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Don't Worry, Isaac Newton Says the World Won't End Until at Least 2060

History's most influential scientist predicted that we've got at least 50 more years or so to putt around.

Worried that a phantom planet is going to smash into the Earth tomorrow? Heading for your underground luxury bunker or taking up with a Chinese apocalypse cult? Don't bother. Yet. According to the most influential scientist in history, the world isn't going to end until at least 2060.

Sir Isaac Newton didn't just spend his time figuring out how gravity and laying the scientific foundations for how we conceive of the physical world to this day. He was also a radical Anglican theologian who believed that to worship Christ was to worship a false idol. And he also applied mathematical logic to the Bible in order to construct elaborate prophesies about the end of the world.


His calculations led him to believe that the world would end 1,260 years after the foundation of the Holy Roman Empire. The apocalypse couldn't occur before 2060, he believed, though he remained hesitant to confirm any single expiration date.

"It may end later, but I see no reason for its ending sooner," he wrote in a now-famous letter he wrote in 1704. The letter wasn't made public until 1998, as it had been stored away in privately held documents. "This I mention not to assert when the time of the end shall be, but to put a stop to the rash conjectures of fanciful men who are frequently predicting the time of the end, and by doing so bring the sacred prophesies into discredit as often as their predictions fail."

But he wanted to have his cake and eat it too; it seems he wanted to save face for the Bible, but he really was intent on locating a specific date for the end times as well. Newton had a distinct logic to those calculations, as the science historian Stephen D. Snobelen explains:

Newton, like many historicist prophetic commentators of his age, believed that the prophetic time periods 1260, 1290, 1335 and 2300 days [found in the book of Daniel] actually represent 1260, 1290, 1335 and 2300 years using the "day-for-a-year principle".

For Newton these time periods (especially the 1260 years) represent the time span of the apostasy of the Church (for Newton this means the Trinitarian Church, chiefly the Catholics). Thus, he looked in history for the likely date when the apostasy formally began (one sign of this for him was the date when the papal church obtained temporal power). From there it was a simple matter of adding the time period to the beginning date. However, things are rarely so simple with Newton. As already mentioned, Newton looked askance at "date-setting", and for this reason he rarely wrote out the end date for a time period once he had settled on a beginning date. There is a small number of exceptions, and the date 2060, found twice in the Yahuda MSS at Jerusalem, is one of them. The date 2060 is also significant because in addition to the rarity of end dates in Newton's writings, the calculation giving the 2060 date comes from fairly late in his life and is asserted with uncharacteristic vigour.

In other words, all Newton had to do to pin down his end-time year was to find the correct commencement of the apostasy. As Snobelen notes, his apocalypse-locating process "did not involve the use of anything as complicated as calculus, which he invented, but rather simple arithmetic that could be performed by a child."

Basically, Newton just looked at a number of important milestones that could herald the beginning of the apostasy: He tried 607 and 608 A.D., but those didn't stick. He gravitated towards 800 A.D., the magic number since it was the "beginning of 'the pope's supremacy,' … the year Charlemagne was crowned emperor of Rome in the west by Pope Leo III at St. Peter's in Rome."

And hence we get Sir Isaac Newton's formula for the apocalypse, 800 A.D. + 1,260 years = 2060 A.D.

Newton also named other dates, and kept pushing them back as he grew older. But as Snobelen notes, he was unusually firm in naming 2060 more than others, which included 2034 and much later. Given the nice roundness of the number, and the fact that it appears in more than one letter, the media have seized on it as the founder of classical mechanic's apocalyptic projection. When it rolled around, Newton, "who espoused a premillenarian eschatology," believed that "Christ would return to earth to establish the Millennium."