We’re in the LAST DAYS (just like we’ve always been)

moonsAround the age of thirteen I became deeply interested in the Millennium. When I was in the seventh grade I hung a picture of the second coming in my room. It showed Jesus descending to (what now looks like) the deserts of southern Utah, flanked on the right and left by angels with long trumpets. Truth be told, I was actually more interested in the “signs of the times” than in the peace Jesus’s millennial reign would inaugurate. The most vivid sign of all, for me, was that the moon would turn red with blood. Without recognizing it at the time, I was especially thrilled with the idea that some sort of complete upheaval was on the way, that “the world” and “the wicked” (usually synonymous) would get their just desserts while good church members like me would miraculously escape harm.

Plenty of New Testament references can be marshaled (pun intended) to make the case that the end of the world is just around the corner. The LDS publishing industry has a remarkable number of books outlining the signs. Various informal Mormon groups can help you get outfitted for the impending apocalypse. And I don’t think a Sunday goes by in my ward that someone doesn’t furtively declare that these are surely the last days.

A cursory glance at our history, and Christian history more broadly, tells us one important consideration with regard to End Times: it’s always been just around the corner. Early Christians were baffled when they began dying off before Jesus returned, drawing new theological explanations from Paul. Joseph Smith and the early saints believed the second coming could happen in their lifetimes. Patriarchal blessings identified the people who would live to see it happen. They’re all gone now. In one sense, their “Last Days” are over. And we’re still here.

Our earth is host to a staggering amount of pain and suffering, warfare, human trafficking, abuse, inequity, despair.

Our earth is home to a remarkable amount of kindness, love, and hope.

Rolling forth the Kingdom of God seems to be a matter chiefly of turning these latter things back against those former things. Obsessing about the former without acknowledging or employing the latter—or without acknowledging that in some ways we too are part of the ongoing turmoil in the world and not merely lone and righteous onlookers—seems to be a dark expression of faith without works.

Regardless of whether Jesus Christ bodily returns next year or in 2,000 years, these are my Last Days. And all things considered, they’ve been very good to me. The fact that you’re reading this suggests they’ve been comparatively good to you, too. I want to make the most of them.

Or, in the words of a latter-day prophet:

I see so many good people everywhere—and there’s so much of good in them. And the world is good. Wonderful things are happening in this world. This is the greatest age in the history of the earth. …We have every reason to be optimistic in this world. Tragedy is around, yes. Problems everywhere, yes. … You can’t, you don’t, build out of pessimism or cynicism. You look with optimism, work with faith, and things happen” (President Gordon B. Hinckley, quoted in the Ensign, June 1995).

Comments

  1. 1995 was several years after the’ successful’ gulf war that didn’t leave us entangled in a decade plus long mess, in the midst of several asset bubbles. There were culture wars on the horizon, but it seemed as if a majority of people still shared basic values on the nature of the family.

    All of that is upended. We now have the reality of increasing lone wolf terror attacks, financial crises, third world conflict, mixed with fundamental misunderstanding about the family and morality not only in society at large, but increasingly in the church as well.

    Why point this out? That quote doesn’t apply so easily to the current moment, even if the reality is that we should still have hope in a glorious future.

  2. In his November 13, 1833 journal entry, Joseph Smith records being woken up at 4 a.m. and taken outside to see a meteor shower: “I arrose and beheld to my great Joy the stars fall from heaven yea they fell like hail stones a litteral fullfillment of the word of God as recorded in the holy scriptures and a sure sign that the coming of Christ is clost at hand.” (From the Joseph Smith Papers, spelling in original.) My first reaction at reading this entry was to chuckle about how wrong he was. My second was to realize the point you make here — that the Last Days are perpetually upon us. That it is a blessing, not foolishness, to see the wonders of creation as a sign of Christ’s perpetual at-handedness.

  3. Each generation of past Christians included many who desired a final scene and thought that they were special, chosen, etc. enough to be The Generation to see and survive it. All have been disappointed. Moving past the disappointment of unfulfilled millennial fantasies, which often include violence and divine vindictiveness, is a large stride forward in one’s personal Christianity. I am never more baffled than when I hear white, Anglo American Mormons of the middle and upper classes bemoaning their lived existence and hoping for cleansing violence and never more disturbed than when they put fantasy to action and hoard weapons to participate in that violence.

  4. I too went through a stage like that. I don’t remember what triggered it, but I do recall a SS teacher sending us home with a speculative printout of everything that had to happen. Not coincidentally, I also read a lot about nuclear war, nuclear winter, and was really interested in eclipses.

    Sometime in college, I read Jonathan Kirsch’s History of the End of the World , which is kind of a history of apocalyptic interpretation of the Book of Revelation (note the singular, since people so often misunderstand and make it plural.) Someone’s always thought The End was imminent, whether that End was being brought by Iran, Korea, Russia, Islam, or the Romans (in the case of the early Christians.)

    And let’s be honest, the signs in Matthew 24 are not terribly specific. Earthquakes? Wars and threats of war? When have these NOT been around?

  5. Art M, your comment demonstrates an astonishingly narrow, anachronistic (Fox news?) focus. Life was much worse in nearly every way for many, many people around the world in 1995. In health care, education, women’s rights, exposure to violent crime, and general standard of living nearly the entire world is better off now. But even sticking with a myopic US-centric approach, don’t you remember Oklahoma City, ricin, the Unabomber, the near collapse of the Mexican economy (we bailed them out), U.S. Involvement in Bosnia, and the government shutdown? And head outside the U.S. and you find the nerve gas attacks in Tokyo, riots in the UK, Srebrenica, Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination and..drumroll…the Rwandan genocide. Yeah, I had to Google a bit to remind myself of all of those things, but it’s always a safe bet that any year was (and will be) full of all sorts of turmoil.

  6. art M: I believe you’re simply wrong about President Hinckley’s quote being so rapidly non-applicable. It’s incredibly easy to cherry-pick data to demonstrate which generation has it toughest. (As a youth I was told several times that I was part of the chosen generation facing spiritual and worldly troubles, strong enough to overcome them, having been a general in the war in heaven. Now these upstart kids are being told the same thing. Greatest generation!? Couldn’t be! That was us Generation Y folk [I graduated HS in 2000, that makes me Y, right?].) And about the nature of the family, this has been a point of moral concern for a very, very long time. I wasn’t around in the 1960s, but I’ve read a bit about them and I watched the entire Beatles Anthology, so I guess I am moderately qualified to suggest that those were Last Days, too.

    It’s especially easy for someone like me to cherry-pick titillating data points, a white, middle class American guy in Utah with a home, a steady job, a spouse who works part time, two kids, and a little dog because I have plenty of leisure time and Internet access. But in reality I believe there is both more evil and more goodness than I can be aware of. And what is my task? Am I looking at recent troubles in a way that reinforces my sense of superiority or saved-ness without requiring much of me?

    Owen: you get me!

  7. Jon: beautiful comment!

  8. I think some people LIKE the apocalypse to be imminent. It makes them feel special, enlightened and, frankly, somewhat smug.

    The best example right now is the followers of Julie Rowe, an LDS “prophetess” who is predicting that the U.S. will suffer massive earthquakes, a nuclear attack, tent cities and more — in the next few months. Her followers have set up Facebook groups (of course closed).

    Many claim alls kinds of dreams about the soon-to-unfold catastrophes. They see the China economic struggle as a clear sign. Many are claiming September will have a confluence of astronomical events and important Jewish calendar dates that will herald “The End”. They are madly piling up food storage, pulling money out of 401ks and preparing to shoot neighbors that come after their respective stash.

    I presume most will be very disappointed when 2015 ends without an array of astonishing and destructive events. Unfortunately, most will not be dissuaded when someone cries wolf in 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, etc.

  9. Ben S:

    And let’s be honest, the signs in Matthew 24 are not terribly specific. Earthquakes? Wars and threats of war? When have these NOT been around?

    Right? It’s almost as though those verses can be re-read to signal that, in such times, many “Last Days” are being brought about for many people, and we’re often the ones speeding up calendars.

  10. I generally accept that we are in the “last days” if measured from the Big Bang until, say, this morning. I think that it is highly, highly likely that the end of days will occur some time in the next 100 million years or so.

  11. Julie Rowe may be a fine Latter-day Saint, but I’ll try my own hand at some prophecy and say she’s a false prophet in the sense of simply being wrong about her predictions. I’m sure it’s very exciting to think otherwise, though.

  12. The Last Days are always upon us. I like that. Especially the non-fear-based interpretation that urges me to appreciate what I have and try to live a full life.

    Good post.

  13. When I was a youth we were told in firesides that we had been corporals in the war in heaven.

  14. Mark, Ha! Measly corporals? My generation were clearly identified as the generals. And from what I recall (the veil has made this tricky), the ranks of the Army of Heaven from lowest to highest are: (Enlisted personnel) Private, Private First Class, Specialist, Corporal, Sergeant, Staff Sergeant, Sergeant First Class, Master Sergeant, First Sergeant, Sergeant Major, Command Sergeant Major, Sergeant Major of the Army. (Officers) Second Lieutenant, First Lieutenant, Captain, Major, Lieutenant Colonel, Colonel, Brigadier General, Major General, Lieutenant General, General, Archangel.

  15. “it seemed as if a majority of people still shared basic values on the nature of the family”

    You at least recognize, don’t you, how many squishy words there are in that sentence, right? “Seemed,” “basic,” “values,” “nature.”

  16. Blair, I think it makes a different if you are in the Army or the Navy of Heaven.

  17. John Mansfield says:

    When have major earthquakes not been around? Most recently, from February 1965 until December 2004. That 40-year absence of 8.5 or greater quakes and the cluster of five of them in the seven years that followed were found by Shearer and Stark to be consistent with random variability. Complementing the notion that a given year is unique is the idea that everything is always the same, never, ever, ever changing one way or the other. I think some commenters are jumping a bit hard on art M’s belief that there was anything particularly nice going on in 1995, three years after the Soviet Union disbanded, military spending worldwide hit a low from which it would later rise, and people spoke of how best to use the “peace dividend.”

    http://www.pnas.org/content/109/3/717.full

  18. I probably had a desk job far from the front lines.

  19. If you think any officer below the rank of Lieutenant Colonel ranks higher than a Command Sergeant Major, you haven’t seen the military from the inside. And many Staff Sergeants outrank Second Lieutenants.

  20. I may have misremembered what the visiting authority at Youth Conference in ’78 said about my generation. Maybe we were generals, maybe we were only captains or lieutenants. I think it had something to do with being foreordained to be eagle scouts.

  21. I am a member of the “LDS Last Days Prophesy Discussion” group on Facebook. I joined thinking that it would provide a little entertainment, but the posts have become more and more disconcerting to me. People report that they are loading up on tents, food storage, and guns. Worse, some are liquidating their 401Ks in anticipation of the impending stock market crash and resulting financial chaos, and taking huge tax penalties.

    And amid all this Julie Rowe — the woman who is actively stoking the fires of doom — is offering energy healing, seminars and food storage to the members who are (literally) buying her load of crap. Its truly frightening how quickly believing members can descend into this apocalyptic mindset, and how others have no problem feeding off of the frenzy. She is worse than a false prophet, she is practicing priest craft.

    Another observation is that the members of the LDS Church in this group seem desperate for a prophet. Any prophe! They aren’t getting anything more than bi-annual pablum from the “prophets seers and revelators” who are leading the institutional church, so they latch on to any man or woman who comes along. Its really pretty sad.

  22. If the Last Days are always upon us, then are they really the last days? If every generation is chosen, then doesn’t chosen generation lose all meaning? Are we all just waiting for Godot?

  23. Gen Y the chosen generation of the last days?? Fie! *I* was a youth in the ’70s, when we were two minutes to midnight in the last hour of the last day of time! We were SATURDAY’S WARRIORS!! destined to save the world and make it righteous for those infants who would come along at the opening of the new millennium … YOU!

    Okay, so we didn’t finish the work. Take your own swing at it, and don’t feel too bad when your grandchildren come along, knowing THEY are the chosen generation.

    But really, there *is* so much good in the world and in people. I see it everywhere. I try to be it, too.

    Thanks, BHodges.

  24. Starting with Joseph Smith and through the present day multiple apostles and prophets have prophesied, without equivocation, that this is it, that members of the current generation will live to see to the second coming. (Professor Harrell’s book, “This is My Doctrine,” contains a nice collection of these predictions.) And they’ve all been wrong.

    Further, numerous church leaders continually tell us that we, or are children, are the “chosen generation,” the ones selected to prepare the way for the Savior’s return. The fact that there is no scriptural foundation for such assertions seems to trouble no one. And the empirical evidence to support the superiority of the “rising generation” is non-existent.

    Richards and O’Brien, in their book “Misreading Scripture through Western Eyes” captured the Mormon mindset (and that of many other fundamentalist faiths) perfectly: The “apocalyptic texts would be irrelevant—would have no meaning for me—if the events they describe were not planned to occur in my lifetime.” We think: “Of course, I would be on stage when the world ends. How could God do such a dramatic event without me? [Our] subconscious reasoning often runs this way: Of course the world couldn’t end before I got here, but now that I’m here, there isn’t any reason for God to wait any longer.”

    We aren’t the first and we won’t be the last to think that it is all about us. Our general ignorance of world history, combined with the self-absorption infesting much of our culture, pretty much guarantees that these attitudes will continue within the church.

  25. Mark: lolz @ eagle scout.

    Ardis: your generation gave it a good try. Thanks for the well wishes, but I’m afraid I had to pass them off to the next generation a while ago.

  26. S Lawrence says:

    The fact that Julie Rowe has committed to a timeline (this fall) tells me she is at least sincere. If she were just enjoying the attention and gathering a following, she would be more vague (“in a time not far off”) and milk it for as long as she could. My question is if by some remote chance, nothing goes down, will the preppers invent a new narrative or will it will burst the bubble?

  27. After the Sept 11 attacks in NY, Elder Holland reported getting asked by a missionary in the field if these were the “Last Days”. Elder Holland says he answered by saying, “I might not be the sharpest tool in the shed, but I do know the name of the Church”

  28. Last Lemming says:

    “I might not be the sharpest tool in the shed, but I do know the name of the Church”

    So for English speakers the answer is No (Latter=/=Last) and for German speakers the answer is Yes (Letzten=Last)?

  29. Love your comment Ardis! What a comforting worldview that Saturday’s Warrior perspective was! (Comforting with just the right amount of Schadenfreude at being the chosen ones destined to watch everyone else crumble and burn.)

  30. If you search the general conference corpus (which is a very handy tool found here: http://www.lds-general-conference.org/x.asp), the term “last days” appears progressively less and less by decade. In the 1850s, “last days” was mentioned 233 times. In the 1920s, it was 177 times. 1950s-67, 1970s-138, and 2000s-50. Similar results for the term “millennium.” 1870s-64 times, 1910s-26, 1970s-30, 1990s-22, 2000s-12 (but only twice in with a last days meaning), and 2010s-0 times.

  31. It always amuses me that that people think God will end the World at the behest of a small group of people who are badly in need of some medication. And why do these end of times people always hoard money, like somehow in the Great Economic Collaspe, that printed paper is going to have some value. Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time I have seen this behavior, and it certainly won’t be the last. Some people never learn.

    Sometimes I wonder, though, is there some critical mass where if enough people believe the world will end and start acting like it, that they will actually bring induce it? Our whole monetary system is based on the faith of the people, from currency, to housing prices, to the vast majority of service jobs that have actually nothing to do with the true necessities of life (which basically come down to food and water in the end).

    PS: Thanks for the great post and lively discussion!

  32. Clark Goble says:

    Porter, I think what they want from a prophet is exciting last days ala a movie rather than commands to improve ones life through charity and Christlike living. Yet the typical prophesy is one of repentance. Honestly it reminds me of the 80’s when nuclear war seemed like it might happen any day. Oddly people always thought they’d be Mad Max rather than the poor people suffering. *Wanting* the last days always seemed massively unrighteous considering all the suffering.

    Brad, I think that makes sense. In the early Utah period with the aftermath of Nauvoo and Hauns Mill fresh in memory the US invasion undoubtedly had an apocalyptic tone – especially when leaders went into hiding. Likewise I’m sure to those in the early 20th century the horror and transformation of war in WWI and WWII culminating in atomic weapons and the holocaust seemed horrific. With the rest of the 20th century nuclear war was a very real possibility. (Honestly it is amazing we made it through the cold war without a nuclear exchange, all things considered) Then there was the gulf war. I didn’t think it amounted to much but the local made people speculate (just as today ISIS thinks they are fulfilling the prophecies of the last days with their Islamic twist)

    While I have to admit the cold war sure seemed apocalyptic in a way I don’t think anything before did, nothing since has come close. I’m not saying things couldn’t change. Anyone who has read modern apocalyptic novels like Niven’s Lucifer’s Hammer or King’s The Stand knows things can change quick. But it does seem like everything is going pretty fantastic right now. That said, McConkie had his pet theory that after the scariness of the cold war the half hour of silence in Revelation meant a period of peace and prosperity after which things returned to being bad. (Rev 8:1) McConkie was just speculating (as he himself admits) He thought if we went Kolob time (1 day = 1000 years) that it’d be 21 years of peace. Unfortunately if we go by the end of the cold war that meant the beginning of the apocalypse was 5 years ago. LOL.

  33. On the other hand, the end of human civilization as we know it, within, say, a century, seems more likely now than ever before. Consider the following things that the world’s top experts—secular experts—say could threaten our very existence:

    1) Global warming (and its effects: sea level rise, frequent and more violent storms, agricultural areas rendered unfit to grow crops, spread of tropical diseases, mass extinctions, war as countries clamor for the diminishing means of food production and changing water supply, etc.)
    2) Artificial intelligence run amok (don’t dismiss this one as science fiction nonsense; Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, and others all consider it an existential threat)
    3) Bacterial resistance (it wouldn’t just return us to a pre-20th-century state of healthcare; epidemics would be far more devastating than they were back then due to denser populations and international air travel)
    4) Nuclear war (just because the Cold War is supposedly over doesn’t mean the threat is gone. To the contrary, the number of actors with nuclear weapons is increasing)

    Any one of these could destroy humanity. I’m always a bit puzzled when people dismiss the possibility that the end really is near, assuming that since it hasn’t happened yet, it won’t happen ever. I don’t think anyone on here has gone so far as to say that, but remember: We don’t actually know that the crazies are wrong. And there are good reasons to think that they’re closer to the truth than those who assume we’ve got thousands or millions of years left.

  34. I just kinda don’t believe in the second coming. At least not in any meaningful, or active way. I mean, I’m perfectly open to the idea that Jesus could decide to swing by for a visit one day if he chooses (his prerogative, right?), but the idea of the second coming or the millennium doesn’t do anything for me spiritually. I think that makes me a bad Mormon.

  35. all I know is that I’m glad Rexburg is close to Yellowstone and will be the first to go when she blows in Armageddon. I’m not built for post-apocalyptic living. Tell Julie Rowe she can keep her tent cities.

  36. At EFY (20 years ago) we were told we were “generals of generals,” which doesn’t make sense linguistically but I’m pretty sure means I’m more special than all of you.

  37. I remember talking to my grandmother back in 2005(ish) about her experience living through WWII (in Utah). My dad was a toddler then. When victory was uncertain and the whole world seemed to be in conflict, she admitted to wondering if the end of days could be happening, but luckily went on to live a happy 100 plus years, and was thrilled with the concept of electric cars becoming a reality.

    Also, apparently I’m one of the chosen generation, as stated multiple times at youth events back in the 80s.

    Of course the scripture references that people conveniently forget when talking about the 2nd coming or whatever that actually means is Mark 13:32 and Matthew 24:36, which states that no one knows but Heavenly Father. Matthew 24:44 is also interesting, stating that “…for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh”.

    Would it be a let down if the 2nd coming happened when you where having an awesome family vacation at Disneyland and all was right in your world?

  38. John Mansfield says:

    One aspect of a yearning for apocalypse is expressed in the Isaiah description of a land of butter and honey. The land he describes abounding in milk, butter, and honey is that way because it was depopulated and returned to wilderness. There are few people, but lots of cows and sheep and land to pasture them on. The dreams of apocalypse, including the non-religious ones, have that quality in many of them: “With the bulk of humanity out of the way, if I were one of the few left, I think I could make a pretty good go of it, pioneering the world anew; it wouldn’t be easy, but it would be more interesting and freer than what I’m doing now.”

  39. In all fairness Christopher Watson, though Jesus does say no man knows the hour, he also says you should know the season.

    For what it’s worth (probably not much as it is second hand stuff), I was studying this kind of stuff and praying to God to understand whether it was something I needed to think about. And within a period of 1 month, I was led into conversations with 3 separate strangers, each who have a reduced or partial veil (yes, I know what that sounds like). Please know, I’ve never known anyone like that before, I’ve never sought someone like that out….this was 3 separate people within a short period of time who, in my experience, were godly and sincere people.

    One was the daughter of a woman my wife visited for a foot massage. Another was a random guy we met at church while traveling in Europe.

    They both had dreams and visions of pending troubles. Neither were fanatical, if anything they were more factual. The man in Europe spoke in a manner that was both completely sane, and also incredible. He spoke of sacred and holy experiences, but without delusions of grandeur. He seemed to imply having a work to do in the European nations, and that it was soon to unfold (this was in 2014). If I had to say what my impression was of what he meant, he seemed to suggest he was part of the 144K that are ordained by the angels. And though that might sound like delusions of grandeur, I can only reiterate that though he said some pretty miraculous things, it was spoken without a desire to bring attention….it was spoken out of concern, and with a weight of what it would mean for the world and for those he loved.

    I’m not expecting anyone to believe me and suddenly change their minds. I’m still working through this information myself. I can only tell you that whereas I had not previously been as interested in observing the signs of the times, these people and their sincerity and humility sparked some interest and curiosity.

    Both said that while the hour is unknown, the season can be clear. The man in Europe said the season is upon us.

  40. When I was young and taught about my place in the chosen generation, I asked my mom – if I’m the chosen generation what did they tell you when you were a child? I was worried they just told her something lame, but quickly learned she received the same message. That really took the magic out of it, but also kept my head from getting too big as a child. Though, it didn’t keep me from excitement/worry whenever the moon appeared to be even a tad red (circa. 8th grade).

  41. The 14th century in Europe was one of the blackest periods in Christian history. The Black Death killed as much as 50% of Europe’s population. The Hundred Years War killed quite a few more. For almost 70 years the Papacy was in exile in Avignon, leading to a schism and the rise of two Popes, both declaring the other an “anti-pope”, leaving many people in terror of choosing the wrong side and damnation. And yet, history continued.

    If the 14th Century wasn’t the End of Days, we certainly aren’t there now. Maybe in 50, 100 years, sure, but not now.

  42. Travis: when people talk about the end of the world in the religious sense they’re usually not thinking about the sorts of catastrophes you’ve listed, which I think are actually worthy of our deep consideration and action to help mitigate to the greatest possible extent.

    Kristine A: My wife insists that in the event of a zombie apocalypse a la The Walking Dead that she would opt out. I think she’d stay in it as long as the kids were around, though. And she loves camping. Just not forced camping with roving walkers and death and mayhem.

    dk: I don’t doubt that many of these folks are sincere. I’m just looking at our track record of end time predictions, and needless to say it’s currently at a success rate of 0%. That stat would be irrelevant if the end happens this year, of course, but historically people have been having visions and dreams about this for ages. I’ve had an end times dream myself. I don’t take it as prophetic in any sense, but that may be due as much to personal temperament than anything else.

  43. Ryan Mullen says:

    I remember being simultaneously amazed and disappointed when I learned the moon turns blood red cyclically and predictably. It took all the ‘oomph’ out of that sign of the times that this was not a prediction of a one-time event. But it’s still pretty cool science.

  44. Clark Goble says:

    Travis (8:26) While global warming will cause catastrophes it’s simply not the type of catastrophe that would lead to an apocalypse. Even with worst case scenarios what we will see is the poor being affected greatly, more wars in poor areas of the world (middle east, Africa, maybe parts of Asia), and everyone else simply adjusting. That’s not to say people can’t tie warming to prophecies. I know it’s popular to tie wormwood in Revelation to global warming although I’m skeptical. But it’s simply not necessarily an apocalypse.

    With regards to AI there are deep reasons to be skeptical that it’s even possible let alone likely within the next century. In any case AI hasn’t exactly been making roaring progress the past decade or so. (Most of the useful algorithms misleadingly called AI were developed in the 80’s and 90’s with what we have now largely being variations of the basic techniques optimized for particular data sets)

    Bacterial resistance is a problem, but I’m not sure having a higher death rate akin to the 1910’s is necessarily the apocalypse. Also there are other techniques for dealing with resistance ranging from the use of phages or figuring out how phages attack particular bacteria. There are also other approaches to take. Further there already are a lot of other techniques that have a lot of success against things like MRSA but simply aren’t officially approved by the FDA on humans by doctors. Finally there are new approaches coming that likely will solve this problem.

    Regarding nuclear war the reason nuclear war in the cold war was so frightening was that the US and USSR might launch hundreds if not thousands of war heads. The threats now typically are terrorists with one or two or at worst exchanges by small countries like N. Korea, Iran or Pakistan. But those threats are orders of magnitude less than in the cold war. I think people romanticize nuclear weapons a bit too much.

    So none of the things you outline are remotely close to destroying humanity. Certainly nothing akin to what we faced during the cold war from the 50’s through 80’s.

  45. Clark Goble says:

    Christopher, I’m often surprised no one suggests that “generation” need not mean just those born within 20 years or 40 years but the generation of the restoration which could include those from the 1830’s up though 2200. i.e. it refers more to a cultural era. I’m not saying all who uttered it believed it that way. But there are reasons to take it that way in apocalyptic writings.

  46. BHodges: Many religious people aren’t thinking along these lines when they think of the Apocalypse, but who’s to say what phenomenon will fulfill prophecy?

    Clark Goble: Thanks for putting me at ease a bit. Still, I’m not wholly convinced. Global warming could set off a catastrophic chain of events: If all polar ice melted, sea levels would rise 200 to 230 feet. Every major city in the world would be under water. Even if sea levels only rose 30 feet, that would sink about 2/3 of the world’s cities over 5 million people. I think humans would survive, but only a fraction of the earth’s current population.

    AI might not actually be as scary as Stephen Hawking and Bill Gates think, but those are two people whose opinions carry weight. I’m not aware of anyone of that stature saying the AI threat is nothing to worry about.

    Phage therapy has a lot of promise, but has a long way to go before we can assume it will protect us. Meanwhile, research funding is scarce, antibiotic-resistant bacteria is spreading and new strains developing, and a highly contagious disease with a long incubation period could spread via air travel across the entire globe before public health officials could detect and quarantine it.

    My primary concern with nuclear weapons is that technological improvements will make the complicated process of producing a bomb more and more accessible. Imagine a world in which all the technology is available online and extremist groups with resources, like ISIL, could build their own.

    Maybe none of this will happen. Maybe all of it will. No one can say with any certainty.

  47. Clark Goble says:

    Travis, why do you think moving to other places is not a live option? Especially in very rich countries? It’s not like the people in those cities will be sitting there for 70 years watching the water inch up slowly and just stay there until they drown. We’re talking processes that will take decades and perhaps centuries.

    As for AI, lots of people in the field of AI have said the fear mongering is nonsense.

    http://www.popsci.com/bill-gates-fears-ai-ai-researchers-know-better
    http://www.technologyreview.com/review/534871/our-fear-of-artificial-intelligence/
    http://phys.org/news/2014-12-artificial-intelligence-hawking-debate.html

    Personally I’m of the opinion that computational intelligence (i.e. self awareness & emotions) is impossible when done computationally. There are fairly strong philosophical arguments against it. That’s not to say there aren’t dangers with pseudo-AI but it seems they are much more minor.

    Phage investigations are already paying off. There are several new antibiotics in human trials based upon how phages attack certain classes of bacteria. More exciting are new methods for antibiotics. I don’t think you can say funding is scarce. There’s a lot of funding on this although there’s much more that could be done. (And I think eliminating wide spread antibiotic use – especially in cattle should be done)

    http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/08/health/from-a-pile-of-dirt-hope-for-a-powerful-new-antibiotic.html?_r=0

    The bigger threat isn’t bacteria but viruses. Although frankly even a black death level epidemic isn’t the apocalypse to be frank. It would be awful, mind you, but not the end of the world.

    Making a bomb is already pretty easy to be frank. Making it well is harder and most importantly requires testing. But of course as soon as you test it people know you have one. The harder part is refining the uranium and plutonium than it is making the bomb. (We’re talking 1940s and 1950s technology after all)