Philosophy of Religion

an online textbook

Philip A. Pecorino, Ph.D.

  • CUNY:  Queensborough Community College

  • CUNY: Graduate School and University Center, School of Professional Studies,

  • SUNY, Suffolk County Community College

Chapter  7: The Existence of Souls and the Resurrection 

Section 3.  The Resurrection of the Body

Many people do not give much reflection to the exact details of their view of an afterlife. Most give little consideration to the issue of whether or not they will have a body for the afterlife and if so, exactly what body will each person have for all eternity? For some Jews and Christians it might even be a little shocking to learn that there is this belief in the resurrection of the body.   It appears that based on scriptural passages the members of the western religions should hold for the resurrection of their bodies. How exactly that is to work is a matter of critical concern.

Among the Jews the Pharisees believed in the resurrection of the physical body after death. "In classical Judaism, resurrection of the dead was a central belief, essential to defining oneself as a Jew. “Today,” writes Jon D. Levenson in Resurrection and the Restoration of Israel: The Ultimate Victory of the God of Life (Yale University Press, 2006)., professor of Jewish studies at Harvard, that fact “comes as a shock to most Jews and Christians alike.” (The Case for What ‘Comes as a Shock to Most Jews and Christians Alike’ by Peter Steinfels.)

The Jewish people believed that God created the world. Our physical world is God's creation, and it is good. The Pharisees, in contrast to the Greco-Roman religious beliefs, vigorously affirmed the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead. The Pharisees stressed a literal resurrection of the physical body, which would be reunited with the spirit of an individual. Their worldview embraced a future restoration of God's original design for his world. The Pharisees envisioned a time of redemption in which God would realign the physical creation with the ethereal realm. -Brad H. Young, Paul, The Jewish Theologian, at 123.

The early founder of the Christian tradition, Paul (the former Jew, Saul), admits that  he was "as to the law, a Pharisee" (Phil. 3:5).

Further in the writings of Paul:

1 Corinthians  15:50-54:  Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, Death is Swallowed up in victory.

The Bible clearly affirms the doctrine of the general resurrection of the dead. Note, in brief, the following points.

  1. Old Testament - (cf. 2 Tim. 1:10). According to Jesus, God’s declaration to Moses regarding Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was an indication of the eventual resurrection (Mt. 22:31,32). Other Old Testament passages suggested that man’s body would be raised (see Job 19:25-27; Psa. 17:15; Isa. 26:19; Dan. 12:2; Hos. 13:14).
  2.  
  3. The New Testament (see Jn. 5:28-29; 6:39-40; Mk. 12:18-27; Acts 17:23; 26:8; Rom. 8:23; 1 Thes. 4:16; 1 Cor. 15; 2 Cor. 5:1-2; Phil. 3:21).

The Resurrection of the Human Body by Wayne Jackson Christian Courier: Archives
Friday, September, 1999
 http://www.christiancourier.com/archives/resurrection.htm

The Christian view is given here by A.J. Maas

READ http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/12792a.htm

He presents the Christian reasoning as to the congruity of the Christian dogma with previous teachings as follow:

  • As the soul has a natural propensity to the body, its perpetual separation from the body would seem unnatural.
  • As the body is the partner of the soul's crimes, and the companion of her virtues, the justice of God seems to demand that the body be the sharer in the soul's punishment and reward.
  • As the soul separated from the body is naturally imperfect, the consummation of its happiness, replete with every good, seems to demand the resurrection of the body.

Here is material attesting to belief in the resurrection of the physical bodies of the earliest Christians by Chris Price : http://www.didjesusexist.com/resbody.html

Here is material on the idea of Resurrection in early Judaism and in Christianity by Robert M.  Price: READ: http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/robert_price/resurrection.html

In Christianity there is no doubt that the faithful are to hold that there will be a resurrection of the physical body.  The Fourth Lateran Council (1215), infallibly defined that at the second coming Jesus "will judge the living and the dead, to render to every person according to his works, both to the reprobate and to the elect. All of them will rise with their own bodies, which they now wear, so as to receive according to their deserts, whether these be good or bad [Rom. 2:6–11]" (constitution 1).

Most recently, the Catechism of the Catholic Church reiterated this long-defined teaching, stating, "‘We believe in the true resurrection of this flesh that we now possess’ (Council of Lyons II). We sow a corruptible body in the tomb, but he raises up an incorruptible body, a ‘spiritual body’ (cf. 1 Cor 15:42–44)" (CCC 1017).

See further a Catholic source: http://www.catholic.com/library/Resurrection_of_the_Body.asp

For further overview of the belief in Resurrection in the Western tradition:

READ: in wikipedia     http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Resurrection_of_the_dead

READ : Stephen T. Davis Traditional Christian Belief in the Resurrection of the Body

Stephen T. Davis, Is Belief in the Resurrection Rational? A Response to Michael Martin in  PHILO  Volume 2, Number 1 http://www.philoonline.org/library/davis_2_1.htm

 Abstract: This essay is a response to Michael Martin's "Why the Resurrection Is Initially Improbable," Philo, Vol. 1, No. 1. I argue that Martin has not succeeded in achieving his aim of showing that the Resurrection is initially improbable and thus, by Bayes's Theorem, implausible. I respond to five of Martin's arguments: (1) the "particular time and place argument"; (2) the claim that there is no plausible Christian theory of why Jesus should have been incarnated and resurrected; (3) the claim that the Resurrection accounts in the New Testament are unreliable; (4) Martin's assumptions about how one establishes the initial probability of Resurrection; and (5) the use Martin makes of Bayes's Theorem to discredit belief in the Resurrection.

It does come down to which is the best argument and that is the position that is best defended with reasons and evidence. The position is that : Humans will be resurrected after they die.

The Christian apologists defending their claims about the resurrection, like Stephen Davis, admit that "So given Christian theism, I think interventionist miracles are to be expected, as is Resurrection."   This reasoning that is offered admits that it is based on a set of beliefs, namely Christian Theism,  and not on evidence or reasoning that would provide an argument that compels rational human beings to accept the truth of the conclusion that the dead will be resurrected and live in their bodies for all eternity.  No empirical evidence at all. The defenders of the position cite the sacred scriptures or the BIBLE of the Christians. In doing so the stories they cite tell of claims that one person was restored to life and not resurrected from a body that was decayed and putrefied as would need to be the case for the billions of humans the claim of resurrection includes..

PROBLEMS with the claim of Resurrection:

A. With factual claims

1)The story in the story book of the Christians relates about one human only. 

2) There is no evidence to indicate that the events described are true as they are reported other than claims made within the story book itself. 

3) The story reported is not actually of a resurrection from the grave of the decayed remains of a body that would have been reassembled and restored to full functioning.  It is a story of a recently deceased body that was reported to have been seen as alive once again.  The body had not decayed, rotted or decomposed.

4) To use that book alone as a source of support would require an explanation and conclusive evidence of the falsehood of the other stories reported in the other religious traditions. Why is it that the story book or sacred scripture of the Christians is to be cited?  Why not cite the sacred texts of the Hindus or the Buddhists that will indicate that when Nirvana is achieved there are no longer any bodies and no individual souls?  Why is it that the Christian stories are true but Buddhist stories and Hindu stories and Taoist stories are false?  What is the basis for that claim of the falsehood of the other religious traditions with regard to the description of the final state of humans and their bodies?

There are many people who are looking for actual evidence in support of a claim that there are souls and that there is a resurrection for all, and so the survival of the soul and its unification with the body are matters of concern to philosophers who examine belief systems.

B. with the concept of the resurrection itself. 

1. Recycling Problem

Human bodies are made of cells and they are made of molecules and it is very highly probable that some of the molecules in a person's body that make up the cells of that body were once molecules that were in the cells of other bodies, even human bodies, at the time of death of the other beings.  How then can the exact same dead bodies be resurrected for everyone if over time the dead bodies shared molecules while on earth?

2. Corrupted Body Problem

Many would like to think this as in many cases the body at the time of death would not be a body that would be in good health.  It might be injured, diseased, or one with limbs and organs removed from it.  Many who hope for a resurrection want a younger and healthier body than their own.

3. Maladjusted Problem

There are also people who have body image problems and those who are transsexuals for whom to have their own bodies as they had on earth would not at all be an enjoyable experience for all eternity.

4. One and Only One Body Problem

How is it thought to be a positive experience to have the exact same physical body for all of eternity?  Most people regard the prospect as being one with a great potential for boredom.  If the potential boredom is overcome by some alternative experience such as the reported joy of being in paradise then why is there even the need to have the physical body at all? It is inconsistent to insist on the resurrection of the body and at the same time make the infinite existence of the resurrected body inconsequential to the experience of infinite survival.

The big issue is just how such a resurrection is possible?  What body would it be?  If there is a uniting of the soul with a body for all eternity there are two possibilities as to the nature of that body.  It would either be the exact same body as they had at the moment of death or some other body, perhaps a very similar body.

Do people get a body similar to their own body?

If people get a body similar to their own body but not the exact same body that they had at the moment of their death then it is not resurrection but the uniting of the soul with a facsimile or replica.  The body that died is not resurrected but another body is created by a deity to unite with the soul for all eternity.  This belief avoids the recycling, corrupted and maladjusted body problems but it is not strictly speaking a resurrection of the body and it does not get around the one and only one body problem.

Do people get the exact same body that they had at the moment of their death?

This is what some believe that Western scripture assures.  This is also the option that presents all of the problems cited above.

Peter van Inwagen

Inwagen argues against the Aristotelian view of the dualism and dichotomy of person/body. He does not believe that the all powerful being collects the atoms of the dead person’s body and reassembles them after death in another realm. This would be a recreation and a replica but not the same person.

Instead he argues that :it is possible for the all powerful creator and Supreme Being to restore an individual to life in the same body.  The deity could at least preserve the brain in a new body replacing it with a replica. The all powerful being could replace the actual dead body with a duplicate, a replica, instantaneously at the exact moment of death!!!

This theory provides the possibility that each human being could have there own dead body to reoccupy after death for all eternity.  However, such a theory supports an outcome that most would find to be both undesirable and rather silly when considering what the all powerful supreme being would be doing.  It is the result of an effort of the rational mind to hold belief in the literal meaning of the doctrine supported by scripture.

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“The Possibility of Resurrection” by Peter van Inwagen

Summary by Meghan Ramsay (QCC, 2004) 

In an attempt to disprove the Aristotelian notion of reconstitution of a body as life after death, Peter van Inwagen gives an analogy of a burned manuscript.  In his analogy, van Inwagen refers to monks claiming to have possession of an authentic original manuscript that was written by St. Augustine, even though they also claim that this very manuscript was destroyed by fire many years ago.  One of the monks in the analogy explains that although the manuscript was burnt, God collected the matter (atoms) that had originally constituted the manuscript and “reimpressed” it (caused the atoms to assume the same spatial and chemical relationship as they originally had).  However, van Inwagen finds that this ideology is imperfect, as the reconstituted “manuscript” is not the original, as the atoms that make up the ink are not in place due to the actions of Augustine, but rather are there due to the actions of God.  Van Inwagen likens this idea to a parent rebuilding a house of blocks identical to one that his daughter had built which he had inadvertently knocked down.  Although similar (if not identical) in appearance, the new block house is not the one that the child had built. 

Similarly, a man who has been destroyed cannot be collected on the atomic level and reassembled as the same man.  Van Inwagen gives three arguments to further back this claim against the Aristotelian idea of resurrection.  The first two arguments are directed towards Christians who are tempted to believe in the Aristotelian theory, and the third one is set forth to show that the consequences of the Aristotelian theory are impossible.   

In his first argument, van Inwagen asserts that the atoms which make up man can be destroyed on the atomic and subatomic level.  This would make it possible for an evil man to ensure that the matter that constitutes his atomic particles would be completely destroyed upon death, so as to escape God’s fury.  However, according to Christian doctrine, it is impossible to hide from God’s wrath.  Therefore, either we are incorrect as to the properties of matter or the Aristotelian view of reconstitution is completely inconsistent with Christianity.   

In his second argument, van Inwagen points out that the atoms that make up people might be atoms that had previously made up another person.  This idea of atoms belonging to multiple people brings forth confusion as to who should be reconstituted when the day of resurrection arrives.  Van Inwagen points out that an evil man could easily become a cannibal to ensure that he possesses atoms of many men, so as to cause such confusion that he would escape the wrath of God.  However, once again, this idea is completely incompatible with Christian beliefs.   

Finally, van Inwagen argues the total impossibility of Aristotelian resurrection by pointing out that it is possible that an adult male might have a completely different atomic makeup than he did as a boy.  Thus, under the Aristotelian theory, it would be possible for God to resurrect the boy while the man is still living, which van Inwagen argues is a completely implausible concept. 

Although he maintains that resurrection is possible, van Inwagen completely dismisses the Aristotelian concept of reconstitution as a plausible method to attain life after death.  He does not offer a concrete answer as to how God accomplishes the feat of resurrection, stating only that perhaps at the moment of death God replaces man’s corpse with some sort of a stunt double, or perhaps God preserves the brain and central nervous system or some other particular portion of the body while maintaining the outward appearance of the corpse.  The details, van Inwagen, asserts are not important.  What is essential, he argues, is that God is capable of resurrecting the dead in some way or another.   

Van Inwagen, Peter.  “The Possibility of Resurrection.”  International Journal for Philosophy of Religion.  (1978).  READ: Peter van Inwagen: http://www.faithquest.com/modules.php?name=Sections&op=viewarticle&artid=82

5. The problem with infinity or eternity

Infinite survival in a limited physical body involves continuation of human consciousness which is a conscious that is finite and developed in awareness of the  finitude of human life.  This infinite survival would lead to infinite BOREDOM and not joy or bliss as humans would experience everything (even an infinite number of things) an infinite number of times. So the infinite survival of a soul which would continue human consciousness would continue a finite consciousness for all eternity-infinite time. This leads to infinite BOREDOM and not joy or bliss.

If infinite survival or eternal life is to be desired it must be seen or thought about as involving joy or bliss or eternal happiness. If a human is to have eternal happiness human consciousness would need to be radically transformed so as to avoid the eternal torment of eternal boredom. Such a transformation of consciousness in the afterlife would change consciousness into one that is not human (not finite and not of the physical realm) and is not the consciousness of the person who lived life in the body as a human being.

Then:

  • If this transformation takes place there can not be a finite human body associated with that consciousness.
  • If this transformation takes place there can not be a consciousness that is identifiable as a human consciousness because such a state is finite and formed by awareness of finitude.

CONCLUSION:

So the concept of the resurrection of the physical body is beset with difficulties.  What of the concept of the soul itself?  Is there a non-physical or spiritual entity that makes us what we are and survives the death of the physical body and lives on in some way for all eternity?

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© Copyright Philip A. Pecorino 2001. All Rights reserved.

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