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V. What Remains

What remains then of the options presented at the beginning of this paper?  It seems that the materialist solutions of Peter van Inwagen and John Hick are some combination of impossible, contrary to all available evidence, or heterodox.  Further, it seems like Peter Geach's Thomistic dualism has serious problems, that is, if we take the supposition that people cease to exist during the period between biological death and the general resurrection to be problematic.  And it seems to be problematic from an orthodox standpoint.  What remains is the proposition that the survival of a person's soul is a sufficient condition for the survival of that person.  That is to say, if a person dies at t-1 and his soul exists at t-2 (subsequent to t-1), then that person continues to exist.

      Stephen T. Davis, in his book, Risen Indeed, argues for such a relaxed, soulist dualism.  Davis refers to this theory as ''temporary disembodiment'' since it proposes that people can exist (though, as we shall see, imperfectly) as disembodied souls:

What this theory says, then, is that human beings are typically and normally psycho-physical beings, that the soul can exist for a time apart from the body and retain personal identity, but that this disembodied existence is only temporary and constitutes a radically attenuated and incomplete form of human existence. [55]

The main problem with a conception of the resurrection such as Geach's, and a problem solved by such a theory of ''disembodiment,'' is that (on Geach's view) there is an indefinite time after my biological death during which I simply do not exist, and then at the resurrection, I come back into existence as the resurrected Will Brown.  (We should note that this problem is likewise not addressed by Hick's view, though it is with van Inwagen's, since we exist during the period between death and the eschaton on van Inwagen's view we're just dead.)  Even though my soul may survive death and be able to think and remember, still as Aquinas puts it, anima mea non est ego, my soul is not I, and so I do not survive.

      On Davis's theory, which seems compatible, as we shall see, with orthodox Christianity, ''there is no moment subsequent to our births in which you and I simply do not exist; we exist either as whole persons (soul-bodies) or as mere souls at every moment until eternity.'' [56]   Davis points out that such a theory is different from classical dualism (as in Geach), but shares at least one premise with it, that humans normally consist of both souls and bodies and that the existence of one without the other is an imperfect state of affairs.  As Davis asserts, ''disembodied existence is a kind of minimal existence.'' [57]

      Disembodied souls would be unable (as Geach and Aquinas maintain) to engage in the kinds of activities that are necessarily bound up with corporeality.  The contents of such a set of activities is inevitably controversial, but it certainly contains such activities as seeing, hearing, talking, eating, going for walks, etc.  ''But if by the word ‘soul' we mean in part the constellation of those human activities that would typically be classified as ‘mental,' then the claim that our souls survive death entails the claim that our mental abilities and properties survive death,'' (ibid.).  At least, those mental abilities and properties which are not also necessarily bound up with corporeality.  It seems conceivable, then, that a disembodied soul could think (in a language), remember, feel emotions, and maybe even perceive.  Of course a disembodied soul's ''perceptions'' would not be sense perceptions, as in what we normally call seeing, hearing, etc.  But it seems that there could be some class of ''perception'' possible for souls that is not like any of these others that operate on the corporeal world.  It is conceivable that a soul could be aware of its ''surroundings'' (to use a spatial word for a presumably non-spatial event), though it is difficult to imagine how since we live in a spatial world and are hence unfamiliar with any such ''perceptions.'' [58]

      It is important to note, however, that Davis agrees with Aquinas in that a disembodied soul would be rather drastically imperfect in that it would not be able to act in ways that are central to life as a person.  Furthermore, ''no one in whom some perfection is lacking is ultimately happy, for in such a state there will always be unfulfilled desires.  It is contrary to the nature of the soul to be without the body...'' [59]   If it is the case that the afterlife involves our ultimate happiness or perfection, as it might plausibly be maintained that Christianity asserts, we will need our bodies.

      So an eventual reunification of the soul with the body is required.  This is where resurrection, as such, comes in.  But is it necessary for our very same bodies, that is the bodies that die and rot, to be resurrected?  One thing has become clear from the above claims: if it is the case that the survival of my soul is a sufficient condition for my survival (as myself as Will Brown), then wherever my soul goes, I go.  With regard to personal identity, it doesn't matter which body I inhabit or even whether I inhabit a body.  If it is my soul, it is me.  This is precisely the point on which Stephen Davis (and I) differ from Aquinas and Geach.

      Some will no doubt object saying that when we use words like ''me'' we are not referring to souls, but (at least) to souls and bodies.  That is, our bodies are a significant part of who we are.  We look in the mirror and ''see ourselves,'' for example.  If a person looks at me and says ''I see you,'' and they are not seeing my soul, then they must mean by ''you'' that they are seeing (at least in part) my body.  Words like ''you'' and ''me'' and ''Will Brown'' seem to refer at the very least partially to bodies.   What seems certain is that these words do not refer only to souls.

      To solidify in a logical way: if person P is identical to (exactly) his body and his soul together, then he is not identical to anything which is something other than his body and soul (together).  His body is not the same thing as his body and soul together, nor is his soul.  Therefore, P is neither identical to his body by itself, nor to his soul by itself.

      The problem is basically as follows.  If we have two parts essentially, the body and the soul, then neither part can be lost or replaced without our ceasing to be who we are.

      In answer, I would simply point to a materialist analog and appeal to commonsensical intuition.  We do have parts, but we can lose parts without ceasing to be who we are.  Suppose that we are our bodies that we have no souls and are entirely material beings.  There are many people of common sense who hold such a view.  But most of these people would not say that if Mr. Jones loses a finger, he ceases to be Mr. Jones.  That is, it makes sense say that Mr. Jones's finger is certainly a part of him, but that he can lose it, or replace it, without ceasing to be who he is.

      We might look at it this way, still, for the time, assuming materialism.  Mr. Jones can lose a finger without ceasing to be who he was before he lost the finger.  He would be unable to do things that required the use of that particular finger and so would be deprived of participating in normal human activities for which the use of such a finger is necessary.  He could even lose his entire hand without ceasing to be Mr. Jones.  Even if he lost his entire arm, we would still affirm his identity as Mr. Jones.  (My great-grandfather, whose name happens to have been Mr. Jones, lost his arm in a cotton gin accident; but no one considered him anyone other than the same Mr. Jones who once had two arms.)  The upshot of all of this is that even if some man lost his arms and legs and eyes and ears, he would still be the same person he was before his dreadful accident.  He would be severely limited in terms of normal human activity, that is to say his would be ''a radically attenuated and incomplete form of human existence,'' [60] but he would still be the same man. 

      Suppose the following happened.  Suppose a man, through some cruel misfortune, lost his limbs and his eyes and his ears, so that he was forced to live-out such a ''radically attenuated... human existence.''  But then suppose medical technology progressed to the degree that doctors were able to transplant new limbs, new eyes and new ears.  Would we say that a new man resulted?  Of course not, except perhaps hyperbolically or as a figure of speech.  He would of course be literally the same man who underwent the grave misfortune.  In fact, if we considered the original man to have been destroyed by the accident (though someone obviously endured through it), we would probably be less motivated to undertake such radical surgery.  There is a sense of this man deserving a new start exactly because he (the same man) suffered through the awful accident. [61]

We could even conceive of removing person parts until there was little left but the brain and central nervous system, or even some basic part of it, kept alive and nourished by a high-tech medical arrangement. [62]   If it became possible to provide a new set of organs, a new skeleton, a new set of connective and muscle tissues, and so forth, and then we spoke to the resulting man, would we really treat him as though he were not the same man?  It would be hard to treat him so, for the very same reasons that it would be hard to speak to Mr. X's replicated counterparts as though they were not Mr. X. [63]   In other words, it would be hard because this ''new'' person would think he was the ''old'' person, would act like the ''old'' person, would remember being the ''old'' person, etc.

Now consider an analogous situation involving parts, this time with the body considered as a part (with numerous sub-parts) and the soul considered as a (simple) part.  The analogy is obvious.  The person in question could lose parts of his body up to and including the entire thing, with each successive loss involving him in a more radically attenuated human existence than before. 

Let us return to person P with one of his parts (his body) called X and another one (his soul) called Y.  X is, of course divisible into subparts, (a), (b), (c), (d)... while Y, we shall presume to be (though non-material) simple.  Moreover, we will further explicate that the sum of all of the subparts of X to be identical to X.  So (a) + (b) + (c) + (d).... = X .  P could lose subpart (a) without ceasing to be P (intuitively) but from then on  (or until it or a similar (a) is replaced) unable to participate in those activities which require (a).  If (a) is a nose, then P would be unable to participate in the activity called ''smelling,'' for example.  P could lose parts (a) and (b) without ceasing to be P, as has been demonstrated above.  With each successive loss P's existence is becoming more and more radically attenuated such that eventually it is attenuated to the extent that P = (X [(a) + (b) + (c) + (d)...] ) + Y.  This is to say that P, at this point, exists only as Y:  P = (X X) + Y = Y.

Thus the objection is answered: it is simply not compatible, when posed as above, with deep-seated beliefs we have about ourselves and our fellow humans.  Strictly speaking, we are identical with our souls; but our bodies are an almost inestimably important aspect of our existence as persons.  To say that we are identical with our souls is misleading since we are very closely associated with our bodies.  Much more closely associated than is a pilot with his ship, or a body with a suit of clothes, to use old analogies, or in this case disanalogies.  We are so closely associated with our bodies that it seems quite appropriate to refer to our bodies as ''part of us'' since, presumably, we cannot exist well without them.  Analogously, a hunter could continue to exist as a hunter without his gun, he would simply not exist as quite the hunter he was when he had the gun.  As a hunter, his existence would be ''radically attenuated.''  So a soul is meant to enliven a body; a person is meant to ''have'' a body.  He may exist (logically) without his body; its just that he will not be quite the person he was when he had a body (speaking figuratively, but appropriately).  He won't be able to participate in a large set of activities in which people, as people, are intended to participate.

Two ways of speaking about ''parts'' have emerged: the normal, everyday way, and the technical, metaphysical way.  When we are speaking in the first way, we have no problem with the idea that we (as well as most other objects) can lose parts pretty much willy-nilly without ceasing to be who we are (as in the case of Mr. Jones and the cotton gin).  When we are speaking technically and metaphysically, we admit that a thing (as that thing) has all of its parts essentially and cannot lose any of them without ceasing to be that thing. 

      Another issue arises at this point, an issue articulated by many of the church fathers, [64] expressed as an insistence on the material continuity of the resurrection-world body with the this-world body.  That is to say, an insistence that God will resurrect the very same matter at the eschaton that composed a person's body during his lifetime.  Davis notes that, in terms of personal identity, such an insistence is unimportant from a ''soulist'' point of view:

There may be other (perhaps theological) reasons why we should hold that it must be the very matter of our old bodies that is to be raised, but so far as the problem of personal identity is concerned, a strong case can be made that it will not matter. [65]

The point here is that, there could be (and I think are) compelling reasons for such an insistence, based largely on certain passages from Scripture, but such an insistence is unnecessary in order simply to maintain personal identity.  In 1 Corinthians 15, for example, St. Paul uses the analogy of a seed which becomes a plant in giving the most explicit and complete account in Scripture of the resurrection, as such: 

But someone will ask, ''How are the dead raised?  With what kind of body do they come?''  Fool!  What you sow does not come to life unless it dies.  And as for what you sow, you do not sow the body that is to be, but a bare seed, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain.  But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body.  Not all flesh is alike, but there is one flesh for human beings, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish.  There are both heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one thing, and that of the earthly is another.  There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; indeed, star differs from star in glory.

So it is with the resurrection of the dead.  What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable.  It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory.  It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power.  It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body.  If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body.  Thus it is written, ''The first man, Adam, became a living being''; the last Adam became life-giving spirit.  But it is not the spiritual that is first, but the physical, and then the spiritual.  The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven.  As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven.  Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven.

... flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.  Listen, I will tell you a mystery!  We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.  For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.  For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality.  When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled:

      ''Death has been swallowed up

            in victory.''

      ''Where, O death, is your victory?

            Where, O death, is your sting?''

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. [66]

A conservative exegesis of this passage would seem to indicate some kind of material continuity between the body that dies and the body that is raised.  One thing seems certain: the body that is raised is not qualitatively the same as the body that dies.  The latter is perishable, sown in dishonor and weakness; the former is glorious, spiritual, and raised in power, imperishable and immortal.  On the other hand, just as one plant comes from one seed, and just as one seed becomes one plant; so in the case of the resurrection it seems that one resurrected body comes from one dead body, one dead body becomes one resurrected body.

      Davis's view of the resurrection is also compatible with the prevalent New Testament idea that death is a horrible thing, something that had to be conquered and triumphed over by Christ's dying and being resurrected.  (This idea is manifested in the above passage from 1 Corinthians where Paul contrasts the ''victory'' and ''sting'' of death which Christ has vanquished.)  Because God intends for man's fulfillment (as man) to be partly a corporeal fulfillment, we need our bodies.  The association obtaining between our souls and our bodies (or to speak in the strict, metaphysical sense, between us and our bodies) is a good thing which is disrupted by biological death.  Such a conception ought to be contrasted with the typical platonic view manifested in Socrates' words in, e.g., the Phaedo, that biological death amounts to an escape and is therefore something not altogether bad. [67]

      The picture of the resurrection which emerges might run something like the following.  Mr. X dies at t-1.  He goes on existing in a radically attenuated, imperfect state which is to say as a soul (yet as Mr. X) for an indefinite period of time.  At t-2, at the eschaton, Mr. X's body is resurrected and changed into what St. Paul calls a soma pneumatikon, a spiritualized body [68] and is reunited with Mr. X.  In the kingdom of God, Mr. X exists once again as a complete person, as a soul enlivening a glorified, spiritual body.  With regard to personal identity, then, a person in the afterlife (or anywhere else) is Mr. X if and only if he has Mr. X's soul.

      Davis makes an important distinction which, if not clearly enumerated, might lead to some confusion.  We must distinguish between criteria for personal identity and evidence for personal identity.  ''...The presence of absence of a soul or of a certain soul is not something for which we can successfully test, at least not directly.''

We cannot, for example, prove that a given person really is our long-lost friend by proving that this person really has our long-lost friend's soul.  But it still might be true that the soul provides a criterion of personal identity.  That is, it still might be the case that the person really is our long-lost friend if this person and our long-lost friend have the same soul. [69]

Even though souls might presumably be things that are not empirically observable, the presence or absence of a particular soul still might be the definitive grounds on which correct identity decisions might be made.

      Moreover, and as Davis later observes, to say that the presence of a particular soul is the definitive grounds on which correct identity decisions might be made, is not to say that the presence of a particular soul is the only criterion.  There could be many other criteria, particularly non-definitive criteria.  It is plausible to maintain that other such criteria might (largely) be based on physicality.  If a person in the resurrection world has Mr. X's body, or a body materially continuous with Mr. X's, it is likely that that person is Mr. X.  If a person remembers being Mr. X, it is likely that he is Mr. X.  We can thus imagine a resurrection world in which identity decisions are made largely in the same ways as they are made in this world.  It might be true (in this world) that a person is Mr. X if and only if he has Mr. X's soul.  But it is certainly the case that our identity decisions regarding Mr. X are based on non-soul criteria, e.g., on whether this putative Mr. X looks like someone we remember being Mr. X, or whether this putative Mr. X seems to remember being Mr. X.

      It should be noted that I have not argued, e.g., empirically, for the existence of something called ''the soul.''  I maintain that belief in souls is not a controversial one for orthodox Christians.  In other words, from the perspective of orthodox Christianity, the notion of souls ought to be taken for granted.  Their exact nature, what they are, is a matter of dispute.  But even in this regard, my understanding of the nature of souls (the understanding presented in this paper) is well within the confines of Christian orthodoxy.  What I have attempted to show, in positive terms, is that understanding the human soul to bear the identity relation to the human person solves a number of problems otherwise prevalent in accounts of the resurrection of the body.  All I maintain is that understanding the human person to be (technically) identical to the human soul is a viable possibility for orthodox Christians, and a possibility which addresses some of the more problematical conclusions of other accounts with regard to what is logically possible, or what is compatible with Scripture.

VI. Postscript

      The doctrine of the resurrection of the body is important, not because of what we can learn about personal identity or any other metaphysical notions per se.  It is important because it is a central aspect of the Christian hope.  Our hope, as Christians, is based on our consideration that things in this world, including ourselves, are not as they should be, but through the death and resurrection of the God-man, Jesus Christ, the possibility of reconciliation and restoration is manifested.  The mysteries of Easter are partly the object of our faith and, when misapprehended, a potential source of confusion.  However, metaphysical conjecture can get us only so far.  We are not likely to take joy in the acclamation ''The Lord is risen indeed!  Alleluia!'' because of metaphysical conjecture.  Ultimately then we must be content to acknowledge mysteries as mysteries.  But just because we are unable to apprehend them with empirical certainty, it does not follow that we are unable, as Christians to experience, revere, or be enlivened by them through faith.

      The Christian body (that which we experience as ''ours'' now, and that which will, in the eschaton, be resurrected) must finally be understood as a participant in these wonderful mysteries.  ''Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?'' asks St. Paul (1 Corinthians 6.15).  It is because of our relationship to the resurrected Christ, in the fullness of his manhood and divinity, that we have hope.  Through his death and resurrection we are brought to imperishability, glory, power, and immortality.  In his essay With what Body do the Dead rise again? (anthologized in Immortality and Resurrection) Maurice Carrez says this of the human body: makes possible the human existence willed by God; it expresses the possibilities of man's life; it allows sexual union and commits the whole being that it is and represents; it is... his reality with all its activities, its values... the word ''body''...describes man in a definite situation, in relation to others.... The body is man responsible for what he does, for how he lives; it is his entire situation... [70]

It is this body then that is the object of the divine activity called ''resurrection.''  The resurrection is a story about what Carrez calls the ''three creative initiatives'' [71] of God.  The resurrection is the fulfillment of the divine work that began in the individual man when he was created, by God, out of the dust of the earth.  This first initiative is the instigation, the beginning, properly, of a relationship between the individual man and his Creator. 

The second creative initiative is the ongoing character of that God-man relationship.  ''This initiative begins on the day when by a creative act God shines forth into the heart of the man blind until now...'' [72]   ''For,'' as St. Paul says, ''it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of the darkness,' who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.'' [73]   This second initiative is at work in Christian action, and perhaps most explicitly in the sacraments.  Likewise, it is this second creative initiative that is opposed and thus muddled by the corrupting power of sin, itself an action-motivating power.  In this second initiative, God dwells with us here in the present; but through sin, we can restore the distance of our separation from Him.  Carrez also points out, interestingly, that God's second creative initiative ''remains active on behalf of the dead believer, for death has had ousted from it, since Christ's death for us, its character of separation from God.'' [74]

The third creative initiative of God is the resurrection of the dead.  It is through this resurrection that our fulfillment is achieved, by God, through the death and resurrection of Christ.  It is through this third initiative that our destiny as citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven and children of the Most High is manifest.  ''From this third initiative onwards the body will be entirely under the control of the spirit, a person totally renewed by this creative act.'' [75]   It is this third initiative that is prefigured in the sacrament of baptism.  We die, as ourselves, and are raised, with Christ, in his resurrection, to be infused with the power and glory which is ours, through the grace of God the Father.

The resurrection of the dead cannot be understood in its full significance, solely as a metaphysical puzzle to be unraveled.  Understood properly, it is a central aspect of Christian life, and an object of Christian faith and hope.  It occurs through Christ's resurrection and must be thus understood.  We are raised with Jesus now.  Christ revealed himself to the disciples in his power and glory, after his resurrection.  In Luke 24, the risen Christ reveals himself to the bewildered disciples in his physical-spiritual reality, but also as scripture, and in the breaking of bread.  Thus is the precedent for Christian life set.  The resurrection of the dead is divine action.  It is the story of Christ and of our life in Him.

[1] Edwards, 242

[2] ibid.

[3] Edwards, 243

[4] Edwards, 244

[5] Edwards, 245

[6] Edwards, 246

[7] Luke 23.43 I will later discuss van Inwagen's explicit consideration of this text.

[8] 2 Corinthians 12.2-5

[9] cf. 1 Samuel 28.15

[10] Philippians 1.23

[11] van Inwagen, 63

[12] Edwards, 246

[13] Hick, 454

[14] ibid.

[15] ibid.

[16] Hick, 455

[17] ibid.

[18] Hick, 455

[19] ibid. (Hick quoting Norbert Wiener)

[20] cf. Hick, 456

[21] Hick, 456

[22] Hick, 456f.

[23] Hick, 458

[24] Hick, 458

[25] Hick, 456

[26] Hick, 459 (Hick quoting Clark)

[27] Hick, 460 (sic.)

[29] Please see the appended diagram.

[30] Hick, 456 (emphasis mine)

[31] Edwards, 240f.

[32] Edwards, 231

[33] Edwards, 226

[34] ibid.

[35] ibid.

[36] Edwards, 228

[37] Aquinas, p.190 sec.4

[38] Edwards, 229

[39] ibid.

[40] ibid. (Geach paraphrasing Aquinas)

[41] cf. Edwards, 229

[42] Edwards, 231

[43] Edwards, 231f.

[44] Edwards, 232

[45] ibid.

[46] ibid.

[47] Edwards, 232 (editor's note)

[48] Edwards, 233

[49] ibid.

[50] Edwards, 456

[51] Edwards, 229

[52] Luke 23.43

[53] van Inwagen, 62

[54] van Inwagen, 63

[55] Davis, 87

[56] Davis, 89

[57] Davis, 90

[58] H.H. Price, for example, argues that dreamlike ''mental imagery'' could ''play the part [for a disembodied soul] which sense perception plays'' for people in this world.  Cf. Edwards, 216f.

[59] Davis, 91

[60] Davis, 87

[61] as in the movie Robocop

[62] Van Inwagen makes a similar point in a different context (Van Inwagen, 59).

[63] cf. the John Hick section above.

[64] cf. for example, St. Gregory of Nyssa, Tertullian, and St. Augustine on the subject.

[65] Davis, 99

[66] 1 Corinthians 15.35ff

[67] cf. Van Inwagen, 63

[68] It should be noted that soma pneumatikon does not refer to an immaterial body (whatever that might mean), but to a body enlivened by the Holy Spirit.


[70] Benoit Murphy, 93

[71] cf. Benoit Murphy, 96f.

[72] Benoit Murphy, 96

[73] 2 Corinthians 4.6

[74] Benoit Murphy, 97

[75] ibid.


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