Apocalypse Now, or Never? The Fallacy of Doomsday Predictions

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.




Works Cited


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/



The Illuminati Conspiracy Theory

By: Nisha Krishnan

Someone who is a proponent of the Illuminati conspiracy theory believes that there is an elite and secret organization called the “Illuminati” who is seeking to create a dominant world totalitarian government (Bergara & Medej, 2016). This “New World Order,” so named, involves a single government (made up of Illuminati members) that would rule over the entire planet. According to a survey done about the Illuminati, 23% of Americans believe in the Illuminati and New World Order (Bergara & Medej, 2016). There also seems to be a link with conservative beliefs, as many conservatives are unhappy with the amount of involvement of the government in private affairs. There are many different theories as to who runs the illuminati, but the general consensus is that celebrities and government officials alike are part of it. Information about the illuminati is heavily prevalent on the conspiracy theories section of Youtube, in documentaries, and on websites such as www.illuminatiofficial.org. This theory enjoys popularity today, as most people are somewhat aware of the Illuminati, even if they don’t believe in it. This theory is extraordinary because its claims are extraordinary—they go against everything we know about our world currently. As far as we are taught, different countries have different governments, and America especially has safeguards against authoritarianism. The idea that there is a group who will control everything defies the Founding Fathers’ wishes of freedom for citizens—what our country is founded on.

There are many different forms of evidence that people use to justify the existence of the Illuminati. For instance, there are certain symbols such as the Eye of Horus and pyramid (both on US currency), and when people see this in popular media, they believe it is evidence for that company/organization’s involvement in the Illuminati (Hahn, 2018). Another reason people believe that the Illuminati exists is because it did exist in the past (Santoro, 2018). It was created by Weishaupt in Germany, who wanted to have a group where people could have discussions about secularism (Bergara & Medej, 2016). However, during this time period, the Illuminati was about anti-religiosity and free thought. But many people believe that when the Church shut down Weishaupt’s group, it continued underground and exists today under the New World Order plan. Another piece of evidence that supporters use is that cops have become more heavily armed than ever, which is indicative of the government militarizing the police (Santoro, 2018). Under a New World Order, we would have to have a strong police force to control citizens. Finally, there are many claims that the illuminati is “killing celebrities and replacing them with clones” in an attempt to brainwash society (Bergara & Medej, 2016). These claims are backed up by video footage showing certain celebrities looking confused or staring off into space, to suggest that they are “glitching”. For example, there are clips of Beyonce, Eminem, and Al Roker staring off into space or freezing for prolonged periods of time in news clips (Bergara & Medej, 2016).

There is also a laundry list of evidence that questions the existence of the Illuminati. For one, there is not conclusive evidence that definitely shows that the Illuminati exists (Hahn, 2018). Much of the evidence touted for the Illuminati relies on theories made by proponents, or video clips interpreted by proponents. However, there isn’t a way to test that the Illuminati exists, because it is impossible to prove that it doesn’t exist (since it is supposedly a “secret society”). Additionally, many people have questioned why a society that is supposed to be so secretive would put out so many “hints” that they exist for followers to interpret (Hahn, 2018). If the society was real, and their primary goal was to hide their existence, it would make more sense for them to erase any videos or online content discussing the Illuminati, and not show any proof to the world (currently there are thousands of Illuminati conspiracy videos on Youtube). Finally, there is the point that in our capitalist society, the ability to make money by any means necessary is very important. Skeptics point out that if people put occult or illuminati symbolism in their content, it will help them gain popularity because people love to talk about conspiracies (Hahn, 2018). If influencers are purposefully including this material in their content, it would falsify at least some of the claims of the “proof” of the illuminati.

There are two major cognitive contributions that are influential in people’s propensities to believe in the illuminati—confirmation bias, and the error of logic discussed in FiLCHeRs. For confirmation bias, much of the proof that is used to verify the existence of the illuminati is popular culture—videos, news, celebrity behavior, etc. When people see these ambiguous sources of information, they will often find a way to construe the evidence in a way that supports their belief. For example, there was a clip of Beyonce at a basketball game where she was zoned out for 30 minutes and moving her head from side to side. This video was used as proof that celebrities are killed and then replaced with clones that sometimes “glitch”. This was an ambiguous source—Beyonce could have simply been zoned out and moving her head because her eyes were tracking the movement of the game of basketball she was watching. However, illuminati conspiracists interpreted this video to mean that Beyonce is a part of the illuminati and she was glitching. When every piece of ambiguous information shown to you is interpreted by you to be evidence for the illuminati, this reifies the strength of the belief you hold. In the lines of the example discussed, these conspiracists would be ignoring all of the times Beyonce was behaving “normally” because it didn’t fit into their narrative. Another cognitive contribution is the issue of logic. Ryan Bergara and Shane Medej (2016) interviewed a professor of conspiracy theories who discussed how many illuminati supporters use a “trail of evidence” to support their beliefs. They start in small steps where their logic sounds rational, and then suddenly make a crazy leap to where their evidence starts to sound irrational (Bergara & Medej, 2016). This fits into an issue with logic because while the premises may be true, the conclusions do not follow from the premises. For example, they may start by discussing how the government is overly involved in people’s lives (rational, especially after the Patriot Act) and then make the jump that all of government is made up of lizard people that control the world. I believe that those who believe the theory are misinformed because they believe that there are these complex meaningful patterns in randomness (apophenia), and it is easy to fall into this level of mistakenness when the information starts small as a “foot in the door” and spirals into these huge unbelievable conspiracy theories.

I wouldn’t say there is one specific community that illuminati believers come from, but there are certainly characteristics that are common between subsets of the population. One characteristic is conservative beliefs. As mentioned above, the illuminati and conservatives share the critical belief that the government is heavily involved in the lives of its citizens. Many of the current Illuminati theorists are right wing, incuding Mark Koernke, David Icke, Pat Robertson, and Donald Marshall (Bergara & Medej, 2016). Another characteristic that stems from right-wing extremism is anti Semitism. The Illuminati conspiracy is inherently anti Semetic because a large part of the population of believers think that Jews control the world (similar to the propaganda touted during Nazi Germany). To believe that any one group controls the world is in line with the idea of the illuminati and the New World Order. Finally, I would say that generally, Illuminati proponents are people that have a great deal of cynicism and mistrust of the world around them. To believe in conspiracies is to believe that what you see around you is not objective reality, but rather a reality created to somehow dupe you. The social influences that help sustain their beliefs involve a sense of community. When you have a deep mistrust of the world around you, this ideology goes against our major beliefs of reality. This may isolate you from the larger community, but when you find people who are like you and who believe what you believe, this justifies your commitment to the belief. If you were alone in your belief, you might give into the pressure of societal norms. But with a strong community of believers, you have people to back up your point of view.

Whether you believe in the Illuminati or not, you cannot deny that it is one of the most popular conspiracies out there currently. The problem with this belief is that it reifies stereotypical beliefs of Jews controlling the world, and it creates a sense of fear and panic in society to propose that we will all be controlled in an authoritarian government some day. The psychological explanations for the belief system, including confirmation bias, logic errors, stereotype heuristics, and herd mentality help to create a more holistic view of this conspiracy theory. By understanding why people have this belief and how it is maintained psychologically, we can attempt to educate the world to think more critically about unverified conspiracy theories, as well as analyze the world around us in a more scientific way.


Works Cited

Bergara, R., & Madej, S. (2016, July 29). Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3C9wZf88y4Q

Hahn, J. D. (2018, September 27). So, What Exactly Is the Illuminati Conspiracy? Are the Illuminati real? Retrieved February 7, 2019, from https://www.complex.com/pop- culture/2018/09/what-is-the-illuminati-conspiracy-and-who-are-its-members/are-they- real

Santoro, M. (2018, July 28). Retrieved February 07, 2019, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NYBT1yOdWb8&t=294s