Thursday, June 26, 2008

Urban Legends and The Thermodynamics of Hell

A thermodynamics professor wrote a take home exam for his graduate students. It had one question:

Is hell exothermic or endothermic?
Support your answer with a proof.

Most of the students wrote proofs of their beliefs using Boyle's Law or some variant. Here's the answer that got an "A" on the test.

First, we postulate that if souls exist, then they must have some mass.

Second, at what rate are souls moving into hell and at what rate are souls leaving? I think that we can safely assume that once a soul gets to hell, it will not leave. Therefore, no souls are leaving.

Third, lets 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 people do not usually 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.

Fourth, let's consider the rate of change of volume in hell. Boyle's Law states that in order for the temperature and pressure in hell to stay the same, the ratio of the mass of souls and volume needs to stay constant.

One conclusion is that 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.

The other conclusion is that 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.


Before you get all testy about the many doctrinal flaws in this little piece, remember that it is intended to be funny. But humor isn't the only reason I've put this "joke" in my blog. I also want to discuss Urban Legends.

Some websites say a student named Tim Graham wrote the winning answer. Snopes, your first recourse when faced with a possible Urban Legend, doesn't mention Graham, but has this to say.

  • Commonly, the piece begins with a statement meant to authenticate the story. "An actual question given on University of Washington chemistry midterm," "from a Yale professor," and "Dr. Schambaugh, of the University of Oklahoma School of Chemical Engineering, Final Exam question for May of 1997" have been spotted so far.

  • Sometimes the student's comments culminate in the assertion that hell must be exothermic because a girl he'd been chasing had sworn it'd be a cold day in hell before she'd sleep with him, and he'd so far been unable to get to first base with her.

  • Often the story concludes with "The student received the only 'A' given on the exam."

There IS a Dr. Robert Shambaugh at the University of Oklahoma College of Engineering, but according to one web page he says he never used this question on any of his exams.

By now, if you've read some of my posts, you know how interested I am in religion. So you'll forgive me for reporting that Snopes goes on to say that

... the purported student's opening gambit, "We postulate that if souls exist, then they must have some mass," stands in opposition to the position taken centuries ago by the Roman Catholic Church. The Holy See had given its official approval to a particular line of scientific thought, the vacuum, to specificially allow for immaterial forms such as weightless souls and armies of angels in what would otherwise be a filled universe. Without vacuums, places where measurable matter does not exist, both Heaven and Hell and all their denizens would have no place in the cosmic order of things. The time-honored Aristotelian assertion "Nature abhors a vacuum" had to be (and was) elbowed out of the way because the vacuum was a theological necessity.

Talk about doctrinal errors!! Oy, vey!

As I was researching this article I found an interesting paper by Mark Goodacre, The Tale of Theresa Banyan, one of several names of the unobtainable girl mentioned in some versions of the story. Using "The Thermodynamics of Hell" as an example, Goodacre's paper compares the differences in Urban Legends with differences in stories from the New Testament. You should read this paper before you read before my post, in about a week, on the Inerrancy of the Bible. Of course NOBODY is reading any of the things I post, so all this is irrelevant. But I digress.

While "The Thermodynamics of Hell" is amusing, a lot of Urban Legends are not. Many of them are attacks on someone or something.


  • This is an election year, and the mudslingers are out in farce (sic). Snopes has a page with a list of slurs aimed at Barack Obama. There is also a page for John McCain, but it is all positive. Are the Snopes people Republicans? The kind of hatred directed at Obama should NEVER be forwarded to anyone. If you receive emails with this kind of BS, just delete them. Please! (And I'm probably more conservative, politically, than McCain. But fair is fair.)

  • Since we are all concerned about our health, Urban Legends about Medicine or about Toxins might cause anxiety and mass hysteria in some folks.

  • Religion and Race are two more areas where Urban Legends can be vicious.

You'll notice, if you look at the links above, that many of the Urban Legends are true, or at least partially so. Obama and McCain, for example, are politicians, so they are, by definition, weasels. You'd have to expect some dirt to cling to them. Here are some other websites you can go to when trying to find out the origin and reality of a suspicious article one of your coworkers just emailed you:


So what is the bottom line?

Don't take life as seriously as I do!

2 Comments:

At 10/23/12, 10:57 AM, Blogger Ishaan said...

Thanks a lot man...!
That was some really nice explanation for that hoax mails troubling me over...
Keep u the good work :)

 
At 10/23/12, 11:08 AM, Blogger Ishaan said...

Nicely done bro...!
Keep up the good work!

 

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