Nostradamus did not make any claim about 2012
Michel de Nostredame (latinized as Nostradamus) was a 16th century French apothecary (a rough equivalent of a modern pharmacist). He is best known for his book Les Propheties (“The Prophecies”) (1555).
Following a visit to Italy, Nostredame began to move away from medicine and toward the occult. He wrote an almanac for 1550, for the first time Latinizing his name from Nostredame to Nostradamus. Encouraged by the almanac’s success, he decided to write one or more annually. In response to the almanacs the nobility and other prominent persons soon started asking for horoscopes and “psychic” advice from him. Unlike “professional astrologers” he generally expected his clients to supply the birth charts on which these would be based, rather than calculating them himself. On the occasions where he was obliged to attempt this himself, he made numerous errors.
He then began his project of writing a book of one thousand mainly French quatrains, which constitute the largely undated prophecies for which he is most famous today. Feeling vulnerable to religious fanatics, however, he devised a method of obscuring his meaning by using “Virgilianized” syntax, word games and a mixture of other languages such as Greek, Italian, Latin, and Provençal. For technical reasons connected with their publication in three installments (the publisher of the third and last installment seems to have been unwilling to start it in the middle of a “Century,” or book of 100 verses), the last fifty-eight quatrains of the seventh “Century” have not survived into any extant edition.
Les Propheties received a mixed reaction when it was published. Some people thought Nostradamus was a servant of evil, a fake, or insane, while many of the elite thought his quatrains were spiritually inspired prophecies, as Nostradamus himself was indeed prone to claim.
Catherine de Médicis
Catherine de Médicis, the queen consort of King Henri II of France, was one of Nostradamus’s greatest admirers. After reading his almanacs for 1555, which hinted at unnamed threats to the royal family, she summoned him to Paris to explain them and to draw up horoscopes for her children. At the time, he feared that he would be beheaded, but by the time of his death in 1566, Catherine had made him Counselor and Physician-in-Ordinary to the King.
Problems with Predictions
Since the quatrains were written in Middle French, and because the original meanings were obscured by his word games, the modern English translations are so vague and replete with metaphor and allusion that you can either conclude that he makes no sense whatsoever, or that you can claim justification for any event immediately after it happens.
Nostradamus famously predicted prosperity for Henery II, King of France just two years before his death in a jousting accident. Proponents of 2012 also usually fail to identiify the quatrain in which he allegedly makes the prediction. Various different quatrains have been used by different authors, and usually these are misquoted.
Nostradamus’ quatrains are ambiguous and open to wildly divergent interpretations. He does not mention December 21, 2012 directly. His quatrains are subjected to various justifications and interpretations post hoc in order to make the so-called predictions fit the actual events. In other words, proponents of Nostradamus look for matches to events in his quatrains after the events have occurred. This is a particularly noxious form of selection bias that is then used to erroneously justify claims of accuracy.
Dates beyond 2012
If we are to believe that Nostradamus predicted an apocalyptic event in 2012, then we must then ignore the fact that his quatrains extend well beyond 2012. In fact his quatrains reach out to ~3790 AD. So either the world does not end in 2012 and Nostradamus’ subsequent predictions are wrong, or Nostradamus’ predictions after 2012 are correct, and the prediction about 2012 is wrong. This dilemma is rarely discussed by proponents.
Example of a fallacious Post Hoc analysis
Here’s one of the ‘predictions’:
The great star for seven days will burn, The cloud will make two suns appear: The great mastiff will be all night howling, When the great pontiff changes his land. (Century 2, Quatrain 41)
Like all of his quatrains, this is so vaguely worded that you can, with the right spin, claim that Nostradamus predicted nearly any event! For example, the quatrain above could be easily construed as a supernova. Look! Nostradamus predicted SN1987A, the 1988 election of George Bush (The Great pontiff being Reagan), and the defeat of Michael Dukakis (the great mastiff). See how easy it is?
Almost invariably, 2012 proponents who quote Nostradamus rearrange the quatrains to suit themselves. Since the quatrains are so vague, they can be interpreted to mean anything. Examples of this abound on the internet.
We have shown that Nostradamus makes no prediction for an apocalyptic event in 2012, and that the quatrains of Nostradamus are so vague and ambiguous that they require extensive subjective interpretation, which allows nearly any event to be assigned to one or more of the quatrains, making them useless as “predictions”.