Apocalypse Now! Is the End of the World Imminent?

by admin on May 19, 2008

You may have caught the news a week ago that the last of nearly three dozen Russians have finally left their cave near the Volga River. They had repaired to these disagreeable digs last Fall on the advice of a self-proclaimed prophet, Pyotr Kuznetsov, who told them that the world was going to end in May. Apparently doomsday was going to occur in such a way that anyone cowering under a dirt roof in central Russia would somehow escape the consequences.

It’s unclear why any of the cult followers would believe this, especially as Father Pyotr himself stayed out of the cave, preferring a nearby (and less loamy) house. But believe it they did, until the low-grade lifestyle and the death of two women in the group drove them out.

Apocalyptic predictions seem to be perennially popular, and a staple of late-night radio. After all, who could fail to be impressed by the assurances of a smooth-talking seer that everything’s going to end, and do so sooner than you’re scheduled to make your final car payment? The doomsday business has gotten a particular shot in the arm of late thanks to weird readings of the Mayan calendar, which (according to some) suggests that 2012 will be the last year you’ll have to get your teeth cleaned or pay property taxes. Of course, I’ve always wondered why – if the Mayans were so adept at prognoticating doom – they couldn’t foresee their own dissolution.

Well, before you get caught up in a preparing for The End, consider this: Life began on Earth close to four billion years ago. Since then, large rocks have slammed into the landscape, supernovae and gamma-ray bursters have burst their galactic guts, the continents have crawled hither and yon, giant volcanoes have belched brimstone, and the entire ocean surface has frozen solid (more than once, it seems). Now those are events worthy of note. And yet despite it all, the thread of life was unbroken – for four billion years!

So when someone tells you to move underground because the end is nigh, ask yourself “what’s the prophet motive here?” The history of life on Earth suggests that survival is a far better bet than destruction.

Then again, May’s not yet over…

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