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SKEPTOID BLOG:

Five Failed Apocalyptic Predictions

by Guy McCardle

August 25, 2011

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Donate History is riddled with failed predictions of an apocalyptic nature. You can find out about more than 200 of them here. In the interest of brevity, I've chosen to write about just five. After thousands of years and literally hundreds of failed predictions, one cannot help but wonder why there is still such a large audience for modern doomsayers. As the old saying goes: "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me."

The following predictions are presented in no particular order.

Charles Wesley — In addition to being one of the founders of the Methodist church, Charles Wesley preached that the world was going to end in 1794. This view concurred with that of the Shakers who also predicted that year as the end. A pessimistic preacher, Wesley wrote (regarding earthquakes of his day) that they are "a sign of what is to come in an effort to awaken the sleeping sinner. Earthquakes are a call to repentance". He clearly viewed them as a sign of the end times as some continue to do today. John Wesley, brother to Charles, also made a prediction of the end times. He wrote that 1836 would be the year that the great beast would return to earth thus marking the beginning of the end of the world.

Jehovah's Witness Predictions — The Jehovah's Witness religion has made numerous predictions about the end of the world. The Watch Tower (an official publication of the church) for forty years emphasized the fact that 1914 would witness the establishment of God's kingdom on Earth. After the end did not come, they changed the meaning of the prediction and stated that it was the date that Jesus would begin to rule invisibly (yes — invisibly). Not to be deterred, the end was set for 1918, when "God destroys the churches wholesale and the church members by millions." Other end time dates were set for 1920, 1925, 1941, 1975 and 1994. Back in the 1920's the church built a house in San Diego for the Jewish prophets to live in once they returned to earth as part of the end time. The house was even deeded over to them until 1948 when the church apparently decided it would serve a better purpose.

The Great Disappointment — Based on the book of Daniel, specifically Daniel 8:14, William Miller (a Baptist minister) predicted the return of Jesus and the end of the world. He stated, "My principles in brief, are, that Jesus Christ will come again to this earth, cleanse, purify, and take possession of the same, with all the saints, sometime between March 21, 1843 and March 21, 1844." The more specific date of October 22, 1844, was preached by Samuel S. Snow. Thousands of followers, some of whom had given away all of their possessions, waited expectantly. When Jesus did not appear, October 22, 1844 became known as the Great Disappointment. Miller continued to wait for the end until his death in 1849. Followers of the Millerite religious movement went on to become founders of the Seventh Day Adventist church.

1910 Halley's Comet - It is not only religious misapprehension that can cause apocalyptic panic. In the case of the 1910 visit of Halley's Comet, a little scientific knowledge gave rise to great fear. During the latter half of the 19th century astronomers had developed a tool that enabled them to analyze the light being reflected by comets. One of the earliest discoveries was that comets contained cyanogen, a very poisonous gas. As Halley's Comet approached the sun in 1910, astronomers announced that Earth would actually pass through the tail of this comet during May of that year. Astronomers assured the public that they were in no danger from the comet. Newspapers began running stories by doomsayers who felt that if Earth was going to pass through the comet's tail, then the people of Earth were in serious danger. Astronomers countered by saying the material in the tail was so spread out that there could be no ill effects, but few newspapers published this accurate information. A minor panic arose in some cities and entrepreneurs took advantage of it. They sold "comet pills" which were said to counter the effects of the poisonous gas. On May 20, after Earth had passed through the tail, everyone who had taken the pills was still alive...but, then, so was everyone else.

The Jupiter Effect — The Jupiter Effect was the title of a best-selling book published in 1974 by astrophysicists John Gribbin, Ph.D., and Stephen Plagemann. It predicted that an alignment of the planets of the solar system would create a number of catastrophes, including a great earthquake on the San Andreas Fault, on March 10, 1982. This never happened. There was, however, some unusual influence at that time from the planets. That day the high tide was calculated to be 0.04 millimeters higher than normal. Years later, in his book, The Little Book of Science (pub. 1999), Dr. Gribbin admitted about his "Jupiter Effect" theory "...I don't like it, and I'm sorry I ever had anything to do with it."

Personally, I live by the words of the great philosophers R.E.M.: "It's the end of the world as we know it (and I feel fine)".

 

by Guy McCardle

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