So far, I have only argued that living people have an immaterial aspect to their nature—a distinct substance we call a self, a mind, an ego, a spirit, or a soul. But whether the soul survives the death of the body is another question, and that’s what I’m going to talk about in this post.
I sort of posted on this before, and here
is the post.
There’s a common objection that many people (especially Jehovah’s Witnesses) make against the idea that the soul survives the death of the body. They argue:
1. If we survive the death of the body and go to heaven or whatever, then there’s no point in having a resurrection of the dead.
2. There is
a point to resurrection, because the resurrection of the dead to eternal life is the ultimate hope of Christians.
3. It follows that we do not survive the death of the body and go to heaven.
The problem here is with the first premise. While the first premise says that disembodied existence is inconsistent with resurrection, I will argue that resurrection is inconsistent with denying
a disembodied existence between death and resurrection.
To make my argument, I’m going to use some thought experiments again. Some of these will sound a lot like my first argument.
First, let’s just think about what a resurrection is. I’m going to argue about this in a future blog, but for now, let’s just assume that a resurrection is when a physical body that has died comes back to life and is transformed into an incorruptible body. The body that rises is the same body that died, albeit transformed, and it’s a physical
body. Moreover, everybody will be raised from the dead, both the righteous and the unrighteous according to Daniel 12.2.
Since both the righteous and the unrighteous will be raised, that includes both cannibals and their victims. Now let’s suppose a cannibal eat’s somebody and then dies a couple of days later. When you eat something, you absorb some of the molecules from that thing, and they become the building blocks of the cells in your body. To an extent, you are what you eat. Here’s the question, then: At the resurrection, who will get the molecules the cannibal got when he ate the other person? If the cannibal gets them, then the other person’s resurrected body won’t be completely identical with the body that died. But if the other person gets the molecules, then the cannibal’s resurrected body won’t be completely identical with the body that died. Either way, God must, to some extent, use new material to construct a resurrected body.
Jehovah’s Witnesses take this a step further and say that resurrection has nothing at all to do with the body that died. Even in the case of Jesus, they will say that Jehovah got rid of the body that was in the tomb, and the Jesus that appeared to the disciples only manifested a physical body for the sake of display, but it was not the same body that died.
Whether the JW’s are right or not, there must be some resurrections that will take place involving bodies made from new material other than the material of the dead body. Unless we have a soul that survives the death of the first body and reanimates the resurrection body, the person who rises at the resurrection is not the same person who died. That means for us, there is no resurrection. New people resembling us will be created, but we ourselves are done for at death.
This is not hard to see. I’ve already given the argument in an earlier blog. If all we are is the sum of our physical parts, then we cease to exist when those physical parts die. If a new body is formed, be it ever so like the body that died, then it will be a different person, even if that new person has all the same thoughts, emotions, temperament, memories, and sense of self.
But a couple of thought experiments also help to see this. According to JW’s, God remembers us perfectly when we die. He is able to remake us from his perfect memory at the resurrection. Now think about this. God is all-knowing, right? That means his perfect memory of us after we die is no different than his perfect knowledge of us before
we die. He has perfect knowledge of us both before and after we die.
If God is able to remake us from his memory ten minutes after we die using materials other than our dead body, then he could do the same before
we die. He would use material that already existed before we died to make a new body from his perfect memory of us. But he could just as easily use that same material to make a new body from his perfect knowledge of us before
we die. But obviously, one person can’t be in two places at the same time. What we’d have is two distinct persons—one original and one replica. The replica would not know the difference, either. If God even created all his mental states exactly the same as the original, the replica would think he was
If God really does raise us from the dead by creating a new us from his memory after we die, then what he’s doing is making a replica of us. He isn’t really raising us. He’s just making copies.
Look at it another way. If God can use any material to make us another body at the resurrection, then he could just as easily make two identical bodies from his perfect memory of us. But they can’t both be the same person, because one person can’t be in two places at the same time. So these are two different persons. Which one is the original? Well, neither
is the original! They’re both copies.
The only way to maintain continuity of identity between death and resurrection is if the person who owned the body that died survives and is the same person who owns the body that rises. And the only way it can be the same person is if that person survives the death of the body and endures to reanimate the body that rises. So a real resurrection of those who die is only possible if we continue to exist between death and resurrection, which entails that we must have an immaterial self capable of disembodied existence. We must have a soul if we are to have any hope of a resurrection.