10 Apocalyptic Theories and Beliefs

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Theories abound about the end of the world and the end of the human race. And whether from a religious, scientific, or cultural perspective, these ideas all have one thing in common: life as we know it won’t last forever. The following list is a compilation of 10 of the most common doomsday theories out there. Some end in mass destruction. Some end in the revelation of paradise. But all insist that big changes are coming.

10. World War III

World War III could be the end of the world through nuclear apocalypse.

Nuclear apocalypse is one of the most common theories about how mankind will meet its doom. The World War III scenario predicts that if another global war were to occur, human beings would self destruct through the use of nuclear weapons. The weapons themselves might not blow up all of earth, but the long-term radiation effects and the atmospheric changes could eventually obliterate all life.

Many people think that the threat of World War III has diminished greatly since the end of the Cold War, when the potential for nuclear battle was at its highest. Some scholars even go as far as to call the Cold War World War III because most of the world was in some way involved. Regardless, the threat of nuclear fallout still exists, even if it has become less likely.

9. Big Crunch


The Big Crunch hypothesis is like the opposite of the Big Bang; it predicts that, eventually, the universe will stop expanding and begin retracting, ultimately becoming a black hole. The idea is that all the matter in the universe would be attracted together due to gravity. Eventually, the gravitational pull would form clumps of dense matter, which would lead to black holes. Over time, all the black holes would converge to form the Big Crunch singularity. If this were to happen, it wouldn’t be anytime soon. Scientists estimate that a Big Crunch event wouldn’t be likely until more than 100 billion years in the future.

Recent experimental evidence has made the Big Crunch theory seem unlikely. Now, most scientists speculate that the rate of the universe’s expansion isn’t slowing down, as would be anticipated with the Big Crunch. Instead, it appears that the universe is growing more quickly! But we’ll never know for sure what will be the fate of our universe. All of these ideas are highly theoretical, and the Big Crunch, like all theories, is purely speculative.

8. Ragnarok

“The Battle of the Doomed God,” a painting by Friedrich Wilhelm Heine.

In ancient Norse mythology, the Ragnarok is equivalent to the end of the world as we know it. This doomsday event was predicted in multiple Norse poems and prose writings, and it literally translates to “doom of the powers” or “twilight of the gods.” In the Norse poems, a volva, or priestess, prophesies about the final battle between the gods and evil forces. During the war, Odin and Thor, two major gods, are killed. Several other minor deities die too. After the battle, the sun becomes black, the stars vanish, and people flee their homes as the earth sinks into the sea.

Norse mythology doesn’t consider the Ragnarok to be the end of all things, however. In the poems, the earth eventually resurfaces. A few gods survive the catastrophe, and they meet to begin re-cultivating the land. Two human beings survive the Ragnarok as well, and they repopulate the earth with their descendents. A new sun lights up the sky, the next generation of gods is in power, and people live in peace.

7. Death of the Sun


This isn’t so much a theory as it is a guarantee. Like all other stars, our sun will eventually die. And when that happens, earth will either be destroyed altogether or rendered lifeless from extreme heat or frigid cold. But don’t worry. We’ve got about billions of years before that starts to happen.

Stellar evolution predicts five billion years from now to be the time when the sun will exhaust its fuel supply and become a red giant. When this happens, the sun will expand and become more luminous. If the red giant sun doesn’t envelop and destroy the earth with its outer reaches, then its increased heat will cause the oceans to boil and most all living things to die. After the red giant phase, the sun will become a white dwarf. If the earth still exists at that point, it will become frigidly cold. Any remaining life will surely perish. It’s a no-win situation.

6. Zombie Apocalypse


The zombie apocalypse scenario began with Night of the Living Dead, a 1968 film directed by George Romero. Since then, it has been a popular end-of-the-world plot in science fiction and horror novels and films. The basic premise is that zombies, or reanimated corpses, unexplainably show up and begin attacking people all over the world. Authorities are slow to react to the crisis, so the zombies eventually destroy human society. A few survivors may remain in small pockets on earth, but most people either perish or turn into zombies themselves.

Zombie theories are usually confined to the world of fiction, but some people do take these apocalyptic ideas seriously, sort of. Fans of zombie literature have been known to try to prepare for the potential apocalypse by creating web site detailing escape plans and warning about zombie sightings. And pamphlets about how to survive zombie attacks are popular as well. Some fans have even created anti-zombie weapons to use when the time comes (or to just show off to their friends). So while a zombie apocalypse is unlikely, this theory does get its fair share of attention.

5. End of the Kali Yuga

The demon Kali, wielding a sword.

In Hindu mythology, time is broken into four ages, or Yugas, that occur in cycles. The Kali Yuga is the era of moral and spiritual collapse, when humans lose touch with religion and give in to sin. Most interpretations of Hindu scriptures believe that mankind is currently in the Kali Yuga, which is sometimes called the age of darkness. According to these views, the Kali Yuga began with the death of Krishna, an incarnation of the god Vishnu, in about 3101 B.C. Traditionally, the Kali Yuga is thought to last for 432,000 years.

The Kali Yuga is marked by an apocalyptic series of events, ending with a fantastic battle between good and evil. Kali, the demon of discord who rules over the age, will wreak havoc throughout the Kali Yuga. When he has tormented mankind to the point of moral failure, the god Vishnu will be reincarnated as Kalki. He will fight and kill the demon, bringing in a new age of peace, known as the Satya Yuga.

4. Buddhist Eschatology

The Buddha Maitreya, who will bring new peace when the world is lost.
In Buddhist eschatology, or belief about the end of the world, moral denigration is the ultimate apocalyptic event. The belief derives from Gautama Buddha’s prediction that his teaching would be lost in 500 years. Since his time, this estimated time period has been extended to 5,000 years. When Buddha’s teachings are lost, the world will become amoral. Eventually, all memory of Buddha himself will be lost. The tradition believes that after this happens, a new Buddha named Maitreya will come to the earth to renew the religion’s teachings. It is believed that Maitreya is now in heaven waiting to be reborn into the world.

After Maitreya’s time, the world will again worsen. Wars will be common. Eventually, beings cease to be born. Then, great destruction will destroy much of the earth, including the realms of humans. Buddhists believe in many “worlds,” which are inhabited by varying levels of moral beings. The upper worlds will survive, but the lower ones will be wiped out. After a period of emptiness, the worlds will begin to be rebuilt, humans will reappear in a holier state, and the cycle will be renewed.

3. End Times

Michelangelo’s fresco of the Last Judgment.

In most Abrahamic religions, including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, the end of the world is marked by a series of events that are collectively known as the end times or the end of days. The details of these last days vary between religions and sects, but all share a common sequence: there will be period of tribulation, then a great battle between good and evil. The battle will be followed by the return or appearance of the Messiah, who will judge the living and the dead and bring the Kingdom of God to the earth.

There are many arguments within these religions about when the end times will come. Some scholars maintain that the tribulations of the end times are an ongoing process, but others think they will happen sometime in the future. It’s also not known if life will continue on earth after the apocalypse, or if humans will only live spiritually in heaven. Regardless, belief in some kind of apocalypse that ends with a divine appearance is crucial to the three great monotheistic religions of the world.

2. Doomsday Argument

Human population through modern times.

The Doomsday argument, or DA, is a mathematical argument that postulates the fate of the human race based on an estimate of the total number of humans born so far. It was first proposed by physicist Brandon Carter in 1983. Based on the evidence used, the argument predicts we are currently about halfway through human history. Ultimately, the DA states that there is a 95 percent chance that humans will be extinct within 9120 years.

The argument uses simple logic to state that we can be 95 percent certain that we are within the last 95 percent of humans to ever live. Based on this principle, the DA states that there is a 95 percent chance that the total number of humans will be less than 20n, with n standing for our position in the lineup of human lives over history. If we use 60 billion as an estimate for the total humans born so far, we can get that the total number of humans ever to live will be about 1.2 trillion. Assuming a the population of the world stabilizes at 10 billion, and that human life expectancy is about 80 years, the DA estimates that all the remaining humans will be born in about 9120 years.

The Doomsday argument takes a lot for granted, so it has sparked many rebuttals. But it remains a topic of consideration. And the fact that it puts human existence into numerical terms makes it one of the most intriguing end-of-humankind theories out there.

1. 2012 Doomsday Prediction

A stone with carvings referring to a date on the Mayan calendar.

All around the world, there are pockets of people convinced that 2012 will bring about the end of time, or at least a huge change in life as we know it. The theory is based on the Mesoamerican Long Calendar, a timekeeping device developed by the Mayans, which will end its current 5,125-year cycle on December 21, 2012.

Proponents of the prediction claim that the Mayans knew about a catastrophic event that would take place at the end of the 12th baktun, or 400-year cycle, on the calendar. December 12, 2012 corresponds to the end of this 12th cycle, when the calendar will read Since the Mayans counted in 12s, supporters claim that there can be nothing beyond this setting. Believers think that some kind of geological event will occur on that day, which may bring total destruction to life on earth. Pole shifts and planet collisions are two common theories about what will happen. Some new age predictions claim that humans will not die, but will reach a higher level of consciousness. Critics of the theory think that the calendar will just continue to the 13th baktin, reading

Only one Mayan artifact that has been found so far mentions anything about the end of the calendar cycle. This tablet is in poor condition, but it appears to state that the end of the 12th baktin will correspond to the return of Quetzelcoatl, the principle Mayan god. Some proponents of the theory have taken this to mean that 2012 could correspond to the Second Coming of Christ, Armageddon or other apocalyptic events. The theory has become more popular due to recent specials about it that aired on the History Channel.

What will happen on 12/12/12? No one knows. We’ll just have to wait and see.