The Omaha metro waits with baited breath for the onslaught of the next big winter storm. Schools have cancelled as a precaution. Jim Cantore is reporting from Lincoln. People look out their windows every seven minutes and then check the weather channels in between.
We may well get a large amount of snow later in the day. I am not complaining about the abundance of caution we witness. I am, however, fascinated by the cultural event this has become--at least locally. Computer models began to predict some sort of event six days ago. The snowfall amounts have moved from over sixteen inches to six (or perhaps less).
We have been mesmerized by the illusion of control that such modeling gives to us.
Supercomputers have certainly made it possible to account for many more variables in the algorithms of prediction. However, no model can squeeze the randomness out of Reality. In the run-up to the 2008 financial and housing meltdowns, sophisticated models predicted an ongoing upward trend in housing values and economic growth. People and institutions made wildly irrational investments on the basis of such models. There was no room for randomness and general human cussedness.
When the crash came, two responses ensued. There was the honest shock of those who thought such a thing had now been predictively ruled out. There was the dishonest hindsight of those who were sure they had seen it coming all along. In the former case, folks at least had the good manners to admit they have been duped by their own wishful thinking. In the latter case, experts had the bad manners to insist that their errors had actually been correct from a certain point of view.
We love predictability. From it we can derive both power and security. We tend to ascribe certainty to probability-based models. That's a mistake on our part. Of course, when the improbably thing happens we blame the forecasters for being bad at their jobs. We are horrified at the thought that we might have been taken in once again by our own desires to make life safe and certain.
Whether it is a storm forecast, an economic model, or my expectations about my own life, we want things to be stable and reliable. We don't want to do the hard work of taking unpredictable things into account. We are offended, hurt, grieved, when such things take place. It is however a part of our life that blizzards don't arrive as scheduled, markets crash without warning, and loved ones die when they aren't supposed to. Not even supercomputers can squeeze the vagaries out of existence.
Nor can they account for the one new thing in all of Creation--the good news of Resurrection in Jesus Christ. That is the variable for which there is no human accounting.