Order. Why?

Question from Gene:
How did reality come to be structured such that there are fundamental laws of nature and a hierarchy of intelligence in the natural world?

Answer by SmartLX:
The “hierarchy of intelligence” is the easy part. Sentient life forms on this planet have diversified and subsequently evolved in different directions, and some animals’ brains grew more than others, so different animals have wildly different levels of intelligence. Individuals are also subject to different genes and environmental factors, so even within one species there are relative geniuses and relative idiots. It’s exactly what we would expect in the circumstances. If all animals with intelligence had exactly the same amount of it, now that would be a remarkable thing.

As for the apparently universal consistency of the laws of nature, I don’t know why they’re there, though of course if they weren’t so consistent then I wouldn’t have a functioning brain to wonder about it.

Maths

It might simply be that way as a result of the physical properties of all matter and energy. The constants might have varied significantly in some ancient epoch, and stabilised around the time of the Big Bang (if that phrase even makes sense given the nature of time) so that we’re now enjoying the benefits of a stable universe. There could be many universes, some with fixed constants and some without. Perhaps one day we’ll discover the reason.

Let’s say, though I won’t assume at this point, that you believe a god structured the laws of nature the way they are. If I don’t know how it happened and admit as much, is that a good reason for me to adopt your position? No, because it’s merely an assertion. There’s no substantive evidence for the existence of a god, let alone its influence on the form of the universe. I have no desire to grasp at any answer presented to me if there’s nothing to support the idea that the answer is right.

We can take this a little further. Let’s say that we did both believe that there’s an almighty god, but didn’t adhere to the specific doctrine of any one religion. Could we then say confidently that He structured the universe? The answer is still no, because there’s still no evidence that it happened. Unless we can establish that uniformity can ONLY be deliberately structured, which we can’t, our god might only have happened across our universe and adopted it like one adopts a puppy.

Finally, if we both adhered to the doctrine of a religion that stated that God structured the universe, we would both accept that idea. We would not, however, have arrived at this particular position through logic, other than through the logical fallacy of accepting an argument from authority.

So, if even taking the existence of a god as a given doesn’t necessarily lead to the conclusion that a god structured the universe, we certainly can’t arrive at that conclusion when the existence of a god is in question. As for using the idea to argue for the existence of the god, forget it.

The Human Clothes Dryers

Question from Lukas:
Hi

I have another question. I came a across something odd during a conversation with a believer and I could not find any rational explanation. Maybe you can help and I would be very thankful for that. Here is the question:

Shamans in the areas where it is extreme cold like where Eskimos live have a ritual to become a Shaman where the Shaman must put on himself a very wet clothing and then stay in the cold using only his body temperature to make the wet clothing dry again and if the person succeed he will become a Shaman. Mircea Eliade wrote about this in one of his books the believer told me and I had a look on it. The books name is Dreams and the Sacred(Sorry It my own translation because its in Slovak language). Eliade in the book claims that they can achieve this only using meditation and the power of their own mind.

Its the same way like this guy does it who claims the same thing:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wim_Hof

Hof like the Shamans claims that his ability to withstand extreme cold temperatures as being able to “turn his own thermostat up” by using his mind.

If you could answer my question and give me some rational explanation I would be very grateful. Thanks very much for reading this and for the answer.

Also I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Answer by SmartLX:
Merry Christmas to you too. To those who don’t think atheists should say “Christmas”, consider that hardly anyone who uses the names “Tuesday”, “Wednesday”, “Thursday”, “Friday” and “Saturday” believes in the Norse gods Tiw (Týr), Wodan (Odin) and Thor, the Norse goddess Frigg (Frigga) or the Roman god Saturn. I don’t see the harm in letting such names settle into the lexicon, especially since their original meaning (e.g. “Thor’s Day” or “Christ’s Mass”) soon becomes irrelevant.

Anyway, it does appear that with training, at least some people can measurably influence their body temperature using only their minds. Experiments so far have produced encouraging, if not fully conclusive, results. This is not an indication that anything supernatural is going on.

Our body temperature is fixed around a certain level, but it changes on a small scale all the time. It goes up when we eat, when we do physical activity and when we’re sexually aroused or otherwise riled up (hence the expression “hot under the collar”). It’s closely related to the rate of blood flow and metabolism.

Normally these changes are involuntary, but if other involuntary actions like breathing and blinking can also be controlled voluntarily, why not this kind of thing as well? Brain scans of Buddhist monks who can do the cloth-drying thing show multiple physiological changes while they’re in the correct meditative state, which results in increased blood flow and apparently greater body heat.

The supernatural claim related to all this is that the mind is exerting an impossible, supernatural influence on the rest of the body, but the brain is in a perfect position to exert a natural influence to achieve the same results. Influencing the operation of the body is what the brain does all day long, after all. If a monk were able to produce the same physical effects on someone else without inducing the same mental state in the subject, that might be a phenomenon that defied natural explanation, but what we’ve seen so far appears to be a natural mechanism. Pretty awesome, when you think about it, but still within the bounds of naturalism despite what some practitioners believe.