Responding to the media circus over a possible end of the world on December 21st – a claim that’s circulated for years and even spawned a Hollywood blockbuster – the Vatican's top astronomer has said the scientific basis for such speculation is “not even worth discussing” as it is “obviously false.”
Jesuit Father Jose Funes, director of the Vatican Observatory, wrote in L'Osservatore Romano’s Dec. 12 edition that the perennial question “Where do we come from and where are we going?” is often met with “irrational responses.”
He noted that if you search this “prophecy” on Google, it brings up 40 million results.
This year’s prediction, which derives from the Mayan calendar, requires verifying the alignment of the planets and the sun with the center of the Milky Way and a reversal of the Earth’s magnetic poles.
“It’s not worth discussing the scientific basis for these claims (obviously false),” Fr. Funes wrote in the article headed: "Between pseudo-prophecy, science and faith - The end of the world isn't nigh (at least for now)"
He recalled visiting the Mayan archaeological ruins in Copan, Honduras, in 2003 and said he could appreciate the “great powers of observation of the heavens that these people had.” He was referring to the Classic Mayan civilization (250-900 A.D.), but an estimated 7 million Maya peoples live on today among the Native American people of southern Mexico and northern Central America.
In any case, he added, “they didn’t enquire if the Earth or the Sun were at the centre of the universe” but were more interested in finding past repeated patterns that could be reproduced in the future. “In the Mayan culture, time had a cyclical and repetitive dimension,” he said. “Astronomy was developed on the basis of politics and religion, with an obsession for time cycles.”
Fr. Funes then reflected on the fate of the cosmos, arguing that it is continually expanding and will “break away” extremely fast, but “billions and billions of years” from now. He pointed out that according to some cosmologists, the universe may not even have a definitive conclusion but rather a unique set of “multi-ends”, with some parts ending at different times to others.
For Christians, however, the universe and history have a meaning, reminded the Argentine Jesuit. “In the depths of the human being is the fundamental belief that death cannot have the last word,” he said. “Cosmology shows us that the universe goes to a final state of cold and darkness; the Christian message teaches us instead that in the final resurrection, the last day, God will reconstitute every man, woman and all the universe.”
“This future reality,” he continued, “is expressed in the words of the Apocalypse of St. John the Apostle (21:1-3): “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth…Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God."
The Book of Revelation is a prophetic text, not scientific information on the future of the universe and of man, Fr. Funes explained. “It is a prophecy because it shows us the inner foundation and orientation of history,” he said. “In the historical context in which it was written, the sacred author seeks to encourage the community of Christians who suffer persecution.”
“Human (and cosmic) history has a meaning that has been given by God-with-us,” Fr. Funes added. “Even if we are not persecuted, we always need encouragement. The Word of God reminds us that we are moving towards a future that is basically good, despite all the crises in which we our lives are immersed. Because we are assured that in Christ there is a future for humanity and the universe.”
The idea of cataclysmic events occurring in 2012 have been dismissed by serious scholars, including professional Mayanists. As well as Fr. Funes, astronomers and other scientists have also rejected the theories as “pseudoscience,” and believe they amount to "a distraction” from more important science concerns.
Perhaps the best thing to do when confronted with these end-of-the-world claims is simply to refer to this well known verse from Matthew 24:36: “No one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows.”