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article imageOp-Ed: Science versus religion — Will the world end on October 21, 2011?

By Bart B. Van Bockstaele     May 17, 2011 in World
An ad I saw in the subway last Saturday grabbed my attention. It says that the Bible guarantees that the much-feared Judgment Day will be upon us on May 21. As a lover of science and evidence, I couldn't help but take a look at the claim.
While it is often said that science and religion are at war, it is also often said that they are perfectly compatible because they talk about different parts of reality, i.e. they are said to be NOMA (non-overlapping magisteria).
One of the claims is that, while science is based on evidence, religion is based on faith, and that one must therefore go "beyond the evidence", because religion has other ways to get to the truth. It has also been argued by more people than I can remember, that I am narrow-minded and stubborn and am simply not willing to accept this reality because of painful experiences in my past.
This may all be true, or it may not. However, I would like to submit that this is all essentially irrelevant. For example, very few people doubt the reality of gravity. For good reason: when is the last time you stepped out of your 11th floor window to go for a casual stroll to your neighbour on the 23rd floor of the building across the street? What? You never did? How is that possible? Are you so terribly narrow-minded and stubborn that you cannot accept the reality of the non-existence of gravity?
In fact, you are not alone. To the best of my memory, only a single person I know has ever dared to claim that gravity does not exist. And yet, even she was unwilling to step out of my 11th floor window to show me I am simply too narrow-minded, ignorant and plain stupid to be able to accept a gravity-free existence. Yes, narrow-mindedness, ignorance (I see ignorance as a right, not an insult), stupidity, charlatanry and other nice adjectives were exactly what she was accusing me of.
As a matter of fact, while I refuse to believe in a gravity-free environment, I do not disbelieve it. I do have an open mind, however. Just not one that is so open that my brain falls out. Show me! Do step out of my window instead of taking the elevator. Please do casually float to my 30th floor neighbour on the other side of the street. You see, I do not believe that a gravity-free world is not real. I merely do not believe that it is real, and I have the entire physics of falling objects as evidence to support it.
This is, some would argue, cold, hard science. I do not personally see science as cold and hard, rather, I see it as a beautiful, artfully woven construct that attempts to explain the wonders of our universe, and just like the harpsichord player who gets better with practice, scientists get better with practice, and science gets better over time.
In the case of gravity, reality is that we can predict that objects will fall when released and that we can even predict with astonishing accuracy how fast and along which trajectory they will fall.
Back to the Judgment Day ad. This is a marvellous opportunity to do some science. The website of Family Radio says that Judgment Day is on May 21 and that the earth will be destroyed on October 21.
This is what the site says about the signs that precede the Day of Judgment:
Jesus warned of several spiritual signs, such as the complete degradation of the Christian church, the devastating moral breakdown of society, the re-establishment of National Israel in1948, the emergence of the 'Gay Pride Movement', and the complete disregard of the Bible in all of society today as direct evidence of His return.
It seems that the Westboro "God Hates Fags" Church is not the only Christian organisation to loathe our unstraight brothers and sisters. In fact, the Catholic Church, the world's largest Christian organisation, does not like homosexuals very much either. It seems they like pedophiles a lot more, as long as they suck up to the pope, but I digress.
The most interesting part of this obviously enlightened document is this:
What will take place on May 21?
On May 21, 2011 two events will occur. These events could not be more opposite in nature, the one more wonderful than can be imagined; the other more horrific than can be imagined.
A great earthquake will occur the Bible describes it as "such as was not since men were upon the earth, so mighty an earthquake, and so great." This earthquake will be so powerful it will throw open all graves. The remains of the all the believers who have ever lived will be instantly transformed into glorified spiritual bodies to be forever with God.
On the other hand the bodies of all unsaved people will be thrown out upon the ground to be shamed.
The inhabitants who survive this terrible earthquake will exist in a world of horror and chaos beyond description. Each day people will die until October 21, 2011 when God will completely destroy this earth and its surviving inhabitants.
Why is this so interesting? Because it gives us the opportunity to do some genuine, if elementary, science. I advance therefore the following hypotheses:
1. While there probably will be earthquakes on 21st of May, (there are earthquakes just about every day of the year, why would May 21 be an exception?) not a single one of them will qualify as "such as was not since men were upon the earth".
2. Even if there is a powerful earthquake, it will by no means throw open all the graves.
3. Even if some graves are opened by some earthquake, the remains in them will not be instantly transformed into something else. In other words, all the bodies (or bones or bits of bones) will be thrown out upon the ground, meaning that not a single person will be "saved" and "transformed".
4. Even if there is a powerful earthquake, most people will survive it.
5. Indeed, each day people will die until October 21, 2011. Better still, people will continue to die every day long after October 21, 2011.
6. God will not completely destroy this earth and its surviving inhabitants. While I have no way of guaranteeing that I will personally still be around on October 22, 2011, I can say with a high degree of probability that I will indeed still be alive and kicking on that day, and so will the vast majority of the human inhabitants of this planet.
In other words, I have made six predictions, prophecies, or, depending on how you look at it, I have put forward 6 testable hypotheses. I made them in advance. If they are verified, this will not be thanks to privileged information given to me by the Christian deity/deities, but simply because of several reasons that are eminently easy to understand:
1. The earth has existed for about 4.5 billion years and there is nothing in the observable universe that indicates this is about to change. Therefore, all things being equal, it is extremely unlikely that the earth will cease to exist on October 21st.
2. The Bible is not a historic document. It is a collection of myths and fairy tales, many of which have been conclusively disproved, and many of which are so contradictory that for one to be true, the other one must necessarily be false.
3. The Bible is a collection of stories created by a primitive people who had no insights in the nature of the universe, who had no scientific knowledge to speak of and who ascribed anything and everything to some unseen, unheard and unfelt agent: in this case the terrifying god of the Bible that is best compared to the monsters that dwell under our children's beds.
4. Not a single Bible-based doomsday prophecy has ever come out. If one had come out, we would not be here to talk about this new prophecy. Jesus' very own doomsday prophecy has never materialised. For this reason, lack of evidence, I am sure beyond the reasonable doubt that this doomsday scenario is a fantasy, created by a crank: it will not happen. It is for the very same reason, lack of evidence, that these Family Radio doomsday prophets will most probably not want to step out of my 11th floor window.
Suppose, heaven forbid, that I am wrong and that these people are right? In that case, I will slaughter my hamster, marinate him, and prepare him in a sauce based on Belgian brown Trappist beer. I will then eat him for all to see.
It won't happen. It's all a matter of evidence.
And what about this matter of Respect & Dignity? I am not entirely convinced that allowing this type of obvious nonsense is evidence of much respect and dignity. It is an insult of the intelligence of the traveller to allow this to be shown, but far worse is that it is an insult to the people making the advertisement.
Yes, there is free speech, and there should be. Yes, there is freedom to believe whatever one wants, and I support that wholeheartedly. But these freedoms assume that the person speaking or believing is mentally stable and not insane. When someone thinks he or she is Napoleon, we get them psychiatric treatment.
I propose that we should not allow these people to bring this indignity upon themselves. They need treatment.
Are you with me, or do you think I am in error? If so, why?
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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