I love this video by Phil Hellenes, Why don’t scientists fear hell? It’s embedded below.
Here is a transcript of the crucial point. (This is heavily edited, but no words were changed or added. I hope I’ve retained the gist that Phil intended.)
Fire is a chemical reaction. When wood, for example, is heated to about 300 degrees Fahrenheit, the cellulose material starts to break down and give off volatile gases. When these gases reach about 500 degrees Fahrenheit, the heat energy overcomes some of the electromagnetic energy binding the atoms to the complex molecules found in wood. These briefly free atoms are then suddenly and violently drawn, by electromagnetism again, to combine with oxygen atoms. In the process, the atoms release energy – in the form of light. Fire is an electric phenomenon.
The heat you feel is the excited motions of the atoms in the air around you, and in your skin and flesh. Heat is simply the motion of atoms. In living tissue, when atoms jiggle too fast, they hit other atoms too hard, creating pressure that can damage cells, resulting in pain signals sent along nerves to your brain. If something hot burns you, some of your atoms simply jiggled too fast.
The actual understanding goes far, far deeper. But what does it all mean? It means that without atoms, and those subatomic particles and laws, there can be no flame. Rigid physical laws make fire possible. Anywhere there is fire, there will also be electricity, solid matter, and oxygen.
You’re not going to burn after you die. If we go anywhere after death, we go there without our atoms.
If someone tells you that you’re going to burn in Hell, and you demonstrate that you understand exactly what fire is, I guarantee that they will then tell you that fire in Hell is not like real fire. The flames need no fuel or oxygen or electrons or photons, but it burns just the same: jiggling atoms that aren’t there. In short, they’re telling you that the fire in Hell is magic fire.
But that doesn’t fly, does it? They can’t have it both ways. If it’s not real fire, why would it really burn you?
I’m not saying that a substitute can never have the same effect as the original. Fake sugar can be as sweet as real sugar, or even sweeter. But that’s because it tweaks the same tongue-molecules as sugar does. The experiential effect is the same because the physical cause is the same. In the Hell story we have no reason to believe that the cause is the same – in fact, we are specifically told that it is not the same. So there is no reason to believe that it would have the same effect.
Hellenes’ description here is compatible with my own view that most religious tenets are not just wrong but incoherent. This applies especially to the idea of miracles (and isn’t the pain of Hell-fire sort of a miracle in reverse?). A miracle is something that by definition, cannot happen, but we’re supposed to believe it anyway. I don’t think that such belief is even possible.