The end of the world is right around the corner. Or so say the doomsayers. “The Mayan long count calendar ends on December 21, 2012,” and many say it heralds the end of the world. I’m teaching a class on such things this semester. Tis the season, I guess. And even though it seems that the closer the date gets, the sillier the notion seems, just in case you have a doomsayer in your life, I thought I would give you seven quick and easy arguments to use that will quickly put an end to their nonsense.
1.The Mayans didn't actually predict the end of the world. While it is true that one calendar that was used by one Mayan city does "end" on December 21 (although there is debate on the exact date), different Mayan cities used different calendars, some of which ended long ago and others of which don't end for a long while. In addition, their calendars doesn't “end” so much as they "turns over." Crudely put, December 21 is simply the date you need to go out and buy a new Mayan calendar. After all, the Mayan city that used this particular calendar talked about days long past December 21, 2012, and the only Mayans to even mention 2012 didn’t use the controversial long count calendar everyone is talking about.
2. The Mayans couldn't predict jack. Even if the Mayans had predicted the end of the world there would be no reason to take their predictions seriously. After all, they didn't see the Conquistadors coming – why would we think they could see the end of the world coming? The notion that we should take Mayan predictions seriously is rooted in a logical fallacy: appeal to ancient wisdom. For some reason, people assume the ancients knew things we do not. In fact, our knowledge of the world and its workings outdoes theirs by far. And the fact that an idea is old is no reason to think that it is true. After all, “Trepanation” (drilling holes in people's heads) is the most ancient medical practice in the world—do you think there is some wisdom in that?
3. The Earth’s poles won't shift because of Solar Flares. What to say about this depends on whether we are talking about the magnetic poles or the geographic poles. The magnetic poles are drifting all the time. They can flip, but it takes roughly 5000 years, causes no disasters, and can't be caused by solar flares. If the geographic poles shifted, thus flipping the planet upside down in a day, that would be catastrophic—but such an event is literally impossible (and certainly can't be caused by solar flares).
4. There are no unusual celestial alignments that will occur on December 21, 2012. It is the winter solstice—but that happens every year! We won’t align with the galactic equator—that happened in 1998. We will align with the galactic plane—in about 27 million years. There are a host of other “alignment” doomsayer claims, but most of them are nonsense and misunderstand basic astronomy.
5. There is no Planet X/Nibiru/Eris about to collide with Earth. “Planet X” is simply a placeholder for hypothesized planets – both Neptune and Pluto were called "Planet X" before they were officially discovered and named. Nibiru was the Babylonian name for Jupiter, not a secret 10th planet known only to them. There is a dwarf planet named Eris, but the closest it will get to Earth is 4,000,000,000 miles – in 2255. (Eris doesn't even cross Earth’s orbital path.)
6. The doomsayers’ claims are rooted in bad thinking and profiteering. A quick perusal of “2012 true believer” websites will expose two things. First, they can't go more than one sentence without lying, exaggerating, using nonsensical scientific sounding language or committing a logical fallacy. Secondly, most of them are sponsored by companies trying to scare people into buying their survival kits. For example, look closely at the very bottom of www.2012prophecys.com. They are causing a sickness and peddling the cure.
7. This 2012 bunk is simply the latest in a nearly endless line of doomsday predictions. Go to www.abhota.info and you will find a quite comprehensive list of failed doomsday predictions—literally hundreds upon hundreds dating to before the time of Christ. The fact that hundreds of doomsday predictions have been wrong before actually gives one really good inductive evidence that the December 21 doomsday prediction will fail as well. Statistically speaking, the fact that this December 21 is a predicted doomsday date probably makes it more likely that it in fact is not a doomsday.
So relax. December 21 is going to just be another day. But if you're still not convinced, I am actively taking bets on the end of the world and giving great odds. You give me one dollar now and I will pay you $1 million if the world actually does end on December 21. Come on! Take the bet. What do you have to lose?
(You can find verification of my claims thanks to the Ottawa skeptics, a visualization artists at information is beautiful, skeptic.com (they have two good articles), Phil Plait and NASA.)
David Kyle Johnson