By Nisha Krishnan
Doomsday predictors are people who believe that they can predict the end of the world. There are variations on what happens during this “end time” but the most common iterations are a “Judgement Day” conclusion, in which good people are raptured up to heaven while sinners perish on earth, and an end in which everybody on earth is extinguished (Wikipedia, 2012). The people who are most likely to believe in doomsday predictions are those who are religious, because there are many religious texts that seem to indicate an end of days. Information about the end of the world can be found anywhere on the internet, throughout Youtube and other video-sharing sites, and in religious cults. There have been many doomsday predictions spanning the course of history from 66 CE until as recently as last year in April (Wikipedia, 2019). Even today, people continue to make predictions about dates in the future in which the world will inevitably end. Doomsday predictions are important because they can lead to bad results, such as when people kill themselves or sell all of their worldly possessions in anticipation of the end of the world. It is an extraordinary belief because there is little proof to back these claims, and they are often the result of someone trying to interpret ambiguous information that is in religious or other ancient texts. It is also quite extraordinary to believe that you can pinpoint, to the exact day, when the entire world will end.
There is evidence that can be used for the idea of doomsday predictions. One source of evidence for doomsdayers is the use of astronomy. For example, David Meade, a prominent doomsdayer, used a rare alignment of the sun and the constellation Virgo as proof of the end of the world, because this was indicated as a sign of the end of the world in the beginning of Revelation 12 (Pappas, 2017). Another very popular source of doomsday predictions is the Mayan Calendar. One of the most famous end of world predictions was for December 21st, 2012. People took this prediction seriously, and they stocked up on food and read up on survival skills. The reason that the Mayan Calendar was proof of this end was because the most popular Mayan calendar abruptly ended on December 21st, 2012 (Zuckerman, 2012). Finally, many religious people claim that the world is going to end because our society has progressed. With this progress comes loose morals, technological innovation, the loss of privacy, and social problems. Since the world is not pious and does not value morals, these religious people believe that God will end the world because we deserve to be smited (Truthunited, 2018).
Many scientists tend to have evidence against doomsday predictors as well. One example of this is the true nature of the Mayan Calendars. Mayan calendars are actually cyclical in nature, which means that in the Mayan culture, the world would continue for thousands of years without anything changing. When calendar cycles end, new calendars are made that symbolize the continuation of time, and the idea of rebirth. The whole 2012 controversy was only started because the current Mayan calendar cycle ended on December 21st, 2012, and religious people believed that this meant the end of time (Zuckerman, 2012). Additionally, many of the “rare” astronomical events that happen are actually more common than doomsdayers suggest, and they do not affect life on earth at all. For example, eclipses used to be associated with the end of times, and yet human civilization has survived hundreds, if not thousands of eclipses, and lived to tell the tale (Pappas, 2017). Finally, there is the evidence that many doomsdayers tend to use the same information to predict the end of the world, even when this information has led to failed predictions. For example, David Meade used the same astronomical alignment of the sun and the constellation Virgo as proof of the end of the world for three separate predictions (Bryner, 2018).
There are some cognitive contributions that may lead to a belief system that supports doomsday predictions. One cognitive contribution is confirmation bias. This is when you actively seek out information that supports your belief and ignore information that doesn’t. Many doomsday predictors find “evidence” in astrology and in religious texts and interpret this ambiguous information to support their theories. They do not listen to people who try to prove them wrong, or pay attention to evidence that refutes their predictions. I don’t believe that these people are misinformed, per se, but rather that they are misinterpreting ambiguous information in the world around them. There might also be reasons for why people have made doomsday predictions, historically. Throughout the long history of human civilization, we have been plagued with crises like poverty, war, political issues, hatred, and violence. The cognitive contribution comes in to play with this information, because apocalyptic predictions have often been used to divert attention away from these more realistic issues. When you are constantly living in fear from the world ending someday, you don’t have time to worry about social problems that actively hurt you on a day to day basis. Finally, there is the cognitive contribution of the “true believer”. A true believer is someone who believes so strongly in something that even when contrary evidence is introduced, this can strengthen the conviction of the belief. Cognitive dissonance also plays a role in being a true believer when things fail. Obviously, every doomsday prediction has been wrong, since the world is still alive today. When the predicted end day comes and goes and nothing happens, cognitive dissonance occurs. On one hand, they believe so strongly that the end of days is upon us, but on the other hand, the end of the world did not happen. They change one of the beliefs to reduce this dissonance— for example, the religious text actually points to a new date as the end of times.
As mentioned previously, doomsday predictors and believers tend to come from the same community—people who are religious. This is because many different religions have information and predictions about the end of the world through religious stories and texts. Additionally, religious people tend to believe that there is good and evil in the world, and that as society progresses, the evil is beginning to overtake the good. When you believe that most people in the world are bad, but that you are good because you are religious and have morals, it can be easy to think that there is an end of the world for people who are bad, or that the world will end and everybody will die as punishment because of the sinners. This is what justifies and sustains good behavior, the idea that bad people will be punished. Social influences are also absolutely a part of this conviction of belief. When religious groups get together to face the predicted end of times, there is strength in the numbers. When the date comes and goes and nothing has happened, many people probably believe that there is no possible way that an entire group could have been wrong. This sustains belief as new predictions emerge. When every member of a group believes in something, group polarization can occur as well, which can lead to increased strength of conviction in the belief.
Whether one believes in doomsday predictions or not, it is hard to deny that it is a very common belief that has scared all of us at one point or another. While seemingly unproblematic as a belief, doomsday predictions can have some serious consequences. They create a sense of fear and panic in society. The people who believe in them may also attempt suicide or sell their worldly possessions in anticipation of the end of the world, which is obviously harmful. The psychological explanations for doomsday beliefs are endless and include cognitive dissonance, the “true believer” effect, apophenia, and confirmation bias. By examining the cognitive contributions that can lead to a belief in the end of the world, and how these beliefs are sustained through psychological explanations, we can understand why people have such strong convictions about doomsday predictions even in the face of such damning evidence against them.
Bryner, J. (2018, April 23). The ‘End of the World’ Is Today. Here’s Why We’re Still Here. Retrieved March 21, 2019, from https://www.livescience.com/62378-doomsday-april-23.html
Pappas, S. (2017, September 22). Apocalypse Now? Doomsday Predictions Are Just Recycled Bogus Theories. Retrieved March 21, 2019, from https://www.livescience.com/60499-ancient-theories-fuel-doomsday-predictions.html
Truthunited. (2018, April 09). 100% PROOF WE ARE IN THE END TIMES. Retrieved March 21, 2019, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zpHViFdHTTw
Wikipedia. (2019, February 19). End time. Retrieved March 21, 2019, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/End_time
Wikipedia. (2019, March 09). List of dates predicted for apocalyptic events. Retrieved March 21, 2019, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_dates_predicted_for_apocalyptic_events
Zuckerman, C. (2012, December 14). Maya Calendars Actually Predict That Life Goes On. Retrieved March 21, 2019, from https://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2012/12/121207-maya-truly-did-not-predict-doomsday-apocalypse/
18 thoughts on “Apocalypse Now, or Never? The Fallacy of Doomsday Predictions”
I think doomsday predictions are so interesting, and people have such a fascination with them. I remember watching the show doomsday preppers and it was so interesting. People would spend thousands of dollars on building underground bunkers and stocking it with water and nonperishable goods. It was super interesting to see how devoted to the idea some people were.
I LOVE THE SHOW DOOMSDAY PREPPERS! Not because I believe that the end of the world is approaching anytime soon, but because the people on the show truly believe that the future is quite dire–so much so that they are willing to spend thousands of dollars fortifying their homes/hideouts, sever relationships and ties that get in the way of their prepping, and they even rehearse “bug outs” in order to be ready for real evacuations. While the show is just straight-up entertaining, it makes me wonder if these people would really be the ones to survive come an actual global disaster.
Just-world bias always shows up on such topic.And i see what you mean that religious people more likely tends to believe in that belief. I think this is the way how they treat everyday life at some degree.
I thought your post was very interesting to read! I’m curious about your thoughts on Y2k in 1999, would you or anyone categorize this as equally extraordinary? Or is there a distinction between a sudden meteorite vs the fall of technology.
Doomsday prediction reminds me of the great flood mentioned in the bible. While Noah trying to tell others about the impending disaster, no one ever believe him. I think the reason why those religious community would have strong belief of the end of world is their dedicative faith in a existence above human. And that godlike figure would punish human because all the misbehaviors, except those who believe him could be saved. But for me, rather than worried about the Doomsday, it’s seems more useful to consider what we can do to solve the severe environment problems we have right now.
Very interesting choice for your blog post! I still remember when people said back in 2012 that the world was going to end. I always thought if this were true, there would be some indication or lead up to this occurring. I definitely know that religious people believe that God will come to judge the living and the dead but it is not seen as “doomsday”. That interpretation is more so a judgement of sins and believers going to Heaven for eternal life. Whatever the cause may be for the end of the world, I don’t think we are going to have real predictions unless a meteor is coming to blow up the world. I think its sad when people take these predictions literally and end their lives in fear and I hope more knowledge on the topic would prevent this in the future!!
There are so many reasons someone could believe that the end of the world will happen on a certain date, ranging from the end of the Mayan calendar to seeing some sort of implicit “sign” that said so. My mom told me that many people thought the world was going to end on New Year’s Eve of 1999 and that people were genuinely scared, just because it was the start of a new millennium. It is easy to fear the unknown, like the end of the world, so people will look for any rhyme or reason why it may happen on a random day. It gives these people assurance to believe in doomsday cults because it provides an answer to a question.
Doomsday predictions are always interesting because even if you don’t believe the exact date that is being predicted, I feel that it lingers of how easily life really could just be any day now. I feel like it would be hard to pin-point a day of when this will all happen, and I feel like most religious people do just fall back on the notion of “One of these days because the world is full with sinners etc”. In some way they are just waiting to be like, yeah I knew this would happen. I think some beliefs can be harmful but it seems like this belief is more harmful to the believer as you mentioned they might sell all their stuff to survive. However, a lot of doomsday predictions can be different, some think they have to commit suicide while others wait around. This can lead to a lot of unfortunate deaths or people just being paranoid everyday which can lead to bad mental health.
While to not discredit anyone’s believe because everyone has their own explanation as to why they believe the things they do, I think doomsday predictions are getting harder to believe. Especially, in this day in age we have had so many doomsday predictions that obviously did not happen that the chance seems slim to none. Its almost like the boy who cried wolf. People panicked when the predictions came out just for nothing to happen. The effects eventually subside.
Doomsday predictions are something that come into the news every few years. With Christianity and other larger religions, you see a lot about these rapture events that have a judgment day. On the topic of the Mayan calendar, I have also seen people state that the Mayan calendar may end in 2012 purely because they lived so long ago and to them, that was a date far into the future. I remember in 2012 when the apocalypse was supposed to happen my whole school was just waiting to go out. Did you have a similar experience when you encountered this date in 2012?
This belief is ever changing and there is so much content that is dedicated to it! There’s Doomsday Preppers on National Geographic, there are movies like 2012, 28 Weeks, Independence Day, and The Day After Tomorrow as well. The reason I said this belief is ever changing, is because every time doomsday is selected from the calendar, the world always comes out unscathed. As a result of this, believers look to the Mayan calendar and base their next predictions off of that. The end of days hasn’t come to fruition yet, and that usually spurs the thinking of later doomsday events. Is it me? Or does it seem like the people who are devoting their lives to doomsday constantly wanting to be obliterated? Is there something deeper about the thinking of this population that causes them to put in so much effort in preparing for such a negative event?
In terms of Christianity, it is silly to me when Christians attempt to predict the day Christ will return. It states in Mark 13 that “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert[e]! You do not know when that time will come…” So, if they truly believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, then they should not even attempt a prediction.
It’s crazy to me that there have been so many different doomsday predictions over the years. Do you have a personal favorite doomsday prediction? I think my favorite is Y2K because it was so obviously just a fear of technology!
It’s interesting that these people can always give Doomsday prediction. I don’t remember how many times I have heard that it will be the end of our world, but still, nothing happens. I believe some people might have a rough prediction base on the Astronomy or Geology. But most of Doomsday prediction without any valid evidence and they only get this information from the enlightenment of the God and the ancient book is the library.
I remember fully believing the world was going to end in 2012 as claimed in the Mayan calendar. Every person or religion has a different idea about how the world would end or how the apocalypse would begin. Back when the Mayan calendars were created or old folklores, there was not many discoveries in science nor explanations in things that are now widely studied such as eclipses, natural disasters, or other events that occurred at the beginning of times that were unexplainable to civilizations at the time. A lot of theories stem as a threat to humanity if we do not learn how to fix corruption and live in peace.
I remember fully believing the world was going to end in 2012 as claimed in the Mayan calendar. Every person or religion has a different idea about how the world would end or how the apocalypse would begin. Back when the Mayan calendars were created or old folklores, there was not many discoveries in science nor explanations in things that are now widely studied such as eclipses, natural disasters, or other events that occurred in the beginning of times that were unexplainable to civilizations at the time. A lot of theories stem as a threat to humanity if we do not learn how to fix corruption and live in peace.
Doomsday predictions in contemporary times really fascinate me – from the famed 2012 to David Icke’s passed apocalypse in the 1990s. Their existence in the modern era always seems accompanied by a malleable and expansive belief system that can explain away anomalies. If the Doomsday does not arrive, then more post hoc theorizing takes place and new components to the belief are built in to accommodate the unexpected inaction. I would love to see what a group of doomsdayer predictors would come up with after not just one but several missed predictions.
I have watched some episodes of doomsday preppers and they always fascinate me. Most of them have such different predictions on how life on earth is going to end and all of the crazy things they do to prepare for the disaster. I think no matter how many times the predictions are wrong they will still theorize another day to keep there theories going.
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