The End of the World

In 1704, Isaac Newton predicted the end of the world. He said it would end in 2060 or sometime around or after that “but not before.” He based this on some strange series of mathematical calculations based on the supposed prophecies of the book of Revelation.

You might find it surprising that this astronomer and physicist would be doing predictions based on the Bible, but Newton (who also dabbled in alchemy) believed his most important discoveries might come from deciphering ancient scriptures and uncovering the nature of the Christian religion.

300 years later, people are still predicting the end of the world. Some of them are still using codes and clues they find in the Bible. I believe in science, and the two worlds of research don’t usually overlap.

For about 50 years, some industrialists and scientists with money who are known as the Club of Rome have been looking into conspiracies and the end of the world. They latched on to a computer program developed at MIT back in 1973 that was developed to model global sustainability. But instead, the program predicted that by 2040 our civilization would end.

Why should we believe the computer program? Well, some people would say because what the computer envisioned in the 1970s has by and large been coming true.

The program was called World One because it looked at the world as one system. It looked at manmade behaviors starting in 1900 and modeled where that behavior would lead.

The computer’s predictions are not pleasant. End-of-world predictions usually are bad. It predicted worsening population growth and pollution levels and dwindling natural resources.

By 2020, the model predicts that we pass the point of no return and the quality of life is supposed to drop dramatically.

The Club of Rome issued a somewhat hopeful report on the limits of growth.  It was hopeful in that it suggested that if some nations like the U.S. cut back on consuming the world’s resources it would lead to “low consumption prestige” for acting responsibly. That has not come to be.

According to data from the World Health Organization (WHO), 90% of the people around the world breathe air that has high levels of pollution. WHO estimates that 7 million deaths each year can be attributed to pollution.

If I had been asked to make a prediction back in the 1970s about where we would be in fifty years, I would also have predicted – without the help of a computer – that there would be worsening population growth and higher pollution levels and dwindling natural resources.

I learned about Robert Malthus in high school. Back in 1798, he predicted what has become known as a Malthusian catastrophe. It is a prediction that population growth will outpace agricultural production and that there will be too many people and not enough food. I would add water to that prediction. Although Malthus is known for his influence in the fields of political economy and demography, he was also an Anglican cleric and he saw this catastrophe as divinely imposed to teach virtuous behaviour.

Though I will stay on the side of science, consider what Jesus said (according to Matthew 24:35-36): “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away. But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.”

That hasn’t stopped predictions about the end of our world from first century CE Early Christianity predicting a Second Coming in that time, to a half-dozen crackpot dates in 2018 that were supposed to be The End.

We are still here. I can sleep more peacefully with the prediction that it will all end in the 200 millionth century (20 billion years from now). Based on the current rate of expansion of the universe, by then the universe could be expanding so rapidly that atoms will no longer be able to hold on to their electrons. This predicted event is known as the “Big Rip.” I blame dark energy.