(This post was written by Robert P. George and Patrick Lee)
We are grateful to Stephen Barr for his comments on our recent posting in which we say that the "reassembly" conception of the Jewish and Christian doctrine of the resurrection of the body is most probable. We described that conception as "God’s reassembling at least some of the numerically same particles that once were in our living bodies when we were alive." Barr wonders whether this idea has any real meaning in light of contemporary quantum physics, which holds that subatomic particles lack individuation or individual identity, in part because they lack the property of being here rather than there.
We fear that our use of the term particles may have been infelicitous inasmuch as it might suggest (especially to physicists, such as Barr) our taking a position on questions of the status or behavior or subatomic particles. Our point was not to do that, but to suggest that belief in the resurrection seems to entail some type of material or bodily continuity . And that would have to be by God’s reassembling something material . How to refer to that something material is problematical: perhaps parcels of matter, or parcels of matter-energy. In any case, we think that belief in some form of material continuity, indeed, a partial identity with respect to the material aspect of the human person, is part of what it means to believe in the resurrection. Perhaps Barr will not agree, and no doubt he could say much more to throw light on the perplexing question of how to relate the macro-level (where individuality, continuity, and identity are facts) to the micro-level (where a subatomic particle’s being here does not seem to exclude its being there).
Believing Jews and Christians know that the doctrine of the resurrection of the body expresses a profound mystery. They do not suppose that we can fully comprehend the resurrection or render its meaning transparent. Theologians have explored questions about the doctrine partly because some philosophers have claimed that it is internally incoherent and therefore unworthy of assent, and partly also from a desire to understand what we can without claiming to have removed the veil that still shrouds its depths. Our concern in our forthcoming book is to show that belief in bodily resurrection is not incoherent (that it is not self-contradictory, which is not the same as to show that it is true or even intrinsically possible), and, of course, to do so without evacuating it of all realism¯reducing it to mere symbol or metaphor. Thus, we completely agree that "eye has not seen, and ear has not heard . . . what God has prepared for those who love him."
This does not mean, however, that heaven is completely unintelligible, only that it is a mystery, that there is more there than we can understand. This is especially true of the supernatural dimension of heaven¯the supernatural communion with God and those who dwell in perpetual friendship with Him. Heaven will also include, though, a fulfillment of our human nature, and here it is important not to mystify our thinking about this that it is inadvertently denied. We will be bodily beings because that’s the kind of thing we are. We shall have glorified bodies, "spiritual bodies," in St. Paul’s phrase, but they will still be bodies. That means at least this much: We will be able to walk and talk, see with our eyes, gesture with our hands, etc. Glorification (thinking about the passages about Christ after his Resurrection) seems to mean that some of the body’s limitations will be removed. No doubt it will also include a lot more that we cannot now understand¯on that point Barr and we agree. However¯and on this Barr no doubt also agrees¯heaven will include real bodies, and our own bodies, so that the persons there will really be us; and that, it seems, must involve some material continuity or identity.
The main philosophical challenges regarding resurrection have arisen because some argue that in order for a human person at one time to be identical to a human person at an earlier time, there must be material and organic continuity from the one to the other, but such continuity does not obtain on the Christian view of the resurrection. Various replies have been proposed to this objection. One is that the persistence of the concrete, immortal human soul, with its same act of existing, provides sufficient continuity for the risen to be the same human being with the one that died. As we indicated in our earlier posting, we think this view might be true¯that is, it is neither self-contradictory nor clearly incompatible with data of faith.
However, though possible, this proposal seems to have serious difficulties. First, it is clear from Scripture, and the constant faith of the Church, that Christ’s tomb was empty . So, although Christ’s body is glorified¯a truth we in no way wish to minimize¯nevertheless it was the same body that was buried three days before and that was now alive and talking with Mary Magdalene (although she did not at first recognize him), showing his wounds to Thomas who had doubted, and eating and drinking with the apostles. If the opponents of Christianity had been able to produce his dead body, they surely would have done so, and, what is the important point here, if they had done so that would have falsified the Christian belief in Christ’s Resurrection . Thus, in Christ’s Resurrection there is some type of material, bodily continuity, indeed, some type of material identity¯the same body that was buried, now lives, though it is now glorified.
Our resurrection¯as St. Paul teaches¯is patterned after, and is mysteriously a participation in, Christ’s Resurrection. So, first, if it is true that persistence of the immortal soul between death and resurrection is sufficient for identity of the person after resurrection with the person before death, then at least this much must be said: Those who die just before the end of the world so that their bodies do not corrupt must in some way have the same body or same matter in them at their resurrection. Certainly it would be contrary to the notion of resurrection if Joe is resurrected but his body is still in the tomb¯that would not be a resurrection but only a re-creation. So, if one says that persistence of the human soul is sufficient continuity for identity of the resurrected human being with the one who died, one will have to add that those who are resurrected before their bodies corrupt must get those same bodies¯in some meaningful sense of the word same , at least in the sense that if the body is here , talking to So-and-So, it cannot at the same time be there, in a tomb.
Finally, we think that this is probably true of all human beings, no matter when they lived and died. For, it would seem odd that the character of the resurrection of one (albeit small) class of human beings would be radically different from that of others. Also, the resurrection of all human beings¯not just those who live and die very near the end of the world¯is patterned after and is a participation in Christ’s Resurrection. And finally, the very idea of a re surrection¯a rising again ¯seems to demand some type of bodily continuity¯though the body is also glorified, and that, we agree, means there is more to it¯but not less¯than the same body (or matter) being alive that once was dead.
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