Creation beliefs come in all different flavors: from the forbidden fruit of Eden to the explosive Big Bang, humans have just about always posited linear narratives for existence. Theories of end times are the fascinating latter half of this tendency.
Though there is often contention between religion and science, the need to conceptualize our own births and deaths (along with that of our entire species, the Earth, or even the universe) spans ideologies.
The point is this: just as humanity somehow began, so too will it end, sometime. This is the opinion of not only most scientists (multiverses and transhumanists notwithstanding), but the world’s major religions and civilizations past and present.
Many projected dates for end times (Y2K and the Mayan Apocalypse to name a few) have come and gone, but that hasn’t stopped theories, old and new, from gaining or retaining strength. So, assuming it will happen, the questions with many answers are when and how?
Religious End Times[contextly_auto_sidebar id=”4lA7SScLucRIWorC2GuMgcH0M3a9NzhJ”]Religious projections on end times are the oldest in the book, or books, walls, and tablets, as it were. Here’s what the some of the world’s major religions have to say about end times:
Christianity: Most Christian denominations teach the Rapture. A prophecy interpreted from various biblical passages, it describes the second coming of Jesus, when living believers will ascend to meet God and dead believers will rise.
Islam: The Islamic “Day of Judgement” is Allah’s final assessment of humanity, which entails the annihilation of all life and resurrection and reward of the faithful.
Judaism: Judaism teaches that Israelites will be redeemed and returned to the land of Israel, with the House of David and Temple of Jerusalem restored, and that (after a great war) the world be ushered into an age of justice and peace. God’s final judgement will mark the “end of days.”
It’s worth noting that many Christians and Muslims believe the end times are, well, now. As many as 70 percent of Evangelical Christians in America, along with some Islamic extremists (ISIS included), see today’s political and environmental landscape as a fulfillment of End Time prophecies, which for both religions culminate in a battle in Jerusalem, judgement, and the return of a prophet.
Unsurprisingly, Buddhism teaches the mildest of end times, in an ending that much like reincarnation, isn’t really an end: Buddhist teachings will eventually fade from the Earth entirely, at which point a new Buddha will be reinstated. When humanity reaches a state of depravity, the world will be burnt by seven suns, and a new one will begin.
Scientific End Times
Among the scientific community, end times are less faith-based, but in some cases equally dramatic. Such existential threats are thought of more as potential contributors to humanity’s demise, rather than set-in-stone fate.
AI: A growing number of scientists warn of artificial intelligence as a threat to humanity. If humans create superintelligent computers or machines, such a creation could have dire consequences for humans, as there is no evidence that AI would have morals or feelings the way humans do — meaning they’d have little qualms over killing us once our value is compromised.
Climate change: Some climate scientists paint extremely bleak pictures of the future of humanity based on the state of our planet today. In fact, many believe that we are already in the sixth mass extinction — one caused by human activity, and which could culminate over the course of decades.
The Great Filter: The lack of evidence we have for alien life has some scientists concerned that there’s a reason, albeit an unknown one, that other advanced civilizations have not visited us or vice versa. The Great Filter theory proposes that sometime during evolution, advanced civilizations inevitably destroy themselves before becoming interstellar. If this is true, we’ve either beaten it, or are very close to the end.
Of course, there’s always the real but slim chance an asteroid or supervolcano could end the human race. But most agree — religious-minded persons, included — that man will contribute their own ending, or salvation. A common theme is that of war.
Scientists point to the development of advanced weapons and arms races between nations, such as nanotechnology, biotechnology, or plain-old nuclear war. Interestingly enough, none of these things explicitly contradict religious prophecies.
It seems that regardless of scripture, calculations, and data, we can’t pin a date or plotline to the end times, whatever they may be.
What’s curious is the persistent fascination with finding out what the human race’s final page will look like, be it zombies, water wars, or tribulation (the potential Doomsday list goes on and on). The reality is that no matter how many Hollywood blockbusters depict the apocalypse, we’ll probably never get it exactly right.
Though if someone has already nailed it in a miraculous work of retrofuturism, odds are they won’t be around to say “I told you so.”