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Harold Camping Still Says the World Will End Friday

Harold Camping, the radio evangelist who prophesied that Judgment Day would fall on May 21, 2011 and that the world would end five months later that's tomorrow still stands by both assertions.

"October 21, that's coming very shortly, that looks like it will be, at this point, it will be the final end of everything," he said in a podcast earlier this month, according to SF Gate.

If he sounds a little less confident in the claim than he did prior to May 21, well, he probably is. When that date passed without a single true believer rising from his or her church bench and ascending to heaven, Camping told the press he was "flabbergasted" and reconsidering his calculations of the dates, which were based on numerical clues in the Bible . He then had a stroke on June 9 that kept him hospitalized until September.

Since his recovery, the host of the Christian talk show "Family Radio" seems to have regained most, if not all, of his previous conviction. Back on the air, he now refers to May 21 as a "tremendous event" that was simply spiritual in nature, rather than the start of five months of earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and general mayhem as he had previously envisioned. [When Doomsday Isn't, Believers Struggle to Cope]

Camping says the end of the world will be similarly anti-climactic. "I really am beginning to think as I've restudied these matters that there's going to be no big display of any kind. The end is going to come very, very quietly," he told listeners.

The question is, can Camping really still believe in the second half of his doomsday prophesy, despite the total flop of the first half? Analysts say he probably really does.

"I would not be surprised to discover that Mr. Camping sees this prediction as his life's work, the culmination of decades of intensive Bible study, filtered through the sieve of faith," Lorenzo DiTommaso, a professor of religion at Concordia University in Montreal, told LiveScience, a sister site to Life's Little Mysteries. After all that effort, "human ego doesn't easily admit to error," DiTommaso said, so Camping has simply constructed a creative re-interpretation of his prophecies.

The 90-year-old preacher's self-delusion may also stem from a fear of what will happen to him if his prophecy doesn't pan out. According to Stephen Kent, a sociologist at the University of Alberta, "belief in the Rapture means that Mr. Camping would escape the fate that befalls all human beings, which is death."

Follow Natalie Wolchover on Twitter @nattyover. Follow Life's Little Mysteries on Twitter @llmysteries, then join us on Facebook. Additional reporting by Stephanie Pappas.

Natalie Wolchover was a staff writer for Live Science from 2010 to 2012 and is currently a senior physics writer and editor for Quanta Magazine. She holds a bachelor's degree in physics from Tufts University and has studied physics at the University of California, Berkeley. Along with the staff of Quanta, Wolchover won the 2022 Pulitzer Prize for explanatory writing for her work on the building of the James Webb Space Telescope. Her work has also appeared in the The Best American Science and Nature Writing and The Best Writing on Mathematics, Nature, The New Yorker and Popular Science. She was the 2016 winner of the  Evert Clark/Seth Payne Award, an annual prize for young science journalists, as well as the winner of the 2017 Science Communication Award for the American Institute of Physics.