Friday, May 20, 2011

Rapture math

Tomorrow, according to Family Radio’s Harold Camping, is the Rapture, when the righteous shall be taken up to heaven, and the earth will become a depraved orb teeming with rampaging, bloodthirsty secularists.

Vision of the post-apocalyptic terror, by afagen on Flickr

Salon’s Peter Finocchiaro has helpfully explained Camping’s reasoning. In part:

It's the anniversary of Noah's Flood: A great deal of effort has been made by biblical literalists over the years to identify the exact chronology of the events dictated in the Old Testament. Some scholars, including Camping, adhere to the theory that the Biblical Flood took place on May 21 in the year 4,990 B.C. Then, in Genesis, God told Noah seven days before the Flood to warn people of the impending cataclysm. And Camping posits that this figure, seven days, holds greater significance than meets the eye. According to the biblical passage 2 Peter 3:8, "one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day." Therefore, argues Camping, Rapture should occur 7,000 years after the Flood. And the 7,000th anniversary of the biblical deluge, by his math, falls on May 21, 2011.

There is a problem with this reasoning. Well, there may be several problems. But there’s a mathematical problem even from a literalist perspective. Camping uses the verse that I’ve boldfaced to convert 7 “God days” to 7000 “human years.” That is, he is assuming the following proportional relationship, based on the statement that “one day is with the Lord as a thousand years”:

However, this relationship ignores the second half of the biblical passage: “and a thousand years as one day.” If we’re basing our worldview on biblical literalism, does it make sense to use the first half of a sentence, and turn a blind eye toward the second?

The passage gives us only two correspondences between human years and God days, but not an explicit functional form. In my opinion, the simplest and most elegant relationship that reproduces the published values is:

It’s not as if an omnipotent deity would use a ghetto function like a spline or 11th order polynomial, am I right?

Using this formula, the 7 God days correspond to 1000/7 human years, or just 142 years, 10 months, and a week or so. That is, the End Times should have occurred rather a long time ago, well before the time of Christ.

The conversion from God years to dog years is left as an exercise for the reader.

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