Religion, asteroid, doomsday… and a dose of reality

Religion, asteroid, doomsday… and a dose of reality

Religion, asteroid, doomsday… and a dose of reality

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
Oct. 23 2007 9:13 PM

Religion, asteroid, doomsday… and a dose of reality

I was on MySpace and noticed an ad I just had to click on. I didn't get a screen shot of it, unfortunately, and I can't seem to get it back, but it said something like "Asteroid impact in 2039 proves Biblical prophecy".

The ad linked to Asteroid2039.com, which says:

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

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Asteroid 1999 AN10 is predicted to come close to Earth in 2027 and 2039. NASA doesn't think that it will hit. However there is evidence that it will - from the Bible.

Oh boy! You know this'll be good.

Jesus gives four signs that we should look out for at the time of the end. These are all fulfilled in August 2027.

Matthew 24:29-30:

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* The sun will grow dark: a symbolic solar eclipse of Egypt on 02/08/2027. * The moon will no longer shine: a new moon on 02/08/2027. * The stars will fall from heaven: a meteor shower from the asteroid (closest approach on 07/08/2027). * The powers in space will be driven from their courses: the asteroid is deflected and returns in 2039.

That's right. The end of the world is foretold by a new Moon, an eclipse, a meteor shower, and something incredibly vague. Well, lessee: we get a new Moon at a solar eclipse by definition, and there's a solar eclipse pretty much every year somewhere on Earth. There are dozens of meteor showers every year. Objects are deflected by others continuously, literally all the time. Otherwise we wouldn't have orbits.

I guess we're doomed then. Nuts.

The author has a PDF outlining the whole thing:

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The free ebook describes the reasons for this event and predicts that it will impact in one of the Earth's oceans in 2039.

Well, I did something outrageous: I went to NASA's Near Earth Object server. Perhaps pride goeth before the fall (I wish religious politicians would remember that particular phrase), but I trust those astronomers more than an ebook preaching apocalyptic doom. About 1999 AN10, the NEO site says (emphasis mine)

New observations are now available for asteroid 1999 AN10, which is gradually moving away from the glare of the Sun. The new data allow a considerably improved orbit to be calculated for this potentially hazardous object, and the revised predictions indicate that this kilometer-size asteroid could pass particularly close to the Earth on August 7, 2027. The passage in 2027 could be as close as 37,000 km from the Earth's center (just 19,000 miles above the Earth's surface), but no closer. The miss distance is still very uncertain, and the asteroid could easily pass well outside the Moon's orbit. The probability of a collision in 2027 is essentially zero.

Hmmmmm. Thoughtful astronomers with decades of experience at mapping out orbits and asteroid predictions, or a breathless web page with vague claims advertised on MySpace.

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Yeah.

But wait, there's more! I downloaded the PDF (man, the things I do for you BABloggees). It's interesting; it makes lots of claims. For example, he predicts that the La Palma volcano will collapse on December 25, 2007, causing a tsunami which will inundate the East Coast of the US. That's testable! So we'll see. I wonder if he'll update that PDF when nothing happens? It's a safe bet nothing will happen: the last collapse of that volcano was 750,000 years ago.

He says the asteroid will return in 2039, and the double return matches prophesy as well. The NASA site says:

There is still a very remote possibility that asteroid 1999 AN10 could pass by Earth in 2027 in such a way as to return in the year 2039 on an impacting trajectory. First identified by researchers Andrea Milani, Steven R. Chesley and Giovanni B. Valsecchi, this scenario is still exceedingly unlikely, but the probability of collision in 2039 has now increased to about 1 chance in 10 million.

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One in 10 million is way low... the asteroid Apophis has a 1 in 45,000 chance of hitting us in 2036, so really, that's a far, far better bet. And it passes us in 2029, so it too passes us twice. I think the author picked the wrong doomsday rock. But then, he ties in the dates and times numerologically with the Bible too, including saying the 2039 passage is 33 years after he wrote his pamphlet... and that was the age of Jesus when he was crucified.

Ohhhh kay.

The pamphlet goes on and on -- it's 365 pages in length! -- filled with such logic.

The PDF author's name is Alasdair TR Laurie. Curious, I looked it up. The first Google result that comes up for that name is for a second year bioinformatics PhD student at the University of Leeds in the UK.

Wha wha WHAAAA?

Another hit led to this blog entry, which in turn linked to a page by the author himself which verifies it is indeed the same Alasdair TR Laurie. He left the PhD program before finishing, according to comments in the above blog entry.

It sounds like what we have here is a young man who was a promising young scientist but then converted to fundamentalist Christianity. The page he wrote would be typical of the ramblings I see on many crank sites, including the religious flavor of it.

I am not a psychologist, but I don't think you need to be to draw general conclusions here. I'll note that in the U.S., at least, religion gets far more of a pass than it deserves. At least, Judeo-Christian religions do; in some cases a Muslim can't even wear a turban without drawing stares and suspicion. But still, if Laurie were in the U.S, he might actually gather a following. I certainly don't intend to give him a forum here, but I wrote this entry as a cautionary tale.

The obvious tale is of pseudoscientific nonsense substituted for reason, of course. But there is something pernicious when such nonsense is wrapped in religion; it gets through far more filters in peoples' heads than it should. Pick any religion, and it's not hard to come up with a specific belief that defies common sense (and would also be ridiculed by a different religion), yet people in general don't question it because it's what someone else believes.

I think it is entirely correct to question beliefs. Each and all of them. It's required, in fact.

I know very few if any readers of my blog would think that Laurie is anything but a crank, but sometimes it's good to know about them, be aware they're out there. Out of such things can doomsday cults sprout... and while they have never, not once, ever led to a real doomsday (and many, many cults and religions have made such claims), it might as well have been doomsday for many of the members of such cults.

Always be aware of others' beliefs, especially when it comes to doomsday prophecies. They sometimes take a dark, dark turn.