Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Year 2012 And The End Of The World

THE CATHOLIC KNIGHT: I've refrained from blogging on this for some time, as I truly hate getting into this stuff, but as the year 2012 approaches I'm afraid if I don't chime in, I will be negligent in letting people know what is likely to happen. So here it is.

In all realistic probability, the world will not end in 2012. In all realistic probability, the world will not even drastically change in 2012, unless man does something particular to change it - like a major war for example. Yes, we could have some big earthquakes, a tsunami, some major storms, but these could happen in any year. They've happened in years past, and they will most certainly happen in years future.

The doomsday consensus on the Internet and the blogosphere seems to center around our solar system's crossing of the galactic plane, and the supposed end of the Mayan calendar. My readers deserve facts not conjecture, so let's examine them.

The Mayan Calender
There is really nothing mystical or magical about this system of dating. Nearly all ancient civilizations developed methods of calculating time, and the Mayans were no different. The civilizations of ancient Central America have always been a fascination to western culture, simply because they were so far removed from everything known by the Old World (Europe, Africa & Asia). Their exotic character however, doesn't make them any more special than the ancient civilizations on other continents. Might I also point out that there is substantial evidence of ancient Mayan culture engaging in human sacrifice. That's not necessarily a virtuous characteristic. Still, in spite of their flaws, they did manage to organize a pretty elaborate calendar, that spans an incredible amount of time, and is fairly accurate as far as ancient calendars go. Yes it is true that the Mayan calendar ends in the year 2012, and that has been the source of much speculation by occult New Agers. However, it should be pointed out that the Mayan calendar is cyclic in nature, and just because one reaches the end of a cycle, that doesn't necessarily imply something bad is going to happen. There is no archaeological evidence to suggest that the Mayans themselves made any such prediction.
(Wikipedia) - "For the ancient Maya, it was a huge celebration to make it to the end of a whole cycle," says Sandra Noble, executive director of the Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies, Inc. in Crystal River, Florida. To render December 21, 2012, as a doomsday or moment of cosmic shifting, she says, is "a complete fabrication and a chance for a lot of people to cash in."

By "cash in" she means they're making a lot of money on the ignorance of any poor fool who will believe them. Ancient calendars were not designed to predict the end of the world, or even the start of natural disasters. No, the ancients were far more practical than that. They spent great amounts of time and energy perfecting these calendars for only one reason -- farming. Yes, that's right. They needed to know exactly when would be the best time to plant seeds, and when would be the best time to harvest. Watching the weather can be very unreliable. The position of the stars, moon and sun could much more accurately determine what time of year it was, and thus when would be best for planting and harvesting. I'm sure the ancient Mayans, if they could see us today, would be very amused by the way our technologically advanced civilization is fretting about their humble means of calculating the seasons. They would be very amused indeed.

The Mayan calendar does not predict the end of the world, or even the end of an age, or the start of a new one. The end of the Mayan calendar predicts one thing, and one thing only, which is the end of the Mayan calendar. It amazes me how easily people ascribe mythic qualities to sources that obviously don't deserve them. My favorite example is Nostradamus, who according to tabloid magazines, has accurately predicted every major disaster and political event since the middle 16th century. A careful examination of his writings reveals that he really didn't predict anything. I mean to say he never really committed himself to any one prediction. He wrote in parables and symbolism, which was so incredibly vague, that much of it can be interpreted any number of ways. That was the beauty of his craft though. Like fortune tellers and astrologers, his descriptions vaguely touch on so many common characteristics, that it's easy for the interested reader to immediately assign those vague descriptions to something personal in his or her own life. Likewise, the interested reader in Nostradamus does the same with his vague descriptions and history, connecting today's headlines with his writings, in ways Nostradamus himself could have never imagined. The average believer in Nostradamus today has never actually sat down to read any of his writings. Instead the average believer gets his/her information straight from the tabloid press, and what these tabloids say he said. Of course we know how accurate the tabloid media is -- a real source of "solid" information I'm sure. Then we have the predictions of supposed psychic Edgar Cayce, whom many would have us believe is a wellspring of prophetic information, even though he predicted the lost continent of Atlantis would resurface in either 1968 or 1969. Yet still, there are entire schools devoted to the study of this one man and the supposed "predictions" he made. Proponents of the Mayan calendar doomsday scenario frequently point to supposed "parallel predictions" made by Nostradamus and Cayce. To the Catholic mind this can't mean much, considering Nostradamus never committed to any of his predictions, and Cayce was so blatantly wrong on the biggest one he ever made.

The best advice I can give to all of my Catholic readers is to distance themselves from this kind of nonsense. It is the stuff of New Age occultism, something expressly forbidden by the First Commandment. It's bad enough that most of this is derived from the occult, but to make matters worse, many of those using the Mayan calendar to predict "something big" are really just after big money. They may be trying to sell you a book, or a magazine, or even worse some kind of "survival kit." Don't be fooled. These people are charlatans.

The Galactic Plane
It's quite common for doomsday fanatics to take a skin of the truth, and stuff it with lies. On the issue of the galactic plane, they're definitely on to something true, but their time tables are too heavily dependent on the Mayan calendar thing. There is no way the ancient Mayans could know exactly when the earth's solar system will cross the galactic plane, and there is no way they could have calculated it based on the observations of their time. Yes, the earth's solar system is scheduled to cross the galactic plane some time in the near future, but scientists do not know exactly when, and "soon" in galactic terms could mean anytime within the next one million years.

What is the galactic plane? Well think of our galaxy as a spiral disk spinning through space. It's about 100,000 light-years across, and about 10,000 light-years thick. Just to give you an idea of size, light travels at about 186,000 miles per second. Now that means a particle-wave of light travels about 11 million miles a minute, and about 670 million miles an hour. So to figure the size of the galaxy, just figure that it takes about 100,000 years for that same particle-wave of light to travel from one end of the galaxy to the other. 

Within this spiral disk are billions (maybe even trillions) of stars. They all revolve counterclockwise around the center of the disk, which is powered by the gravitational force of a massive black hole - a star so dense that light cannot escape it. Time and space itself implode within the massive gravitational pull of this black hole, creating what scientists call a "singularity." This singularity is a "pinhole," if you will, reaching back to the first cause from which the universe sprang forth, and it is the final end in which our universe will eventually return. It could best be described as a window into eternity, and it is the closest this universe will ever come to encountering God face to face, outside the incarnation of Jesus Christ of course.

This black hole is rotating at an incredible speed, and the centripetal force of it's rotation causes the center of it's gravitation well to get spread out, like a micro thin disk spanning the center of the galaxy. That micro thin disk of gravity collects a lot of cosmic dust, particles and for lack of a better term -- space junk. It is spread uniformly (as far as we know) from one end of the galaxy to the other, and it is around this disk that all the stars in the galaxy bounce up and down through like a wooden horse on a carousel. Our nearest star (the sun) is no different. In fact, astronomers at NASA have calculated that our solar system (which includes the earth of course) bounces through this galactic plane about once ever 32 million years. When it does, we tend to pass through a very messy part of space, filled with all sorts of dust particles, rocks, ice and space junk. All of this increases our chance of a collision, and based on the geological history of the earth, a collision with something is almost guaranteed. To describe this, I'll quote the only source I trust on such things, and that is NASA...
(GISS NASA) - In the early 1980s, a GISS scientist, Richard Stothers, discovered that the impact cratering record on Earth displays a certain regularity. Wholesale bombardments by large meteoroids seem to have recurred at intervals of 30 to 35 million years. He also noticed that this magic number seems to be close to the length of time the Solar System needs to move up from and back down to the plane of our disk-like galaxy of stars, the Milky Way. Astronomers have known for a long time that, in its revolution around the central mass of our galaxy, the Solar System performs such an up-and-down motion quite regularly, like a horse on a merry-go-round. Material lying mostly near the galactic plane tugs with its gravitational force on objects only loosely bound to the Solar System, like the distant comets that occupy a vast halo far beyond the orbit of Pluto. Many of these shaken comets then rain down in a shower toward the Sun, much as ripe apples drop from a tall tree during a windstorm. Our Earth intercepts some of the infalling comets. The biggest gravitational disturbances of the outer comet halo are believed to be made by close encounters with very massive objects, like the huge clouds of gas and dust that lie between the stars....

The only question is how big of a collision, and what the damage will be. The last time we were hit was about 35 million years ago, by two meteors (one hitting Russia and the other creating a large crater at the bottom of the Chesapeake Bay.) These caused mass extinction of animal species on the planet, but it wasn't nearly as bad as the mass extinction cased by the previous crossing of the galactic plane some 65 million years ago. That collision with just one huge meteor killed off all the dinosaurs and left a magma crater just off the Yucatan Peninsula which is so big that it's only visible by special satellite imaging. So based on all the evidence and calculations, we are due to cross the galactic plane anytime now, but keep in mind that the word "anytime" in galactic terms could mean anytime within the next one million years. The odds of that happening in 2012, based on the cycle of an agrarian calendar, designed by the Mayan civilization thousands of years ago, are extremely slim. In fact, if I were a betting man, I would put my money on the world NOT ending in 2012, and laugh all the way to the bank on January 1st, 2013.

Yes, astronomical science, along with the geologic record, seem to indicate that our world will soon end -- soon meaning within a million years. It could be a smaller catastrophe that will simply change the world as we know it. Or it could be a larger cataclysm that will end the age of the mammals much in the same way the meteor 65 million years ago ended the age of the dinosaurs. Our Catholic Christian religion teaches us that mankind's demise will come a different way, involving a final trial against the forces of evil, resulting in a general judgment of God upon all the nations. How this relates to earth crossing the galactic plane, if at all, is completely unknown, and it would be foolish to speculate on such things. So let's not.