For the second week now, some college football teams and fans have their panties in a wad over the BCS Standings. The BCS is a complicated, computer-generated system of ranking the top teams. And it’s no wonder why coaches, teams, and university presidents get so worked up over the rankings: if a school finishes in the top six, they’re sure to get a New Year’s Day bowl game and a payout of over $14 million.
The problem with the BCS system is that it doesn’t work. Several times since its inception, the computer program has been modified to make it even more “fair” and even more “accurate.” But that’s like medieval mathmeticians and astronomers using even more complex equations to support Ptolemy’s geocentric cosmos. No matter how good the math, no matter how good the program, some things can’t be measured “perfectly.” In fact, one might go so far as to say that “perfect” measurements are not possible.
“The best college football team in the country” is a phrase that’s designed to be debated. Strength-of-schedule, margin-of-victory, and other indicators simply cannot perfectly measure two teams that haven’t played one another. And, in fact, superior teams often lose to inferior teams when, for instance, the better team has an “off day.”
Yet the BCS system shows how beholden we are to empiricism, logical positivism, and the scientific paradigm in general. We are still tempted to believe that everything, even matters of opinion, can be quantified and measured.
The church, theology, the Christian life: Friedrich Schleiermacher said that these are governed by “rules of art,” not by iron-clad laws, equations, or computer programs. Methinks that’s a nice phrase; one that each of us might use as our scrolling banner screen saver.