As we come into the summer of 2012, just like it was in 1999 as we came to the end of the Second Millennium we find that our TV screens, internet sites and even mainstream newspapers and magazines are taken up with stories about the end on the world - The End Times as it is called. I am as sure now as I was in 1999 that we will wake up in 2013 and the world will still be going on as it was in 2012. I cannot guarantee it but using the scientific method - on the basis of past evidence and on the balance of probabilities - it is almost 99.9% certain. In fact the prediction of scientists is that the Earth will end in about 7.6 billion years after finally being engulfed by the Sun. As to the quality of future life on Earth in the near future, well that is up to us to sort out as its Custodians using our God-given Reason. That indeed does need looking at...
But why are we as human beings so given to gloom and doom and predictions about the end of the world? There is nothing notable in particular about 2012 being given as the date for the end of the world. There have been many other predictions which have all obviously failed. The main difference between the failed Second Millennium and 2012 predictions and others are that we now live in a time of mass information technology which means now that millions of people can be persuaded of the arguments and made to worry whereas in the past the doom and gloom would have been limited to the small religion/cult, (is there a difference?!) forecasting the event.
However, technology aside, it is obvious that what gives rise to End of the World scenarios must be something in the particular psychology of our species since these speculations seem to occur in most cultures. So what is the history of our End of Times/apocalyptic viewpoint?
Well surprisingly one of the first EofW (this is an abbreviation for "End of the World) scenarios made known to the West was made by Christianity. It seems strange to me that those fundamentalist Christians who are still waiting for the Rapture, (much to the disappointment of those who expected it on 21/5/2011 when it didn't happen), don't know their own Bible. Jesus himself predicted that the EofW would come during the time of the generation of people then listening to him. In Matthew 23:36 Jesus says of the things that will happen just before the End Times "Truly I say unto you. All these things will come upon this generation". Just to make sure his audience understands this point he reiterates it again at Matthew 24:34 "Truly I say unto you that this generation will by no means pass away until all these things occur." You will find these words confirmed in all the translations of the Bible so it cannot be open to dispute. There is the first Christian EotW scenario that did not happen and it is an important one that as a Deist I would like to point out. There have actually been many more within the Christian tradition with the Jehovah's Witnesses scoring an all time high for false EotW predictions.
One of these predications came from their Founder Charles Taze Russell who predicted that the EotW would come in 1914 but obviously it didn't. That prediction has now been amended to mean that 1914 was the beginning of the End as it was the date that Satan was thrown out of Heaven and down to Earth. But then the JW's are not guilty of anything more than any other failed predictors. They did what most of them do when their prediction fails to happen - they do not say they were wrong - they just re-interpret the original predication.
Although they, like most Christians, are also confused about the legitimacy in predicting exact dates about the Christian apocalypse because as it also says in their Bible no one apart from God is meant to know the End date. Back to Matthew 24:34 the Bible says "Concerning that day or hour nobody knows, neither the angels of the heavens not the Son, but only the Father". So as for all those Christian forecasters one can only think hmmm - do they actually know their own religion?!!
Of course it is not only the Christians who think something may be happening in, or near 2012. I have, to a large extent, concentrated upon them because it is with that tradition that I am most acquainted. There are many more including, but not limited to:-
(1) The Islamic notion of the 12th Imam.
(2) Japan's Aum Shinrikyo Movement.
(3) The Native American Ghost Dance movement.
(4) The end-of-the-Mayan-calendar on 21/12/12.
(5) The Seventh Day Adventists.
(6) The 2012 movie.
(7) The climate change movement
and so on ........
If you look at this list you will see that the first five are motivated by religious/spiritual dogma but just so the atheists or secularists are not left out I included the last two. This was mainly to make the point that the EotW psychology is something our species shares, and although it appears to be exploited by those of a religious orientation it is not limited to them.
So why does the EotW psychology occur? Having done a bit of research on the subject I have found that most psychologists believe that the EotW scenarios, ghastly as most of them would be if they came to fruition, are in fact a subconscious, (for the most part), search for justice. We live in a very unfair and unjust world, and we live in very confusing times, (as we have also done in the past). Align this with a breakdown of trust in the usual structures of authority and the world can become, for some, a very scary place. And yet our species has, it would appear, an inbuilt need to make sense of the world and for an ultimate sense of justice to be fulfilled.
An occurring theme of the EotW scenarios, independent of each one's mythology, is that the destruction is never complete. Some people always get saved. And who are they? The true believers of course. The goodies live on and the baddies, (and their system of things), gets destroyed. The destruction is not, from the point of view of the true believers who get saved, negative. It is immensely positive. It is a cleansing, a purging - a proof of ultimate justice in a cruel and unfair world.
Of course it is hard to argue with people committed to an EotW viewpoint for two reasons:-
(1) They are emotionally committed to it - indeed they need it psychologically to a large degree.
(2) It rests on something that is not easily open to Reason - hard resolute blind faith. (It has to be blind faith because it is about the future which cannot be 100% knowable even through Reason).
In fact the above two reasons are inextricably linked even in the case where religious orientation is not the motivating factor, (as for some people in cases 6 and 7 of the EotW scenarios list). Some people who are unable to face the hard lessons of Science distort Science until it becomes pseudoscience and almost like religious faith, (belief without real evidence), which can also be found in some of the secular EotW scenarios. So I quote paraphrased from Issac Assimov, (italics mine):-
"Inspect every piece of pseudoscience, (or religion or any faith based system), and you will find a security blanket, a thumb to suck, a skirt to hold. What does the scientist have to offer in exchange? Uncertainty!"
Which brings us to Deism which is based upon our God-given Reason and not Faith. The point is that although Deism is more rational and intelligent than Faith it cannot give, like the statement above says, absolute certainty. What it can give however, and I disagree here with Asimov about Science only giving uncertainty, is more intelligent certainty than Faith based systems. How is it I can say this? I say this because both Science and Deism are based on Reason. To understand this we have to understand what Faith is - and it is not the same as belief.
In the philosophical sense that I am using the word Faith is: - belief that is not based on proof.
Deism and Science also use belief but it is belief based on evidence. People often think that Science deals with facts. In fact it does not. It deals with beliefs based on the evidence available at the time. That is why scientific "facts" change with each new discovery and from age to age. The only way anyone could know a fact with absolute certainty was if they had the total sum of knowledge knowable about everything in existence and this is beyond the knowledge of any human being, (I believe!). The only Being who has that type of knowledge is God. What Science and Deism can offer the intelligent person who is also emotionally mature enough not to need absolute certainty is an intelligent forecast based on evidence. And based on past information intelligent forecasts by Science based on evidence have proved to be more statically certain and true than those based on Faith. However this will not deter some of those who are determined to put their belief in Faith since believing in the Faith with no evidence at all is lauded above those who believe with some evidence in the Christian Bible! It tells us at John 20:29 that Jesus says "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." This point of view concerning Faith is also lauded by many other religions.
It is against this background that Deism has to make a stand. Based on information from the past and using our God-given Reason there is absolutely no cause to think that the world is coming to an end at all. Of course there is still much needed to do to improve it - but this is not new. Improvements have always been needed. The only difference is that the improvements now are more imminent and will have further reaching consequences - like for example if the level of consumption in the West can continue without catastrophe for the developing nations. Or whether, in a world of finite resources and an expanding population base, the present economic model of growth is feasible let alone desirable.
Of course like climate change these are ultimately questions that politicians will make decisions about - not the scientists. As a Deist however I feel that the world would be better basing its decisions about the future on evidence and God-given Reason rather than any Faith-based systems and their leaders. And I am sorry to say that at the moment too many world leaders are unduly influenced by their faith in making political decisions.
I am sure that I shall still be here on 22/12/12 because the world will not have been destroyed like my local End of the World theorists say. (Locally to me there is a group of people who are seriously waiting to be taken up to the 5th dimension - a non-physical realm - by a spaceship on 21/12/12. You can be sure I will be there to greet them on 22/12/12!)
We as Deists will still have our work to carry on even after the end of the year 2012. That is the job of persuading people that God's real intervention in the world will be achieved through us by using God-given Reason and not through Faith based on antiquated books and predictions written and made by fallible and, for the most part, none too rational human beings.