Friday, August 12, 2005

The Soul Does Live Until the Resurrection

Josh has posted his doubts about the "intermediate state," the heavenly existence of the soul after death and before the resurrection on the Last Day. Indeed this heavenly state has been over-emphasized and mistakenly treated as the aim of our faith in much popular teaching, despite the relatively little that is said about it in the Scripture.

A key issue with any denial of body-soul dualism is the philosophical one: what makes continuity of the person. A while back, a philosophy department colleague of mine, Tim O’Connor, showed me some materials from a running debate on the topic of the body-soul dualism and the intermediate state, in which Dean Zimmerman of Rutgers ably defended on both Biblical and philosophical grounds the traditional view, against challenge from the Christian philosopher Peter van Inwagen ("Dualism and Materialism: Athens and Jerusalem?" Faith and Philosophy (1995) 12:4, 475-488; unfortunately not available on line). One of key points Dr. Van Inwagen himself acknowledged no really satisfactory solution for is that some form of continuity of consciousness between the dead person and the resurrected person is necessary to say that they are in fact the same person. Given the lengths of time and the messy deaths of many, we must assume that the resurrection of the dead will be basically the assimilation and organization of matter according to the information code found in our genes (the same process that occurs slowly in our digestion– a living person replaces every single atom in one’s body on average every nine years). If our personhood resides in a conscious soul which persists after death, then the reunion of that soul with a body newly recreated from the dust of the earth poses no problem for the continuity of personality. If on the other hand, the soul or consciousness is simply an emanation of bodily activity, then it seems hard to deny that the recreation of a new body at the resurrection is the recreation of a new person, a sort of identical twin of the former person. Even if God miraculously fills this new person with the memories of the person at death, it seems had to argue that it is the same person, as opposed to a miraculously perfect simulacrum of that person. This philosophical problem of continuity of personhood got to the point that Peter van Inwagen was reduced in his Material Beings to toying (half facetiously, I suppose) with the idea of God miraculously "body-snatching" the bodies of the deceased and holding them in heaven until the resurrection, and replacing them on earth with copies of the dead bodies. I myself find the problem of continuity between this body and the resurrected body quite insoluble without positing the existence of an enduring soul.

Originally posted at Here We Stand