A friend recently emailed me the “Chemistry of hell” joke that has been circulating on the Internet for years, though I couldn’t recall having seen it before. The version that I got is in the continuation to this post. The joke seems to be evolving, as it now has a nice “Oh, my God!” paragraph at the end that earlier versions didn’t have.
As humorous as this story is, it has some deep philosophy in it. Notably, the idea that since most religions state that anyone who isn’t a member of that faith is going to hell, and few (if any) people belong to every religion in the world, then everyone is going to hell.
I thought of this joke as I was reading a message from a Muslim student who attended a lecture by Sam Harris. Harris wrote “The End of Faith,” a book that I praised on my other weblog after reading only 30 pages. After finishing the book, my initial favorable impression only grew stronger.
As the student writes, Harris boldly attacks all religions as being equally non-sensical and opposed to a truly spiritual view of the world, fellow human beings, and ourselves. What made me think about hell is her observation that bodyguards were present during Harris’ talk. Would a scientist who criticized an unfounded theory need protection from those who believed in it?
Hell isn’t a real place like Death Valley in the summertime. It is the manmade creation of religions. It is as real as the irrational untested beliefs of religious fundamentalists. Yet this illusion has its all-too-real effects: people who question religious dogma need bodyguards to protect them from believers in a loving God.
To me, this absurdity is what’s truly hellish.
The following is supposedly an actual question given on a University of Washington chemistry mid-term. The answer by one student was so "profound" that the professor shared it with colleagues, via the Internet, which is, of course, why we now have the pleasure of enjoying it as well.
Bonus Question: Is Hell exothermic (gives off heat) or Endothermic (absorbs heat)?
Most of the students wrote proofs of their beliefs using Boyle's Law (gas cools when it expands and heats when it is compressed) or some variant. One student, however, wrote the following:
First, we need to know how the mass of Hell is changing in time. So we need to know the rate at which souls are moving into Hell and the rate at which they are leaving. I think that we can safely assume that once a soul gets to Hell, it will not leave. Therefore, no souls are leaving. As for how many souls are entering Hell, let's look at the different religions that exist in the world today.
Most of these religions state that if you are not a member of their religion, you will go to Hell. Since there is more than one of these religions and since people do not belong to more than one religion, we can project that all souls go to Hell. With birth and death rates as they are, we can expect the number of souls in Hell to increase exponentially.
Now, we look at the rate of change of the volume in Hell because Boyle's Law states that in order for the temperature and pressure in Hell to stay the same, the volume of Hell has to expand proportionately as souls are added. This gives two possibilities:
(1)If Hell is expanding at a slower rate than the rate at which souls enter Hell, then the temperature and pressure in Hell will increase until all Hell breaks loose.
(2) If Hell is expanding at a rate faster than the increase of souls in Hell, then the temperature and pressure will drop until Hell freezes over.
So which is it?
If we accept the postulate given to me by Teresa during my Freshman year that, "it will be a cold day in Hell before I sleep with you," and take into account the fact that I slept with her last night, then number 2 must be true, and thus I am sure that Hell is exothermic and has already frozen over.
The corollary of this theory is that since Hell has frozen over, it follows that it is not accepting any more souls and is therefore, extinct...leaving only Heaven, thereby proving the existence of a Divine Being, which explains why, last night, Teresa kept shouting, "Oh, my God."
This student received the only "A" in the class.