Will life as we know it end in 2012?

Tempus fugit landscape by Alancleaver 2000. CC-BY.

Dire predictions of worldwide calamity in 2012 may be a good way of selling books and movie tickets — but the chances anything remotely like the dire predictions will happen is about the same as that they happened in 1982, 1988 or 2000, other recent dates for which the end of the world or something similar has been predicted.

If you're reading this, you're probably old enough to remember how you celebrated the start of Jan. 1, 2000. What you probably don't remember, though, is how the world fell into darkness due to a worldwide power outage, or how planes began falling out of the sky when their computers quit working, or how all our bank account balances instantly disappeared. All these things were predicted and were even given the collection nickname of Y2K — but they didn't happen.

In my lifetime alone, there have been at least three occasions in addition to 2000 where there was belief in upcoming extraordinarily momentous events — events that never happened:

March 10, 1982, the planetary alignment: Astronomer John R. Griffin co-wrote a best-seller, “The Jupiter Effect,” in which it was predicted that a rare alignment of planets would trigger massive earthquakes in California, affect weather patterns, modify the rotation of the Earth and the like. The alignment did have some effect — a change in tides on the order of the thickness of a piece of paper. Griffin has written dozens of books since then, some of them quite good — but, not surprisingly, “The Jupiter Effect” isn't among those he lists on his web site.


The Rapture of 1988: Some Christians believe that before the Second Coming there will be a Rapture — a time when believers who are alive will be taken directly to heaven. Edgar C. Whisenant, a former NASA engineer and devoted Bible student, published a book on Jan. 1, 1988, “88 Reasons Why The Rapture Will Be in 1988″ and it became an instant hit, selling millions of copies. His later books predicted the Rapture for 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992 and 1993. They were not nearly as popular.

Our late, great planet, circa 1980s: It's difficult to understate the effect within the U.S. evangelical Christian community of Bible teacher Hal Lindsey's book “The Late, Great Planet Earth” during the 1970s. He popularized teaching about the Rapture and might be thought of as the spiritual father of the wildly popular “Left Behind” series of books and movies. Although Lindsey never did give a specific date for the Rapture, he strongly suggested that it would occur at the latest by 1988, within “one generation” or 40 years of the founding of modern-day Israel in 1948. Lindsey's credibility among mainstream believers dropped off rapidly by the 1990s as predicted events failed to happen, but “The Late, Great Planet Earth” remains in print (the cover says 15 million copies have been sold), and Lindsey continues his ministry of tying current events to Biblical prophecies. As recently as 2008, Lindsay wrote that the Antichrist “will soon make his appearance on the scene” and will be someone like Barack Obama, but not Obama himself.

Come back here in 2013, and you'll see that the prophecies of a 2012 doomsday were no more correct than these ones.


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