 200 million people worldwide, and wiped out 30 to 60 per cent of Europe’s population – led many to believe that the end of the world was imminent.
Thought to have been carried to Europe from Asia on the backs of rats aboard vessels travelling the Silk Road and on merchant ships, the plague caused buboes filled with blood and pus to form at the lymph nodes. After a period of acute fever, during which the patient would be vomiting blood, most folk would be dead within a week of showing symptoms.
One man, John Clynn from Kilkenny, left blank pages at the end of his chronicle of the disaster, writing that he’d done so, ‘in case anyone should still be alive in the future’.
In the 15th century, the Fifth Monarchists – a Puritanical Christian group – believed that since the year 1666 carried the sign of the Beast (666), the year would have apocalyptic significance. The Great Plague of 1665-1666 – which reduced London’s population by 25 per cent – and the Great Fire of London in September 1666, provided ‘proof’ that the end was nigh.
The year 2000
The new millennium was a magnet for end-of-world predictions, including the second coming of Christ and a catastrophic technological meltdown dubbed Y2K. Authors Tim LaHaye and Jerry B Jenkins combined the two notions and predicted that the chaos caused by Y2K would allow the Antichrist to rise up and wreak havoc.
Christian author and broadcaster – and doomsday prophet – Harold Camping was so convincing when he told people that the world would end on 21 October 2011 (at 5.59pm), that some people sold everything they owned and spent all their savings – reasoning that they wouldn’t be needing them any more.
One man was particularly miffed that the world hadn’t ended as predicted. He had this to say to Camper when he phoned in to his TV show, Open Forum.
‘You’re really pathetic, you know? I wasted all my money because of you. I was putting all my money and my hopes on you… I wish I could see you face to face, I would smack you.’
Camping had told the media that on 21 October, Christians would ascend to Heaven in the Rapture – leaving sinners to endure five months of hell-on-earth, before our planet self-combusted.
Camping used the media to whip the public into a frenzy, peppering America with 5,000 billboards pre-warning that the end was nigh.
Jeane Dixon was a famous psychic in America, and supposedly made a number of predictions that came true, including the assassination of President Kennedy.
Dixon, who was also an astrologer, had her own ideas about when the end of the world was due. In her 1973 book Call To Duty, she wrote that Armageddon – the final battle between good and evil – would occur sometime around 2020. The False Prophet, the Antichrist and Satan (the ‘unholy trinity’) would fight it out with Jesus – whose second coming would occur between 2020 and 2037.
When machines attack
Last year, professor Stephen Hawking warned us that he believes technology – specifically ‘thinking machines’ – could become so advanced that they could wipe out humanity.
He told the BBC, ‘The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.’
Computer scientist Bill Joy predicts that this could happen within 30 years, with intelligent robots replacing human beings.
Speaking about his work, he says, ‘I may be working to create tools that will enable the construction of the technology that may replace our species. How do I feel about this? Very uncomfortable.’
Scientists have admitted that there is a teeny tiny (0.3 per cent) chance of Asteroid 1950 DA, which orbits the Sun, colliding with Earth in 2880 – and they currently have no idea how to stop it.
Death by Sun
There’s one prediction we can be sure of – that in about 5 billion years, our sun will start to die, eventually reaching red-giant status and engulfing the Earth. Although, in such an unfathomably distant future, it’s likely the human race – if it’s still in existence, considering the potential effects of wars, climate change, disease, not to mention 7.6 billion years of evolution – would have evacuated Earth and moved somewhere safer by then…
Have you read about any wacky end-of-world predictions? Let us know in the comments section, below.