Share

Space Rocks, Last Pope? New Doomsday Predictions

Stephanie Pappas | Partner
Published: February 19, 2013

Highway from Kazakhstan to Chelyabinsk, Russia

Highway from Kazakhstan to Chelyabinsk, Russia

A dashboard camera, on a highway from Kostanai, Kazakhstan, to Chelyabinsk region, Russia on Friday, Feb. 15, 2013 shows a meteorite contrail. A meteor streaked across the sky of Russia’s Ural Mountains, causing sharp explosions and injuring dozens of people. (AP Photo/Nasha Gazeta, www.ng.kz)

  • Highway from Kazakhstan to Chelyabinsk, Russia
  • Chelyabinsk Region, Russia
  • Chelyabinsk, Russia
  • Chelyabinsk, Russia
  • Chelyabinsk, Russia
  • Chelyabinsk, Russia
  • Chelyabinsk, Russia
  • Chelyabinsk, Russia
  • Chelyabinsk, Russia
  • Chelyabinsk, Russia
  • Chelyabinsk, Russia
  • Chelyabinski Region, Russia
  • Meteor Hits Russia

Y2K? A bust. Judgment Day 2011? As quiet as a mouse. The Mayan apocalypse? Certainly not now.

As they have throughout history, failed doomsday predictions come and go. But with the Pope resigning, an asteroid whizzing near the planet Friday (Feb. 15) and a completely unrelated space rock exploding over Russia, it seems a good time to ask: What's next?

Plenty, as it turns out. Previous failures have in no way shut down doomsday predictors, and dates are set for possible apocalypses in 2020, 2040, 2060 and 2080 (zeros have an appeal, apparently). One of these doomsdays was even predicted by Sir Isaac Newton himself.

"It's clear that these kinds of scenarios return over and over and over again," said John Hoopes, an archaeologist at the University of Kansas who has studied doomsday predictions.

The end is Nigh

Doomsday prophecies date back thousands of years. The ancient Persians kicked off the hobby of apocalypse predicting in the Western world, Saint Joseph's University professor Allen Kerkeslager told LiveScience in December 2012. When the Zoroastrian Persians conquered the ancient Jews, they passed their end-of-the-world beliefs into Jewish culture, which subsequently handed them to Christianity. Now, everyone from Protestant preachers like Harold Camping, who predicted Armageddon in 2011, to UFO cultists and New Age mystics occasionally jump on the doomsday train.

The most recent apocalypse prediction was tied to the Mayan calendar, even though actual Mayans and scholars who study ancient Maya culture pointed out repeatedly that the calendar was never meant to predict the end of the world. The appointed day (Dec. 21, 2012) came and went without fire and brimstone.

But failures haven't stopped aspiring doomsday prophets in the past. In one of the most notorious apocalypse failures ever, American Baptist preacher William Miller predicted the return of Jesus Christ on March 21, 1844. Nothing happened, so Miller and his followers revised the prediction to Oct. 22. When that day, too, passed without incident, it was dubbed the Great Disappointment. 

Likewise, Camping predicted the Rapture three times in 1994 before his 2011 predictions.

The Pope's Doomsday

So it should come as no surprise that doomsday believers have plenty of dates to fixate on in the future. Friday's ultimately harmless asteroid flyby may trigger more anxiety about world-ending asteroid impacts in the near future, Hoopes told LiveScience. A Friday morning meteor explosion that shattered windows and injured more than 1,000 in Russia is likely to do the same.

The surprise announcement of the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI last week has also triggered doomsday chatter.

In 1595, a Benedictine monk published a series of prophecies he claimed came straight from the pen of a 12th-century archbishop, Saint Malachy. The prophecies are short phrases, each said by future interpreters to match up with a particular pope. For example, the phrase "out of the guardian goose" has been linked to Pope Alexander III (1159-1181), because his family coat of arms sported an image of a goose.

Pope John Paul II (1978-2005) is said to match the 110th phrase on the list, "from the labor of the sun," because he was born and entombed on days when there were solar eclipses. That makes Benedict XVI number 111, "the glory of the olive." A monastic order founded by the saint from whom Benedict took his name has a branch known as the Olivetans, though Benedict himself is not one of them.

Here's where the prophecies — which are completely discredited by the Catholic Church and suspected to be forgeries — get fun. Line 112 reads, "In the extreme persecution of the Holy Roman Church there will sit Peter the Roman, who will nourish the sheep in many tribulations; when they are finished, the city of seven hills will be destroyed and the dreadful judge will judge his people. The end." 

So is the next Pope the last before the apocalypse? History may not bear out any doomsday predictions, but prognosticators such as Thomas Horn and Cris Putnam, authors of "Petrus Romanus: The Final Pope is Here" (Defender, 2012) certainly think this one has legs. The theory has the advantage of involving the Catholic Church, an institution often accused of conspiracy. Conspiracy theories are often a component of popular doomsday theories, Hoopes said.

Successful predictions have to "hook into some deeper fears," he said.

Any Day Now

If the Pope prophecies don't pan out, there's plenty more to see. Numerologists have placed bets on both 2040 and 2080, interpretations that come from the Jewish text the Talmud and the Islamic holy book the Quran.

Psychic Jeane Dixon, who became famous through her newspaper astrology column and who often touted herself as having predicted John F. Kennedy's assassination, claimed that Armageddon would come in 2020. But though Dixon did occasionally make predictions that seemed to pan out, she was frequently wrong, as a 1980 article in the Lakeland Ledger pointed out. For example, Dixon predicted that Fidel Castro's days were numbered in 1968 (Castro is still alive and remained in office until 2011). She also said the two-party system of government would vanish from the United States by 1978, which would come as news to today's Democrats and Republicans.

Dixon, who died in 1997, was so famous that Temple University mathematician John Allen Paulos named the phenomenon of someone advertising correct predictions while ignoring many more failed ones the "Jeane Dixon effect."

But Dixon's fame has nothing on Sir Isaac Newton, the famed mathematician who figured out the principals of gravity. Newton had a side interest in apocalypse speculation, it turns out. A devout Christian, Newton was wary of human fallibility in interpreting prophecies, according to Stephen Snobelen of the University of King's College in Nova Scotia, who has researched Newton's writings. But he did muse in private about the date of doomsday, adding up important Biblical numbers to arrive at 2060.

On the other hand, Newton would not have wanted a reputation as a doomsday predictor, Snobelen wrote in a statement. In his musing on 2060, Newton wrote, "It may end later, but I see no reason for its ending sooner. This I mention not to assert when the time of the end shall be, but to put a stop to the rash conjectures of fanciful men who are frequently predicting the time of the end, & by doing so bring the sacred prophesies into discredit as often as their predictions fail."

MORE ON LIVESCIENCE.COM:

Copyright 2013 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

MORE ON WEATHER.COM: Lighting Strikes in Iconic Places

St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican

St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican

Lightning strikes the roof of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican on Feb. 11, 2013, hours after Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation, effective Feb. 28, as leader of the world's 1.1 billion Catholics. (Filippo Montefortef/AFP/Getty Images)

  • St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican
  • Eiffel Tower, Paris
  • Las Vegas Strip
  • Parthenon, Athens
  • Turning Torso, Malo, Sweden
  • Washington Monument, Washington, D.C.
  • Rathaus, Vienna
  • Bellevue Castle, Berlin
  • CN Tower, Toronto
  • West Point Light House, Wisconsin
  • Las Vegas Strip
  • International Finance Center, Hong Kong
  • Empire State Building, New York

Featured Blogs

Gulf of Mexico's 93L a Heavy Rain Threat; Ana Leaves Hawaii Alone

By Dr. Jeff Masters
October 21, 2014

An area of low pressure over the Gulf of Mexico's Bay of Campeche (93L) contains moisture and spin from the Eastern Pacific's Tropical Storm Trudy, which made landfall near Acapulco last weekend. 93L will bring heavy rains to Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, Western Cuba, and South Florida Wednesday through Friday.

What is the Wettest Month of the Year in the U.S.?

By Christopher C. Burt
October 10, 2014

Brian Brettshneider of Borealis Scientific has done some impressive research concerning what the wettest calendar month of the year might be by employing data from 8,535 official NCDC sites from across the U.S. utilizing the latest 30 years of record (1981-2010). His conclusion is that June is, overall, most frequently the wettest month in the U.S. with 2,053 of the 8,535 sites reporting such. April, at the other end of the spectrum, reports only 76 sites of the 8,535 as their wettest month. This is a guest blog by Brian and below are the results of his research (both text and maps are his).

Live Blog: Tracking Hurricane Arthur as it Approaches North Carolina Coast

By Shaun Tanner
July 3, 2014

This is a live blog set up to provide the latest coverage on Hurricane Arthur as it threatens the North Carolina Coast. Check back often to see what the latest is with Arthur. The most recent updates are at the top.

Tropical Terminology

By Stu Ostro
June 30, 2014

Here is some basic, fundamental terminology related to tropical cyclones. Rather than a comprehensive and/or technical glossary, this represents the essence of the meaning & importance of some key, frequently used terms.

2013-14 - An Interesting Winter From A to Z

By Tom Niziol
May 15, 2014

It was a very interesting winter across a good part of the nation from the Rockies through the Plains to the Northeast. Let's break down the most significant winter storms on a month by month basis.

What the 5th IPCC Assessment Doesn't Include

By Angela Fritz
September 27, 2013

Melting permafrost has the potential to release an additional 1.5 trillion tons of carbon into the atmosphere, and could increase our global average temperature by 1.5°F in addition to our day-to-day human emissions. However, this effect is not included in the IPCC report issued Friday morning, which means the estimates of how Earth's climate will change are likely on the conservative side.