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"And the Life of the World to Come:'' The Metaphysics of Resurrection

George Wilcox Brown

I. Introduction

The Christian hope centers largely on what the Nicene Creed calls ''the life of the world to come.''  The Apostle's Creed, moreover, characterizes this life as ''everlasting''.  This everlasting life in the world to come is brought about, orthodox Christianity decrees, in some sense by the death and resurrection of Christ.  Christians believe that because of and by way of Christ's death and subsequent resurrection, they too will die only to be resurrected at the end of time to spend an eternity in a place called the ''Kingdom of God''.

While these sorts of beliefs motivate Christian life and are generally an integral part of Christian doctrine, it is difficult to lend them a precise meaning.  The resurrection of the dead is thought to precede man's eternal habitation with God, but it is less than clear what this event entails.  The purpose of this paper is to explore various accounts of life after death, resurrection and the persistence of the self through death.  In the course of doing this, I will examine competing accounts of (mostly Christian) philosophers in light of the sticky area of personal identity.  My goal is to paint a picture of the resurrection that does not blatantly contradict any pertinent passages of Scripture, or any part of the Apostle's or Nicene Creeds.  In so doing, I hope to provide what might be considered a coherent, Christian account of ''life after death.''

I should perhaps point out that in this paper I am making certain assumptions and asking my readers indulgently to make them with me for reasons of utility, if they are not prepared to make them outright.  I am, for example, not going to argue for the existence of God.  I will henceforth be taking His existence for granted.  I am also implicitly lending a certain weight to the authority of the Bible.  I will not make any claims for its ''infallibility'' or ''inerrancy,'' but I will operate on the general assumption that it is an advantage for a resurrection account not blatantly to contravene any passages of the Bible that have been charitably and reasonably exegized.

Several preliminary observations can be made with regard to resurrection and personal identity.  We can safely say that either we, as persons, have souls or we do not have souls.  If we have souls, either our personal identity resides with our souls (we are our souls), or it does not.  If we are not identical with our souls, then either we are identical with our bodies (I will not be considering the outlandish possibility that we do not have bodies) or we are identical with the combination of our souls and our bodiesˇ with the two things together.  Each of these possibilities has had compelling arguments brought to bear on its behalf by capable philosophers.  In this essay, I will be examining arguments representing each of these positions.

Most of the group of philosophers and theologians commonly called ''the church fathers'' as well as the ''scholastics'' saw man as having a soul and as either being (identical with) his soul or as being a soul-body composite.  Thomas Aquinas notably maintained that people are soul-body composites, that identity resides in the combination of these two things and that the survival of either by itself is insufficient for the maintenance of personal identity.  Peter Geach follows Aquinas in the main and argues for the coherence of a notion of life after death that involves soul-body composites.  Likewise, he argues against the possibility of the persistence of the self as a disembodied consciousness.

Peter van Inwagen and John Hick each conceive of people's persistence, identity, and life after death strictly in terms of materiality.  That is to say, they do not appeal to the idea of a soul to support their claims about the coherence of the doctrine of the resurrection.  Their respective accounts differ in some rather interesting ways but I don't think either is ultimately compatible with certain passages of Scripture nor certain parts of the Apostle's and Nicene creeds.

II. Peter van Inwagen

Van Inwagen first forces us to consider certain questions about identity by telling a story about a miraculous manuscript. [1]   He asks us to suppose that a monastery claims to have in its possession a certain manuscript written by St. Augustine.  He further asks us to suppose that the manuscript which they have is known to have been burned by heretics.  The monks admit that the manuscript was destroyed but proclaim that God miraculously recreated the manuscript subsequent to its destruction.  Van Inwagen says that he would respond to such a miracle story by telling the monks that ''the deed it describes seems quite impossible, even as an accomplishment of omnipotence.'' [2]   Van Inwagen informs us that God could quite easily, in His omnipotence, have created a perfect duplicate of the original manuscript, but that it is impossible for such a duplicate actually to be the original manuscript.  This is, he goes on to say, not because there is something that God is unable to do; on the contrary, the ''thing'' in question (causing one thing to be something it is not) is not a ''thing'' at all; it is nonsense.  It would be like God trying to make a triangle with four sides or to create two adjacent mountains without a valley between them.  There are no such ''things'' to be done.  Van Inwagen explains, '''I can hardly expect to be able to understand the Divine Nature; but I do understand mountains and valleys.'' [3]   With regard to the manuscript, the original would have had certain properties that the duplicate lacked and vice versa.  The writing on the original, for example, would have been there because St. Augustine put it there.  On the duplicate, the writing would be there because God arranged things in a certain way.  Therefore, the duplicate would not be a manuscript written by St. Augustine.

The obvious analog with resurrection seems just as problematic for van Inwagen, who is a philosophical materialist about human persons ˇ that is, he takes the story of human persons to be a story about strictly material beings.  He offers a convincing argument against materialist accounts of the resurrection that involve God collecting all of the atoms that once composed a particular person (now dead or even entirely destroyed) and causing them to bear the same spatial relationships to one another that they did when the person in question was alive.  ''The atoms of which I am composed occupy at each instant the positions they do because of the operations of certain processes within me.'' [4]   Identity, as illustrated with the manuscript story, depends not just on the sameness of the material, but on some material continuity.

Van Inwagen further argues for the incoherence of the view that God could accomplish the resurrection by collecting the matter that composed me during life and rearranging it, by pointing out an absurdity entailed in such a view.  It is possible (in fact, likely) that I am composed of entirely different simples now than I was composed of when I was two.  It would be possible, then, for God to collect all of the two-year-old-will-brown simples and arrange them in the same way that they were arranged in 1981.  Would it then be the case that the resultant being could truly say to me ''I am you,''?  Of course not.  This would be to violate the continuity criterion noted above.

But how is material continuity to be maintained when, after biological death, a person's body is destroyed?  What of, for example, people who are cremated or eaten by sharks?  It would seem that in such cases the natural processes of life are interrupted, that such a person is utterly destroyed, and that he therefore ceases to exist.  Continuity is certainly interrupted.  Thus he concludes that  ''it is absolutely impossible, even as an accomplishment of God, that a man who has been burned to ashes or eaten by worms should ever live again.'' [5]

But van Inwagen is a Christian and professes a belief in the creeds and ''the life everlasting.''  He resolves this seemingly irreconcilable tension by pointing out that all that Christians must maintain as Christians is that those who share in the sin of Adam (that is, everyone) must die, but not that they must be destroyed or annihilated:

It is of course true that men apparently cease to exist: those who are cremated, for example.  But it contradicts nothing in the creeds to suppose that this is not what really happens and that God preserves our corpses contrary to all appearance'.  Perhaps at the moment of each man's death, God removes each man's corpse and replaces it with a simulacrum which is what is burned or rots.  Or' perhaps he removes for ''safekeeping'' only the ''core person'' ˇ the brain and central nervous system ˇ or even some special part of it. [6]


Van Inwagen seems to be maintaining that it is reasonable to suppose that God spirits away the corpses of at least the faithful, immediately after they die, despite the fact that He definitely seems not to, and preserves them in some place until the eschaton, at which time they will, in some sense, be ''resurrected.''

One hardly knows how to respond to such a strange account of how resurrection might happen.  It does not seem a particularly desirable position.  It fails miserably to maintain appearances.  It requires God to intervene in a supernatural way all of the time and, as van Inwagen admits, ''contrary to all appearances.''  Moreover, I do not agree with van Inwagen that such a view ''contradicts nothing in the creeds.''  What, for example, are we to make of the lines from the Apostle's Creed that say ''I believe in' the communion of saints,''?  Van Inwagen's account would, it seems, require us drastically to alter our understanding either of the word ''communion'' or of  ''saint''.  Could a collection of saintly corpses rightly be called a ''communion''?  Is it even possible for a corpse to be a saint (even though on van Inwagen's view the saints do exist in the period between biological death and the eschaton, they are dead during this time)?  One is naturally disinclined to admit such a possibility.

This is to say nothing of the passages in Scripture that seem to indicate that the righteous exist between biological death and the eschaton as the very people they were before their deaths.  As St. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5.8, to be absent from one's body is to be present with God.  It is difficult to see how one could be absent from the body (at all) and present with God on van Inwagen's view.  There are, moreover, the words of Christ on the cross to the ''good thief'':  ''Today you will be with me in paradise.'' [7]   Again, in 2 Corinthians, St. Paul relates a perplexing story which admits at least the possibility of a person being separable from his body:

I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven ˇ whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows.  And I know that such a person ˇ whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows ˇ was caught up into Paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat. [8]


From the Old Testament, there is the passage where Saul illicitly employs the witch of Endor to summons up ''a divine being'' ˇ or an unearthly being ˇ which the author identifies as the dead prophet ''Samuel.'' [9]   Also notable are the words (again St. Paul's), '''my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better, but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you.'' [10]

I do not cite these passages as proof that van Inwagen's position is untenable, or even unchristian.  I merely wish to point out that his position is at a disadvantage as a Christian position inasmuch as he is committed either to a rejection of such passages, or at least to a somewhat unnatural exegesis. 

Van Inwagen elsewhere explicitly addresses the issue of ''proof texts'' within the context of talk about the resurrection.  After noting that Paul seems at times to be using dualistic language, and at times to be using language compatible with materialism (when he refers to the dead as ''sleeping'', etc.), van Inwagen notes his regard for the dualistic passages as ''recalcitrant data,'' and that it is often the case, even in science, for ''the best available theories to confront various recalcitrant data.'' [11]   It also seems to be the case that inasmuch as the authors of the biblical narrative seem at times to be using dualistic language about persons, resurrection, etc., and at times to be using language compatible with materialism, because dualism and materialism are ultimately incompatible, dualists and materialists will each have to reconcile themselves to the presence of such ''recalcitrant data.''

It should further be noted that van Inwagen qualifies, in a note written well after the original article, the views he presents therein.  Van Inwagen notes, ''I am' inclined to think that there may well be other ways [God could accomplish the resurrection], ways that I am unable even to form an idea of because I lack the conceptual resources to do so.'' [12]   Van Inwagen's essay therefore serves chiefly to illustrate certain ways in which the resurrection could not be accomplished.

Although van Inwagen is a materialist with regard to persons and personal identity, his arguments are insightful and illustrative in part because they force one to recognize the precariousness of such a Christian materialism.


III. John Hick

John Hick attempts to develop an account which not only maintains appearances to a much greater degree than does van Inwagen's, but also claims to be consistent with a Christian materialism.  Hick maintains that individuals are ''psycho-physical unities'', the pattern or code of which can be re-embodied at any time after death.  Such a re-embodied individual based upon a pattern or code would be identical with the its pre-death counterpart providing there is only one such re-embodiment.

Hick begins with ''the idea of someone suddenly ceasing to exist at a certain place in this world and the next instant coming into existence at another place which is not contiguous with the first.'' [13]   We are asked to consider, for example, a person at a meeting in London suddenly disappearing and at the next moment seemingly reappearing at a meeting in New York.  We are told that ''the person who appears in New York is exactly similar, as to both bodily and mental characteristics, to the person who disappears in London.'' [14]   Hick further informs us that ''there is everything that would lead us to identify the one who appeared with the one who disappeared, except continuous occupancy of space.'' [15]   That is, they would certainly seem to be the same person.

Hick next asks us to consider what we would say about the identity of the New York person (I will call him ''Mr. X-1'') with his London counterpart (I will call him ''Mr. X'').  Are they the same person?  Hick maintains that to say that Mr. X is not the same person as Mr. X-1 is to involve oneself in a case of cumbersome linguistic and conceptual disruption.  It would be difficult to convince Mr. X-1 that he is someone other than who he thinks he is, which is to say, Mr. X.  He would after all remember everything that Mr. X remembered, exhibit the same personality traits and intelligence level as Mr. X.  Mr. X-1 would look exactly like Mr. X, having the same fingerprints, DNA, retinal pattern, and so forth.  Indeed, as mentioned above, every single thing we could think of that might count as a criterion for making an identity decision would point towards identity, except ''continuous occupancy of space,'' and presumably material continuity.  The question then becomes whether continuous occupancy of space is a necessary condition for identity.  (Hick dismisses, for reasons that will become clear, van Inwagen's material continuity criterion.) 

The case proposed by Hick is rather strange, but so is the case of the general resurrection.  By saying that Mr. X is the ''same person'' as Mr. X-1, we would be stretching the phrase ''same person'' beyond its normal use, but as Hick says, ''we should be extending our normal use of 'same person' in a way which the postulated facts both demand and justify''' [16]   He goes on:


The personal, social, and conceptual cost of refusing to make this extension would so greatly exceed the cost of making it that we should have no reasonable alternative but to extend our concept of 'the same person' to cover this strange new case. [17]



And indeed, Hick seems right about this.  I think that we would be rather uncomfortable telling Mr. X-1 that he is not who he thinks he is, that is, if we were not philosophers.  In other words, the evidence in such a case would be overwhelming to anyone who was not already wrapped-up in concerns about personal identity.  Mr. X's children, for example, would likely be unimpressed if we were to tell them ''Sorry kids, you aren't allowed to talk to stranger's and Mr. X-1 is a stranger, despite all appearances, because material continuity and continuous occupancy of contiguous spaces are necessary conditions for personal identity ˇ this man is not your father.''

      Hick goes on to emphasize the ''non-dependence of human bodily identity through time upon the identity of the physical matter momentarily composing the body,'' [18] by suggesting, with cyberneticist Norbert Wiener, that it is theoretically possible to transmit and re-embody

the whole pattern of the human body, of the human brain with its memories and cross connections, so that a hypothetical receiving instrument could re-embody these messages in [an] appropriate manner, capable of continuing the processes already in the body and the mind, and of maintaining the integrity needed for this continuation by a process of homeostasis. [19]


We might suppose that the London / New York scenario was carried out in such a way.  Hick's suggestion is that even though Mr. X and Mr. X-1 are numerically distinct (in terms of the matter of which they are composed), it is much more appropriate to speak of them as being the same person than otherwise. [20]   Hick maintains that ''psycho-physical individuality does not depend upon the numerical identity of the ultimate physical constituents of the body but upon the pattern or 'code' which is exemplified.'' [21]

Hick presents a new scenario suggesting that even if Mr. X were killed in London (where his body remained) and at the next moment an exact ''replica'' of him appeared in New York ˇ let's call this ''replica'' Mr. X-2 ˇ  it would still be less intuitively problematic to say that Mr. X and Mr. X-2 are the same person than to say otherwise. 

Even with the corpse on our hands it would still, I suggest, be an extension of ''same person'' required and warranted by the postulated facts to say that the one who died has been miraculously re-created in New York'. Once again we should have to extend our usage of ''same person'' to cover the new case. [22]


What is important to note here is that all of the reasons inclining one to decide for identity in the first scenario are present in this second scenario as well.  Mr. X-2 would seem to be Mr. X in all of the ways that Mr. X-1 seemed to be Mr. X.  The only factor in the second scenario (absent from the first) disinclining one to decide for identity is the presence of the corpse in London.  Hick maintains that even considering the corpse, an identity decision is warranted.

We now have a seemingly coherent account of how one might survive biological death.  One dies at t-1 and at t-2 one ''wakes up'' or re-enters consciousness in a new, but exactly similar body (exactly similar in the sense that it is composed of the same number and type of simples arranged spatially in the same way as were those that composed one's pre-death body).  Experientially then, on Hick's view, it would be just as if you closed your eyes to die and opened them to find yourself re-embodied (or resurrected) and alive again.

A big difference between the account of the resurrection often pieced together by Christian theologians and Hick's, so far as we have examined it, is that of multiple worlds.  Presumably, on Hick's view, in the general resurrection, one is resurrected (or re-embodied, or whatever) to live in a world that is not spatially related to the world we know and in which we live.  The so-called ''life everlasting'' is generally not thought to take place in a world that is at any distance or in any direction from any particular point in this spatial continuum.  (Presumably, on the other hand, the resurrection world is temporally related to the present world ˇ the resurrection of the dead is generally thought to occur at some point in the future.)  In turning to what such a consideration might bring to bear on the question of identity as it relates to potential human ''replications'' or re-embodiments, Hick again appeals to the notion of intuitional disruption and linguistic / conceptual manageability.  Admittedly, we would have to further extend our understanding of the phrase ''same person'' to cope with a scenario involving transworld ''replication'', but such an extension, says Hick, ''involves far less arbitrariness and paradox than would be generated by saying either that [Mr. X and his ''replicated'' counterpart] are not the same person or that it is uncertain whether they are the same person.'' [23]   Here again, our everyday beliefs about identity appear to corroborate Hick's account.  Further, it seems that if one is going to entertain the notion of a person existing in two different, spatially unrelated worlds, one will have to abandon a spatial continuity criterion for identity in the process.  To ''travel'' between two such worlds it seems would entail existing at one moment in one space and in the next in a space that is spatially unrelated to (and therefore not contiguous with) the first.  I can see no other way to make sense of the notion of the same person existing in such different worlds.  It would be just as difficult as it was in the last two of Hick's scenarios, to think of a ''replica'' in the next world as someone other than his pre-death counterpart considering that, he would  ''have everything in common that [he] could possibly have, given that [he exists] successively in different spaces,'' [24] and, I might add, is composed of numerically distinct bits of matter.

Hick considers a serious objection to his theory proposed by J.J. Clark (following, in turn, an argument proposed by Bernard Williams) involving the possibility of multiple replications.  As a preamble to examining this argument I should note that I have followed Hick in using his sense of the word ''replica'' with quotation marks.  Hick explains:

The quotes are intended to mark a difference between the normal concept of a replica and the more specialized concept in use here.  The paradigm sense of ''replica'' is that in which there is an original object, such as a statue, of which a more or less exact copy is then made.  It is logically possible (though not of course necessary) for the original and the replica to exist simultaneously; and also for there to be any number of replicas of the same original.  In contrast to this, in the case of the disappearance in London and re-appearance in New York it is not logically possible for the original and the ''replica'' to exist simultaneously or for there to be more than one ''replica'' of the same original.  If a putative ''replica'' did exist simultaneously with its original it would not be a ''replica'' but a replica; and if there were more than one they would not be ''replicas'' but replicas. [25]


A ''replica'' is the same thing as a replica, except that there can be at most one ''replica'' and it cannot exist simultaneously with that person whom it is ''replicating.''  The set of all ''replicas'' is therefore a subset of the set of all replicas.

Clark's multiple replication objection to Hick's arguments says essentially that it cannot be the case that Mr. X is identical with a postmortem ''replica'' of him for the same reason that Mr. X could not be identical with two different supposed postmortem ''replicas,'' it being impossible for there to exist more than one ''replica''.  In other words, if Mr. X dies at t-1 and two replicas of him are created (or arranged or whatever) at t-2, there could be no criteria for deciding for Mr. X's identity with one of the replicas as opposed to the other.  It appears true that Mr. X could be identical with (at most) one of the replicas, but given the absence of any notable difference between the two, there is no reason to suppose that Mr. X is identical with one and not the other.  In such a situation there would be no properties shared by Mr. X and one of the replicas to which one could point as identity criteria that Mr. X would not likewise share with the other replica.  There would then be no reason to suppose him to be identical with either of them, for it is impossible for Mr. X to be identical with both replicas since they clearly are not identical with each other.

      Furthermore, as Clarke suggests, it seems that the mere possibility of there being multiple replicas of Mr. X precludes there being even one ''replica''.  Speaking of John Hick (H-n) replicas in the resurrection world, Clark argues that

[The mere possibility of multiple replicas precluding one ''replica''] is pinpointed by the fact that if H-3 became constituted some while after H-2, one would have to say that for a while H-2 could conceivably have been H-1, but then on H-3's arrival in the resurrection world this identification ceased to be possible.  This is incoherent. [26]


Hick's response to this criticism says basically that because it is impossible for there to be more than one replica in the resurrection world, this does not mean that it is impossible for there to be one ''replica'' and only one. 

The question, then, is whether we can properly move from the premise that there cannot be two beings in the world to come each of whom is the same person as Mr X in this world, to the conclusion that there cannot be one being in the world to come who is the same person as Mr X in this world. [27]


Hick holds that we cannot move from such a premise to such a conclusion.  He proposes a counterexample in which the impossibility of there being two John Hicks in London next week does not prevent there being one. [28]   If Mr. X is in New York this week, the fact that there can't be more than one of him in London next week does not mean that there cannot be one and only one.  But this counterexample is not analogous to the resurrection picture in an important way: in it Mr. X maintains material continuity with himself and continuously occupies contiguous spaces, so there is no question about his identity to begin with.  The resurrection cases are strange in important ways.  That is to say that identity is questionable in the resurrection cases precisely because the resurrection world is not analogous to this world in very important ways.  It is unfair for Hick to propose a counterexample to Clark's criticism that eliminates the disanalogies which were the source of the problem from the outset.

If there were two supposed John Hicks in London next week, there would be definite criteria for deciding on which is John Hick and which a replica.  (The real) John Hick would be the one who was materially continuous with the John Hick in New York last week and who came to be in London by continuously occupying a series of contiguous spaces. 

It still could hold true that the impossibility of multiple replicas in the resurrection world would not prevent there being one and only one ''replica'', but Hick's counterexample does little to show this.

One might similarly object to Hick's theory by pointing out that it seems plausible that the very same replica could conceivably come into existence at various times.  In other words, the same replica of Mr. Y could be created on Tuesday or Thursday (it doesn't matter which).  There are two possible worlds in which the very same replica (in each world) comes into existence at different times.  We can construct two scenarios (corresponding to the two possible worlds) in this regard involving replicas that seem clearly to be identical with one another.  In the first scenario, scientists (or whoever) construct a replica out of a pile of organic molecules on Tuesday, producing Mr. Y-1.  In the second scenario, the scientists decide to hold off for whatever reasons and don't construct the replica until Thursday, but on Thursday, they construct a replica using the same organic molecules as in the first scenario, resulting in Mr. Y-2.  In considering such scenarios, it seems natural to suppose that Mr. Y-1 = Mr. Y-2.  After all, they are exactly the same except that one was constructed on Tuesday, the other on Thursday.  They are even composed of the same matter ˇ and it seems that given a choice between deciding for the identity of x and y given that they are composed of the same matter, or deciding for nonidentity because x and y came into existence at different times, it seems natural to choose the former.  But, if we consider that Mr. Y (the man being replicated) dies on Wednesday in both scenarios, it becomes clear that it is impossible for either to be identical with Mr. Y, if it is true, as it seems to be, that Mr. Y-1 and Mr. Y-2 are identical with each other.

Or consider tables.  Suppose Mr. Y is a carpenter and that on Monday he has a pile of table parts, four legs, a top, nuts and bolts, and so forth.  Mr. Y could decide to put the parts together on Tuesday (producing table-1) or Thursday (producing table-2).  It seems that it would make no difference as to ''which table is produced'' if he puts the parts together on Tuesday or Thursday.  We would not, for example, encourage Mr. Y to go ahead on Tuesday because we want him to make a certain table, thinking that if he waits until Thursday a different table will result.  It seems, therefore, that table-1 = table-2.

Likewise in a case involving human replicas, for the table correlates, Mr. Y-1 = Mr. Y-2.  So what if Mr. Y is not a carpenter but a mad biologist?  He intends to replicate himself using a replicating machine he invented for this purpose.  The machine, for one reason or another, will produce the replica sometime between Tuesday morning and Thursday evening ˇ there is no telling when.  In scenario one, the machine renders the replica on Tuesday afternoon, resulting in Mr. Y-1.  Obviously in such a situation, Mr. Y ¹ Mr. Y-1.  Even if Mr. Y dies on Wednesday, Mr. Y-1 does not thereby become Mr. Y.  In the second scenario, the machine doesn't do its replicating until Thursday.  Unfortunately for Mr. Y, he dies on Wednesday waiting for the production of the replica.  Fortunately for science, the machine works as advertised and renders the Mr. Y replica, Mr. Y-2, on Thursday.  On Hick's view, it would be ''correct'' to declare Mr. Y-2 to be identical with Mr. Y.  But this is absurd since Mr. Y-2 is identical with Mr.Y-1, and Mr. Y-1 is obviously not identical with Mr. Y (identity being transitive). [29]

The point is that it is more natural to suppose Mr. Y-1 and Mr. Y-2 to be identical with one another than it is to suppose that either is identical with Mr. Y.  If such is the case, then Hick's claim that a ''replica'' of a person is identical with that person is false.

But even if one maintains that it is more natural to identify a person with a ''replica'' of that person than it is to identify a ''replica'' with a replica across possible worlds, without some solid, sufficient condition for personal identity decisions (such as material continuity or, somewhat more controversially, the presence of an immaterial soul), the best one can do is to make an educated guess.  The best we could say about the identity of Mr. X with Mr. X-1 or Mr. X-2 from Hick's respective scenarios is that either the ''replica'' is Mr. X in each case, or that it is a very good replica.

In the case of a resurrection world with one and only one ''replica'' of Mr. X, the best we could say is that there would be a lot of factors inclining one to believe that the ''replicated'' Mr. X was, in fact, Mr. X.  We could say that a belief that ''Mr. X-1 (or 2) is identical with Mr. X,'' is a justified belief, but that there is certainly some doubt based (1) on the lack material continuity, and (2) on the knowledge that in the presence of multiple replicas, it would be likely that none would be identical with Mr. X. 

But Hick makes a stronger claim than that we could make a good, informed identity decision in the presence of one and only one ''replica''.  He says '''it would be a correct decision, causing far less linguistic and conceptual disruption than the contrary one, to regard the 'replica' as the same person as the original.'' [30]   Now I think it is true that Hick has established that a decision for identity in such a case would, as he says, ''cause far less linguistic and conceptual disruption than the contrary one,'' but I do not think that he has established that such a decision would be correct, and I do not see how it might be possible to argue successfully for such a claim.  There is simply no way to know the ''truth'' about the identity of Mr. X with a resurrection world counterpart if material continuity is disrupted or if it is not the case that Mr. X and his counterpart share the same soul.  Even though there are a number of compelling reasons to decide for identity, we simply cannot know in such situations.

Hick quotes Terence Penhelum [31] as saying that all of his posited cases are strictly matters for decision.  We may decide for identity, but we do not have to.  Penhelum's point is that apart from everyday situations involving personal identity, the best we can do is to decide.  This certainly seems true.  Indeed, Peter Geach makes an important point, that ''when queer things start happening, we have no right to stick to our ordinary assumptions as to what can be known.'' [32]   Cases of replicas, and indeed hypothetical resurrections cases, can certainly be described in terms of events wherein ''queer things'' are happening.

      What must be acknowledged, though, is that the fact that decisions are involved (they are, in fact, always a part of identity cases about which we can have knowledge) does not mean that there is no fact of the matter.  We can conceivably make the wrong decision.  And as I will argue later, we must distinguish between identity criteria and evidence for, that is, what can be known about, such identity criteria.

IV. Peter Geach

Peter Geach defends what he takes to be a logically possible account of surviving biological death.  Geach, following Aquinas, introduces the notion of an immaterial soul into our discussion.  Materialism regarding persons is thus left behind.

      Geach characterizes the tenets of one sort of dualism (not the compositional dualism he will later espouse) as being basically those embraced by Plato in the Phaedo.  Geach summarizes such a dualism in the following way:


Each man's make-up includes a wholly immaterial thing, his mind and soul.  It is the mind that sees and hears and feels and thinks and chooses ˇ in a word, is conscious.  The mind is the person; the body is extrinsic to the person. Like a suit of clothes.  Though the body and mind affect one another, the mind's existence is quite independent of the body's; and there is thus no reason why the mind should not go on being conscious indefinitely after the death of the body, and even if it never again has with any body that sort of connexion [sic.] which it now has. [33]


He presents this platonic, soulist dualism in contrast to the compositional dualism which he, following Aquinas, develops.

Geach goes on to say that ''it appears a clearly intelligible supposition that I should go on after death having the same sorts of experience as I now have, even if I then have no body at all.'' [34]   For although it seems that the sorts of experiences we have during life are intimately associated with our physical bodies ˇ  our eyes, ears, nerves, etc. ˇ it seems that there really isn't a necessary connection between such (e.g. visual) experiences and their physical, sensory correlates.  Someone without any eyes, for example, could have the experience I call ''sight'' if he is has ''the same experiences as I who have eyes do, and I know what sort of experience that is because I have the experience.'' [35]   It therefore looks as if we know what it would be like for an eyeless entity to have visual experience.

      But, as Geach illustrates, to extend experience concepts (that is, concepts that refer to experiences that we have privately, like seeing, or hearing, or being happy) to purported souls would be to extend them to ''very alien creatures,'' which we are intuitively uncomfortable doing in other instances.  We would probably not normally talk about a ''happy'' starfish, or a protozoan as ''hearing something.''  If we are uncomfortable extending experience concepts in instances such as these (where at least starfish and protozoa share with us the property of being physical entities), how less comfortable ought we to be extending experience concepts to a supposed immaterial entity?

      Geach maintains that we really can make no sense of an immaterial soul or spirit ''seeing'' or ''hearing'' or whatever because when we use such words, our understanding of them naturally references a large series of connections of appropriate instances of using the word (and related words) in question:

' our ordinary talk about seeing would cease to be intelligible if there were cut out of it such expressions as ''I can't see, it's too far off,'' ''I caught his eye,'' ''Don't look round,'' etc'.  the concept of seeing can be maintained only because it has threads of connexion [sic.] with these other' concepts; break enough threads, and the concept of seeing collapses. [36]  

Geach's point seems to be that such ''threads of connexion'' could not apply to an immaterial soul, by virtue of its being an immaterial soul, any more than they might apply to some similarly (but less) alien creature, like a starfish or a protozoan.  Can we make literal sense of something ''catching a starfish's eye''?  We cannot.  Nor can we make sense of something catching the eye of an immaterial soul (which presumably doesn't have eyes).  Indeed, Aquinas says that ''a soul is united to its body through its operation, which is understanding, not in the sense that without a body the soul could not understand in any way at all, but because in the natural order it cannot understand adequately without a body''' [37]

      If we admit that it is impossible to apply sensing or feeling words to souls or spirits, it does not follow that souls or spirits are inconceivable.  All that follows is that souls would not be describable in terms of operations that are intrinsically bound-up with physicality, such as sense experience.  Souls would be describable, on Geach's view (as on Aquinas's) in terms of operations that are presumably not so bound-up.  Such operations might include thinking and willing.  Indeed, as Geach points out, on Aquinas's view, ''damned spirits would suffer from the frustration of their evil will, but not from aches and pains or foul odours or the like,'' [38] it being impossible for such beings to feel or smell as we understand those words.  It seems futile, moreover, to try to conceive of some way of understanding such words with no precedent for such a conception in this-world experience.

      But Geach proceeds in making a significant observation:

In our human life thinking and choosing are intricately bound up with a play of sensations and mental images and emotions; if after a lifetime of thinking and choosing in this human way there is left only a disembodied mind whose thought is wholly nonsensuous and whose rational choices are unaccompanied by any human feelings ˇ can we still say there remains the same person?  Surely not:  such a soul is not the person who died but a mere remnant of him. [39]  

As Geach further observes, Aquinas admits as much too:  ''my soul is not I; and if only souls are saved, I am not saved, nor is any man.'' [40]   And as Geach goes on to illustrate, I may be said to live again, or still, only in the event that at some time after my biological death there exists a man who can be correctly identified as Will Brown. [41]   The implication is, of course, that a disembodied consciousness (or soul) only capable of nonsensuous thought could not be thus correctly identified as Will Brown.

      Geach follows Aquinas in insisting that a disembodied soul must be associated with a particular body in order to be (or to be identifiable as) the soul of a particular person.  In maintaining that, as Aquinas observed, ''my soul is not I'' what becomes clearly necessary for the survival of, say, Mr.X is for Mr.X's consciousness or soul to be once again embodied.  But, as Geach observes, not just any body will do.

      There is an analog for resurrection-world identity with this-world identity.  ''How,'' asks Geach, ''could a living man be rightly identifiable with a man who previously died?''. [42]   Geach considers the identity relation as it obtains between an old man and the infant body from which he grew into an old man.  We ought to observe a few important features (regarding the material in question) of such a pedestrian scenario:

'something we regarded as disproving material continuity (e.g. absence of a birth mark, different fingerprints) would disprove personal identity.  Further, we believe that material continuity establishes a one-one relation: one baby grows up into an old man, and one old man has grown out of one baby'. Moreover, the baby-body never coexists with the aged body, but develops into it. [43]

Geach takes an important observation regarding such considerations to be that material conditions of identity must be met in order for us to be able to make a positive identification of a resurrected person.  Geach makes an even stronger claim: ''There must be a one-one relation of material continuity between the old body and the new.'' [44]   The important consideration here is Geach's emphasis on material continuity as opposed to material identity.  The former is a necessary condition for personal identity, while the latter is not.  '''The old man need not have kept even a grain of matter from the baby of seventy years ago.'' [45]   Geach further notes that such an understanding seems to correspond with the simile used by St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 (which will be discussed later).

      Geach appropriately anticipates a confusion about material continuity and identity: if two physical things are different exactly when they are different bits of matter, it does not follow (as it may seem to) that a particular thing is itself at two different times exactly when it shares (at least some of) the same matter at those times.  Geach is insisting that the Ship of Theseus is not destroyed (as itself) even after it undergoes a series of repairs that result in the eventual and total replacement of its constituent material parts.  Or, to consider a similar example, '''Sir John Cutler's famous pair of stockings were the same pair all the time, although they started as silk and by much mending ended as worsted''' [46]   And this seems right; it has a commonsensical appeal.  We do not really think (except as philosophers) that things are destroyed by repair, even dramatic repair.

If it is the case ˇ as Geach and Aquinas maintain ˇ that a living person is precisely a soul united to a body (that is to say, is neither the soul nor the body, but the two together) it follows that existence as a person generally, and as the same person particularly, in the postmortem world requires the soul or consciousness likewise to be united to a body.  Additionally, considering the above observations regarding the necessity of material continuity, if not to say identity, for sameness, it follows that the soul must be united not just to any body, but to a body materially continuous with (though not necessarily numerically identical) the person's this-world body.

An implication is that mental continuity is a necessary though not a sufficient condition for postmortem identity.  Geach asks us to consider the case of Roger Tichborne:

Roger Tichborne, an English aristocrat, was lost at sea in 1854.  His mother, Lady Tichborne, refused to accept his death and advertised for information concerning his whereabouts.  In 1865 a man in Australia claimed to be Roger Tichborne and was acknowledged by Lady Tichborne as her son.  He thereupon brought an ejection suit against Roger's nephew who had inherited the Tichborne baronetcy and estates.  The jury declared that he was an imposter.  His real name was Arthur Orton.  He was tried for perjury and sentenced to imprisonment for fourteen years.  Orton later published a confession. [47]  

What if Arthur Orton had ostensible memories of Roger Tichborne's life?  Say, for example, that he could recognize Tichborne's friends and relatives and knew things that only Roger could have known.  But suppose that in the face of all of this evidence Roger Tichborne's body was dredged up and unquestionably identified as such (via dental records, DNA, etc.).  In such a situation we would have to acknowledge Arthur Orton as an imposter and say that his memories were, after all, false memories.  Geach takes such a situation to show that the appearance of mental continuity is not a sufficient condition for personal identity.  It also seems to illustrate our tendency to place a higher priority on material, rather than mental, continuity.  In the presence of the former, we willingly dismiss counter evidence based on the presence or absence of the latter.

So material as well as mental continuity are necessary if a person alive today is to be able to live again in a resurrection world.  Geach concludes that if we are to live again (after biological death), we must be resurrected:  ''So the upshot of our whole argument is that unless a man comes to life again by resurrection, he dos not live again after death.'' [48]

In light of these considerations, Geach answers the question of why one ought to worry about material continuity if there is a soul or consciousness in the postmortem world which has ostensible memories of one's life.  His answer is that one ought to worry ''if the ostensible memories of [one's] life were to be produced by processes that can produce entirely spurious memories.'' [49]

      I ought to note that Geach's intuitions run contrary to John Hick's.  We should recall that Hick claimed that if a man turned up in New York with all the memories and mental characteristics of a man who had just been killed in London, and that if the New York man appeared to be the London man, that we would have to acknowledge the New York man as identical to the (dead) London man, and that such an identification would '''be an extension of 'same person' required and warranted by the postulated facts''' [50]   The question is whether such a strange scenario would produce spurious memories. 

I suppose the best we could say is that if the memories in question are spurious then the person in question is not the same person as the one with non-spurious correlative memories.  Moreover, if there is a resurrected person with ostensible but spurious memories of some life, that person is likely not identical with the person whose life is (spuriously) remembered.  The question is whether the memories in such a situation are in point of fact spurious.  It is obvious in the Roger Tichborne situation that the ostensive memories are not memories at all (Orton was lying), and therefore not even spurious memories.  It seems that in the related resurrection situation, and contrary to what Geach implies (that such memories would be spurious) we cannot know whether the memories are spurious or real.  If they are real, then the putatively resurrected person is identical with his pre-death counterpart.  If they are spurious, then he, like Arthur Orton, is likely an imposter.

It should be noted, though, that the presence of spurious memories is not a sufficient condition for nonidentity.  I might, in fact, have spurious memories of my own life.  As was pointed out to me by one Sewanee philosopher, it is possible that I might have spurious memories of my childhood, as for example having caught a big fish, when in fact my grandfather caught the big fish and told everyone that I did.  In such a situation, the person doing the spurious remembering is obviously identical with the person whose life is being spuriously remembered.  In short, and as stated, the presence of spurious memories is not a sufficient condition for nonidentity.  On the other hand, presumably, the presence of non-spurious memories of some life would be a sufficient condition for identity.

I suppose the most pertinent criticism of Geach's Thomistic account is that it runs against orthodoxy in an important way.  It, like Hick's view, does not take into account the notion of an interim existence for persons between biological death and the resurrection of the body.  The creeds, for example, mention ''the communion of saints'' as an object of orthodox belief, and surely we must admit that the term ''saint'' refers to the particular saintly person, and not to their soul or body singly (unless it is the case that they are identical with one or the other, which Geach ˇ and Aquinas ˇ deny).  What sense then could Geach (or Aquinas) make of a ''communion'' consisting either of persons who have gone entirely out of existence (a communion, then, composed precisely of nothing), or consisting of parts of persons existing solely as ''a disembodied mind whose thought is wholly nonsensuous and whose rational choices are unaccompanied by any human feelings''? [51]

Moreover, what is one to make of the Old Testament story of the Witch of Endor and the ghost of Samuel (1 Samuel)?  Or the words of Christ on the cross to the good thief: ''Today you will be with me in paradise.'' [52]   Van Inwagen has suggested a reading of such passages that would be consistent with a denial of an interim existence.  Speaking of Christ's words to the Good Thief, van Inwagen says the following:

Imagine that the good thief dies in agony; ''the next thing he knows,'' as the idiom has it he is in Paradise.  He presently discovers that over 3,000 years have passed since he died.  Was he deceived?  Was it somehow wrong of Jesus to say to him, ''Today you shall be with me in Paradise''?  If so, what should Jesus have said?  Should he have said, ''After the general resurrection, which will occur after an indefinite period that only the father knows, you shall be with me in Paradise ˇ but it will seem to you as if no time has passed''? [53]

Van Inwagen is simply illustrating that it is possible for a Christian materialist to make sense of this and similar passages.  He admits that '''I wish these texts were not worded quite as they are,'' [54] by way of conceding that a dualistic exegesis is rather more natural for such passages.

      Geach does not have precisely the same problems with such passages inasmuch as, on his view, there would be some entity (a soul) which would exist during this interim period; its just that the soul of a man is not, strictly speaking, that man himself.

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