Still pondering about Oct 21 and Oct 28 - dates predicted to be cataclysmic but that passed by with nary an apocalypse in site? Doomsday fanatics say to brace for two more potentially dark dates: 11/11/11 or Dec. 21, 2012, the end of the Mayan calendar.

But Mayan scholar John Hoopes at the University of Kansas is skeptical about these dates too. In fact, Hoopes discredited predictions that the world would end on 11/11/11 or Dec. 21, 2012. Instead of scoffing at the doomsday forecasts, he now uses Armageddon to teach critical thinking.

In his fall course on Archaeological Myths and Realities -- An Introduction to Critical Thinking, the 2012 myth has now been targeted as teaching tool for critical thinking classes. It's much easier to discuss mortality when we're all in the same boat, Hoopes said. Creating a concerned community allays people's fears and allows us to project individual morality onto the world.

New Age believers say that on the date 11/11/11 planned celebrations will receive emerging energies in preparation for a transformation of consciousness on Dec. 21, 2012. Hoopes expects the hype will not hit its peak well into 2012. Fear and fantasy both sell well, especially in uncertain times, he said.

The United States has always embraced religious freedom. Peculiar religious sects, including occult beliefs, have always been part of America, Hoopes said. End-of-the-world and transformative beliefs are found in many ancient cultures but have been a fundamental part of modern times since 1499, Hoopes said. They are also fundamentally American.

In an attempt to distinguish myth from science, Hoopes uses the 2012 myth and other prophecies to teach students to think critically and learn to distinguish between science and myth. He explained that wishful or magical thinking often helps perpetuate myths and beliefs that have no basis in science.

If a narrative has a moral message, then it probably is not a scientific story. Stories based in science ideally should be objective, not subjective, Hoopes said. The persistence of the 2012 myth may reflect a fear of mortality that has nagged ancient and modern civilizations.

Hoopes tracked the 2012 Maya myth origins through various revivals into the 21st century, in a paper presented January at the Oxford IX International Symposium on Archaeoastronomy in Lima, Peru.

The myth has roots in an early 16th-century European combination of astrological and biblical prophecies to explain the new millennium. Italian explorer Christopher Columbus believed that his discovery of the world's most remote land would lead to Spain's re-conquest of Jerusalem and fulfill world-end events described in the Book of Revelations.

California evangelist Harold Camping selected Oct. 21 as the end-of-the-world date after his original prediction of May 21 failed. Swedish pharmacologist, self-help advocate and self-taught Maya cosmologist Carl Johan Calleman was among those predicting that Oct. 28 would usher in a worldwide unified consciousness.

Hoopes' interest in the 2012 phenomenon began as an academic hobby and has evolved into an anthropological study of contemporary American culture. The 2012 phenomenon has made a huge audience aware of Maya calendrics and the winter solstice, he said.

Columbus's prophecies found a reference point that inspired early speculation by explorers and missionaries, indirectly influencing impulsive individuals as well as scholars to link ancient Mayan beliefs with the astrological and religious beliefs popular in Europe in the 1500s.