Sunday, September 24, 2017


i) I'd like to briefly compare the orthodox position on the Christian afterlife with physicalist annihilationism. I'm going to focus on the afterlife of the saints rather than the damned.

ii) On the orthodox position, humans have immortal souls which survive the death of the body. On this view, the postmortem state has both a vertical and horizontal dimension. Vertically, the human race dies in stages. The older generation dies, then the younger generation dies. Great-grandparents die, then grandparents die, then parents die, then children die, then grandchildren die, then great-grandchildren die, and so on and so forth.

This means that, to a great extent, the intermediate state mirrors a historical sequence. The first human generation died first, then the next human generation, and so on. From the earliest to the latest. 

In that respect, the intermediate state preserves the cultural memories of every time and place. Each period and culture and is represented in the memories of particular saints. And that's laid down in a natural sequence, based on their arrival date. In that respect, dying is a bit like stepping into a time machine. 

That also raises the question of whether the intermediate state has a blended culture, as saints from different times and places socialize.

Related to the vertical dimension is a horizontal dimension. We don't simply die as discrete individuals. Rather, we die with our contemporaries. Death is roughly grouped according to age-mates. People of the same generation tend to die within the same basic time span. That's a part of what defines a generation. They were born around the same time and they die around the same time.

Of course, there are partial exceptions. Sometimes a member of the younger generation predeceases a member of the older generation. Yet they are still contemporaries. It's just a distinction between younger and older contemporaries.

On this view, when you die, there are members of your own generation waiting to receive you. Likewise, there are members from the generation before you. And in this life, you knew members of the generation before you. There are roughly three generations alive at any particular time in the here and now–sometimes more. 

When you die, the greeting party includes, or consists of, your contemporaries. You and they speak the same language. Not merely the same language, but the same period language. You and they have the same cultural background.

In addition, the intermediate state contains people from different periods. But because new arrivals disembark in a historical sequences, and because they disembark incrementally, rather than all at once, new arrivals are gradually acculturated to the intermediate state. There are people there whom they can instantly relate to on their own level. And that eases the transition as they get acquainted with saints from different times and places.

iii) Now let's compare that to physicalist annihilationism. On that view, the brain generates the mind. When your body dies, when you undergo brain death, that erases your personality. You cease to exist. The mind is gone.

Then, at the resurrection of the just, God recreates your body and uploads your mind (consciousness, memories) into the new brain. God had a copy of your mind, which he transfers to the new brain.

Millennia may separate your death from your resurrection, but you're oblivious to the interval, long or short. There's no you to be aware of the gap. There's the moment of death, when you pass into oblivion, for however long, then the next thing you know, you're alive in your new body. 

There is no intermediate state, just the final state on the new earth. Because the resurrection of the just is simultaneous, all the saints who died at different times and places are suddenly restored to consciousness at the same time. There's no transitional stage. No phasing one generation of decedents into the company of former generations. It happens all at once. 

On the face of it, that would be extremely disorienting. OT saints, medieval saints, saints from the 18C, 19C, 20C and so on, all thrown together. Bedlam. 

I'm not saying this is a deal-breaker for physicalist annihilationism. But it's a jarring scenario compared to the orthodox position. 

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