From Abracadabra to Zombies
Skeptimedia: apocalypse now?
I may be a fool, but I have my reasons
20 May 2011. I'm told that the world will start ending tomorrow, but I don't believe it. I'm told I'm a fool and will burn in everlasting fire for not believing, but I have my reasons. According to some people, the Bible has a hidden prediction in it that a fellow named Harold Camping has figured out. There is a code, they say, that he deciphered and now knows with certainty that the world will end tomorrow because the Bible, he says, asserts the end will come exactly 7,000 years after the end of Noah's flood (or something along those lines). I'm a dupe, according to these people who are waiting for what they call "the rapture." Worse, I'm a damned dupe. Some god will make me suffer for eternity for not accepting Mr. Camping's word. Well, like I said, I may be a fool and I may be a dupe, but I have my reasons.
One reason I don't trust Mr. Camping's prophecy is that he's just a guy like me, who can read and find implications in what he reads. I've read the Bible and other books about the Bible and have good reason to believe that Mr. Camping is fallible and prone to error just like the rest of us. I've seen firsthand, because I've done it myself, how easy it is to find evidence to support a belief if you're willing to work hard at it and develop ways to justify ignoring those who provide contrary evidence. The task is even easier when you've got others who also believe and reinforce your own belief. I've also seen some pretty convincing evidence that biblical prophecy is a sloppy affair, especially when it comes to predicting the end of the world. There's something psychologically appealing about doomsday prophecies. I don't quite understand it myself, but I know that the thought of the end of times brings joy to many people. I remember a television interview with some young followers of a cheerful chap named Michael Travesser (aka Wayne Bent) who predicted the world would end at midnight on 31 October 2007. Camping himself predicted the end would come some years ago. He was wrong then and I don't see why I should think he's right now.
Some of the other things I've read and find more believable than Mr. Camping indicate that the story of Noah and the flood is apocryphal rather than a literal history of factual data. It may be fine for some things but the Bible is not a very good source for accurate dating or accounts about the geological history of our planet. We don't know how the world will end, even though we can imagine some pretty horrific scenarios involving plagues, asteroids, or the eventual dying of our sun. The idea of "the rapture" is not something I find very convincing, despite how foolish my disbelief might seem to those who have quit their jobs and told their children they're going to hell for all eternity if they don't accept the word of Mr. Camping.
Another reason I have for not believing Mr. Camping is that most other readers of the Bible think he's wrong, too. I'm talking about those people who believe the Bible is the infallible word of some god. Some of your fellow believers (in the Bible) are offering comfort and aid to the children of parents who have given up their worldly possessions as they wait to be taken up into heaven and warn others of the impending apocalypse. There will be a need for comfort tomorrow, I believe, for those poor children and for their parents who are going to have to either come up with a rationalization for why the end didn't come or admit they were very foolish to follow the word of man with little credibility but apparently with a lot of persuasiveness.
I may be a fool and a dupe, but even if I'm not here tomorrow I think the world will go on. Sure, there will be earthquakes, as predicted; there are earthquakes every day because this planet is still forming. That's what the scientists tell us, and their track record is a lot better than the record of people like Mr. Camping.
Of course, I'm a foolish skeptic. What could I possibly know? On the other hand, if Mr. Camping is wrong, and all the odds are against him, what about all those other people who claim to know what the Bible says? As one untutored fellow once asked when the missionaries tried to convince him that the Bible is the word of some god: if it's the word of some god, why is there so much disagreement about what it says? I know I'm considered a fool and am pitied by those of you who think the Bible is the word of some god, but shouldn't you consider that even if it is the word of some god and is infallibly true, it must be interpreted by fallible humans? You can't all be right in your contradictory interpretations, but you could all be wrong. The fool may say in his heart that there is no god, but there are many kinds of fools. Those who follow Mr. Camping may believe in some god, but that does not mean that they are not fools too. And those who laugh at Mr. Camping because they think they have the one true understanding of the Bible are not thereby exempt from their own sort of foolishness.
Then there are those other religions with holy scriptures that some think are the infallible word of some other god. Some of the believers in these other books think they, too, have a special talent at ferreting out the secret day of doom. But, that's another story for another time.