I am not competent to get involved in the theological and philosophical discussions among Robert P. George, Patrick Lee , Robert T. Miller , and Claire V. McCusker on the relation between bodies and souls. However, as a physicist I am interested in one statement made here yesterday by Robert George and Patrick Lee concerning the resurrection of the body. They note that in their forthcoming book, Body-Self Dualism and Contemporary Ethical Issues, they defend the view that the resurrection of the body involves "God’s reassembling at least some of the numerically same particles that once were in our living bodies when we were alive." That seems to me to be a very problematic notion from the point of view of modern physics¯indeed, strictly speaking, a meaningless notion. It is meaningless to ask whether an electron, say, that exists at one place and time is the same one that exists at another place and time. Elementary particles, such as electrons and protons, have no individual identity (in medieval terms, one might say that they have no haeceitas ), though one can meaningfully talk about how many there are and (with less precision) about where they are.

For example, if today I have a box containing ten electrons, sealed off so that no particles can enter or escape, there will still be ten electrons in it tomorrow. But modern physics teaches us that there is no meaning whatsoever to the question of whether "this" electron here today is the "same one" as "that" electron there tomorrow. One might try to give this question some meaning by marking or labeling each electron in some way, but that cannot be done even in principle. Or one might try to "keep an eye on" each electron and follow its movements from moment to moment, as one might try to keep an eye on the shell containing the hidden object in a shell game. However, that too is not possible even in principle, as the concept of a particle following a continuous path or trajectory through time is a classical concept¯quantum theory tells us that one cannot follow particles around in that way. When particles get near each other, they unavoidably get mixed up with each other. To explain fully this famous "quantum indistinguishability of particles" is not possible to do in a brief space.

Perhaps an analogy will help. Suppose on Monday I have five dollars in my bank account and deposit another five by means of a check on Tuesday. Then on Friday, I withdraw five dollars from my account by writing a check. Are the five dollars I withdraw the same ones that were there Monday, or are they the ones I deposited on Tuesday, or are some of them the ones that were there Monday and others of them not? One can see that this is a meaningless question. One can talk about how many dollars there are and where they are (in the sense that the dollars are in this account or that account), but dollars in an account have no individuality. What I am saying about elementary particles is not at all controversial among physicists. It is a well-accepted fact of life in fundamental physics. Therefore, if one is to make sense of the identity of a resurrected body with the former body, it must do it in some terms other than the identity of the particles of which they are composed. At any rate, so it seems to me.

There are other problems as well. If one is going to talk about the resurrected body as being made up of the same kinds of particles¯electrons, protons, and so on¯one will be forced to say that the world to come has physical laws that are the same (or differ very little) as the laws that govern this universe. This would raise all sorts of awkward questions. Just to take one example: Organic life in our world requires energy, which comes ultimately from the sun, in most cases. So will there be stars in the world to come? Will they burn up their nuclear fuel in billions of years? If so, then what? Will God perform continuous miracles to prevent our aging, and the new "sun" from burning out, and all the other effects of temporality that are inherent in a world with laws such as our present universe has? But if there are continuous miracles, would it even make sense to speak anymore of a world governed by laws? And if the world to come has not laws like ours, then the whole question of whether there are the same kinds of particles becomes meaningless, since what you mean by a particle and its properties is bound up with the deepest structure of the laws of physics.

I think it is a profound mistake, given what we know today, to try to imagine how our bodiliness in the next world will be realized. And I think that the Scriptures warn us that this is a mistake. 1 John 3 tells us that "what we shall be has not yet been revealed." St. Paul tells us that "eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man . . . what God has prepared." He also tells us that our bodies will be "spiritual bodies," and that "in the twinkling of an eye . . . we shall be changed." These passages suggest (at least to me) that in whatever sense we shall have bodily existence in heaven, it shall be very different, unimaginably different, different in a way that has not yet been revealed. And so, perhaps, we should leave it at that. It is probably as futile for us to try to imagine the next life as for a baby in the womb to try to imagine its life after it is born and grown up, or for a caterpillar to imagine life as a butterfly. Someday we shall know; now it is not necessary for us to know.

Scripture has other suggestive passages. In the Book of Revelation, we are told that in the world to come "there will be time no longer," and we are also told that "there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever." No time? No light except that given them by God? This suggests a realm utterly different from the one we now inhabit, a realm in which many of the physical principles and realities of our world will have no counterpart. Is it not possible that our bodiliness will be fully realized within the Body of Christ, and that God will be our food, our light, our everything¯so that God is indeed "all in all"?

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Articles by Stephen M. Barr


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