The climate of Hell

B. Geerts


An actual question given on a University of Washington chemistry midterm:

"Is Hell exothermic (gives off heat) or endothermic (absorbs heat)? Support your answer with a proof."

Most of the students wrote proofs of their beliefs using the ideal gas law (Note 1.M). For instance, Hell is hot, loosing heat continuously to the surroundings. Unless the Hell's air is continuously compressed (which is unlikely), Hell must harbour exothermic reactions, such as burning.

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 that souls are moving into Hell and the rate 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. Some of these religions state that if you are not a member of their religion, you will go to Hell. Since there are more than one of these religions and since people do not belong to more than one religion, we can project that all people and 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. We can further assume that the environment of Hell has not changed appreciably over the millenia, i.e. temperature and pressure in Hell have stayed the same. In this case the volume of Hell has to expand as souls (i.e. mass) are added.

It is possible that Hell's expansion keeps in pace with the world's population growth. However, such balance is not guaranteed. Hell's expansion could be tied to the expansion of the universe. Or Hell could remain essentially the same size, as do planets. Assuming that the air pressure in Hell does remain unchanged, there are two possibilities:

  1. If Hell is expanding at a slower rate than the rate at which souls enter Hell, then the temperature in Hell will drop below freezing. In this case Hell would be endothermic, absorbing heat from the surrounding.
  2. Of course, if Hell is expanding at a rate faster than the increase of souls in Hell, then the temperature will rise until Hell boils over, i.e. until all Hell breaks loose (i.e. exothermic).

So which is it? If we accept the postulate given to me by Ms. Therese Banyan during my Freshman year, "That it will be a cold night in Hell before I sleep with you," and take into account the fact that I still have not succeeded in that area, then (1) cannot be true, and so Hell is exothermic.

For this midterm the student got the only A in the entire class.