Catholic vs. Atheist - 2017-11-18 - Zvi Leve

Author Recorded Saturday November 18th, 2017

There are 47 episodes in the Versus:Atheist series.

Recorded February 9th, 2019

Catholic vs. Atheist - 2019-02-09 - Greg

Recorded September 11th, 2016

Catholic vs. Atheist - 2016-09-11 - Renaud

I met Zvi Leve through Facebook. He is a secular Jew. His interests relate to trying to understand how people interact with their built environment and the role of technology in shaping behaviour. For fun he likes arguing with libertarians. I enjoyed our lively chat. • Support the CVS Podcast: • Be a guest on a livestream:

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These YouTube transcripts are generated automatically and are therefore unformatted and replete with errors.
hi my name is three and you were singing a catholic versus atheist tell the listeners a little bit about yourself who you are what you believe or how you came to believe it okay I'm V I was actually grew up in the u.s. I was raised in a leftist Jewish family that was very non religious and I grew up really hating religion then I really did not enjoy living in the US and I moved to Israel basically where I spent about a third of my life then I fell in love with a woman from Montreal and we moved back here and I would say that I'm a developed atheist if you although since coming to Montreal I've had a bit more tolerance for religion I guess you could say in Israel the situation is very very conflictual and there's people really really despise their religious population in Israel but in Montreal it's a bit more relaxed so I've learned to have a bit more tolerance for people and I consider myself someone who always thinks about things and I understand very well why people have a need to have some sort of belief system to structure their lives and that's fine I suppose you could say that I believe in something if we call it Billie for a reason like it's something that allows you to basically not worry about the big picture things and just accept certain things on faith and there are certain things that I accept on faith and I recognize that we're never going to understand where they come from and that's fine was there ever a point where you believed in God even for five minutes like during a stressful situation where you were maybe on a plane that was going down or something was there ever a time where he reached out to God in prayer did you ever encounter maybe an eccentric uncle that was fanatically Jewish just talk a little bit about the colorful moments that have to do with God and religion in your childhood if you would some of the highlights if you could please well I don't think I've ever had any strong faith in God nor is anyone in my family my father actually I'm had a near-death experience he was technically dead his heart stopped beating I'm when he was in his early 40s and he was a physician and he understood what's happening to him so when he called the ambulance team he told them to expect that he would be dead by the and they got there and said you know do CPR and you know artificial substation which actually worked in his case they had to do extremely aggressive measures but they did actually regard him I had a cousin at the time who was exploring his belief system and he was very very interested in God and out you know past the life experiences and he would often ask my father you know what his experiences where my father was in a very adamant about this when your dad your dad in there there's nothing there you know any memories you think you had that's oxygen on the brain so I was not really brought up in a household where we were expected to have any particular relationship with God I have actually been on planes that have possibly going down and actually did have a I did have a relative who wasn't a plane that went down and he was actually one of the few survivors he was like one of three people on a on a big plane of maybe 300 people who survived and he didn't think that was you know the gift of God who was basically pure chance I was trained as a statistician as well so if I understand if he wills chance the one time that I was in a plane that then they were actually quite nervous about what was going to happen it's like basically the issue with the plane was they couldn't control the plane in the landing and we were flying around for a few hours to try and find an airport that would be able to accommodate us in a very direct approach so we all did - you know like the crash position and everything like that and going in and it was swimming much faster than normal the approach but it was interesting to sort of see how people were behaving as we went down I was actually impressed at how calm it was and and in the end it was fairly uneventful like other than the fact that there were fire trucks everything on both sides of the runway as we went in sort of like zooming down with us but the plane couldn't really stop so when it did eventually stop it was like well beyond like where there normally stop four runways and like we had to get out of the plane they're like we have to you know go down the maps and stuff and I remember how they got a terminal and everything but it was interesting but the thing that struck me was actually how calm people were I didn't notice anyone who was overtly praying or anything certainly not out loud have you ever been impressed by the piety and devotion of a religious person has that ever been the case with you maybe the Dalai Lama impressed you maybe the Pope impressed you may be a rabbi that impressed you just with the force of character or something oh no not that I can point to offhand I mean that um I haven't necessarily had any bad it's as either right but there's a general cynicism about people rooting for this team versus that team and you're not willing to hop on board with the Montreal Canadiens just because you have an apartment in Montreal at that moment all right I am a Canadian fan hypocrite and why well I mean I think that's a great example of yes of religious belief yeah man-made religions are bound and bandwagon hopping is very very very prevalent today it all seems very cowardly to me and very phony yeah there's definitely some serious social issues going on which and you have and social media and the way you know information circulates and the speed with which it circulates and amplifying that I think and I suppose in some ways you could say this is a breakdown of social values religious values whatever you know in the past basically you know religion provided this sort of framework in which you did things and it was also useful for covering up things that were awkward and whatever it was easy to sort of sweep them under the table within that you know basically you know say well just that's ignore that you know you're a good Catholic you know it so let's not go there so this notion of taboo religious taboos does a great job of keeping the facade nice and clean and proper and I think that's what you're trying to express yeah yeah it's exactly that you know basically these are just things we don't talk about and you don't need to dwell on them necessarily and I you know I recognize that there actually may be value in that and you know attitudes change look and that's one of the things that you know defines human beings is we we always we learn we adapt and we change and you know things that were acceptable one at one point perhaps are no longer acceptable how old are you today and I'm early 15 all that I'll keep so speaking of change you must have undergone some changes yourself you started at liberal have you found yourself leaning a little bit more conservative as the years go by I think and my politics are distinctly very left but I'm I'm fiercely independent and I really don't like to label myself as any particular type of political affiliation when I was in university I guess I briefly was with a bunch of anarchists but like intellectual anarchists you know who strongly believed in you know the International revolutionary workers movement and things like that so relative to that you've moved to the right I wouldn't say that I recognize that politics is about human beings as well and I understand that politics is the art of the possible if you will and and they have to make you know difficult compromises and things like that I recognize all that and when the reasons that I am I have not become a politician is because I am more idealistic basically and I really don't like compromising my beliefs so you mentioned something about politics being the science of possibilities and you also were trained as a statistician is that right I wouldn't call politics and science I'm very cautious about how people use that term and I think it's greatly abused so political science is a misnomer I'm completely as is economics I for my perspective science is really about hard science yeah it's and you can apply techniques from the scientific method to study human behavior and things like that which is completely legitimate but the scientific method basically means that you understand non changing laws to experiment and reproduce them and you cannot do that in social sciences like or for that matter the Health Sciences like everyone has a different history and you know we're not doing experiments to see here though you know and so these are I think this is a misnomer to call these things science and any and people really have this technology if you will or science people have this religious belief this religious faith in it I guess you I don't know what the proper term would be and people often confound technology with science as well but but I'm I actually when I was in graduate school I was doing working on a PhD in mathematical optimization and as part of our you know advanced doctoral program we had to have a course in ethics and and I had a course that was called ethics and engineering which was basically every week a different very famous person from the engineering or science profession like very famous like a few Nobel Prize winners would come in and talk to us about an ethical dilemma that they came across in their work which you know theoretical you know there's I think should not be involved there so you would think so this actually opened my eyes to a lot of things and led me to drop my doctoral studies at that point I was very very young when I was doing my studies like I was around 20 at the time and I really didn't have any idea what I wanted to do with my life I was still rather I was still living in the States and I was still uncomfortable living in the States and what had prevented me from going to Israel earlier was the weapon on war and at that point the Lebanon War was calming down so I basically left and went to the 20 Israel which was fine and around ten years later I discovered urban planning and I went back to work on a PhD in that which I also didn't finish but that's but that's definitely much more more attuned to my area of interest is how people relate to their built environment and one another and how these impact oh and one another what do you think about absolute objective reality do you think that truth exists or think that each person can create his own reality his own truth I don't think there isn't such thing as absolute truth except in science if you will and once again you know if you're talking about he would behavior though like we are not scientific like we were me exactly whatever and we we need some sort of structure to help us evaluate our decisions and I think that structure can change the time and with context and things like that and the concept of absolute truth I mean obviously you know you could say someone is dead or not and even then say you have definitions of what that means to be dead and you know brain activity heart activity ellebra but do you believe in randomness or do you believe in cause and effect because you can't have both oh you certainly can I think there's certainly a lot of chance too many things that happen in their life but if you examine that with a scientific eye you'll see that there were causes they may be imperceptible and very hard to measure but the causes are there and the randomness is just a perceived randomness because we don't have access to the chain of cause and effect that unfolded well I'll give you I'll give you an example of something I got a few times in my life there's been events that have happened to me that were just like so bizarre that's like I'm there's no explanation for them so that's just one one of these cases was when I was in graduate school there was one person who I couldn't remember her name she was Greek and we studied French together and it was driving me nuts like her I couldn't remember her name and like so I was like thinking about it for a few hours and whatever you know so anyway I went home and I'm like laying in bed and phone rang I pick up the phone and she was on the line I recognized her voice right away I remembered her name and she was actually cold calling me she was working for the university like raising donations and she didn't even know who she was calling so like oh my god and you love you anyway we ended up talking for like an hour and a tip I mean and I we never saw one another again either but it was just like so sort of it was like so bizarre but this chain of events anyway sort of my take on this is you know you're we're always thinking about all kinds of things and almost all the time whatever you were thinking about doesn't happen so you don't think about anymore like you know us thinking about this person and I didn't see that great there's nothing to think about we don't remark the things that are not remarkable we remark on the things that are remarkable yes so here you know in this case yeah the chain of probability is like so you know bizarre but yeah and it happens and I don't think there's any divine intervention in that's know but I'm speaking from the view of an atheist that doesn't believe in God is there a sufficient cause for each and every step in that chain of events that led to her calling you at that particular time I say yes you as a man of science I think you're forced to say yes as well we just don't have access to all the information right yes sir I'm certainly there's a chain of events that led to that there's a violation of the laws of physics chemistry biology or any other science right no so this is why I'm saying there is no such thing as randomness from a scientific point of view never mind if there's a god or not just from an atheistic point of view there is absolutely no reason to pause it randomness because randomness can mean one of two things it can mean we don't know the cause or it can mean there is no cause and the only rational definition of randomness is that we don't know the cause but there is a cause always know I mean I think a random basically is you don't know how to time like if you flip a coin it's a random variable you you don't know what's gonna happen like this is a random process there's no intervention from God it can happen but randomness is only an acknowledgment of our ignorance because if we had access to all of the variables it would not be random and we would be able to predict it right no it's a random variable there are lots of things that are random variables and in fact that's what science studies you know and you can actually you can calculate what is the probability of getting five heads in a row what is the problem of getting ten heads in row what is the property of getting a million heads in a row you can calculate what is the chance of they're happy and you can calculate it but it's just guesswork it's an educated guess no it's not it's not guesswork it's actually like there is a method to that and if you actually do if you do get zillion experiments there is a chance that you will get a million heads in a row for example yeah I'm not saying that statistics aren't useful of course they're useful but they're a crutch because of our lack of information if we had access to the variables we wouldn't need to be guessing if it's gonna be heads or tails we would know no you can't know we can't know if if we have access to all the variables no that's the thing you know it you can't know in any given time that you try this what the result is gonna be like that's my point have you ever downloaded a file off the internet or transferred a file on your computer of course so you know how that progress bar shows the progress the estimated time remaining the prediction gets better and better more and more accurate as it approaches 100% completion right you do understand that every single time without exception when I transfer a file its initial prediction is wrong and as time goes on its prediction of how much time remaining always improves and at the end it's a 100% spot-on why because all the information now is in hand at the beginning it's evaluating based on a lot of unknowns all of this to say that I don't believe in randomness but do you believe in randomness of course so if you examine a random event is there a cause for that causality is very difficult to prove I think things are really often very complicated and we don't have the information and we will not have the information basically yeah I saw you and I agree then about what randomness is randomness is a lack of information and the more information we have the more certainty we have I wouldn't make that contention that the more information is necessarily better knowledge or you know it might be but it's it's not it is certainly no certainty that it is but what do you think about origins where do you think the universe came from David a pet series about that I'm certainly not a physicist but I mean I think the Big Bang type theory is certainly is good at the guests you know what happened before the Big Bang what will happen after you know things collapse in on itself again I have no idea I mean I think time is basically infinite so but do you believe like the Stoics and like Nietzsche and I like a lot of people that the physical universe has always been here and will always be here some form of physical universe yes I mean I think the consensus is at some point everything's gonna collapse back in on itself and you know space and time will become unified and then it'll don't have another Big Bang tech thing big bang big French yes if you think about that what's happening where a universe is expanding biological life becomes tenable and then it shrinks and biological life becomes untenable and then it all repeats over and over and over again all of the accomplishments of biological life all of the art all the science all the beauty all the love all the philanthropy everything everything that we value about relationships and about love and everything that's connected with human life all of that is reduced to complete meaningless absurdity and a white noise if there are infinite Big Bang Big Crunch scenarios and there's no progress in terms of lasting consequences to anything we do this would bring us to the question of morality and how it's connected to the meaninglessness of everything that you and I cherish the entire concept of progress I mean it's a human construct which I think a lot of people associate that with the Jewish attitude of history and before that you know most religions they look at things on a cyclical sort of thing you know things happen and that was sort of the cycle of life so it's the fact that there is a sort of linear progression is a fairly recent concept and I I think actually in a lot of ways it's it certainly allowed us to master our environment and the downside of that it's also enabled us to destroy our environment whether or not God or whoever he went really cares about what we're doing here makes a difference then I don't think they they do but why is creation good and destruction bad why are you able to intuitively know with certainty that creation is good and destruction of everything that we value is bad but what are we creating anyway what are we destroying let's say mommy makes a beautiful cake and then little Johnny comes in and destroys it you would intuitively say mommy did a good thing and Johnny did a bad thing why is that is that a judeo-christian taboo that's lingering in the culture or is there an objective reality to the fact that mommy made a good cake that was good and Johnny destroyed it that was evil I wouldn't were able to use the couldn't evil labels well just talk about the cake I don't know you you know you do know if you do know you know that it was good the creation was good and the destruction was bad you know that well I don't know what Johnny was thinking like I I have kids that were have gone through you know were little kids at some point but I mean that would tell them that that was evil can you just name me one of your heroes like someone that you think of as a hero and the history books one person who I really like her thinking right notches or solo Franklin she was a professor at University of Toronto who thought a lot about systems of technologies she wrote a book called the real world of technology what did you like about her well I liked her perspective on humanity and our relationship with technology and things like that and and how in a way we are creating a certain reality and there's certain mutuality amongst what we were doing and how it you know impacts on everything future generations and also the planet itself she was able to really grasp the big picture and understands you know how materials man-made materials relate to bigger things so we've created a sort of technological system that it allows us to benefit from the you know if you will God's gifts to us and we've become very good at it but we've become too good at it's basically you know we've set in place processes that are basically we're gonna be facing serious global climatic change nobody knows what that's gonna bring what that's going to lead to like how that's gonna play out so we need to be creating systems that are going to allow us to adapt and do that in a less conflictual and violent way because there's going to be you know major disruptions you know countries literally hundreds of millions of people are living in places where they're probably not gonna be able to live there in 50 years like where are these people going to go what's gonna happen to them you know how is that going to impact on everything and we're gonna need to start finding ways to adapt to the change which we don't know what what's come but we're gonna need to adapt to it one way or another but there's nothing new Under the Sun really in your worldview there's an infinite series of Big Bang Big Crunch cycles with this tiny sliver of biological life appearing in between each and every one of these Big Bang Big Crunch cycles and so there's nothing new because there's an infinite series of them behind us and ahead of us and every prayer every combination and permutation has already been lived out no I were talking about completely different scales but I want to zoom out and talk about this scale where there are infinite iterations of the Big Bang Big Crunch with the sliver of biological life in between and the fact that there are infinite iterations means that everything that can have happened has happened so there's nothing new I don't know I mean everything is I know I think I think life is random actually the fact that life is able to evolve in certain conditions and there certainly are other forms of life that could evolve and other types of conditions and it's possible other societies have had you know been around long enough that they were able to develop technologies and things like that but what is of lasting value I mean what this is I'm trying to get out with you what is of lasting value I don't think it's something that we need to dwell on I mean like I said I think I think all life is ephemeral and I think that it's part of life is you know it's birth and death and those are completely natural parts of life and growth and and going back to the ashes if you will like this is a this is the cycle of things the lower animals seek pleasure and they avoid pain is there anything more to the human animal than that what separates us from the beasts in your worldview our ability to abstract but what how does that service and how does that give us lasting value well I don't know it's that it gives its lasting value to point a but it's certainly what distinguishes us from other animals is our ability to imagine a different world and to take action to create that you know other animals they certainly you know plan for a winter and you know build homes and stock food and things like that instinct so why are you why do you do the right thing not the selfish thing what what is the philosophical basis of your morality as an atheist I like to think that people intrinsically are good you know I don't think they need to be particularly religious to understand different such in write it wrong well I have done bad things in my life that doesn't mean that I'm necessarily a bad person you acknowledge good and bad now I think these are certainly concepts that are important and I don't think you need to be a person of faith religious faith to recognize that distinction I don't think you need to be just faith to be an ethical person yeah I'm just wondering what the philosophical basis of your morality is if nothing matters at the end of the day because everything gets recycled in this Big Bang Big Crunch infinite cycles there there's no lasting consequence to anything so how can you motivate someone to do the right thing when it's more painful that requires more work yeah maybe that's why I'm that having much success in changing the world if I'm not I'm not I'm not offering people a way to control and take power over I'm trying to you know how to enable people to work together and not everyone wants to do that but you've experienced that it feels better or it yields more fruit or what what's your motivation why do you go that way because I don't feel any need to impose my views on others yeah but if you find a wallet you could just slip it in your pocket and you're not forcing your worldview down anyone's throat you're just taking advantage of a selfish opportunity as opposed to hunting down the owner and giving him his money back right I've been in that situation where I've found the wallet and I certainly would look for the owner if it was possible why just because it seems like it's the right thing to do and I've done it and I've found an owner on occasion I don't recall actually if there was any money in the world that I found and it was whether I would possibly take the money or not I don't know you might have possibly I don't know but even if I took the money I would still look for the I mean it's not really the money that the person is lacking it's more of the identification and things like that yeah but in principle you like to do the right thing because it is the right thing to do objectively and eternally yes wow that sounds like there's not a big difference between your world view and my world view really the objective goodness that you pray days and worship you just don't call it God right yeah yep nice so just to wrap up the show what would you say to anyone that might be out there listening now I think it I think at this point I don't see how negative thoughts and fears are going to help us at all and I think we really need to find ways to become more resilient into society and help one another like learn how to recognize that we're all going to be struggling and we are struggling and find ways to work through that the best that we can and I think we have a lot of change ahead of us and it's going to be very very difficult and I'm you know we try to be you know hope for the best basically like I think that's all we can do and help one another you know nuts yeah you know never take anything for granted that's you know just because today you might have a loss and someone that doesn't have a little you know things can change very quickly and and what people have is not a reflection of who they are we're all people and we all need to recognize the beauty in one another