Summary: When you face an uncertain future, don't rely on human predictions; rely on the Lord.
In his book Future Babble, journalist Dan Gardner explores our obsession with “experts” who claim to predict future events. Gardner relies on the work of Philip Tetlock, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, who produced a massive 20-year analysis of 27,450 predictions from 284 experts. Tetlock concluded that as a group the experts did little better, and sometimes considerably worse, than “a dart-throwing chimpanzee.” For example:
In 1914 the British journalist H. N. Norman proclaimed that “there will be no more wars among the six great powers.”
In 1968 the president of Anaconda Copper Mining Company predicted that his company would be successful for 500 years. Less than ten years later, fiber optics trumped copper and Anaconda was out of business.
Also in 1968 Paul Ehrlich predicted that overpopulation would produce a total collapse in the world's food supply. Instead, the world's food supply has increased dramatically.
In 1974 Ehrlich confidently asserted, “If I were a gambler, I would take even money that England will not exist in the year 2000.”
In 2008 experts at Goldman Sachs predicted that oil prices would surge to over $200 per barrel within six months. Instead, the price for petroleum fell to $34 per barrel in those six months.
So why do people pay attention to these so-called “experts” even when they're wrong so much of the time? According to Gardner, human beings hate uncertainty. “Whether sunny or bleak,” Gardner wrote, “convictions about the future satisfy the hunger for certainty. We want to believe. And so we do.” (Trevor Butterworth, "Prophets of Error," The Wall Street Journal, 4-30-11; www.PreachingToday.com)
Daniel Gilbert (a psychology professor at Harvard) came to the same conclusion. Recently (2009), the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index showed “that Americans are smiling less and worrying more… happiness is down and sadness is up… we are getting less sleep… smoking more cigarettes, [and] depression is on the rise.”
Gilbert noted that the real problem is not financial – not having enough money, but something else: uncertainty. People don't know what's going to happen. Will I have a job next week? What's ahead in the future for me?
Professor Gilbert pointed to a Dutch experiment where some subjects were told they would be intensely shocked 20 times. The researchers told a second group that they would receive three strong shocks and 17 mild ones, but they wouldn't know when the intense shocks would come. The results? Subjects in the second group sweated more and experienced faster heart rates. Uncertainty caused their discomfort: they didn't know when the intense shocks would come next.
Daniel Gilbert summarized, “An uncertain future leaves us stranded in an unhappy present with nothing to do but wait… Our national gloom is real enough, but it isn't a matter of insufficient funds. It's a matter of insufficient certainty.” (Daniel Gilbert, “What You Don't Know Makes You Nervous,” 9-21-09; The Week magazine, 6-5-09, p. 14; www.PreachingToday.com)