A lot of people have been sending me links to a numerology article,
in which yet another numerological idiot claims to have identified the
date of the end of the world. This time, the idiot claims that it’s going to
happen on May 21, 2011.
I’ve written a lot about numerology-related stuff before. What makes this
example particularly egregious and worth writing about is that it’s not just
an article on some bozo’s internet website: this is an article from the
Francisco Chronicle, which treats a pile of numerological bullshit as if it’s
completely respectable and credible.
As I’ve said before: the thing about numerology is that there are so many
ways of combining numbers together that if you’re willing to spend enough
time searching, you can find some way of producing any result that you want. This
is pretty much a classic example of that.
Our numerologist is a chap named Harold Camping. Mr. Camping starts off
by claiming that there’s a correlation between certain words in
the bible and certain numbers. According to him, the number “5” means
“atonement”; the number “10” means “completeness”; and the number
“17” means “heaven”.
So, as our starting point, we’ve got the numbers 5, 10, and 17.
Next, he says that the crucifiction happened on April 1, 33 A.D.
There are 1,978 years between April 1, 33 and April 1, 2011. Unfortunately,
1,978 doesn’t fit any combination of numerical operations performed using
5, 10, and 17 that Mr. Camping could figure out.
So, he took the length of a solar year, to 7 significant digits: 365.2422
days. He multiplied 1,978 years by 365.2422 days, to come up with 722449.0716
days. Why use 7 significant digits for the length of a solar year? Because
using that number of digits produces a result that he can tweak into a
connection with his three magic numbers.
See, if you take the three magic numbers, multiply them together, and
square the result, you get 722,500. Why square them? No particular reason,
other than the fact that, by golly, it works! Now, take that as a number
So, take the two numbers we’ve come up with: 722,500, and
722,449. They’re different by about 51 days. And hey! 51 is 17 times
three! So it’s not a fudge factor, it’s meaningful! Therefore,
if you just add 51 days to the supposed anniversary of the crucifiction,
you get the date of the end of the world!
So May 21, 2011 is the end of the world – because it’s (atonement times
completeness times heaven) days squared since the crucifiction.
According to Camping, “I just about fell off my chair when I realized
Like I keep saying about this topic: when you play with numbers, you’ll
constantly find patterns. Numbers are a beautiful closed system, where
you can easily spin in circles without even knowing that you’re doing it.
If you’re willing to spend enough time looking, you can always
find some sequence of arithmetic operations that will produce whatever
result you want. There’s nothing meaningful about it.
To make matters sillier, this isn’t the first time that Camping
has pulled this. An earlier calculation of his predicted that the world
would end on Sept 6, 1994.
People are incredibly gullible when it comes to this sort of shit. As I’ve
talked about before, you can be wrong time and time and time again in these
kinds of predictions – and it just doesn’t make a damn bit of difference. The
suckers will fall for it, again and again. (The worst case of this that I know
of is “The Lord’s Witnesses”, an offspring of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who
have, to date, made 159 incorrect predictions since the year 2,000.) One of
the people who sat outside Camping’s church in 1994 is busily preparing for
the end of the world next year:
Rick LaCasse, who attended the September 1994 service in Alameda, said that 15
years later, his faith in Camping has only strengthened.
“Evidently, he was wrong,” LaCasse allowed, “but this time it is going to
happen. There was some doubt last time, but we didn’t have any proofs. This
time we do.”
Would his opinion of Camping change if May 21, 2011, ended without incident?
“I can’t even think like that,” LaCasse said. “Everything is too positive
right now. There’s too little time to think like that.”