Monday, May 08, 2017

The metaphysics of glorification

The longer the world continues, the less likely it is that elements constituting one human being haven't belonged, at some earlier moment, to another human being. Worms and bacteria dissolve the dead, whose molecules reenter the carbon cycle, the water cycle, and the nitrogen cycle, all of which supply our food and drink. Imagine, then, what would happen if, ten seconds from now, all the dead, beginning with those most ancient, were to rise and, like magnet, draw to themselves every atom they once possessed. The world as we know it would instantly be full of holes, and some things altogether gone, including lots of saints, for when God returns all matter to its original owners, how much will be left for the late-comers?…From conception on, all of us are recycled elements.

Christians hold, however, that, once we rise, death will be no more. The exegetical justification is 1 Cor 15, where Paul foresees an imperishable body…Mortality will put on immortality…Why, then, with death passe, would resurrected saints need to eat? Or why would they need to breathe? If they're invested with immortality, death won't be able to touch them, so eating or not eating and breathing or not breathing will be matters of indifference. 

If, as 4 Ezra avows, illness will be banished, we don't need white blood cells, antibodies, and the rest of the immune system. And if, a Revelation promises, we'll neither hunger nor thirst any longer, then we won't require kidneys to reabsorb water. Nor will we, if immortal, need blood, veins, arteries, and a pumping hear to circulate nutrients and remove waste products. 

The average human body harbors, according to recent estimates, at least ten thousand species of parasitic microbes…Many microbes, such as digestive flora, are required for healthy functioning…Won't our microbial ecosystems have to be resurrected, too? Without the bugs we host, the intestines won't work. 

These days, even many professing belief in the resurrection don't believe it…They anticipate not repair but replacement…This isn't the dominant Christian tradition…Until recently, most theologians taught this. This idea is reflected in our religious art, where bodies sometimes climb out from the ground, or in the old church cemeteries, where the feet of the dead are laid toward the rising sun, so that, when Christ returns, like lightning from the east, everyone will stand up facing the right direction. 

The first large blips of doubt show up, as far as I've been able to learn, in the seventeenth century. John Locke…stressed that personal identity lies in continuity of consciousness, not in physical stability…Doctrinal revolutions, like all other revolutions, have manifold causes. D. Allison, Night Comes (Eerdmans, 2016), chap. 2. 

i) I'm struck by people who have the notion that immortality means a body must be intrinsically invulnerable. But the word "immortality" doesn't carry that specification. And that's not an implication of the concept. Are they getting that from "imperishable"? But Paul is piling on adjectives that function in context as virtual synonyms. Many of Allison's objections are premised on the dubious assumption that if a body is immortal, that means the body is invulnerable to harm. But that doesn't follow. Allison says that nowadays, even many professing belief in the resurrection don't really believe it, but he's the one whose paradigm eviscerates the notion of a body. He acts as though the Biblical concept of a resurrected body is the "body" of a superhero or mutant. If that body was at ground zero during a thermonuclear explosion, it wouldn't even have a suntan. But that's not recognizably a human body. Heck, that's not even recognizably any kind of body. It's no longer organic. No longer protoplasm. 

ii) Surely Bible writers didn't have a deistic view of immortality, where we no longer need God because we're safely ensconced within the impregnable fortress of a resurrected body. I don't think it means we'll be naturally incapable of dying from thirst or starvation. Rather, the saints won't die from drought or famine because we'll always have access to food and drink.

Likewise, to say illness will be banished doesn't imply that there will be no pathogens. It might mean we will have stronger immune systems and antibodies for more diseases. It might also mean that while some infectious diseases are still naturally hazards to humans, God will steer us clear of the danger zone. 

I don't think it means the body will be naturally impervious to accidental death. Rather, God will providentially protect us from accidental death. I don't think it means we will be naturally immune to radiation or poison or snake venom. Just that God will providentially protect us.

In fact, I don't think God would be breaking any eschatological promises if a saint temporarily suffered an accidental death, but was miraculously restored to life. That would be a salutary reminder that we remain ever-dependent on God for our being and well-being. 

iii) I don't think it's "revolutionary" to deny that resurrected bodies must be composed of the very same atoms. It would be revolutionary to deny physical reembodiment. But I wouldn't say a particular model of physical reembodiment is revolutionary. These are variations within a common framework of corporeal reconstitution. 

He himself admits that atoms are indistinguishable. It's not the atoms that distinguish one body from another, but the pattern, the structure. 

iv) Moreover, what makes tradition the standard of comparison? What's wrong with modern-day Christians having a concept of the resurrected body that's independent of the church fathers? It's not as if they were in a special position to know something we don't. Why should we have to measure our position by their paradigm?  How is that even relevant? 

v) Although I'm a substance dualist, I wouldn't say personal identity is reducible to continuity of consciousness. We're designed to interact with a physical environment. We're designed to interact with other embodied persons. Moreover, the brain and body have a powerful conditioning influence on the soul. On how we experience reality. The soul is to nature as embodiment is to nurture. Embodied perception affects our personality, moods, memories, and character development. That has a formative impact on the soul by informing the soul. 

There's no tidy distinction between embodiment and continuity of consciousness. For instance, memories are one way to ground continuity of consciousness–consider the sad case of the senile demented–yet most-all of our memories are recollections of physical, sensory experience. 

vi) Some theologians take the resurrection of Christ to be paradigmatic for the general resurrection, but while there's some value in that comparison, we need to distinguish between the process and the end-product. The corpse of Christ was only on ice for about 48 hours, so it didn't have time to undergo drastic necrosis. But in many cases there is no intact corpse, or even skeletal remains. It's fallacious to extrapolate from the case of Christ in reference to the process of resurrection. That would only be parallel in situations where you have bodies in a comparable state of preservation or decay. But the condition of a dead body, if any, ranges along a continuum from total disintegration to life-support. 

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