My reason for bringing all of this up is not to to ridicule my opponent's position (for I truly appreciated his willingness to carry his logic to its appropriate end) but to highlight where both forms of logic lead. When most individuals think of Christians and atheists, they tend to categorize the former as one who is willing to "take a leap of faith", and the latter as one who is not. However, this is (I think) an oversimplification of both sides, as if one just believed for no reason at all, and the other decided to not believe because intellectually he could do naught else. In each of these instances a metaphysical "leap" is necessary. That is to say, when confronted with the world that is presented to us, we must determine what we believe. Is there any meaning to life, or is life arbitrary and without purpose?
From the theist's standpoint, he looks at everything that surrounds him- from science to aesthetics to religion and morality- and concludes that while he may not understand everything, he must leap towards the idea that there is some larger Reality binding everything together. In fact, he would argue that in some sense it would require more faith to believe that all of life, the good with the bad, has come to us via a series of cosmic accidents so numerous that the number is utterly unfathomable. By contrast, from the atheist's perspective, the world itself is, in a certain sense, evidence against the world. So in the face of the physical evidence, he is inclined to "leap" to the metaphysical conclusion that everything can be attributed to nothing.
One finds justification for leaping forward towards a greater Reality, while the other looks at reality and finds justification for leaping backwards towards nothingness. Mind you, the latter's leap is a far more irrational than the former. For why would you conclude that there is no God based on the fact that the world is both intelligible and incredibly conducive to the development of life (however you wish to regard that life)? In this sense then the rationality of the atheist actually works to destroy rationality. After all, what value has "reason" if in using it you discover that there is no reason at all?
Back in the mid 1980s there was a movie out called The Never Ending Story (based on a book by the same title). It was by no means a perfect film, but I do remember something about it which I thought particularly insightful. The story was about a boy who, in an attempt to avoid bullying, hides in his school's attic with a mysterious book he "borrowed" from a bookstore. Alone in the attic, he becomes completely engrossed in the book. What makes the story so unique is the fact that in some mysterious way the boy becomes drawn into the story he's reading and is called upon by the characters in the narrative to help preserve their enchanted land. However, the boy naturally struggles to believe that he has a role in the outcome. But as is his doubts persist, the villain of the story gains strength and threatens to destroy everything. The name of this "creature" is called the "Nothing". As I watched this story as a child, I truly became terrified by this beast, though I had no idea what it could possibly be. All I knew is that it would destroy the beautiful realm in which the story took place. As the film reached its climax, you discover that the Nothing is precisely that. It is not so much a monster as it is a kind of insatiable mouth which devours everything in the narrative; from the characters, to the fair country, to the very universe in which the story resides. And so the boy has to decide whether or not he will believe that the story is real, or subject it to annihilation.
It is interesting that atheists often call Christians (and other people of faith), believers of childish fairytales. Presumably they believe that these childish stories are based on unreality (whatever that is). Sadly, it never seems to occur to them that there may be a real purpose to these narratives other than mere escapism. What doesn't dawn on them is that these kinds of stories are generally imaginative ways to point out to children that life has a metanarrative, that is to say, life has a direction and a point, which is not reducible to a series of random accidents. Yet perhaps that is the point in the end, for in spite of the fact that the world is obviously imbued with any number of marvels and miracles, all these individuals seem to see is chaos and chance, and in spite of being confronted daily with the magnificent complexity and intelligence of nature, they cannot see any Intelligence in it at all. Thus, we are left with an atheistic paradox, one that makes the Christian "leap of faith" seem pedestrian by comparison. Indeed, when it comes to drawing assertions about the "why" and the "how" of the world around us, the atheist comes to this stunning conclusion: seeing means not believing.
"The great march of mental destruction will go on. Everything will be denied. Everything will become a creed. It is a reasonable assertion to deny the stones in the street; it will be religious dogma to assert them. It is a rational thesis that we are all in a dream. It will be a mystical sanity to say that we are all awake. Fires will be kindled to testify that two and two make four. Swords will be drawn to prove that leaves are green in summer. We shall be left defending not only the incredible virtues and sanities of this life, but something more incredible still, this huge impossible universe which stares us in the face. We shall fight for visible prodigies as if they were invisible. We shall look on the impossible grass and skies with a stranger courage. We shall be of those who have seen and yet have believed."
- G.K. Chesterton: Heretics 1905