The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Posts Tagged ‘Nostradamus’

The Real Reason Why the Rapture Didn’t Happen: “Macho Man” Randy Savage!

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 23, 2011

Rather than waste any more electrons on seriously analyzing the most recent doomsday Rapture silliness and how the followers of that particular religious cult are attempting to rationalize away the spectacular failure of Judgement Day to manifest itself, I would like to offer up this humorous portrayal of why it is the Rapture did not come to pass this last Saturday… 🙂

Posted in doomsday, humor, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The May 21st “Rapture”: When Crazy Religion Meets Crazy Numerology

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 19, 2011

I know that I’ve blogged a couple of times already (here and here) about the supposed impending “Rapture” coming up this coming Saturday, May 21st.  But while I’ve written there about how loony of an idea this whole Christ-is-returning-so-it’s-the-end-of-the-world is – mostly because there are so many failed doomsday predictions that were supposedly ironclad before they failed epically – one thing I haven’t yet done is to actually seriously analyze the claims made by the would-be prophet of this weekend’s Armageddon festivities, the good Rev. Harold Camping.

It’s Judgement Day!!!

My oh my, that Jesus is one fine lookin’ dude!  I wonder who does his hair? 🙂

In the following article, the rationale (such as it is) for Camping’s predictions is outlined.  Let’s take a look at the argument and then take it seriously just long enough to show the logical flaws within it, right before we piss ourselves with laughter…

End Times Math: The Equation That Predicts May 21 Judgment Day

The May 21 Judgment Day meme is the brainchild of an 89-year-old radio evangelist named Harold Camping. Using a mathematical system of his own creation to interpret obscure prophecies in the Bible, Camping originally predicted that Sept. 6, 1994 would be Judgment Day, or the day of the “Rapture” when Christian believers will ascend to heaven, leaving the rest of humanity to its deservedly dreary fate.

Hold on, right there.   Camping has made such a prediction before?  Yes, he did – he predicted the world would end almost 17 years ago… and the world is still here.  Also note this key phrase: “… Using a mathematical system of his own creation…” – what this basically means is that Camping has created a system of numerology which would allow him to manipulate the numbers of his calculation in such a fashion as to give him whatever result he wants.  In other words, using such a system, folks like Camping can’t fail… that is, until they actually fail, which is what happened to Camping on Sept. 7, 1994 when we were all still here.  But that’s the beauty of using slipshod and ad hoc mathematical systems such as Camping’s:  since they are essentially made up out of whole cloth with the express purpose of “never failing”, a missed prediction can easily be discounted when “corrections” to the calculations are magically uncovered after the fact.  This, like the thinking driving conspiracy theorizing, shows that such a system is clearly unfalsifiable: it is always right, even when it’s wrong.

The article continues:

… Here’s the gist of Camping’s calculation: He believes Christ was crucified on April 1, 33 A.D., exactly 722,500 days before May 21, 2011. That number, 722,500, is the square of 5 x 10 x 17. In Camping’s numerological system, 5 represents atonement, 10 means completeness, and seventeen means heaven. “Five times 10 times 17 is telling you a story,” Camping said on his Oakland-based talk show, Family Radio, last year. “It’s the story from the time Christ made payment for your sins until you’re completely saved.”

Okay, once again note that these numbers only make sense “in Camping’s numerological system” – which he made up.  What is the rationale which justifies Camping’s numerological system as being superior to that of other failed doomsday prophets (such as Nostradamus and those claiming the Mayan calendar portends The End on Dec. 21, 2012)?  And why does Camping settle on 722,500 days?  Why not 722,500 seconds, minutes, months, years, or centuries?  What is so special about days in Camping’s system which distinguishes them from any other unit of temporal measurement?  And, assuming there is some kind of reason (whatever that could be) for using days as units, why is it that you have to multiply and subsequently square 5, 10, and 17?  Why not simply add them up?  Or just multiply without squaring?  Or add them up and then square the result?  Why not raise the product of these numbers to the third power?  What is the rationale behind this calculation which explains why it could be considered trustworthy – other than, of course, the fact that it just happens to give a “prediction” of the world’s end, conveniently, during Camping’s lifetime?

And last, but not least, here’s a good question to ponder: if the Rapture is supposed to come on Saturday, May 21st, on which side of the International Date Line is that going to happen?  Will the Rapture follow the rotation of the Earth, seeing as how some parts of the planet will still be on Friday night time while other portions will be on early Saturday morning time?  Or is it supposed to just kind of go “poof!” all at once?  But if it does that, then it can’t all happen on the same day – and why doesn’t Camping take this into account in his calculations?  You can see the problem here.

Now that I’ve taken this stupidity seriously for a bit,  it is now time to treat it as the utter silliness that it most certainly is: I’m off to go get ready for the After Rapture Party & Looting 😉

Posted in doomsday, mathematics, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

2012 Isn’t Seen as End-of-the-World by Real Mayans

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 12, 2009

Unless you’ve been living underneath a rock for the last year or so, you no doubt have heard all manner of New Age silliness regarding the supposed end-of-the-world on Dec. 21, 2012. The idea has gotten so much traction in the popular consciousness that the master of cheesy doomsday movies, Roland Emmerich, has a big movie named – you guessed it – “2012” coming out next month.

So what’s the big damn deal with all of this 2012 hysteria?  Supposedly it has to do with the Mayan calendar, specifically one version called the Long Count calendar, which is set to end and reset on Dec. 12, 2012 on the Western calendar (much like how our Western calendar resets from Dec. 31 to Jan. 1 every year).  And for this reason, a number of nutty New Agers are going crazy about “cosmic alignments” and how this will result in all manner of horrendous things for humanity… you know, the typical doomsday junk.

But what makes all of this truly hilarious is what actual Mayans (yes, there are still some around) say when you ask them about all of this 2012 nonsense:

2012 isn’t the end of the world, Mayans insist

Apolinario Chile Pixtun is tired of being bombarded with frantic questions about the Mayan calendar supposedly “running out” on Dec. 21, 2012. After all, it’s not the end of the world.

Or is it?

Definitely not, the Mayan Indian elder insists. “I came back from England last year and, man, they had me fed up with this stuff.”

It can only get worse for him. Next month Hollywood’s “2012” opens in cinemas, featuring earthquakes, meteor showers and a tsunami dumping an aircraft carrier on the White House.

At Cornell University, Ann Martin, who runs the “Curious? Ask an Astronomer” Web site, says people are scared.

“It’s too bad that we’re getting e-mails from fourth-graders who are saying that they’re too young to die,” Martin said. “We had a mother of two young children who was afraid she wouldn’t live to see them grow up.”

Chile Pixtun, a Guatemalan, says the doomsday theories spring from Western, not Mayan ideas.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in cults, doomsday | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments »

Wisdom in a Cookie

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 19, 2009

My wife and I love Chinese food.  Often, after a long day, I like to drop by our favorite Chinese restaurant and pick up some dinner.  And I think it’s hard to find many things better than a good, relaxing meal at the end of the day – unless, of course, you’re talking about dessert.  And what is the classic dessert of such fare?  The fortune cookie…

fortune cookie

Just today, we had some Chinese take-out, and I chomped a fortune cookie for dessert. Now, while I’m not going to claim that anyone really takes these kind of fortunes seriously, I’m going to use them as a little lesson in critical thinking because there are related phenomena that some people do take seriously.

Let’s take that fortune revealed in my cookie:

A party with friends is in your near future

Now, it is true that there are a few events in the upcoming weeks where I’ll likely be getting together with friends. So should I conclude that this little cookie successfully predicted the future? Of course not!

Were I to conclude this party prediction a “hit”, I would be guilty of a common logical fallacy, namely observational selection (also known as “cherry-picking” or “counting the hits but discounting the misses”). Observational selection is a common fallacy employed by those who believe the messages of psychics – like Sylvia Browne or Nostradamus – can accurately predict the future.

Think about it, of all the people who receive fortune cookies every day, probably many people got the same message about an upcoming party with friends. Chances are, most were not going to have such a party (a “miss”), and those people would basically ignore the miss and just eat the cookie. But then I get this cookie which seems to successfully predict an upcoming gathering of friends (a “hit”?). You can see what’s going on here – it’s just basic statistics. Many more “party with friends” cookie predictions miss than hit, but those are ignored in favor of the hits.

With a psychic’s predictions, such as Ms. Browne’s predictions for 2008, as with a fortune cookie, most of the predictions fall flat as misses. Actually, to be fair to Browne, she got half of the predictions listed at that link correct, but many were extremely vague predictions that I think hardly count (when do we go through a year with no earthquakes?). But the true believers ignore these misses, and then they employ selective thinking to justify whatever hits they perceive of “proof” of the psychic’s powers.

Side note: If Sylvia Browne (or any other psychics) really had any powers she claims to have, you might think that she would have predicted the global economic meltdown. Funny that she didn’t, isn’t it? I mean, it was only the biggest financial crisis in the world since the Great Depression…

Oops, that’s a pretty BIG miss!!!

Now, can a fortune cookie (or psychic) get lucky, providing a “prediction” of a once-in-a-million hit? Certainly, it can happen. For example, here’s a story about a “fortune-cookie-payout” where many people won millions of dollars based upon the numbers on a fortune cookie…

Powerball officials initially suspected fraud, but it turned out that all the winners received their numbers from fortune cookies made by Wonton Food Inc., a fortune cookie factory in Long Island City, Queens, New York. The number combinations printed on fortunes are reused in thousands of cookies per day. The five winning numbers were 22, 28, 32, 33, and 39. The sixth number in the fortune, 40, did not match the Powerball number, 42.

Were those people just lucky or was there something psychic at work with the fortune cookies? The discussion about statistics above should give you a hint, and besides, there’s a reason why it’s a called once-in-a-million shot. With enough cookies handed out over enough years, and with enough people playing lottery numbers based on those fortunes, eventually someone will get lucky.

So where’s this “wisdom” I mentioned in the title of this entry? Well, dear reader, I think the wisdom given to us by those tasty little fortune cookies is a lesson in critical thinking – how not to be fooled and, more importantly, how not to fool ourselves.

Posted in psychics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

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