Space & Innovation

Black Moon (Not) Rising: Appeal of the Apocalypse

From yesterday's Biblical prophecy to tonight's "Black Moon," why do people keep predicting the end of the world?

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Tonight's so-called "Black Moon" has many people wondering what, if anything will happen -- up to and including the end of the world.

As Ian O'Neill wrote in his Seeker piece, "If you've been paying attention to the tabloid press, you'll likely know that Friday will play host to a 'Black Moon.' But you probably heard about it for all the wrong reasons. According to some outlets, this 'rare' astronomical event is a signal that the world is going to come to an end and a prelude to the second coming of Jesus Christ. Why? Well, some people on social media said so."

O'Neill and others have explained exactly why tonight's "Black Moon" is perfectly natural and harmless, but the question remains: Why did people think that its arrival was a sign of the end of the world, and why are people seemingly so eager to see (or ponder) our pale blue dot extinguishing life as we know it?

RELATED: No, Friday's 'Black Moon' Isn't a Sign of the End Times

Part of the answer lies in the history of superstition and magical thinking. For millennia people have sought signs of our personal and collective futures in the skies; eclipses, meteors, and other celestial events were seen as supernatural portents -- sometimes of good fortune but more often of doom. And it's not just the rare events: even full moons, which are fairly common, have inspired strange beliefs about causing everything from werewolves to madness.

Scripture and 'Science'

Apocalyptic predictions tend to come in two main varieties: scripture-based prophecy and pseudoscientific prediction.

Authors Jim and Barbara Willis, in their book "Armageddon Now: The End of the World A to Z", note that "scenarios about the end of the world, or at least of the human race, feature prominently in the scriptures and doctrines of many religions and have done so for thousands of years." Many fundamentalist Christians believe that we are living in the End Times, and that a literal Armageddon -- the final battle between the forces of good and evil -- is imminent.

WATCH VIDEO: Is a Blood Moon a Sign Of the Apocalypse?

In one recent example Harold Camping, the leader of the ministry Family Radio Worldwide, concluded after careful study of the Bible that the world would end on May 21, 2011. When May 21 came and went without a noticeable apocalypse, Camping decided that he must have made a math error somewhere and confidently concluded that doomsday would instead be a few months later, on Oct. 21. After the world failed to end on that date as well, Camping eventually retired from the prediction business; he died in December 2013. Best-selling books such as the "Left Behind" series cater to this audience as well. Other belief systems have supposedly made similar claims, as in the famous 2012 Mayan calendar apocalypse prophecy.

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The second type of doomsday prediction is based less on faith than on science -- or more accurately, pseudoscience. These believers of a more secular bent contend that the end of the world will come about because of cataclysmic cosmic forces.

The current "Black Moon" concerns are a recent example; another appeared in a 1997 book by Richard Noone ominously titled "5/5/2000 Ice: the Ultimate Disaster." According to Noone, the Antarctic ice mass would be three miles thick by May 5, 2000 -- a date in which the planets would, according to Noone's exacting calculations, be aligned in the heavens, somehow resulting in a global icy death. The book -- with 350 pages of detailed diagrams and extensive explanation of exactly why Noone's "scientific" prediction was surely correct -- is currently available on Amazon.com for one cent (and worth every penny).

Why are so many people so fascinated by doomsday? For some Christians it is, paradoxically, a good thing: the fulfillment of millennia-old Biblical prophecy about the return of Jesus. For others, it's just part of the natural wonderment of the world: where did we come from, how did the universe come into being, and how will it end?

RELATED: Real Doomsday: Earth Dead in 2.8 Billion Years

And, of course, Earth -- and therefore by extension the future of humankind -- being in peril is a staple of action and thriller films. People flock to entertaining disaster movies like "2012," "Armageddon," "The Day After Tomorrow," "Deep Impact," and countless others to see things blown up and masses of people die; as in horror and slasher films, audiences have a seemingly endless thirst to experience the vicarious thrill of danger, death, and destruction.

Part of the appeal may also lie in people's love of a whole story, a desire to see the final chapter in the story of the world -- even if it means the end of ourselves and everything else. Unless the astronomers are wrong (and the malevolent "Black Moon" does us all in), all of us will die without know what exactly, happens to the world. I'm okay with that.