A Philosopher's Blog

The World Didn’t End

Posted in Philosophy, Religion by Michael LaBossiere on May 22, 2011
Harold Camping in 2008

Image via Wikipedia

If you are reading this, then the world did not end.

Predictions of the end of the world have come and gone, yet the world remains. The latest prediction was made by Harold Camping and spread by his organization, Family Radio. Like others before him, Camping calculated the end of the world based on his interpretation of the bible. These predictions are always somewhat ironic given that the bible seems to explicitly state that the exact date cannot be known (at least by us, presumably God knows).

This is the second time Camping has been wrong: he predicted that the world would end in 1994. Obviously enough it did not.

While the vast majority of people do not buy into end of the world predictions, charismatic predictors always seem to attract devout following. Perhaps the best known of these was the Millerites who believed that the world would end in 1844. Obviously enough, it did not.,

While such predictions tend to afford little more than amusement to the many, they can be quite harmful to those who buy into it. Back in 1844, many Milleritess found themselves in dire financial straits. After all, believing the end was coming, they had little reason to keep their possessions. Given the assumption that the world is ending, this behavior does make

The Family Radio folks seem to have followed the tradition. Some of them stopped paying their mortgages and some stopped saving for their kid’s college education, Again, this makes sense-if the world is ending, there will be no mortgage company to take your house and no colleges to educate the children.

While the economic harms of falling for one of these predictions can be serious, there are also other potential consequences. Those who believe in these predictions often invest a great deal in them in terms of making an emotional commitment. When the prediction inevitably does not come true, these people are in for painful disappointment.

Because of these serious consequences, people should obviously consider predictions regarding the end of the world with a great deal of skepticism. Unfortunately, those who are most inclined to accept such claims tend to be among the least inclined to subject them to a critical assessment.

While it is tempting to assume that the people who make such predictions are engaged in deceit, they often seem to be sincere. This sincerity, no doubt, makes it easier for them to convince others that their predictions are true. Given the repeated failures of end of the world predictions, one would hope that people would be increasing skeptical of such claims. However, every new prediction seems to attract new followers.

It is no doubt just a matter of time before another charismatic person makes yet another prediction about the end of the world. Assuming the universe is finite in duration, perhaps someday one of them will get it right.

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3 Responses

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  1. T. J. Babson said, on May 22, 2011 at 8:36 am

    Maybe this one should be called the “Chicken Little Fallacy”?

  2. magus71 said, on May 23, 2011 at 12:49 am

    Why has this story gotten so much attention? This has happened every year that I can remember.

    Next story, please.

  3. ajmacdonaldjr said, on May 23, 2011 at 1:03 am

    Sadly, this is more evidence of the importance of hermeneutics. Basically, Camping, and people like him, have faulty presuppositions which skew their interpretation of the biblical text. As this video points out, the real problem isn’t Camping, and people like him who set dates of the end of the world, but those many Christians who believe the end is near but don’t set dates. Their view of the future, their eschatology, is pessimistic, therefore they don’t try to improve the world (e.g., social justice) because they see it as a waste of time.

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