"Did you know the Rapture is May 21st?" I asked Mrs. Science 2.0. "That's tomorrow. Are you prepared?"
"The season finale of Grey's Anatomy was last night, so I am okay, " she replied.
"What about date night tomorrow? If I make dinner reservations for 6:05 and the world ends at 6, do I still get credit for trying? Saving 8 bucks isn't worth it if you're mad at me."
"You love to triangulate. Work on that from a few angles and tell me what you think the right answer is."
She's right, I do love triangles. I can make anything a triangle. Politics? A triangle. Societal issues? A triangle. Certainly physics, where I spent most of my early days talking about triangles and interpolating between nodes and telling people we could do it better than anyone else. It's all much more nuanced than those line graphs people in America usually prefer - left/right, for/against, Team Edward/Team Jacob.
But I can't wrap my head around this Rapture stuff no matter how many ways I look at it. Even triangles don't help me see the math.
Now, I am all for the Apocalypse. I predicted the Norse end of the world might beat out the Mayan version and didn't make goat noises at people claiming the LHC was going to make the universe collapse in some sort of ironic singularity. But you have to put a little effort into it, right?
89-year-old Family Radio Worldwide broadcaster Harold Camping did some math, and he has predicted a 5-month Rapture will commence May 21, 2011, also beating the Mayans, he just did the math poorly. It's not the first time, he also predicted the end of the world in 1994, but he was a younger man then and people need to live in important times so he is rather determined to see the end of the world and stick it to atheists...and Catholics, Baptists, Presbyterians, Shiites, Sunnis, Sikhs, Hindus, Buddhists, you name it...so he has to really be hoping he pulls it off this time. Kind of negative, if you ask me, similar to people who want there to be floods and famine so they can be right about the environment.
Why am I not more worried about an impending Rapture? Because the math is often bad in this stuff. Take the LHC - when a lawyer (who insists you call him "Dr." because a law degree, a J.D. in America, is a jurus doctorate) and a science fiction writer filed yet another lawsuit against yet another experimental physics project, they made some basic math errors. Sure, a runaway black hole from the LHC is possible in an infinite universe, like me becoming a Chinese jet pilot is possible, but even if something were created in the LHC and did not miraculously evaporate, it would take 100 hours to consume a proton - that means the universe will quite literally have ended due to old age before it even consumes a milligram of Earth stuff; not really something you should throw a party about.
No, what it takes for good end of the world stuff is things less easy-to-calculate-accurately than physics, like The Bible. Because The Bible is not literal, like physics, and even though it says God is not going to advertise the end of the world in advance ("no one knows about the day or nor the time not even the angels in Heaven" : Matthew 24:36), you can make it do anything you want if you try, so if you want to find a worldwide earthquake at 6 PM on May 21st, 2011, you can do it. Here is how Harold Camping did it:
1. In Genesis 7:4, 10-16, Noah is told a flood would happen in seven days and he says that happened in 4,990 B.C. Now, 1 KINGS 14:25 says "And it came to pass in the fifth year of king Rehoboam, that Shishak king of Egypt came up against Jerusalem" and some claims are that actually did happen, in 925 B.C. If you use that as a basis, and then take literal descriptions of years passing as they are listed in the Bible, other people indicate the flood would have to have been 2,458 B.C., which trips up the mystique of the Noah correlation, but let's move on just the same.
2. In 2 Peter 3:8 it is written “one day with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.”
So 7 days = 7,000 years. If the flood happened in 4,990 B.C., as Camping claims, then another 7,000 years is 2011. Why does that matter? No idea. He claims that because some statements are repeated twice in the Bible, it is a literal doubling in importance. However, 7,000 years from 2,458 B.C means we have two more millenia to cavort and watch bad television.
3. The Bible would seem to some to establish April 1, 33 A.D., as the day Jesus was crucified (see Read Some Science On Easter but then also Was The Last Supper Actually On A Wednesday?), 722,500 days ago tomorrow. If a year is a good-enough-for-now 365.2422 days, you have 1978.1394 years. 1978 + 33 equals 2011 and May 21st.
Okay, but how is that anything at all? We have to rely on our old friend numerology. Why anyone who claims to be religious would fall back on mysticism like numerology is beyond me, but numerology is fun because you can find meaning even if there is none. So 722,500 can be
5 x 10 x 17 x 5 x 10 x 17 = 722,500
See the pattern? Yes, but it means nothing to you and me. To Camping, his numerology interpretation lists 5 as a significant number in the Bible for representing 'atonement' and '10' for 'completeness' and '17' for 'Heaven' due to a lot of mumbo-jumbo rationalization - hey, you can read in context what atonement and completeness and heaven means - it means time is up - and if you aren't buying numerology or subjective interpretations of the Bible to be secret numerical codes, you stopped reading this article long ago.
But the big problem is this 'day' business, as in 722,000 of them. For his numerology to work, you basically have to accept that God created an entire universe and then made it irrelevant. For example, though I am 45 years old, under 17,000 days, but on Pluto I am only .16 years old, less than 3,000 days. Forgetting other points in the universe, If I stay on Earth and use a draconic - or eclipse - year, the time it takes for the Sun, as we see it, to complete a revolution with respect to the lunar node - the Moon's orbit intersects the ecliptic - then we are talking 346.620 days instead and the end of the world is 2119 and we are all messed up for our apocalypse tomorrow.
Days are funny business because they are creations that help us understand the world, not fundamental laws of nature. An engineer knows that, and Camping can do math, but he is filtering it through a particular sectarian viewpoint and that is always going to lead to odd results. Regardless, "There's gonna be a huge earthquake that's going to make the big earthquake in Japan seem like a Sunday school picnic," he says.
I'm not canceling my cable just yet, however, it's never a bad idea to live each day as if the world is ending tomorrow. For some of us, that will mean doing nice things for others. For others, that will mean an excuse to get drunk.
If you are the former, I will be working on Science 2.0 to hopefully make people a little smarter and then taking Mrs. Science 2.0 to a nice dinner - that 6:05 reservation ploy won't work - and if you know PHP you are welcome to pitch in. If you are the latter, here is a list of atheist Rapture parties you can attend if they are close. If you attend an actual Rapture party sponsored by a fringe religious group, please don't drink any Kool-Aid, no matter how delicious it may look.
Worried about your pets? Never fear, a group of atheists who are surely not ascending have offered to take care of them. For the truly smug select few who will be ascending but want to make sure their Hell-bound friends get their noses rubbed in it, You've Been Left Behind is offering digital messages you can leave for your less worthy friends for a nominal fee.
Enjoy the weekend just the same. I expect that, even though the universe is infinite and anything is possible, I will not open my closet and be transported to Narnia for a magical adventure, the LHC will not destroy the world, and Harold Camping will not be right once again.
- PHYSICAL SCIENCES
- EARTH SCIENCES
- LIFE SCIENCES
- SOCIAL SCIENCES
Subscribe to the newsletter
Stay in touch with the scientific world!
Know Science And Want To Write?
- Women With Endometriosis Need More Support, Less Judgment
- The Law has Failed, Not Forensic Science
- Francis Halzen On Cosmogenic Neutrinos
- Olive Oil Destroys Cancer Cells
- Why Are Earth And The Moon So Different? It May Be The Iron Rain
- The Real Meaning Of The Blue Black White Gold Dress
- Australia Should Consider Thorium Nuclear Power
- "I definitely feel more than physics, but then again reality is far BIGGER, more complex, and more..."
- "I hope you're right, and it does seem that religion is dying. One point of my article was to say..."
- "You touch on confidence in your last sentence. This is precisely what I don't have, nor think anyone..."
- "Could this be Christmas day for Wavevolution? We know now, that waves and particles are one and..."
- "Seems to me, the primary subject to be defined by religion is that of the question of being. Ontology..."
- Mitochondrial 'shield' that helps cancer cells survive identified
- University 'ethics boards' as a way to evade scientific controversy
- Human Activity May Be Supporting Growth of Harmful Algae in Lakes
- The more friends you drink with, the more you drink
- Why Are Girls More Likely to Die in Pediatric Intensive Care Units?