Ask Dr. Physiks

Dear Dr. Physiks: While reading James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, I came across a Jesuit's description of hell. Which made me wonder: Does hell give off heat or absorb heat?
-Roger Mallinson, San ClementeMost people would cite Boyle's Law (gas cools off when it expands and heats up when it is compressed) or some variant to determine whether hell is exothermic (gives off heat) or endothermic (absorbs heat). But before we can say that, we need to know how the mass of hell is changing over time. To know that, we need to know the rate at which souls are moving into hell and the rate at which they are leaving. According to mainstream Christian theology, 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. Some of these religions state that if you are not a member of their religion, you will go to hell. Since there are several such religions and since people do not belong to more than one religion, we can project that all people and all souls will go to hell. With birth and death rates continuing as they are, we can expect the number of souls in hell to increase exponentially. Next, we must look at the rate of change in the volume of hell because Boyle's Law states that for the temperature and pressure in hell to stay the same, the volume of hell has to expand as souls are added. This yields 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, and (2) of course, 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 Therese Banyan during my course in freshman physics at a nearby college-“It will be a cold night in hell before I sleep with you, Dr. Physiks”-and take into account the fact that I still have not succeeded in having sexual relations with her, then possibility No. 2 cannot be true. Thus I am sure that hell is exothermic.

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