14 Terrifying End Of The World Theories, Explained

The world will end some day, but how?

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In the immortal words of REM, it's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine!

At least, that's according to the doomsday predictions being made by those who believe the pandemic is one of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse or was otherwise predicted in biblical verse.

Advocates of these theories say we could be experiencing the onset of what the Bible and Christianity refer to as "end times" — including, but perhaps not limited to, the Apocalypse, the Rapture and total Armageddon, as well as a series of other end of the world theories.


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While there is no conclusive scientific proof that the Earth will be destroyed during our lifetime, we as a people remain consumed with curiosity about the end of the world, from when it's coming to what will happen when it gets here — so much so that it makes for the subject matter covered in every practical aspect of life, including science, religion, fiction and art forms of all kinds.


There are several highly specific phrases people tend to throw around when it comes to talking about the end of the world, and perhaps having a better understanding of some of those words will help separate fact from fiction.

Here's your guide to the biggest end of the world theories, including phrases like "End Times," "the Apocalypse," "the Rapture" and "Armageddon," among others.

14 Doomsday & End of the World Theories

1. End Times

Many different religions have major sacred texts that refer to an "end time." Generally, you can find such references to "end times" in texts referred to as eschatologies. The word kind of sounds like a horrible disease, but it isn't. It's just an overly complicated word for a pretty easy concept.

Eschatologies are defined as the portions of various religious theologies "concerned with death, judgment, and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind."


While modern talk about end times tends to be associated with evangelical Christianity, the truth of the matter is that most major religions have their own eschatology featuring some variation of how the world as we know it will end.

For an evangelical Christian, end times may refer to the period of "tribulations" expected to proceed the second coming of Christ.

For an Orthodox Jew, however, the Messiah — aka "Moshiach" — will bring the "end of days," not the end of the world. According to Jewish theology, the messianic era will be a time in which "there will be world peace, no more wars nor famine, and, in general, a high standard of living... [Jewish] prophets speak of the advent of a human leader, of a magnitude that the world has not yet experienced [whose] unique example and leadership will inspire mankind to change direction."

The entire concept, therefore, carries with it a deep sense of eternal optimism that better times await us all.


So while "end times" reflect a specifically Christian slant, religions everywhere can't seem to help but speculate about what the end of the world as we know it might look like.

2. The Apocalypse

The word "apocalypse" is rooted in ancient Greek. If you wanted to try and translate it, you'd find that it's actually a noun derived from a verb that means "to uncover" or "to reveal."

So, the Apocalypse basically means "the big reveal," and the term can also be used to describe the giving of important information.

Not what you expected, huh? Of course not, because that's not how most of us tend to think about it. Most of us think it means the end of the world, but that's not quite right, as we've already seen, what with me giving you a mini-lesson in classics and all.


When religious prophets dish about their predictions for the end times, they are essentially presenting you with an apocalypse. So if this word doesn't directly mean the end of the world, why is it usually used that way?

Because if you were reading the Bible back in the day and happened to pick it up in ancient Greek, you would find that the title of the Book of Revelation (the book of the New Testament that deals with Christian eschatology) "is taken from the first word of the book in Koine Greek: ἀποκάλυψις (apokalypsis), which means 'unveiling' or 'revelation.'"

Pretty groovy to get this stuff sorted, no?

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3. The Big Rip, The Big Crunch, The Big Bounce, and The Big Freeze

When people talk about the end of the world, they are ultimately coming from one of two perspectives — either the events leading up to the destruction of Earth from a scientific perspective, or the events leading up to the destruction of Earth from a religious perspective.

We just touched on how religious folks talk about the end of the world, so now let's talk about the other half.

"The end of the world" is the way in which scientists and other non-religious figures sometimes refer to the events that might lead to and/or cause the Earth to either be completely destroyed or rendered definitively uninhabitable.

While these folks can't get away with simply writing down the visions that come to them in dreams on any given night, they can come up with a wide variety of hypotheses and scientific theories — and they have.


The Big Rip, Big Crunch, Big Bounce, and Big Freeze are just four of the theories scientists have put forth in relation to the potential demise of planet Earth.

The Big Rip theory postulates that Earth will be destroyed by being torn asunder by the constantly expanding universe, whereby "dark energy must win in its battle with gravity to such a point where it can rip apart individual atoms."

The Big Crunch theory is what I like to call the "True Detective" of scientific theories. It basically speculates that "the universe will one day stop expanding. Then, as gravity pulls on the matter, the universe will begin to contract, falling inward until it has collapsed back into a super-hot, super-dense singularity. If the theory holds true, the universe is like a giant soufflé."

The Big Bounce theory is a not-so-popular theory that the world has no intention of ending at all! According to this theory, "the universe works on a cyclical basis of expansion and contraction. At the moment, it is expanding. However, when it runs out of energy (or whatever happens to stop its expansion), it will start contracting. Eventually, it will get to the point where it is so small it starts expanding again."


What exactly happens when a contraction begins? Nobody knows!

The Big Freeze theory, which is quickly gaining acceptance from many in the scientific community, refers to the hypothesis that, eventually, entropy (the principle of thermodynamics by which everything in the Universe eventually moves from order to disorder), "will increase until it reaches a 'maximum value'... This means there would be no more room for usable energy, or heat, to exist and the Universe would die from ‘heat death’.

Put simply, mechanical motion within the Universe will cease [and] the Universe would, in theory, become so vast that supplies of gas would be spread so thin that no new stars can form. Under that model, time becomes an endless void in which nothing ever happens as there is little to no energy left in the Universe." And that means the end of the world for you and me.

4. The Rapture

The Rapture refers to a specific event within the eschatology of certain branches of Christianity.


According to the late American evangelist Billy Graham:

"There are many Christians who believe that the second coming of Jesus Christ will be in two phases. First, He will come for believers, both living and dead, in the 'rapture' (read 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17). In this view, the rapture — which is the transformation and catching up of all Christians, dead or alive, to meet Christ in the air — will be secret, for it will be unknown to the world of unbelievers at the time of its happening...

Then, second, after a period of seven years of tribulation on earth, Christ will return to the earth with His church, the saints who were raptured (Matthew 24:30, 2 Thessalonians 1:7, 1 Peter 1:13, Revelation 1:7). He will be victorious over His enemies and will reign on the earth for 1,000 years (the millennium) with His saints, the church."

Essentially, those who believe in this concept are of the opinion that when end times arrive, "good" Christians, living and dead, will be taken up into the skies to be with God in heaven.


Of course, nothing amazing and good comes easily to everyone, so as the pious depart for the great beyond, the rest of us (and to be straightforward, I'm assuming that I fall into this category because let's be real) will be forced to live out our final days on Earth over a 7-year period known as the great tribulation, complete with lava floods and demonic torture.

Yeah, it'll be intense. That said, studies have found that only one-third of Protestant ministers today believe in this type of "pretribulation rapture."

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And as for Catholics, their stance is rather that "when Paul spoke of being carried off to meet Christ in the clouds, it was not for the purpose of flying away to heaven but to welcome the Lord and return with him in glory" on Earth — i.e., yes, they will be caught up in Christ's arrival, but in the figurative and emotional sense rather than in the literal interpretation.

And while "rapture" can also be found as a concept within Buddhism, don't get it twisted.

"In Buddhist terminology," notes Wisdom Quarterly, "rapture (piti) refers to a meditative state. It is a blissful feeling in the body also called enthusiasm, joy, happiness, and pleasurable interest in the object of meditation. Its onset is based on virtue and persistent application of the mind in an effort to concentrate during meditation."

And that is both very, very different and not at all related to anything dealing with the end of time.


5. Armageddon

This one has become synonymous with the end of the world, so feel free to use it that way. That's the beauty of a living language, after all: the meaning of words can shift and change and grow over time.

Interestingly, however, Armageddon was first and foremost a location mentioned in the Book of Revelation, when prophets foretold that Har Megiddo (הר מגידו)‬, i.e., Mount Megiddo, would be the site upon which armies would gather to prepare for battle prior to the End of Days.

Today, that same place is known as Tel Megiddo, a modern city in the Lower Galilee region of northern Israel.

A "tel" can be described as "a hill in which several layers of ruins, from different periods of time, lie buried." As of today, "excavation has uncovered about 26 layers of settlements dating back to the Chalcolithic period and the first four layers have been identified."


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Other Doomsday Theories

6. Nuclear war

Now that we live in a world where nuclear warheads exist, there's obviously a theory about the destruction of the world.

Often called the nuclear holocaust, nuclear apocalypse, nuclear Armageddon, or atomic holocaust, the theory is that there will be a mass detonation of nuclear weapons that ends up causing widespread global destruction of the world and radioactive fallout afterward.

The theory has two phases where the world is destroyed. The first phase is the immediate destruction and death nuclear warheads would cause, destroying cities due to the blast and killing millions of people.


The second phase is the aftermath. After a nuclear explosion, radiation levels linger, which cause serious diseases and death. After an explosion, there are only 10 minutes of safety before the fallout begins. Those who survive the blast only have 10 minutes to get to safe ground or hide in a bomb shelter to wait out higher radiation levels.

This radiation will affect the world's atmosphere, causing major and dangerous changes including firestorms, nuclear winters, widespread radiation sickness from fallout, and the loss of modern technology due to electromagnetic pulses from the bombs.

The nuclear war doomsday theory suggests that it will lead to the collapse of civilization and even the extinction of humanity and/or termination of all biological life on Earth.

7. Solar flares

Solar flares are, according to NASA, "an intense burst of radiation coming from the release of magnetic energy associated with sunspots." But how can a solar flare all the way out in space end the world? Well, those flares send a cloud of plasma hurling into space at impressive speeds.


The solar flares theory claims that the charged particles within the flare will destroy any electronic device that is on at the time of the strike, instead of the usual end of the world scenarios of mutating life on Earth or sterilizing the planet.

So, it wouldn't kill the planet but it would throw everyone back in time to when electricity didn't exist. The attack will also cause thousands of casualties instantly because planes will fall from the sky, many people in hospitals will die, cars will suddenly stop working, and various other types of equipment will cease to function.

When you really start to think about it, our world as we know it would also come to an end. Commerce would be erased, most forms of communication would be obliterated, the internet would be destroyed, world trade would come to a complete standstill, and even agriculture would be stopped in its tracks.

One event that supports this theory is that it almost actually happened back in 2012.


8. Artificial intelligence

Since no one wants to listen to science fiction novels and movies, and stop trying to create artificial intelligence (AI), the theory itself is basically an AI takeover... or the rise of the machines for "Terminator" fans.

Many believe that at the rate we're going, AI will eventually become sentient (some saying there is a sentient AI already) and start taking control of the world. It will kill off humanity and create its own world where AI controls everything.

However, this theory won't look exactly like "The Terminator." It will be more like AI taking over control of the planet from the human species. The scenarios include AI being the replacement of the entire human workforce, takeover by a super-intelligent AI, and the popular notion of a robot uprising just a little less dark than the franchise films.

The scientific community does think AI will eventually become much stronger than humans and that precautionary measures need to be in place, like the late Stephen Hawking and even multi-billionaire Elon Musk.


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9. Natural disasters

Super cool AIs and space doomsday theories are great, but nothing beats an end-of-times event like a natural disaster.

There are several theories that surround the idea of natural disasters bringing about the end of the world. One popular theory is the eruption of numerous volcanoes at the same time.


The scary thing is that this theory is backed by science. They are called supervolcanoes and, according to Science Magazine, erupt almost every 100,000 years. These volcanoes begin by "collapsing underground calderas that produce eruptions of more than 450 cubic kilometers of magma." That's 1,800 times more than the eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980!

This world-ending event would cause disastrous damage near ground zero, and the ash that is lifted into the sky would block the sun, allowing the Earth's temperature to drop 5-10 degrees Celcius.

For non-science folks, the earth would basically freeze, falling into another mass extinction event. And it doesn't stop there, because the ash left on the ground would kill all vegetation and plant growth.

10. Disease

Coronavirus didn't spawn this end of the world theory; disease-based world-ending scenarios have been around for a while and, with each new epidemic, pandemic, or virus, more people become wary, especially about the possibility of zombies or zombie-like creatures as a result of widespread disease.


Zombies are a huge apocalypse scenario, and long before Hollywood cashed in on it, zombie fiction began as early as the 1920s with H.P. Lovecraft's "Herbert West—Reanimator" and William Seabrook's "The Magic Island."

Now, with so many zombie movies, novels, video games, and media, it's no wonder why people have apocalypse bags and literally train for the end of days (doomsday preppers, as they are known).

There are tons of ways a zombie-like disease could come about. Some believe it might be from a solar flare (thanks, "Maze Runner" trilogy), others believe it will be a mutated form of Rabies that will eventually turn all of humanity into bloodthirsty cannibalistic monsters, or as a result of a fungal infection.


11. Climate change

Climate change is very much real and is certainly the most likely end of the world theory currently.

Doomsday as a result of climate change starts with a study from MIT and Colorado State University, where researchers found our world could be crippled by famine by the year 2050.

The study results found that "due to pollution, a shift to resource-intensive Western diets, and anthropogenic climate change, the Earth will need 50% more food by 2050 to feed the population."

The issue is that we can't supply that much food because global warming and the ozone layer are going to decrease the production of food by 10%. Climate change will affect our food production in other ways as well like extreme weather, flooding, and droughts.


Mix a mass food shortage with unpredictable violent weather and you have a perfectly believable end of the world theory.

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12. Alien invasion

Often the basis of media like movies and novels, the theory is that an alien species will come to Earth to either exterminate human life, enslave it, or harvest people for food. There is a subsequent theory that aliens will invade to steal the planet's resources or destroy the planet altogether.

However, that isn't the end of the alien invasion theories. There have been several conspiracy theories involving aliens and the abduction of the human race.


One is the mass suicide cult that went by the name Heaven's Gate. The religious cult, led by Bonnie Nettles and Marshall Applewhite, believed in the idea that aliens were coming to "save" the superior human race. However, the entire cult ended their lives to leave their "vessels" (or human bodies) and be saved by an alien spacecraft that was following the Comet Hale–Bopp in 1997.

Another fascinating alien theory is Project Blue Beam. Project Blue Beam is a theory that claims members of the Pentagon, NASA, and the United Nations are collaborating on a plan to simulate a fake alien invasion and staged "Second Coming" using hologram projections.

The purpose of the project is to eliminate all traditional religions to make way for a one-world religion, or the "true religion," as well as to abolish national pride, national identities, and family as it is known today. All of this will be done to pave an easier path to bring about a New World Order.

13. Food contamination

Food contamination is when our food supply is contaminated by chemical or microbiological hazards, which can include environmental pollutants, heavy metals, natural toxins, and added food ingredients.


Believe it or not, 1 in 10 people get sick every year from food consumed worldwide, so it's not too far off that this is a very real possibility. While it may feel like a bit of a stretch, science has proven that toxic food additives are actually harming our population, as are food to be harvested being sprayed with chemicals or pesticides, which are harmful to the human body.

The facts are true, but the theory that this will end up causing the world to end, or lead us into worldwide starvation, is more of a reach than climate change.

14. Asteroids

Could the thing that killed the dinosaurs kill us too?

The American Museum of Natural History revealed that there are around 1 million asteroids near Earth that could do serious damage if they hit. There are even tons of movies that depict this end of the world event like "Deep Impact," "Melancholia," and "Don't Look Up."


One of many theories claims that an extremely large asteroid (sometimes said to be 60 miles wide) will hit the planet.

If the asteroid hits the water, it will cause tsunami-like waves the Earth has never seen before. The waves will destroy literally everything. If the asteroid hits land, we'll suffer a fate similar to the dinosaurs. That includes tsunami waves, wildfires igniting hundreds to thousands of miles away from the impact site, and years of a nuclear winter afterward.

And that, my friends, is the end of the world.

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Rebecca Jane Stokes is a freelance writer and the former Senior Editor of Pop Culture at Newsweek with a passion for lifestyle, geek news, and true crime.