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Storming The Ark PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Dr. Romeo Vitelli   
Predicting the end of the world is never easy.

At least, that's what Johannes Stoeffler quickly came to realize.  Born in 1452 in which is now Germany, Stoeffler excelled as a scholar and later established himself as the parish priest for his native town of Justingen.   In addition to his religious duties, Stoeffler became famous for his learning in such diverse fields as astronomy, mathematics and astrology as well as designing and constructing complex astronomical instruments, clocks, and orreries.  He also wrote a manual on the construction and use of the astrolabe and corresponded regularly with some of the leading intellectuals of the 15th century.

In 1499, when Stoeffler confidently predicted that a universal flood would cover the world on February 24, 1524, people paid attention.   Stoeffler based his prediction on the various planetary conjunctions that would happen in that year.  While only six planets were known at the time, almost all of them (including the sun) would be in conjunction in the constellation of Pisces and, given that this was the sign of the fish,  it surely meant that the world would be drowned.  While he was hardly the only doomsday prophet of his time, he was certainly the most prominent.  By 1507, Stoeffler occupied the first-ever chair of astronomy and mathematics at the University of Tubingen and was eventually elected rector in 1522.

As the dreaded prophecy date drew closer, more and more people heard about the prediction.  Not only was Stoeffler a respected academic, but he was also an advisor to royalty which made him a credible source.  More than one hundred pamphlets were written about the impending catastrophe and the panic set in.  Property in valleys, along river banks, or on the sea coastline was sold at a loss (the fact that there were still willing buyers didn't seem to reassure anyone).  Although some skeptics suggested that the planetary conjunction wouldn't be as fatal as predicted,  the fear of impending doom still persisted.  English astrologers, not wanting to be upstaged by their European counterparts, announced that the universal deluge would occur on February 1, 1524 (and the first rainfall would occur in London, of course).

While 1524 proved to be an unusually dry year, the preparations for a flood continued.  In London, true believers built an elevated fortress at the Priory Church of St. Bartholomew the Great and equipped it with two months worth of provisions. On February 1, more than twenty-thousand Londoners abandoned their homes and gathered on surrounding hillsides to wait for the rain to come.   When the predicted universal deluge proved to be a wash (sorry, couldn't resist), everyone just went home again.  To cover their embarrassment, English astrologers announced that their calculations were out by one hundred years and that February 1, 1624 was the true date for the Apocalypse.

In continental Europe, meanwhile, February 24 drew closer and preparations continued to be made despite the debacle in England.  Boat builders became rich as landowners and nobles prepared emergency arks for their own survival.  Local merchants played up the Apocalypse angle by stocking their shelves with a variety of emergency supplies and prepared to do brisk business.  River banks across Europe were dotted with new boats laden with all the food and water they could safely carry.

Of the various known arks to be built, the most ambitious was by a German count named von Iggleheim who constructed a luxury, three-story ark for his friends and family.   At the crack of dawn on February 24, von Iggleheim boarded his ark and had his servants drag assorted supplies up the gangplank.   Crowds had gathered, mostly out of curiosity, although some of them were having fun at von Iggleheim's expense.  The jeering stopped when the rain started however.  While it wasn't a particularly impressive rainstorm as such, it was enough to panic the crowd.  Hundreds were killed in the stampede that followed and then they turned their attention to von Iggleheim's ark and the other ships nearby. When von Iggleheim refused to allow any of them aboard, he was dragged off his ship and stoned to death by the crowd.   The panic only ended when the rain stopped (though the corpses still remained).

When 1524 eventually proved to be one of the driest years on record, Johannes Stoeffler shamefacedly revised his calculations and concluded that the Great Flood would come in 1528.  Nobody really took notice when the new date passed without incident.  He died in 1531 (of plague, not drowning) and is mainly remembered for his accomplishments in astronomy and mathematics.   Stoeffler's example hardly stopped new predictions of apocalypse however.    During the 17th century,  astrologer and Rosicrucian Johann Jacob Zimmerman became famous for announcing that the Apocalypse would occur in the fall of 1694 and that the Pennsylvania wilderness would be the best place to observe the world's end.  With forty fellow enthusiasts, he made arrangements with the Governor of Pennsylvania to build a small settlement which he named the "Society of the Women of the Wilderness" (despite the fact that most of his followers were men).  The proposed settlement would allow Zimmerman's followers to live a utopian existence of quiet contemplation while waiting for the end.  Sadly, Zimmerman died unexpectedly before he could accompany his supporters as they left Rotterdam.  The planned community went ahead under the leadership of Zimmerman's second-in-command, Johannes Kelpius.    The settlement, near what is now Wissahickon Creek, Pennsylvania, is still the stuff of local legend and managed to survive the non-ending of the world in 1694.  The settlement only dissolved with Kelpius' death fourteen years later.

Although you would think that people would have become leery of apocalyptic prophecies by this time, you would be mistaken.  Virtually every new generation seems to spawn another prophet of doom proclaiming the imminent end of the world.    Even Isaac Newton wrote a treatise offering his own estimation of when the world would end (it was published after his death).  Famous prophets of the 18th and 19th century included such notables as  Joanna Southcott with her box of prophecies and  Mary Bateman with her Hen of Doom.  Well into the 20th century, apocalyptic prophecies continued to be announced linked to spirit messages and/or celestial signs.  Now that the dreaded 2012 date approaches, the latest apocalypse craze is unfolding but it will hardly be the last.

In the meantime, an ambitious new project is underway in the state of Kentucky.  Organized by creationist group, Answers in Genesis (and heavily funded by the state of Kentucky), the proposed theme park will feature a full-scale replica of Noah's Ark.  While the creationists behind this project are obviously unaware of poor Count von Iggleheim's tragic fate, it would probably be a good idea for them to hope for clear weather.

Dr. Vitalli is a practicing psychologist from Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. He also writes "Provendentia" (http://drvitelli.typepad.com/providentia/), a blog about psychology in today's world.

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written by Willy K, January 25, 2011
Would the death of Human intelligence be equivalent to the end of the world?
If so, the end is nigh! smilies/tongue.gif
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Hey, Ark builders! Try this!
written by Radwaste, January 25, 2011
A note of encouragement to those who would build "an Ark™": take seven friends, load as many animals and as much food as you can get on board, then stay there for more than a year - with no outside help.

That should show you what everyone engaged in animal husbandry knows: try that, you get dead animals. And people!

Compare your effort with what is routinely asserted to be "True!!" in the Bible™, and you'll see a big difference.
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written by Squid, January 25, 2011
My thoughts on the full scale Ark turn to Bill Cosby...

God: "I want you to build an Ark!"
Noah: "Rrriiiggghhhttt. What's an Ark?"
God: "I want you to make it 300 cubits by 50 cubits by 30 cubits!"
Noah: "Rrrriiiggghhhttt. What's a Cubit?"

Considering no one knows which cubit the Bible refers to... how can they make a full scale replica when the neither know the true size of the vessel or the layout of the vessel?
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written by dpskala, January 25, 2011
There have been apocalyptic predictions, both religious and otherwise, for most of our history, especially recently. The Luddites predicting disaster due to the use of machinery, Eugenics dumbing us down, acid rain, overpopulation and resulting starvation, the threat of heterosexual aids, Y2K, Alar causing cancer, bird flu - to name a few. We seem to have a need for these and the willingness to believe in them. I think anthropogenic global warming is just the latest apocalypse, and will work out pretty much like the previous ones.
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can it float?
written by thatguywhojuggles, January 25, 2011
I've said this before. AiG, if you're going to build a replica of the Ark, using only wood (no metal beams for support), show us that the thing can float without breaking in half or just flat out sinking due to the weight. Show us your replica can float, and consider that your first step to proving the reality of your flood story.
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written by Steel Rat, January 25, 2011
@thatguywhojuggles

They'll give you the ultimate cop-out. God made it float.
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written by thatguywhojuggles, January 26, 2011
@Steel Rat,

Well, I'm sure an all powerful deity could do it again. Right?

You're right, though... they'll always have an excuse.
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Search for Noah's Ark
written by EarlyOut, January 26, 2011
I'm always amazed at the people who mount expeditions to the mountains in Turkey, searching for the remains of Noah's Ark. To me, that's like heading for the North Pole to look for signs of Santa's Workshop.

Especially remarkable among the searchers was James Irwin, who had been an astronaut. You would think that someone with that much science training would know better. But somehow, even intelligent, well-educated people manage to compartmentalize their lives; they can be completely rational about most things, yet surrender to the most egregious nonsense in one subject area.
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Publicly funded misleading?
written by gordonf, January 26, 2011
To be fair, the state of Kentucky is not providing funds to get the ark built. What they are doing is offering tax breaks (albeit significant ones), which I do not think is uncommon for projects that could be beneficial for the community (in terms of jobs and increased tourism). So I don't really see this as the state endorsing the Noah Ark nonsense.

If they want to build a giant ark, so be it. Whether you think the ark story is true or a myth (I opt for the latter), it would be cool to see such a massive vessel in person.
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@gordonf
written by lytrigian, January 26, 2011
I think the ark story is basically true, just not as the Bible tells it.

That is, I think there's sufficient evidence from archaeology to establish the likelihood that circa 3100 BCE, a king of the Sumerian city of Shuruppak, known to later generations under the epithets Ziusudra, Utnapishtim, or Atrahasis, survived a major flood of the Euphrates-Tigris valley by loading his household and goods and some livestock onto a large boat (perhaps a commandeered commercial barge) and riding it out, ending up well downriver, where he eventually ran aground against a hill or mound, and there offered a thanksgiving sacrifice to the gods he worshiped.

The rest is embellishment.
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written by Willy K, January 26, 2011
Could we send all these believers away on a giant space ark?

Methinks we should call it "Ark C." smilies/tongue.gif
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written by Zoroaster, January 27, 2011
If they can get every species of land animal even the little slugs and insects and enough food for all of them to live 40 days, onto their ark, well, I'd pay to see that.
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Y2K
written by Blizno, January 27, 2011
I am sick to death of hearing that the Y2K issue was a foolish scam.

I witnessed armies of very dedicated, talented individuals working for months to correct the faulty computer code that WOULD HAVE caused catastrophes world-wide if they had not been corrected.

Disasters would have happened if so many people had not worked so hard to make sure that airliners stayed in the sky and banks continued business as usual.

You fools who like to sneer that Y2K was a non-event, shut your ignorant mouths.

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written by Blizno, January 27, 2011
"written by Willy K, January 25, 2011
Would the death of Human intelligence be equivalent to the end of the world?
If so, the end is nigh!"

What arrogance! Human beings are not the world. We are only a tiny part of the world. Bacteria are vastly more important and powerful than humans. Insects outnumber humans by orders of magnitude.
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written by Random, January 28, 2011
Blizno

The problem is that there was almost no correlation between the amount of work done or money spent preparing for Y2K and the number or cost of problems. It was massively overblown, that is beyond serious statistical doubt.
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written by Random, January 28, 2011
Interesting that there is no comment here on the modern-day Stoefflers, or the fact that today's von Iggleheims want us to pay trillions of dollars for their arks.
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written by Random, January 28, 2011
Oops, there has. Teach me not to read dpskala's last sentence, but that is little comment on such an apt subject relating to the post. Far more apt than talk of Noah or god.
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Dear Y2K,
written by Alencon, January 28, 2011
Really? You witnessed that? Fascinating given that by the year 2000 the old COBOL programs that sometimes used 12/31/99 or 9/9/99 to signify "never" had all long ago hit the scrap heap. Modern processors have real time clocks that aren't limited like the old computers. Anything that is time critical works off of GPS which is about as accurate as you could ever need.

Even if the software didn't handle the date change correctly, about the worst that could be expected to happen was some weird time stamps or odd interest or debt processing all of which might have caused some inconvenience or embarrassment but no disaster. Aircraft certainly wouldn't have been falling out of the skies. If you think that could have happened then you don't understand how hard it is to get air worthiness certifications for hardware and software.

If hundreds of people were working to avoid disaster, I'd like to know where they were and what they were doing. In other words, citation needed please. I work with military networks and there was ZERO Y2K activity because there was never any issue. Nor am I aware of any significant Y2K activity in any of the military contractors I worked with during that time nor by any of the computer or software vendors I was working with.

You can't have armies of individuals doing anything for months without incurring enormous costs, and enormous costs can't be easily hidden, especially in companies working government contracts.

So all the Y2K catastrophe predictions were what every technical computer professional knew they were, which was total nonsense. If you have evidence to the contrary, I'd like to hear about it.
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In the DOS house
written by pillock, January 30, 2011
Dear Blizno and Alencon,

Where I work there's an old piece of equipment still using MS-DOS. It works but insists on giving dates 100 years ago.

From Edwardian England, Pillock
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Y2K
written by GusGus, January 30, 2011

I am retired now, but in my day I was a Programmer/Analyst (today called a Software Engineer). I had plenty of work modifying applications for Y2K.

The original problem stemmed from the limitations of the first computers - that is very little internal memory. Where today you might have a desktop with multi-GigaBytes of memory, the MAINFRAMES had just a limited number of Kilo characters (not even bytes). [A byte is eight bits, a character is six bits.]

It was imperative to use as little memory as possible. In addition the peripheral devices (tapes, drums, disks) had small capacity, so it was imperative to use as little peripheral space as possible, too.

The result was that years were stored as two digits.

I even remember an application where the years were stored as one digit. So, as 1970 approached we started panicking and changed the application to use two digits. (This was a forerunner of the Y2K kind of problem.) Unfortunately, as the mid 70's approached people were again writing applications with one digit years. The corporate memory was short-lived.

Starting in the 80's and 90's, more space was available, but that, of course, would not make the programmers use it. So the programming languages were improved with a date data-type, which everybody then used. However, this didn't fix the old programs.

The old applications still had their two-digit years (hopefully there weren't any one-digit years) and were running happily along until somebody finally realized that with 2000 approaching there would be a real problem. Even though 2000 is greater than 1999, 00 is still less than 99.

Old applications and even some old operating systems were carrying dates in a manner that would not survive the millennium. Since nobody could know exactly where dates were affecting the code, EVERY line of code needed to be inspected and modified if necessary. Some old applications were so hopeless that they had to be completely rewritten.

At this time there is no telling what would have happened had no changes been made, but I can assure you that there would have been a horrible mess. A few interest payments wrong sounds like a very minor issue (and in the grand scheme of things I suppose it is), but think of it, messing up millions of people's accounts, severely overcharging some folks and severely overpaying some other folks (and good luck getting your money back!).

I cannot imagine elevators failing to work or airplanes getting misrouted, but ignorance of what was in the code means that it had to be looked at anyway, just to be sure.

In summary, Y2K was real. It was a non-event because of the hard work of thousands of software engineers. It was not the end of the world, but it would have seemed like it for most of the year until things got cleaned up.
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If wrong then renounce religion
written by DKrap, January 31, 2011
In my area of the country (Sacramento, CA) there are several billboards and others who proclaim that May 21, 2011 will be the end of the world. I have approached at least one person holding a sign and challenged this person to totally renounce his beliefs if he is still alive on May 22, 2011. I got no response. I think it is totally appropriate to challenge these people to the effect that if they are wrong about the end of thw world then they are wrong about their basic beliefs. Otherwise, they are hypocrites of the highest order. Nothing they say can be believed.
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@Alencon
written by lytrigian, February 01, 2011
Where I work, we had a significant amount of work to do to avoid Y2K problems. If you didn't know about this kind of thing in your contractors -- well, all I can say is that you must not have been paying very close attention to how contractors were spending your money. You've revealed your own incompetence, and not much else.
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written by Arts Myth, February 02, 2011
I work for the Canadian government, primarily writing programs in COBOL for mainframes. Yes, in 2011, the government still uses COBOL, and still uses mainframes, and still creates new software for the latter using the former. Y2K was a definite concern, primarily because of math involving dates, and there was already enough trouble with mixed 2-digit and 4-digit year fields. I didn't get in on any of the overtime for the conversion project, but I do still get annoyed when people completely dismiss Y2K as a complete boondoggle. No, airplanes wouldn't likely have fallen from the sky, and I seriously doubt medical equipment would suddenly fail (as in that ghastly NBC Y2K TV movie that came out in late 1999 - no cheap cash-in there, nosir!), but there would have been enough of a mess to clean up (even if most of it was digital) after the fact, that it was still far more cost effective to do the conversions than take a wait-and-see approach.

Having just moved a few months ago, I happened to open one box that hadn't been opened since my previous move, and found a book on Y2K. I'd bought it for laughs, and will probably keep it for much the same reason but, still, all that sensationalism does tend to diminish the real work done to avoid the real problems. The sky hasn't fallen yet, but it still pays to watch your head around acorn trees when they're in season.
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Nice story, but...
written by Matt B, February 05, 2011
It's a good story, and always fun to hear about how silly people were in the past - and often still are in the present. The trouble is, I am having great difficulty in finding any sources for it.

Stoeffler certainly did predict the end of the world in 1524, that much is true, and he then revised his predictions (as doomsayers generally do) when the first apocalypse failed to happen on schedule. As for the rest of it - the panic in London and Germany, the crowds being crushed to death, the English apocalypse coming twenty days earlier than the German one - I could only find one brief article from the Smithsonian, with no citations listed.

Furthermore, some details of the story don't ring true. Count Von Iggelheim (the correct spelling) isn't a name, but a description - 'the Count from the town of Iggelheim'. Artciles in English and German about Stoeffler and the town of Iggelheim fail to throw any further light on who this person may have been, so there must be a good chance that both he and his 'ark' only ever existed in someone's head. And even the most desperate of astrologers ought to realize that St Bartholomew The Great church is situated on low ground, in the middle of the Thames flood plain. If you're trying to escape the deluge, it doesn't seem like the most likely place to do it.

It's always very entertaining to mock people from the past. Everyone thought the world was going to end in the year 1000, and there was mass panic - except that there wasn't. Everyone thought that Orson Welles' broadcast of The War Of The Wrolds was real, and panicked - except almost no one did. Everyone in the past thought the world was flat - except they didn't, at least not since the days of Aristotle.

I'm not saying that none of these events happened. Perhaps they all did, just as stated here. But so far I've got nothing much beyond this article to show that to be the case - no citations, some unlikely details, and other than Stoeffler, not even a single checkable name. Isn't scepticism supposed to be about checking what we're told, and not just believing things out of hand? Or does that not apply when someone's saying something we agree with?
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It's Crapola!
written by kennypo65, February 07, 2011
End of the world predictions are always wrong because they rely on sources that are myths themselves. Al though I kind of wish that The Rapture(TM) would happen so that all those believers would get the hell of my planet.
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Rapture
written by Blizno, February 07, 2011
"kennypo65, February 07, 2011
End of the world predictions are always wrong because they rely on sources that are myths themselves. Al though I kind of wish that The Rapture(TM) would happen so that all those believers would get the hell of my planet."

Would "Go on and Rapture yourself already!" be a good response to an Evangelical shouting into one's face?

No, it wouldn't, but it felt good to write it anyway.
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The Jupiter Effect
written by Brunori, March 06, 2011
I remember going to the planiterium in South Miami in 1982 when the general theme was the world was ending due to the planets aligning. We are still here.

The new Millenium in the Year 2000...Still here.
2012 will come and once again I nothings going to happen.

What I am looking forward to is hopefully we will have some peace and quiet because after the Myan calender what else will they come up with?

I'm sure someone in Hollywood will find some new boogyman but what?
Does anyone have any ancient Sandscript that is out there that goes into something in 2020 that we have to wait another 9 years before that one can be debunked also?
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