One might call predicting the end of the world the original human past time. Late last week, two new predictions about the end of the world cropped up: one from a pastor out of South Carolina who claimed the “persecution” of Kim Davis at the hands of “militant homosexuals” was one of the signs of the end times, and now another pastor, John Hagee, who claims that the astronomical phenomena set for September 28 will mark the beginning of the end.
And while we obsess over blood moons, new world orders and the rapture, our politicians are threatening to boycott Pope Francis’ address about a very real threat to civilization: climate change.
But never mind that, there’s a series of spooky coincidences (that aren’t coincidences at all) lined up, so everyone needs to worry about them, right? Do we need to take them seriously?
No. And here’s why.
The end of the world and I feel fine . . .
Pastor John Hagee is not the first nor the last man to claim that the blood moon marks the beginning of the end for civilization. Hagee and his defenders argue that every time there’s been a tetrad of blood moons over important days in the Jewish calendar, significant religious events have taken place.
The Daily Mail offers three examples:
In 1493, the first Tetrad saw the expulsion of Jews by the Catholic Spanish Inquisition.
The second happened in 1949, right after the State of Israel was founded and the most recent one – in 1967 – happened during the Six-Day War between Arabs and Israelis.
This is an impressive example of cherry picking data.
The blood moon this month is one of nine tetrads this century, and this tetrad the second one so far — the first one happened in 2003-2004. It’s rare to have a century where there isn’t more than one tetrad, and with nine per century, there are many chances to line them up with random dates.
Let me give you an example of how this works, using the American calendar — that is, a calendar composed of important dates in American history, just like the Jewish calendar is composed of important dates in Jewish history — and the last tetrad in 2003-2004.
On November 9, 2003, the second of the two lunar eclipses that year took place. November 9 is an important day on the American calendar: On November 9, 1620, the pilgrims signed the Mayflower compact.
You may protest; I picked a random date. It doesn’t mean anything, this is different!
I can do it again: Before the November 9, 2003, blood moon eclipse there was a one on May 16, 2003. May 16 is another important date in American history; the Battle of the Alamance took place on May 16, 1771, and it was the last battle in the War of Regulation. The War of Regulation is important because it’s considered by some historians to be the catalyst for the American Revolutionary War.
The other two eclipses happened in 2004. The October 28 eclipse is the first eclipse to take place during a World Series game. October 28 is a very important date on the American Calendar — we call it Black Friday — and it kick started the Great Depression.
Prior to the October 28 eclipse was the May 4 eclipse. May 4, in fact, is not only an important date on the American calendar, but the World calendar as well: Germany surrendered unconditionally on May 4, 1945, marking the beginning of the end for World War II.
So here we have a tetrad lining up with important dates in American history. What happened as a result?
Well, in 2004 Bush was reelected . . . you know what? Maybe Hagee’s on to something here.
More seriously, what’s going on?
This is an example of confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is a “glitch” in human cognition: it happens when people go looking for patterns and find them, throwing out evidence that suggests the patterns aren’t there. Hagee and his doomsday crew on the Religious Right do this all the time — confirmation bias is the lens through which they “interpret” the Bible.
It sounds like it should be impressive, so our brains will look for any reason to justify it being impressive — especially if it fits nicely with the schema of our reality. So we clear the static, pushing aside all the instances of it not exactly working out that way, and focus on instances where it did work out that way.
Are there instances of blood moons lining up with dates on the Jewish calendar and nothing bad happened?
Consider: the Jewish calendar is a lunar calendar. Because of this, a full sixth of eclipses are going to occur over Passover or Sukkot, two important days in Judaism. There will have been 62 tetrads since the first century in 2100, and of them so far 8 have coincided with feast days, with the 2014-2015 being the latest. The Daily Mail gave three examples; where are the other four? What happened in 163, 796, 843, or 861?
That’s a lot of static to clear away.
And that, right there, is one of the reasons why I can’t take their end of the world prophecies seriously. These aren’t exactly black swans.
When proven wrong, it’s a person’s job to step back and say, “I am wrong.” Not cling to it and find more reasons to defend it.
And yet, the doomsday prophets have never done that. They just go underground for a few months and, when everyone has forgotten about their last debacle, they come roaring back, and the same people, as well as some new ones, fall for them again.
Eventually, it stops looking like a person is falling for it because they believe it and more because they’re desperate to avoid having to do work to fix the world.
And that’s the other reason why I can’t take these doomsday prophecies seriously: They’re excuses people make to avoid carrying their weight when it comes to making the world better. After all, why worry about the state of the world today, when it’s just going to end tomorrow?
Feature image via Christopher Dombres via Flickr