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Cheer up, it’s not the end of the world: apocalypse stories debunked

Brazilian sect members pray as apocalypse fever grips the world in 1999

Brazilian sect members pray as apocalypse fever grips the world in 1999

  • by JONATHAN HOLMES
 

WITH tomorrow being predicted by some as the day Earth crashes and burns, Jonathan Holmes can help put your mind at ease with tales of past wild claims of an impending apocalypse

Cheer up, it’s not the end of the world – or is it? Doomsayers say tomorrow could be D-day as it marks the last date in the 5125-year Mayan calendar.

Most scholars agree the Mayans would simply have started a new calendar, much as we do every year, but for others the new cycle portends the coming apocalypse.

Exactly what might happen is up for debate, with ideas ranging from solar flares boiling the oceans, to the Earth’s magnetic field changing its alignment. Another theory suggests a planet named Niburu may be about to collide with the Earth.

But if Nibiru is careering towards us, we have yet to spot it, as Nasa insists we would.

Nevertheless, many believers are booking one-way flights to the Bugarach mountain in France, where they hope aliens will save them from the cataclysm. The rest of us can take comfort in the fact the apocalypse has been predicted – incorrectly – many times before.

John Cumming – 1867

The Reverend John Cumming was minister of the National Scottish Church in London. A controversial yet popular firebrand known for his rants against Catholicism, he was obsessed with the apocalypse, which he believed to be imminent. He argued events such as the Irish potato famine and French Revolution matched omens foretold in the Book of Revelation. Based on these signs, he predicted the world would end around the year 1867.

Mother Shipton – 1881

Born in a Yorkshire cave in the late 15th century, Mother Shipton was the inspiration for much of the witchcraft hysteria of the next 100 years. She predicted the newly instated Archbishop of York would never take up his post. She was proved right as Cardinal Wolsey died before reaching the city.

Another apocalyptic verse attributed to her said: “The world to an end shall come, In eighteen hundred and eighty one.”

A Mr Charles Hindley from Brighton eventually admitted to writing the fake prophecy 20 years earlier.

Charles Piazzi Smyth – 1892

Charles Piazzi Smyth, the Astronomer Royal for Scotland, made comprehensive measurements of the Egyptian pyramids. He believed the proportions of the pyramids corresponded to various astrological facts, including the distance from the Earth to the Sun and a complete history of the past and future. Based on his measurement of the central galley, the world should have ended some time between 1892 and 1911.

Halley’s Comet – May 18, 1910

Halley’s Comet appears in the sky roughly every 75 years. In 1910, French astronomer Camille Flammarion declared that the Earth passing through its tail would release poison gas into the atmosphere, suffocating thousands. In the end, nobody was killed, although there was one poignant death.

American author Mark Twain was born in 1835, during the previous passage of the comet. He wrote that he expected to “go out with it” during its next pass. Sure enough, he died the day after it appeared.

David Icke – 1997

The former footballer and self-proclaimed “Son of the Godhead”, right, is most famous for claiming the Queen is a shape-shifting space reptile. In 1991, he said the world would end in 1997. In a follow-up TV interview with Terry Wogan, he insisted Britain would soon suffer a series of cataclysmic natural disasters.

Millennium Bug – January 1, 2000

As the Millennium approached, people faced a new form of technological apocalypse. Outdated computers only used two digits to signify the year. It was thought that when the date rolled around to ‘00’, computers would believe they had been transported back to 1900 and crash. This would cause life-support machines to stop pumping, aeroplanes to fall out of the sky and nuclear missiles to launch without 
authorisation.

Harold Camping – May 21, 2011

American evangelist Harold Camping is a perfect example of why you should never put a firm date to your doomsday prediction. When the date came and went without incident, Camping declared he had “miscalculated” and set a new deadline – October 21, 2011. When this too turned out to be a damp squib, the preacher decided it had been “sinful” of him to try and guess the date, as only God could know for sure.

...And finally

Even if we make it through tomorrow, the end may still be nigh.

The physicist Sir Isaac Newton predicted the world would end in 2060. He based this not on scientific observation, but on the Book of Daniel.

The 16th-century prophet Nostradamus is quiet on the end of the world. Conspiracy theorists say he predicted everything from Hitler to the 9/11 attacks. Ominously, his predictions stop in 3797.

In the scientific world, Nasa is tracking an asteroid on a possible collision course with Earth. The 460-ft wide rock, has a one-in-625 chance of hitting us. If it does, the impact would occur on February 5, 2040.

Experts from the Cambridge Centre for the Study of Existential Risk warn in the coming century, we may make robots that are smarter than humans. Much like the movie Terminator, we may find ourselves in a machine-controlled world that is hostile to human life.

Of course, there is always the possibility we suffer a catastrophe that no-one predicted. Something to bear in mind if Friday comes not with a bang, but a whimper.

 

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