‘2012’: Movie Prompts Predictions

December 2, 2009

Will the world end on December 21, 2012? Could books, Internet postings, and now a Hollywood movie all be wrong? The ancient Mayas, they say, prophesied that the world as we know it is about to end.

Sure enough, on the big screen at least, a series of cataclysmic events is set in motion: “the biggest solar eruption in human history,” then the heating of the earth’s core, leading to earthquakes and volcanic eruption in Yellowstone National Park, followed by a shifting of the earth’s crust and a reversal of the poles. The movie’s special effects people are up to the apocalyptic challenge, providing enthralling scenes of Hawaii awash in flaming lava, the Washington Monument toppling along with skyscrapers everywhere, and the granddaddy of all tsunamis overtopping the Himalayas. “Across the globe,” CNN reports, “millions gather in prayer”—although not that it does them any good. Like the Bible’s mythical tale of Noah (revisited in 2012 with much obvious symbolism), the earth’s population is annihilated except for a few hundred thousand who survive on high-tech “arks.”

Like all disaster movies, this one works best if you can follow Coleridge’s advice about “the willing suspension of disbelief.” Trouble is, the premise of 2012 is so silly, and presented so offhandedly (in a sentence or two of dialog) that it’s difficult to take what follows as more than another Hollywood What-If fantasy.

First of all, the Mayas did not predict doomsday. Their famous calendar simply ended on the winter solstice of 2012, just as many a modern calendar ends on December 31 of a given year, without any End Times prediction, actual or inferred.

Not only will the earth’s core not heat up, nor the poles reverse, but—to address considerable Internet babble—neither is there a runaway planet named Nibiru set to collide with Earth on the supposedly fateful date. (For a discussion see David Morrison’s “Update on the Nibiru 2012 Doomsday,” Skeptical Inquirer , Nov./Dec. 2009, 57–59.) I just noticed that we could write the postulated eve of destruction as 20. 12. 2012—a mathematical novelty that may further spook the magical thinking Twentytwelvers (some of whom, to be fair, do not predict Apocalypse but instead anticipate some New Age of enlightenment—blah, blah, blah.)

I predict that December 21, 2012, will come and go, that mankind will suffer only familiar calamities, and that the 2012 hucksters will do what their ilk usually do in such situations: refuse to apologize and either try to interpret events to fit their pronouncements or do as the Millerites did in the nineteenth century. William Miller divined from the Bible a prediction of the world’s end and the second advent of Christ “about the year 1843.” When that year passed, some of Miller’s associates set a date of October 22, 1844, then subsequently settled for an acceptance of the advent as imminent but of unspecified date. William Miller died in 1849; the day, incidentally, was 20.12.