Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

We’re Still Here

By Peter Bowditch

It’s not surprising that the world didn’t end on 21 December, as predictions about the end of the world are nothing new.

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The must be some people in the world with access to the internet or mass media who didn’t hear the stories about how the world was possibly going to end on 21 December 2012. The usual reason for picking this date was that a calendar made by the Mayans several centuries ago ran out then.

Predictions of the end of the world are not new. There have been thousands of them over the centuries, and they fall roughly into two classes – religious prophecy and weirdness, with the latter including psychics, UFO believers and the truly insane.

It is easy to ridicule people from the past who knew less than we knew now, but there have been a few real scientists who devoted at least some of their time trying to calculate when Jesus would return. John Napier and Jakob Bernoulli both predicted times that were contemporary, while Isaac Newton made the safe prediction of 2000.

Another I put in the scientist category is Bishop James Ussher, who is often ridiculed for his estimate of 4004 BC for the creation but he based this on matching Bible stories with independent folk histories and produced the best estimate from the available data. Science is always a work in progress, and it is not fair to judge people harshly for doing the best with what they had at the time.

The crazies and the psychics are the most fun, but they raise a serious question about science...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Peter Bowditch is a former President of Australian Skeptics Inc. (www.skeptics.com.au).