Harold Camping and the Second Stillborn Apocalypse

Edmund D. Cohen

Radio evangelist Harold Camping, who predicted that the Second Coming would occur in September 1994, is now positive it will take place on May 21, 2011. Sixteen years ago—in the Winter 1994/95 issue of Free Inquiry—I reported on that earlier apocalyptic date-setting episode (read that article here) What follows is an update that takes the story from the failure of that doomsday prediction to the “home stretch" phase of its sequel, now in progress.

In 1994, I facetiously observed that Camping had seemed to achieve something that has long eluded secularists and skeptics: he derived a testable proposition from the Bible, and its failure militated toward proving Bible truth claims false. Although he displayed much more confidence in that prediction at the time than he now lets on, he never claimed that it rose to the level of a formal proof. He left himself enough leeway to continue defending the premise after the prediction went bad. I was surprised—as he, himself, must have been—at how mild the backlash was and how readily his supporters allowed him to continue on, as if the 1994 date-setting fiasco had never happened.

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