100 Seconds to Midnight: How Should We Respond to the Doomsday Clock?
The Doomsday Clock was recently moved forward, as scientists warn that current trends are leading to global catastrophe. How should we respond?
The Doomsday Clock was created by U.S. atomic scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project in the 1940s. (This was the group responsible for developing the first functional atomic bomb.) The clock serves as a warning of how close the world is to self-annihilation caused by human activity. Midnight is considered the end of all human life.
Rachel Bronson, the president of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, unveiled this year’s Doomsday Clock set at 100 seconds to midnight. It is the first time the measurement was released in seconds, indicating that the “current environment is profoundly unstable and urgent action and immediate engagement is required by all.”
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists sets the Doomsday Clock each year by answering two questions:
- Is humanity safer or at greater risk this year compared to last year?
- Is humanity safer or at greater risk this year compared to the years since the Doomsday Clock’s beginning in 1947?
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists cites the following as reasons for moving the clock forward this year: “Humanity continues to face two simultaneous existential dangers—nuclear war and climate change—that are compounded by a threat multiplier, cyber-enabled information warfare, that undercuts society’s ability to respond.”
Consider these trends:
- Iran: Experts fear the complete collapse of the Iran nuclear deal (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action). Iran has begun enriching uranium to pressure the Europeans to help lift sanctions and increase investment. But instead the U.K., France and Germany initiated the dispute resolution process, which has further isolated Iran.
- North Korea: Kim Jong-un has threatened to continue nuclear testing and warned that “the world will witness a new strategic weapon.”
- China: China is building up its military rapidly to compete with the United States. China’s more assertive and aggressive stance is destabilizing Asia.
- India-Pakistan: India abolished the special status of the disputed regions of Jammu and Kashmir, citing terrorism concerns. This move resulted in high tensions with Pakistan. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan has warned of nuclear conflict with India and has tested Pakistan’s nuclear-capable Shaheen-I ballistic missile.
- Nuclear arms control: The U.S. withdrew from the INF treaty, citing Russian violations of the treaty. In addition, the U.S. has raised concerns about the need to counter Chinese intermediate-range missiles and about Russia’s compliance with the Open Skies treaty, from which the U.S. has also threatened to withdraw, increasing uncertainty in Europe.
- Climate change: The impact of climate disturbances on people’s lives is increasing. The team at The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists cited record-breaking heat waves, floods, hurricanes and fires that raged with unprecedented intensity and duration. The severe weather changes are “part of a pattern of near-apocalyptic weather events turning lives upside down across the world.”
- Information warfare: Leaders are using information to emphasize narratives that benefit them, even if the accuracy of those narratives is questionable. “Deepfakes” have also emerged. These manipulated videos are generated using artificial intelligence to do things like superimpose a voice saying different words over a video of a person speaking or putting someone else’s face on a video to make it appear he or she did something. These deceptive videos are so believable that they are very difficult to detect as fake.
- Genetic engineering and synthetic technologies: New genetic engineering technologies have become very inexpensive and readily available. With vast amounts of health and genome data collected, there are growing fears the data will be used for nefarious purposes.
- Artificial intelligence: Russian President Vladimir Putin says whoever leads in A.I. will “become ruler of the world.” Nations are developing A.I. systems at an accelerated pace and are even embedding them in military systems. Many fear that this technology could be used in actual warfare to make “kill decisions.”
- Hypersonics: The development of missiles that can travel many times the speed of sound severely reduces nations’ response times to possible attacks—making massive civilian causalities more likely. This could lead to rapid escalation of conflicts.
- Space warfare: Anti-satellite (ASAT) technologies are on the rise. The U.S. has started its own Space Force to prepare for space combat. The U.S., Russia, China and India have the capability of destroying enemy satellites.
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists noted that “the overall global trend is toward complex, high-tech, highly automated, high-speed warfare”—which they see as a recipe for global catastrophe.
Students of Bible prophecy will find many of these trends interesting, since they align closely with many prophesied signs of the end times found in the Bible. To learn more, read our article “Discerning the Signs of the Times.”
Are we at the precipice of a global disaster? Can the nations work together to avert the current course toward disaster?
Prophets of doom
In the press conference for this year’s Doomsday Clock, former California Governor Jerry Brown likened the scientists’ warning to “voices of the prophets of doom.” He said that “speaking of danger and destruction is never very easy—if you speak the truth, people will not want to listen, because it’s too awful.” He went on to say that the prophets of old, like Isaiah and Jeremiah, were ignored as well.
Of course, the warnings of the Old Testament prophets were not just for their time. They also apply to our time (Isaiah 30:8; Daniel 12:9; Habakkuk 2:2-3). To learn more about the prophets, read our articles on the Major Prophets and the Minor Prophets.
A seemingly small trigger could cause the world to explode in conflict.Physicists at the Bulletin describe the world as an “unstable equilibrium,” a physics term describing a system where a small disturbance can produce a large change. In other words, a seemingly small trigger could cause the world to explode in conflict.
A similar situation occurred prior to World War I, where a single gunshot set the world at war. To learn more about the lessons World War I can teach us, read our blog “World War I: A Warning for Today.”
The scientists’ purpose for changing the Doomsday Clock from minutes to seconds was to provoke a sense of urgency for nations to immediately work on correcting these big global dangers.
A sense of urgency
The Bible also urges us to have a sense of urgency. It describes the suddenness of end-time catastrophes, particularly coming on the modern nations descended from Israel.
Here are some prophecies that warn of how quickly disaster can (and will) come in the end times:
- The enemy nations will come upon Israel “from the end of the earth; surely they shall come with speed, swiftly” (Isaiah 5:26), causing great destruction (Jeremiah 4:20; 6:26).
- Our sins are likened to “a breach ready to fall, a bulge in a high wall, whose breaking comes suddenly, in an instant” (Isaiah 30:13).
- The apostle Paul warned of “sudden destruction” occurring during times of perceived peace, like labor pains that come suddenly (1 Thessalonians 5:3).
Why will these disasters come? The following verses show some reasons these disasters will occur:
- Because of calling “evil good, and good evil” and because “they have rejected the law of the LORD of hosts, and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 5:20, 24).
- Because of an unwillingness to “hear the law of the LORD,” preferring to hear only lies about good news (Isaiah 30:9-10).
- Because of our stubbornness and reliance on our own strength (Isaiah 48:4-5).
- Because people do not know God, “they have no understanding. They are wise to do evil, but to do good they have no knowledge” (Jeremiah 4:22).
- Because of the character attributes of people in the end times—a time Paul labels as “perilous”: “For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (2 Timothy 3:1-4).
Jesus Christ likened the end times to the days of Noah and Lot (Luke 17:26-30). In both cases people were going about their day-to-day lives, and suddenly disaster fell upon them. We are warned to seek God before these times come (Zephaniah 2:1-3; Luke 21:36).
But, thankfully, the clock will not strike midnight for all of humanity. It will get frighteningly close, but Christ assures us that He will intervene just before all human life is destroyed—and save us from destroying ourselves (Matthew 24:22).