A slightly wackier entry for a Friday, American Christian radio evangelist Harold Camping gained worldwide fame in 2011 for predicting – based on his reading of dates in the Bible – that the world would end on the 21st October that year. It wasn’t his first attempt – astute observers noted that he had previously predicted the arrival of judgment day for September 4th, 1994.

End of the world
Apocalypse by Michael Lehenbauer

Thankfully it didn’t occur to Camping that the third time’s a charm, and a few months after the date passed he humbly acknowledged his mistake (about the timing, not the inevitability of the event) and officially withdrew from the business of end time predictions before passing away in 2013.

Of course, very few people believed Camping – but it does go to show how removed people can get from reality when it comes to assessing evidence and judging probabilities. This type of terrible prediction is common in history: even if we restrict ourselves to just looking at evangelical groups that have used Camping’s Bible-year-counting technique, there have been hundreds. And some managed to convince a reasonable number of people, including the intelligent and well-educated. When William Millar predicted that Jesus Christ would return on October 22, 1984, many of his followers took him very seriously indeed, giving up their earthly possessions in preparation for the life to come. The event came to be known as The Great Disappointment, and some of his followers went on to found the Seventh Day Adventist Church.

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