The Skeptical Teacher

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

Posts Tagged ‘prophecy’

The World Ends… Again? Meh.

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 26, 2015

You have to hand it to the end-of-the-world doomsayers: they certainly are persistent. After a long and rich history of always getting it wrong, such as with the much-hyped Mayan Prophecy from December 2012, these seers and prophets just keep coming back for more. Case in point: apparently, this past September 23rd, the world was supposed to end… again. But don’t take it from me, take it straight from the prophets themselves:

Beware September 2015! A Great Deception is Brewing! I Know What is Going to Happen and it is Not What You Think!

The Mystery Of September 23: Why Does 9/23 Keep Popping Up All Over the Place?

And the Internet is full of a whole bunch of other “September 23rd” doomsday sites. I swear every year or two these things pop up like roaches; with the true believers, it’s like a game of perpetual whack-a-mole, because no matter how many times these predictions are wrong (which is EVERY TIME), they just keep coming back for more.

Our skeptical friends over at Skeptoid do a nice take down of this latest doomsday prediction:

Skeptoid: The September 23rd Apocalypse

prophecy-of-sept-23

Image Source

Let’s start with what’s being predicted for September 23, 2015 – and for September 2015 in general. According to various conspiracy, prophecy, and prepping websites, the following things will happen on the date itself:

• Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement.

• President Barack Obama is scheduled to meet with Pope Francis at the White House. Of note is that Francis is the 266th Pope, September 23 is the 266th day of the year, and the average length of human gestation is 266 days.

• The Autumnal Equinox.

• The First day of the Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha, also known as “the Feast of the Sacrifice.”

If you add in days either just before or just after 9/23/15, you also get a number of apocalyptic events:

• A range of dates that Comet 67P is scheduled to make an extremely close passage of Earth, September 15-28.

• The September restart of the CERN Large Hadron Collider will open a portal to another dimension.

• The end of Jade Helm 15 on September 15.

• The September 25th launch of a new UN initiative, Agenda 2030, which signals the end stage of Agenda 21 implementation.

• The date of the last of the “Four Blood Moons” heralding the End Times, on September 28.

• The approximate date of predicted economic collapse.

• The end of a Shemitah year in the Jewish Calendar, the last year of the seven year agricultural cycle, that traditionally brings with it great tribulation.

All of these events have been prophesied to form a combination that will bring on the End Times. What are the sources of these predictions?

• The obvious confluence of the three major world religions on September 23.

• Biblical prophecy, specifically the “Four Blood Moons” prophecy.

• The End Times prophecy of Sir Isaac Newton.

• A dire warning from French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who claimed on May 13, 2014 that we have “500 days to avoid climate chaos.” 500 days after May 13, 2014 is September 24, 2015.

• Prophetic dreams and visions by people attuned to such things.

• Predictive programming in Hollywood entertainment – specifically, many uses of the numbers “9” and “23” in films and TV.

Hmm, that’s quite a lot of scary End Times stuff, isn’t it? Except that the End didn’t come. But that won’t stop the apocalyptic fanatics from continuing to make their doomsday predictions; indeed, a quick Google search for “the coming apocalypse” will yield a mountain of Internet fodder to feed all the Bible-thumping, paranoia-inducing, hide-in-your-basement, conspiracy-mongering that you could ever want regarding future end-of-the-world predictions.

Here’s a prediction that you can take to the bank: the next apocalyptic prediction will pan out like all the previous ones… it will be dead, flat wrong.

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“We’re All Doomed… Or Are We?” Panel from Dragon*Con 2012

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 16, 2012

A couple of weeks ago I attended Dragon*Con 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia where I was heavily involved in the Science Track.  I helped to run three panels and gave a lecture while there, and I wanted to share those with you here.  The first panel I helped to run (I moderated it) was on the question of how real and/or dangerous are various doomsday scenarios.  The panelists included me, Bad Astronomer Phil Plait, Bob Novella of the Skeptics Guide to the Universe, psychologist Barbara Drescher, and disaster researcher (and science consultant to the Stargate franchise) Mika McKinnon, and we had a wide-ranging and alternately funny yet serious discussion.  I recorded the audio and share it with you below.  Enjoy! 🙂

We’re All Doomed, DOOMED!!! Or Are We?

Killer asteroids, LHC-generated black holes, nuclear meltdowns, alien invasion, zombie apocalypse, global ecological collapse, financial recession/depression, the Mayan 2012 prophecy… AAAGGHH! Run for your lives! We’re all doomed, DOOMED!!! Or are we? What are some real or imagined doomsday scenarios, how dangerous are they really, and how likely is it that each could occur? If you’re looking for a good scientific look at these questions, with a few chuckles along the way, then this is the panel for you. Join us for a discussion of all things apocalyptic, because talking about the end-of-the-world is fun!

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Convergence 2012 Day 1: “Final CONvergence: Doomsday Scenarios” Panel

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 6, 2012

The first day of Convergence 2012 involved the usual… checking into the hotel, getting registered for the Con, and so on.  But for me it also included a very fun, late-night panel about various doomsday scenarios, including killer asteroids, massive solar flares, outbreaks of deadly infectious disease (think the Black Plague), the potential failure of the Internet, release of so-called “grey goo” nanites, nuclear war, and everyone’s favorite – zombies!

While it was a serious discussion, there was also much humor involved (I will never forget Jason Thibeault’s quip: “I tried to start a nuclear war, until I took an arrow to the knee” 🙂 ), and the audience Q&A was very lively.  If you’d like to listen to the panel discussion, just click the link below to hear my recording:

Final CONvergence Doomsday Scenarios – Convergence 2012

Image Source

The zombies are right outside the door. Which geeks do you keep close and which to you push into the parking lot as bait. Surviving apocalyptic scenaries convention style! Panelists: Jason Thibeault, Adam Whitlatch, Robert Smith?, Matt Lowry, PZ Myers

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Yet Another Failed End-of-the-World Prophecy

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 28, 2012

Just in case you didn’t hear, the world was supposed to end yesterday (May 27th, 2012).  At least, that’s according to self-proclaimed “last apostle in this age” Ronald Weinland, who predicted that the apocalypse would be preceded by World War III with most of Earth being laid waste by a nuclear war.  And, of course, Weinland (like so many other doomsday prophets) pointed to his interpretation of the Bible as evidence of the End Times…

MAY 27, 2012

Written on April 29, 2012

As readers of this site know, May 27, 2012, is the time that I have stated as being the date Jesus Christ will return as King of kings over all government on this earth. For such an event to come to pass, the Trumpets of Revelation must all sound, the United States and dollar collapse, the ten nations of Europe arise to fulfill the final revival of the Holy Roman Empire, and Russia with China must unite against Europe in WWIII.

As an aside, readers of this site should also grasp that as far as prophecy is concerned, ten nations in Europe have already combined in association with one another to the degree that the mixture of clay and iron is fulfilled. All that remains is their entrance into a final war, a prophecy that can be fulfilled quickly, as this posting will cover.

How is it possible or even conceivable that all these things can happen in such a short time? And what if none of these events have occurred as late as five, four, or even three days before Jesus Christ is to return? Is it truly reasonable that Christ is coming on May 27th? No, it is not reasonable, not within the parameters of man’s thinking. When this date was given just over three and a half years ago, it was not reasonable to people then, and now it has simply become that much more unreasonable.

But as the last apostle in this age, and as God’s end-time prophet, I am still telling people that this is true and that a short-lived WWIII is now at our doorstep. Due to this strong conviction, the Church of God – PKG is putting all its resources into promoting this final message of Christ’s impending return in order to complete the “work” that God has given us to do. This “work” is nearly complete. As my previous post was written over two months ago, this may well prove to be my final one, since there are only four weeks remaining in this age. …

Folks, as the saying goes, this is deja vu all over again.  Here we are, on the day after supposed armaggedon, and there’s no nuclear holocaust, no fire raining down from heaven, no Rapture, and no return of Jesus Christ.  In fact, things seem to be moving right along just as they were yesterday and the day before that (and so on…).

Need I point out the obvious, yet again?  The obvious being that every single time one of these religious fundamentalists rants about the end-of-the-world, they end up being wrong.  And, for the record, over the course of human civilization, there have been a LOT of these failed predictions!

Which begs the next obvious question: why does anyone bother to listen to these so-called “prophets” anymore?

 

Posted in doomsday, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

ANOTHER End-of-the-World Prediction…

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 15, 2012

Despite the faux-surprise in the title of this post, I am not in the least surprised that there’s yet another true-believer who is trying to convince their followers that the end-of-the-world is just around the corner…

Former Worldwide Church of God preacher says Jesus Christ is returning on May 27, 2012 and that today marks the end of time and beginning of “half time”

Ronald Weinland

Ronald Weinland, who considers himself a prophet of God, continues to warn that Jesus Christ is returning on May 27, 2012.

For those who do not believe him and mock his message, Weinland claims that they will die from cancer.

His website, Church of God – PKG, claims that various end times events were triggered by the scattering of the Worldwide Church of God after the death of its founder, Herbert W. Armstrong.  With Armstrong no longer at the helm, Weinland claims he “is the pastor of God’s Church on earth, has also been appointed by the God of Abraham to be His end-time prophet and one of the two end-time witnesses (and spokesman of both), preceding the return of Jesus Christ on May 27, 2012.” …

I like the whole “you’ll die from cancer for mocking me” bit; it just seems to show that the good “Prophet” Weinland is full of Christs’s love.

Seriously though… this again?  Wasn’t it just last year when there was another high-profile failure of the end-of-the-world prediction?  Now here’s another prediction of doomsday (but this time it’s the real thing, honest!). Wouldn’t you think that, given their terrible track record of failed religious predictions of this nature that people would learn to just ignore these loons by now?

Thankfully, most people will wisely ignore doom-mongers such as this self-proclaimed “Prophet”, but there will be those will be bamboozled.  As for me, I just cannot wait to see what sort of excuses are offered on May 28th 😉

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Jay Leno Sticks It to Sylvia Browne — On Live TV

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 5, 2009

On Tuesday, Nov. 3rd, psychic Sylvia Browne made a surprise guest appearance on The Jay Leno Show. This is very surprising, seeing as how Leno is a definite skeptic when it comes to psychics & their woo (he coined the now famous phrase “Why don’t you ever see this headline: ‘Psychic Wins Lottery‘?”).  So why was Browne there in the first place?

What happened is that his show has a segment called Earn Your Plug, whereby celebrities who wish to have their TV show or movie plugged have to do something on the show to merit the advertising.  Well, last night the celebs were Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat of the movie “Paranormal Activity”, and for the Earn Your Plug segment they decided to surprise Leno by having Sylvia Browne give him a reading.  See for yourself how it went…

Jay Leno vs. Sylvia Browne

Right off the bat, Leno was completely blindsided by the fact that a psychic like Browne was even on his show.  Notice how he makes the crack at the beginning of the reading about replacing some employees in the near future; something tells me that this is one prediction which is likely to come true.  Had he known that Featherston & Sloat had wanted to bring Browne onto the show, Leno would have likely stopped it from happening.

In addition, I want to point something else out that Leno did – he was openly, though playfully (his show is about entertainment, after all), skeptical of what Browne was attempting to do.  Whenever she made a claim, rather than allow her to prattle on and on with all manner of nonsensical “predictions” (often known as cold reading), he would stop her and challenge her on specific points.  It is also worth noting how she reacted to Leno not simply believing what she said or at least playing along with her: she got angry with him.  She didn’t get screaming mad, but watching her demeanor and body language speaks volumes about how upset she was that he even dared to question her supposed divine prowess (she did claim, after all, that her “abilities” were “from God”).  Essentially, she was doing little more than making a blatant argument from authority in this regard, and it was painfully (for her) obvious that Leno wasn’t having any of it.

I think a good example was this exchange:

Browne: “Do you know how many people over the years have told me that I’m wrong about something, but came back later to tell me that I was right?”

Leno: “No. How many?”

In the end, I think that while it was a negative that a psychic scumbag like Sylvia Browne even got onto Leno’s show in the first place, Leno himself turned it into a more positive experience by not treating her seriously & acting openly skeptical and asking questions.  The result was, in my opinion, that by the end of the reading – which was mercifully short – the vast majority of the audience was laughing at Ms. Browne and not with her.  And if there’s anyone who deserves to be laughed at, it is Sylvia Browne and her ilk.

Good move, Jay, for educating people on how to deal with such supernatural claims.  Johnny Carson would be proud of you 🙂

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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 »

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Crop Circles Predict… The End of the World?

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 17, 2009

Every now and then you run across a really silly bit of woo cross-fertilization.  Such is the case with a recent article in the UK’s Telegraph wherein the reader is told, in no uncertain terms…

Crop circle experts believe the latest pattern to be discovered, a phoenix rising from the flames in Wiltshire, may give a warning about the end of the world.

Are you kidding me?!  No, really… you must be kidding… right?  Because, knowing how these crop circles are made, no one in their right mind could seriously mean this.

Sadly, they aren’t kidding:

Read the rest of this entry »

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Doomsday Comes to the Movies

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 20, 2009

A recent article by Ben Radford provides an excellent skeptical analysis of a doomsday pseudoscience being popularized in the new movie “Knowing”, which stars Nicolas Cage as a professor who decodes a string of numbers that supposedly predicted past disasters and also predicts an upcoming apocalypse.

knowing

In case you haven’t seen it, here’s the trailer for the movie which pretty clearly lays out the plot and the pseudoscience behind it…

The skeptic shown briefly in the trailer (the guy who tells Cage’s character to “just step back a moment”) hits it dead on – given enough random data, pretty much anyone can find pretty much any pattern for which they are looking. As Ben Radford goes on to elaborate in the article…

Though the plot is fictional, this scenario has occurred many times in the real world. In 1997 Michael Drosnin published a best-selling book titled “The Bible Code,” in which he claimed that the Bible contained a code (hidden in numbers and letters) accurately predicting past world events. Drosnin’s work was later refuted, with critics demonstrating that the “meanings” he found were simply the result of selectively choosing data sets from a vast sea of random letters.

Similar “hidden codes” were found in other books such as “Moby Dick” and “War and Peace,” demonstrating that any sizeable text can produce such codes if you look long enough.

In psychology, the tendency for the human mind to find coincidences, patterns, and connections in random data is called apophenia.

The main problem with the pseudoscientists & conspiracy theorists who cater to this style of doomsday thinking is common among the woo crowd… they count the hits & ignore the misses, and in order to count the “hits” as true hits, they have to massage and arrange the data!

So, while I find Nicolas Cage to be a good actor and enjoy a good disaster flick, I anticipate an unfortunate amount of woo-related activity due to this movie, the recent economic downturn, and prophecies of impending world doom related to the year 2012. All of this put together makes for a nice mix of irrational fear out of essentially nothing. And while fantasy does make good movies, it makes lousy real life.

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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.

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