We often feel small and insignificant compared to the size of the universe. This realisation makes us feel somewhat helpless in the face of natural phenomenon that could wipe us from the face of the earth. Whether it is by gigantic meteorites or huge earthquakes, human beings, since the dawn of history, have constantly predicted the end of the world. This slideshow looks at some of the more unusual doomsday predictions that have failed to come true.
The eruption of Mount Vesuvius
The philosopher Seneca predicted that the world would end after being transformed into smoke. After his death in 79 AD, the volcano Mount Vesuvius, located near to the Roman city of Pompeii, erupted. Although many people were buried and crushed by ash and pumice and the sun was not seen for two days, the world continued.
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The year 2000 brought an untold number of doomsday merchants out of the woodwork. In 1997, Richard Noone published a book entitled "Ice: the ultimate disaster," in which he predicted the world would end on 5 May, 2000. According to his theory, the planets would align perfectly with each other and this would cause a change in the axis of the Earth, melting the polar ice caps. That never happened but it seems as though the writers behind the movie "The Day After Tomorrow" were taking notes for their portrayal of a world on the verge of a new ice age.
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Edgar Cayce, born in 1877, was an American psychic who claimed to be able to answer questions about the future while in a dream-like trance. He predicted that a “Hall of Records” would be found under the Sphinx between 1996 and 1998 and this would reveal all the ancient wisdom of the Egyptians. He linked the discovery to the second coming of Jesus Christ and a series of cataclysmic events.
Jehovah's Witnesses have predicted the end of the world on several occasions since the religious group’s inception. One of its most interesting doomsday predictions concerned 1914, the year in which the First World War began. While it was not the end of the world, it was a war of unprecedented destruction and loss of life.
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As was seen in the year 2000, a shift in millennium has the ability to generate fear. This was equally as true in the year 1000. Radulfus, a French monk and historical chronicler born in 985, predicted the end of the world in year 1000. When this did not come true he repeated his prediction stating the end would come in 1033, a millennium after the death of Christ.
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Elizabeth Clare was born in New Jersey in the United States in 1939. In 1958, she founded the religious organisation the Lighthouse Conference with her husband Mark Prophet. In the 1980s, she was given the nicknamed Guru Ma for her prediction of a nuclear attack by the Soviet Union. Many of her followers created underground bunkers filled with tins of food and weapons. She later denied making the prediction following the fall of the Soviet Union.
Sandro Botticelli was an Italian Renaissance painter heavily influenced by the Dominican monk Girolamo Savonarola, whose sermons preached against luxury and corruption. Working with such themes, Botticelli painted "The Mystical Nativity". At the bottom of the painting, there is a Greek inscription which foretells of the coming of the apocalypse in the year 1504.
Hal Lindsey is an American evangelist who published the book "The Late, Great Planet Earth" in 1970. Within the book, he describes a series of events culminating in the second coming of Jesus Christ. Many of his followers took these signals to mean the world would end in 1988.
William Miller was an American evangelist who had many loyal followers. After exhaustively studying the Bible’s Old Testament, he concluded that the world would end on 22 October, 1884, with the second coming of Jesus Christ. It never occurred but Miller still died convinced it could happen at any time.
The years 2010 and 2011 were marked by a devastating earthquake in Chile and a tsunami that wrecked havoc and destruction in north-eastern Japan. Some attributed these disasters to the comet C/2010 X1, which was also named Comet Elenin after the Russian astronomer who discovered it on 10 December 2010. Without any scientific basis, some bloggers claimed that the comet had caused gravitational effects on Earth.
Pat Robertson is one of the most influential Baptist preachers in the United States. In 1976, he predicted that the end of the world would come in October 1982 with the second coming of Jesus Christ. He also argued that the Antichrist would be about 27 years old on that date.
For obvious reasons, the number of the Beast brought great fear to people across the world in the year 1666. However, predictions of a reign of terror by the Devil never came and the worst event of that year was the Great Fire of London that destroyed the homes of more than 70,000 inhabitants in the capital.
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The day of darkness
On 19 May, 1780, the people of New England in the United States were cast into darkness. Daytime skies were blackened and many thought the end of the word had begun. The Shakers, a religious group, took advantage of the moment to recruit followers among those desperately seeking salvation before death. However, after a few days, the skies cleared and the cause was found to have been a forest fire.
Pyramids of Giza
Charles Piazzi Smyth, a former Astronomer Royal for Scotland, believed that the architects of the Egyptian Pyramids of Giza had been guided by God. Using measurements of the pyramids, he argued that the second coming would occur between 1892 and 1911.
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In 1499, the German mathematician and astronomer Johannes Stoeffler performed a series of calculations that predicted the alignment of 20 planetary bodies, 16 of which belonged to the Pisces astrology sign represented by fish. As a result, Stoeffler concluded that there would be a large flood on 20 February, 1524. Disturbed by the prophecy, German Count Von Iggleheim built a huge ark to prepare for the flood. A large crowd gathered to watch as the count and his family boarded the ark. The event was passing off peacefully when a rainstorm sparked fear among the onlookers and a deadly stampede ensued. As it turns out, 1524 proved to be one of the driest years to have been seen in Europe.
The discovery that the most famous comet in history was to pass very close to the earth in 1910 caused hysteria among many populations. Many in Britain took it as a sign of a possible German invasion, while Parisians blamed it for the river Seine flooding. Yerkes Observatory in Chicago in the United States announced that a toxic gas formed part of the comet's tail. Many feared the gas would enter the earth’s atmosphere and kill all life on the planet. Some terrified people even bought “anti-comet” tablets to try and protect themselves against the supposed deadly effects.
The Large Hadron Collider
The Large Hadron Collider, located under the Alps on the French-Swiss border, caused controversy from the start of the scheme. The project, commissioned in September 2008, aimed to recreate on a small scale the conditions that existed moments after the big bang. Fears were expressed that the machine could cause a black hole, just like those that exist in the universe. Although scientists explained that this was impossible, many people remained sceptical and feared that the scientists would bring about the destruction of the world by playing god.
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As the year 2000 approached, many began to fear that computer programs designed to represent the date with two digits instead of four would crash as the digits changed from 99 to 00. Many thought that the world would be plunged into disaster as they believed computers responsible for nuclear plants and aircraft would go haywire.
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Comet Hale-Bopp and the Heaven's Gate cult
In 1995, two independent observers called Alan Hale and Thomas Bopp discovered a comet whose orbit was very close to that of the Earth. Two years later, the comet was seen worldwide. The American cult Heaven's Gate believed the world was about to be “recycled” (wiped clean) and that they therefore had to find a way of leaving the planet. Cult leader Marshall Applewhite concluded that an alien spacecraft was flying behind the comet and he urged his 38 followers to commit suicide believing that their bodies would teleport onto the ship.
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If you are reading this after 21 December, 2012, (the date on which the Mayans supposedly predicted the end of the world) then our list of 20 failed predictions is complete. Indeed, if it does not come true, the only certainty is that many more predictions about the end of the world will follow. As we have seen, the human race is very fond of predicating its own end.
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