The History of the End of the World, A.K.A. the Apocalypse, Armageddon, the Second Coming, Doomsday, the Kali Age, etc.
The Beginning of the End
Since the beginning, the end was near. Chicken Little's fretful scamper has left its tracks throughout the pages of all recorded history. Almost 5000 years ago, an Assyrian scholar proclaimed upon a clay tablet: "Our earth is degenerate in these latter days. There are signs that the world is speedily coming to an end."
Amazingly, despite the fact that this was written in stone (so to speak), the world kept spinning along. Not only did the Assyrian skies not fall, but the Assyrians went on to establish an empire that would span the better part of two millennia.
But Mortality was bent on tormenting mortals.
The Jewish tradition took up the scepter of doom and passed it along to Christianity. No source for end-of-the-world false alarms has been more fertile than Biblical prophesy.
Pope Innocent III (1160-1216), the most powerful man of his time, incited the Fourth Crusade to reclaim the Holy Land in 1201 A.D., despite the dismal failure of the Second and Third Crusades. The Fourth Crusade resulted in further failure.
A person of the background and stature of Pope Innocent III is incapable of accepting defeat, so soon after he called for a Fifth Crusade. By that time, however, besides still having the bitter after-taste of the previous Crusades still on their palates, Europe's divinely appointed Christian monarchs were distracted by rampant infighting, so they were not receptive to the idea.
Not to be deterred, His Holiness turned to the the regular citizenry, inspiring them with apocalyptic predictions:
A son of perdition has arisen, the false prophet Muhammed, who has seduced many men from the truth by worldly enticements and the pleasures of the flesh… we nevertheless put our trust in the Lord who has already given us a sign that good is to come, that the end of this beast is approaching, whose number, according to the Revelation of Saint John, will end in 666 years, of which already nearly 600 have passed.
Pope Innocent III
The citizenry, being upright Christians, responded. The Fifth Crusade was launched and the righteous chalked up another defeat.
Clearly, since we all know the Pope is infallible, it was the rest of the world that erred in failing to come to an end.
The End - Continued
William Miller (1782–1849) was a Baptist minister with a sizable flock known as ‘the Millerites.’ He made a prediction based on the Book of Daniel that THE end of days would come “sometime between March 21, 1843 and March 21, 1844.” When this didn't pan out, it was decided that April 18th was the date he had in mind all along, and after that day came and went October 22 was proposed as the real McCoy
By October 23, the Millerites were referring to October 22 as ‘The Great Disappointment’.
Eventually, 1849 did indeed bring the end of days … for William Miller, but by then he had left his mark. Among the sects that splintered from the Millerites was the Seventh-day Adventists, who continue to believe their prophet's prediction ... with the qualification that it referred to a celestial Armageddon, and not an earthly event. Yet another splinter of the Millerites is the Watchtower Society, or Jehovah’s Witnesses, who similarly predicted the Second Coming in 1914 (the first of a long line of apocalyptic predictions), and when Jesus stood them up altered the prediction to mean that it was when He would begin to rule inviiiiiisibly.
Historians now believe that William Miller was influenced by the writings of none other than Christopher Columbus (1451-1506). In his Book of Prophesies, Columbus refers to himself by the Latin version of his name. ''Christoferens'' translates to ''Bearer of Christ.'' There is evidence to support the view that, while the king and queen of Spain financed his famous explorations for financial and political gains, Columbus had other motives; he was on a mission to spread Christianity. Columbus believed that he had been chosen to spread The Word to the West Indies and that this would help prepare the way for the Second Coming.
But let's not pick on religion just because we live in an age where Science reigns supreme. That's right, Science with a capital S, because it is clung to and sworn by with the same righteous fundamentalism as any other dogma that has plagued humanity.
Johannes Stoeffler (1452–1531) was a world renowned German mathematician and astronomer, who predicted that on February 20 1524, twenty planetary conjunctions would cause an inundation of Biblical proportions. Such a prediction from a man of his stature was not taken lightly. Over 100 books and pamphlets were published trumpeting his prediction. Boat builders were ''flooded'' with orders and thousands of people throughout Europe abandoned their homes. One German nobleman had a three-story ark built on the river Rhine. As it happened, Europe was going through a drought in 1524, but on February 20 a mild rain began to fall. Hundreds of people were killed in the riot that ensued as people tried to gain passage on Count von Iggleheim's ark, and the count was stoned to death in the melee.
Humanity has always looked to the skies for signs – astronomers in particular. Comets have always been considered harbingers of doom, and none has a longer, more distinguished history than Halley's Comet. Noah's Flood in 2349 B.C. and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in 1900 B.C. are among the countless cataclysms heralded by Halley's Comet through the ages. By 1910 A.D., when it was still fresh in the minds of many elders that the 1835 visit of the comet had coincided with the burning to the ground of half of New York City, the stage was set.
The 1910 return of Halley's was expected to bring it especially close to the Earth – so close that the Earth would pass through the tail of the comet. Astronomers had recently figured out how to determine the composition of heavenly bodies, and Chicago's Yerkes Observatory let it be known that they had discovered the deadly gas cyanogen in the tail of the comet. Nicole Camille Flammarion, the eminent French astronomer, chimed in. He believed the gas “would impregnate the atmosphere and possibly snuff out all life on the planet.”
Sure enough, as Doomsday approached the telltale signs began to appear. Meteors, earthquakes, hailstorms and heat waves plagued the globe. Grandmothers fell and broke their hips. Toes were stubbed in record numbers.
The masses responded by preparing safe rooms, boarding up their windows and stuffing their doorjambs and keyholes with blankets and paper. There was a rush for gas masks and anti-comet pills (these worked like a charm, by the way). Houses of worship overflowed, workers were absent and mobs wailed through the streets.
With the passing of Halley's Comet, the Chicago Tribune spread the news: “We’re Still Here.”
Not everyone was still there. Mark Twain, who was born as Halley's Comet was making its periodic pass through our neck of the woods 75 years earlier, had made the following prediction the previous year:
I came in with Halley's Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year (1910), and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don't go out with Halley's Comet. The Almighty has said, no doubt: "Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together."
Twain died one day after the comet had reached its nearest point to Earth.
We decided not to single out religion, so likewise let's not single out astronomers.
Thomas Robert Malthus (1766-1834) was a British scholar whose theories on political economics and demography would influence the likes of Charles Darwin. His fields of interest naturally led him to study population growth, and he rightly concluded that food production increases arithmetically while population outpaces it with its geometric rate. Though Malthus himself was more interested in why humans do not die off despite their own best efforts, one conclusion that can be hypothesized from his observations is that sooner or later humanity will breed itself into extinction.
Enter Heinz von Foerster (1911-2002), eminent physicist, philosopher – you name it. This guy invented a science (second-order cybernetics). Over a century had passed since Malthus had made his observations on the ever-increasing growth rate of the human population in a finite world, yet people were still around and breeding like rabbits. Foerster proposed to give humanity the benefit of the doubt: to assume that the population would not be annihilated by some man-made calamity and that technology would keep up with the food demand. He devised a mathematical formula that modeled population growth up till the present.
This model showed that doubling time was decreasing with the passage of time. In other words, it was taking less and less time for the population to double. He applied the formula to the future and found that on November 13, 2026 doubling time would go to zero. That is to say, the population would begin doubling instantaneously. Here's another way of looking at it: at the rate that the population has been growing since recorded time, it will soon grow to infinity.
Picture it. We all know the Earth is finite. Most experts believe the universe is also finite. ''Our great-great-grandchildren will not starve,'' concluded the good doctor Foerster, ''They will be squeezed to death."