We are grateful to Stephen Barr for continuing the conversation with us about the doctrine of the resurrection of the body. We wish to stress that we hold our view, as Professor Barr holds his, as merely probable. The resurrection is a profound mystery, and all any of us can do is attempt to defend the coherence of the account we judge to be most satisfactory in this incorrigibly speculative area of theology. We also wish to stress that the "reassembly" account we defend is no invention of ours. It was the general position of the Church Fathers and was held by both St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. It could be wrong, but it is certainly not new.
Professor Barr originally argued that the reassembly view of the resurrection is inconsistent with quantum physics, which says that subatomic particles lack individuation. We responded by observing that the reassembly view need not refer to subatomic particles, that some type of material continuity might be required, and that this could be referred to as the same parcels of matter or matter-energy. Let us add that for living organisms (and a human being is a particular type of living organism), the continuity of matter usually involves gradual replacement of the matter in its body; continuity, or "sameness of body," is ensured by an immanent causal connection between the material constituents at one time and the material constituents at the immediately succeeding time. That is, usually, in a living organism sameness of body means that the parts, roles, and processes of a living organism are caused by the previous parts, roles, and processes of that organism. If resurrection occurs by God reassembling at least some of the matter that made up the human being just before he died, then there is a real material continuity, though not of the same sort as obtains in this life: the parts, roles, and some of the processes of the risen human being would be modeled after the parts, roles, and some of the processes of the premortem human being, and in some way take up where the premortem being left offand this, it seems to us, is completely consistent with believing that this being will be bodily transformed (glorified, in some unexpected way). So, the fact that in this life we gradually replace the matter in our bodies does not mean that bodily continuity is unimportant for remaining the same living body, and the bodily continuity that might be involved in the resurrection would be a type of material continuity.
However, Professor Barr fears that our referring to the same bits of matter or parcels of matter-energy (to give meaningful content to the phrase "same body") does not solve "the basic problem" with our position. He argues as follows: If the body is resolved into its constituent particles (by explosion, decay, etc), then any material continuity of the kind we envisage would require numerical identity of particles, and this latter iswe take Professor Barr to be sayingimpossible. So, Professor Barr's argument seems to be this: (1) When a body is completely decayed or "resolved into its constituent particles," then the only continuity possible is at the subatomic or atomic level; (2) continuity at that level does not make sense according to quantum physics, therefore, etc.
But (1) does not strike us as sound. Clearly, there are many instances in which there is macro-level material continuity. If one placed an apple on the table yesterday, it makes sense to ask whether the apple on the table today is the same apple or another one just like it. If one eats a carrot, then the same matter, or part of the same matter, that was in the carrot is transferred to one's stomach. If a few hours after eating the carrot, one is consumed by an alligator (say, while vacationing in Florida), surely some of the matter that was in the carrot and then in that person is now in the alligator. Moreover, affirming that there is no material continuity after extensive changes amounts to saying that, at some point, some matter, or matter-energy, completely disappears and entirely other matter or matter-energy is created. Our understandingthough we will be happy to defer to Professor Barr's expertise as a physicistis that contemporary physics not only offers no support for such a notion, it actually operates on the opposite assumption.
It seems to us that just as there is nothing incoherent in thinking that the same matter (or matter-energy) is first in a carrot, then in a human, and then in an alligator, so there is nothing incoherent in the idea that some of the same matter that was in a corpse, and became dispersed after its corruption, could at a much later time be reassembled. When someone is cremated, it seems clear that there is a material continuity of some sort between the body before death and the ashesand this despite perhaps the swirling in and out of subatomic and atomic particles. But if there can be such material continuity spanning years and even decades, then we do not see why in principle there might not be such material continuity retrieved by God for the resurrection even after centuries.
We agree with Professor Barr (and Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict) that the resurrection will not be merely a return to the kind of physical existence we now havethere will be, as noted before, a mysterious glorification. Yet 1 Corinthians 15 certainly does not deny a material continuity: When St. Paul speaks of "flesh and blood" not inheriting the kingdom of God, by "flesh and blood" he certainly does not mean "body," for in that case he would be simply denying that the body shares in salvation, contrary to what he clearly teaches elsewhereand this would be so, whether one conceived the resurrection as having a material continuity or not. No, by "flesh and blood" (as Augustine, Aquinas, and myriad other commentators on St. Paul have pointed out) he meant the natural man, in his sins, as opposed to the supernaturalized man, in grace, the "old man" vs. the "new man."
Moreover, in the very passage that Professor Barr quotes, 1 Corinthians 15 seems to support the material continuity view rather than to subvert it. Paul is dealing with the question, "How are the dead raised?" And he replies by using an analogy: "And what you sow is not the body which is to be, but a bare kernel ("grain," in some translationsthe Greek is kokkon), perhaps of wheat or of something else" (1 Cor. 15:37). The point of the analogy is that just as the grown plant radically differs from the seed that is sown (and in St. Paul's view, dies before it begins to grow), so the body that rises radically differs from the body that is buried (it is transformed). But the analogy also asserts a real material continuity. Between the kernel or grain and the grown plant there is a material continuity. Paul's point seems to be precisely that the radical difference does not preclude a real continuityand a material one, since we are talking about the body, the soma.
We pointed out in our last posting that when Jesus rose from the dead, this surely meant that his tomb was empty, that the same body that had been buried was now alive. Professor Barr agrees with us on that point. And he agrees that our resurrection is patterned after Christ's resurrection. But still he thinks Christ's resurrection "had to retain much of its earthly character and appearance" only because there had to be witnesses to his resurrection. Only with the Ascension, he suggests, is Christ's body glorified, and so he does not feel that it is necessary to accept what he acknowledges is a strong argument, namely, that since Christ's risen body was materially continuous with his body in the tomb, so (probably) is our risen body materially continuous with our premortem body. However, this is quite problematical. Is Christ's post-Ascension body the same as his pre-Ascension body or not? If so, then our argument based on the patterning of our resurrection being after Christ's is sound. If not, then what happened to Christ's pre-Ascension body? Was it annihilated? Did it corrupt? Perhaps Professor Barr will say these are senseless questions. But how can they be? The apostles saw Christ, his body: Is the body that has ascended the same asmaterially continuous withthat body or not? It seems to us that, in view of the theological data, it must be, though we certainly join Professor Barr in recognizing that the Ascension did involve a mysterious transformation.
Finally, we are concerned that the reality of Christ's bodily resurrection not be lost in too many qualifications. Christ's resurrection involves a glorification, a mysterious transformation. And so, according to Christian faith, will ours. But in each case, what is raised is still the same body, and that seems to us to involve some element of material continuity. Professor Barr does not wish to say that after the resurrection we will literally talk to each other, see, touch and gesture to each other. Rather, he says only that we will communicate with each other and "see" and "touch." Of course, we do not wish to speculate about how our seeing and touching will be accomplished in terms of its physics or chemistry. However, it is important to remember that it is we who will be alive after the resurrection. And we humans are essentially (and not merely contingently) rational animals. Animals who only "see" and "touch" but do not actually see and touchthat, we think, is self-contradictory.
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