Apocalypse Nope: Doomsday Predictions That Didn’t Come True
For as long as humanity’s been kicking around this big rock we call Earth, we’ve been making predictions about when and how our species will meet its end. Will some natural disaster come along and wipe us all out? Will our own arrogance be our undoing? Or will [insert religious figure of your choosing here] return to save / punish us?
But doomsday predictions don’t have a great history of coming true, as evidenced by the fact that we’re all still here. So, while you’re huddled in your underground bunker this December 21, you’d do well to remember these four recent doomsday predictions that didn’t come true:
Pat Robertson’s Armageddon
Televangelist / horrible bigot Pat Robertson is still alive and walking around and just generally being the worst. Which is weird, because in a 1980 episode of his show, The 700 Club, he personally guaranteed there would be a “judgment on the world” in 1982. If you can spare 15 minutes of your life, you can watch Pat’s prediction here:
In 1980, Pat was pretty sure the Antichrist was 27 years old. He figured the apocalypse would kick off in 1982 and would be followed by seven “nightmare years,” during which the four horsemen would show up, the dead would rise and new seasons of Arrested Development would be announced only to be cancelled again.
He knew this because God told him it would happen. In case you weren’t aware, Pat Robertson has a direct line to the Big Guy, who was presumably just messing with him.
While this may seem like just another crazy prediction by some nut, keep in mind The 700 Club has had a solid viewership (currently predicted to be around 360 million viewers per year) for a really long time. People trust Pat, and you better believe there were folks gearing up for the end of days when he made his prediction. In any case, Pat’s Armageddon never came to pass, and any record of its prediction is conspicuously missing from the extremely detailed timeline on his website.
In the months leading up to January 1, 2000, many people bought survival shelters, stocked up on canned goods and filled their bathtubs while they waited for the Y2K bug to bring about the end of the world. This failed doomsday prediction isn’t attached to one particular “prophet” – just good old fashioned hysteria and media scaremongering.
The problem was this: most computer programs used just two digits to represent the year. For example, 1999 was stored as 99. When the year 2000 rolled around and the two digits changed to 00, the date functions in millions of computers would be, for lack of a better term, royally effed up. Because the programs would be showing a date that – as far as computers were concerned – was impossible, computer programs and anything relying on them were liable to crash. Or so it was believed.
Since humanity has a penchant for blowing things way out of proportion, folks assumed this would tear the world as we know it asunder. Banks would collapse, nuclear power plants would experience catastrophic meltdowns and without technology, society would grind to a halt. Next thing we knew, we’d be trudging southward along empty roads with our only Earthly possessions stuffed into a single shopping cart, scavenging for food and avoiding roving bands of cannibals. It would be chaos.
Except it wasn’t. Yes, some relatively minor things failed – some debit machines stopped working, some websites displayed the incorrect date for a while, an alarm went off at a nuclear power plant in Japan – but for the most part, life continued as usual. Large institutions, like governments, telecom companies and utilities providers, had the date issue fixed and contingency plans in place before the new year rolled around. Companies that didn’t have the issue fixed reported few problems.
A similar issue occurred in 2010 – that one actually wiped out 20 million bank cards in Germany – but by that point, the whole “technological failure that will destroy the world” thing was old hat and most people didn’t even hear about it. Oh, and for your information, it’s going to happen again in 2038 – so you might want to start digging a pit for your underground bunker now, if you’re into that kind of thing.
The Large Hadron Collider
To put it simply, the Large Hadron Collider (“LHC”) is a gigantic metal monster that smashes particles together to create subatomic fireballs and mini Big Bangs. It’s used by scientists at CERN to study the conditions under which our universe was formed, along with other complicated, science-y things. To put it even more simply, the LHC is pretty scary shit.
A few years back, when CERN announced their plans to switch the LHC on for the first time ever, everyone who wasn’t too busy making jokes about its name (because it sounds like hard on, get it? Ha ha ha) kind of freaked out. Everyone from scientists (well, at least one scientist), to environmentalists, to your run of the mill “protest all the things” folks tried to stop it, citing fears that it would create “mini black holes” that would swallow the Earth.
Of course, the media also got in on the fearmongering. The always classy Daily Mail ran the charmingly titled article, “Are We All Going to Die Next Wednesday?” Fox News ran a fair, balanced and not at all sensationalized piece called, “Scientists Not So Sure ‘Doomsday Machine’ Won’t Destroy World.”
The world waited on tenterhooks as the LHC’s power-on date was pushed back by technical difficulties. Finally, on November 20, 2009, it was switched on. We didn’t die.
Beyond a few speed bumps, the LHC has been happily humming away ever since. Thus far, with the possible exception of Donald Trump, no black hole is known to exist in our universe.
Harold Camping’s rapture
You probably remember this one. Last year, controversial Christian radio personality Harold Camping announced the rapture was due to happen on May 21, 2011. He knew this because he applied some kind of magic numerical code to a bunch of arbitrary dates from the Bible and came up with that date. Also, a bunch of other dates.
This wasn’t the first time Camping foretold the world’s destruction. He had previously written a book in which he claimed Jesus would make his big reprise on September 6, 1994. That failed prediction didn’t dissuade the gullible from latching onto Camping’s newest doomsday forecast.
While most people thought the whole rapture scenario was mildly amusing but ultimately hogwash, a few of the more dedicated believers actually sold their possessions to fund the placement of billboards advertising the coming rapture.
Spoiler alert: the rapture didn’t come on May 21.
When the day of reckoning had come and gone and no sightings of souls blasting off into heaven were reported, Camping reckoned he’d better do some damage control let everyone in on the big secret. He quickly backtracked, proclaiming May 21 a “spiritual rapture” – a day during which God had judged all the souls on Earth, but hadn’t, y’know, done anything about it. The real rapture, Camping said, was actually going to be on October 21 – so just sit tight, everybody! So-called doomsday prophets sure do seem to have a thing for the number 21.
Anyway, since we’re all still here, you can probably guess how this story ends. October 21 passed uneventfully, and as usual, Jesus was a no-show. Camping made a public apology and quietly disappeared into obscurity. Or did he actually get raptured? I guess we’ll never know…
(Cue X-Files theme music)