Black Swans and the Bible

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”. Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” James 4:13-15

In recent years there has been an upsurge in books and scholarly articles dealing with humanity’s inability to correctly predict the future. Most notable has been Nassim Taleb’s Fooled by Randomness and The Black Swan. These are scary reads, revealing how vulnerable we are to constructing idealistic visions of the future whilst heading straight towards disaster.

What we call forecasts are oftentimes no more than wish dreams, and this is true whether we are New York stockbrokers, politicians with bags full of promises or young professionals embarking on the road to their first million whilst raising the perfect family.

It all sounds pretty cynical, especially when the bookshops and airwaves are crammed with messages that you can attract your own future by following a few basic universal laws to which even God is subject. But thinkers like Taleb, Daniel Kahneman and Daniel Gilbert are vindicated by two factors: Firstly, history testifies on their behalf with millennia of grim statistics, confirming how often the unexpected violently intrudes into the lives of the most decent of people. Secondly, and more importantly, the Bible has been saying for ages what these scholars are propagating.

The Bible, however, goes one step further. Instead of merely shattering our wish dreams it introduces us to an alternative focus that is immune to surprises: The eternal, unshakeable will of God.

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