In one of my favourite Woody Allen films, “Love and Death” (a spoof on such Russian novels as War and Peace), the following dialogue takes place between Boris (played by Woody Allen) and his cousin Sonia (played by Diane Keaton):
Boris: “What if there is no God?”
Sonia: “Are you joking?”
Boris: “What if we’re just a bunch of absurd people running around with no rhyme or reason?”
Sonia: “But if there is no God, then life has no meaning! Why go on living? Why not just commit suicide?”
Boris: “Well let’s not get hysterical. I could be wrong. I’d hate to blow my brains out and then [gesturing upward] read in the papers they found something.”
As is often the case, Woody Allen reflects the assumptions of the common man. As well as reflecting here some of the nihilism and perplexity of his time, he also reflects the assumption that all truth is essentially scientific truth, and that truths about God, if they can be discovered, will be discovered scientifically. Like all scientific discoveries, it might be the case that “they” (the scientists) poking about in outer space (to which Boris was gesturing) finally “found something”. It reminds people of my vintage of the story that when Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin returned from his quick journey in space he reported that he looked and did not see God while in space. (The authenticity of the quote is disputed, but that is another question. The atheistic propaganda version of what the cosmonaut said stuck.) Like Woody Allen, this view presupposes that God can be discovered through telescope, or microscope, or through scientific theorizing. It is true that they haven’t discovered anything yet. But hold on—maybe one day they will find something.
Actually, they already have found something. But not through scientific theorizing and laboratory experiment. God is not an inert substance to be stumbled upon, nor a rare breed to be discovered in the remote wilderness, like the creatures Darwin discovered in the Galapagos. Rather, all the initiative for contact between God and man lies with God, and He has said that He will only allow Himself to be found by those that seek Him with their whole heart (Jeremiah 29:13). It is therefore not surprising or disturbing that God was not discovered by scientific poking about beyond earth’s atmosphere. What would have been more disturbing to Christian theology would be if He had. But God has allowed Himself to be discovered by those seeking for truth. And long ago, they did “find something”.
Specifically, they found an empty tomb, with the grave clothes left behind and neatly folded up. Read all about it in the eye-witness document known as the Gospel of John: “Then Simon Peter came and, following John, went into the tomb; he saw the linen cloths lying and the napkin which had been on His head, not lying with the linen cloths, but rolled up in a place by itself” (John 20:6-7). Eventually they would meet the Lord Himself, and see His wounds, and eat and drink with Him over a period of forty days (John 20:19, Acts 1:3). That is, proof for the existence of God/ the truth of the Christian Faith was found historically, not scientifically. This is because, as said above, God is not a thing which can be put under a microscope and examined, but a Person who can be met and loved. And in Christ He chose to enter human history as a flesh and blood person like the rest of us. After He did this on the first Christmas day, He grew to manhood, and did many other strange and miraculous things, including rising from the dead and leaving His grave-clothes behind, neatly folded up.
All of these things, occurring in history, are susceptible to historical verification, not scientific verification. To demand scientific proof for historical claims is not to demand rigorous proof. It is to confuse science with history, and prove oneself an incompetent scientist. One proves the truth of historical claims (such as whether or not Nelson won the Battle of Waterloo) through historical methods, such as the credible reports of eye-witnesses and other records. One proves the truth of scientific theorems (such as whether or not water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit) by repeated scientific experiment. Only an idiot would try to prove whether or not Nelson won the Battle of Waterloo in a lab. That is the work of an historian, not a scientist. The term “scientific proof” has come to be “conclusive proof”, but a moment’s reflection reveals the nonsense. “Scientific proof” can only be had when proving matters of science; whereas proving whether or not something occurred in the past—i.e. matters of history—requires not scientific proof, but historical arguments. And the presence of the empty tomb, and the testimony of the apostles, and the astonishing volte-face conversion of the persecutor Saul of Tarsus, and the countless experiences of Christians ever since—all constitute just such historical arguments. Nihilists should indeed refrain from blowing their brains out in a pique of nihilism. It looks like they found something after all.