Renowned philosophy professor speaks on hell

At the end of last week, published philosopher Peter Van Inwagen came to APU to give lectures on both Friday and Saturday.

In addition to being a Professor of Philosophy at Notre Dame, Peter van Inwagen is a Research Professor of Philosophy at Duke University in the spring semesters, has taught at Syracuse University, written eight books, countless articles on philosophy and won numerous awards for his work. From 2010-13, he was the president of the Society of Christian Philosophers.

The topics for his lectures were a matter of what students most preferred to discuss. The first of the two, held on Friday in Wilden Lecture Hall, was on the topic of hell, and the second was on the resurrection and afterlife.

“I did not come here just to speak about hell, but I offered a list of topics I could speak on and that’s what was decided,” Van Inwagen said.

The lecture proposed a possible depiction of hell referencing literature from C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce, J.R. Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings and Dante’s Inferno. Van Inwagen also incorporated several verses and passages from the Bible as well as his own “just so” story using a “hypothetical Adolf Hitler” character and what he may have experienced on his personal judgement day.

Junior applied exercise science major Kara Hinton said she appreciated the diverse origins of Van Inwagen’s depiction of hell.

“It was quite intriguing that Van Inwagen used spiritual, realistic and historical perspectives when it came to talking about Hell,” Hinton said. “Using the different aspects made his argument that much stronger.”

Van Inwagen’s lecture included both philosophical concepts like possibility of damnation and annihilation, as well as more concretely stated proposals such as the idea that “there is no hope in hell, but there may be false hope.” The audience was a wide range of ages and varying levels of experience with philosophical discussion, and, as a result, each student came away with a unique perspective on what they noticed.

“I thought the event was good and well organized. I thought that the speaker had interesting points and that the audience had really insightful questions, and I enjoyed those,” senior communications studies major Grant Walter said. “I think some of his points were kind of muddled, and people were having trouble sorting through that, but I thought it was really good that he was able to come and give us some stuff to chew on and some thoughts to wrestle with.”

Walter also took notice that the younger members of the audience perhaps had a hard time following because Van Inwagen’s viewpoints may have not been familiar to them.

“It was a hard line traditional view met with a postmodern college audience,” Walter said.

Dasha Shashina, sixth year accounting student, suggested that the difference in language also attributed to the difficulty of the conversation from the student perspective.

“It seems like the older people really did understand what he was saying because maybe they have participated in that kind of discussion before,” Shashina said. “I think that maybe we just haven’t been exposed to this kind of language, for me personally that’s just not that language that I use, so that’s why it was hard to follow. When you really pay attention to every single word you can kind of get the idea.”

Shashina showed an appreciation for Van Inwagen’s lecture, but she said she could not give a fully formed view of the discussion because she is a philosophy novice.

“If I was more understanding I’m sure it would have been more interesting. It seemed like the professors were really following,” Shashina said.