Thursday, October 31, 2013

Do We Want Our Dead Bodies to be Resurrected to Eternal Life?

As I indicated in a post a few years ago, Thomas Aquinas taught that since "the soul is united to the body as form to matter," the perfection of the soul after the death of the body requires a resurrection of the body and its reunion with the soul. Thus must be so, because "the state of the soul in the body is more perfect than outside the body" (Summa Theologica, suppl., q. 75, a. 1).

Furthermore, according to Aquinas, this resurrected body must be a real living body. And since all living bodies are ageing bodies, the resurrected bodies must have a specific age. Since Jesus rose again at about age 30, that age must be the perfect age for the body, and so, Aquinas reasons, when human beings are resurrected, they will all have bodies of the same age--30 years old. Those who died as children will be moved up to age 30, and those who died in old age will be moved back to age 30 (ST, suppl., q. 81, a. 1).  Here Aquinas is following the authority of Augustine (City of God, xxii.15).

But then we must wonder, when people wish for immortality, is this what they're wishing for--to be frozen eternally at one moment in time?  Would an eternal afterlife without time and ageing really be a human life?  Does this idea of eternally ageless bodies make any sense?  Is Aquinas really serious about this?

Aquinas had to say this to remain faithful to Christian orthodoxy, which affirms both the separation of the immortal soul from the body at death and the later resurrection of the body at the Second Coming of Christ for reunification with the soul, while also affirming that the damned go to eternal punishment in Hell, and the saved go to eternal bliss in Heaven.  This Christian teaching is thus a remarkable synthesis of Plato's teaching about the immortality of the soul (in The Republic, The Laws, and Phaedo) and Saint Paul's teaching about the resurrection of the body (in First Corinthians 15).  Many Christians today have become heretics in that they believe in the immortality of the soul but not in the physical resurrection of the body to eternal life.  To many Christians today, a corpse resurrected to life sounds too much like a zombie to be believable.

Stephen Cave identifies the Resurrection Narrative as the second way to immorality.  If we find it hard to believe that we can live forever by keeping out bodies alive indefinitely, then we might hope that our dead bodies will someday be resurrected back to life.  This has an intuitive appeal to human beings from observing the cyclical patterns in nature--life, death, and rebirth.  If each spring brings renewal of life, then perhaps the dead can be reborn.  The evidence of burials and rituals extending back hundreds of thousands of years suggests a universal human hope that the dead might rise again.

The cause of resurrection could be either divine power or human technology.  People who have their bodies frozen hope that future technological advances will allow their bodies to be reanimated.  Some people hope that when they die, their minds can be digitally downloaded into a robotic brain that would replicate them.

In contrast to the other forms of immorality, the Resurrection Narrative accepts the reality of death.  But as Cave and other philosophers have indicated, this creates a problem.  If a human being has completely ceased to exist--a person has died, and the body has rotted or has been cremated--how can any new version of that person be assembled so that literally it's the same person coming back to life?  Why should I find it reassuring to believe that after I am completely dead, a copy of me will be built that looks, acts, and thinks like me?  Will this copy of me really be me?  Or will it be only a copy?

This is also a problem for the Biblical doctrine of the Day of Judgment.  If my resurrected self really deserves to be eternally rewarded or eternally punished for how I lived my life, then my immortal self would have to be morally identical to my mortal self.

Cave suggests that there are at least two views of how resurrection could happen.  According to the reassembly view, resurrection means that after the disintegration of the body in death, all of the original parts of the body are put back together in exactly the right order to restore the living body.  According to the replication view, resurrection requires not the complete reassembly of the material body, but rather the replication of a person's psychology--the memories, desires, and beliefs that constitute the emotional and intellectual identity of a person.

There are serious problems with both views.  First, there's the Cannibal Problem.  If you were eaten by a cannibal, how could you and the cannibal be resurrected?  If the bits of you in the cannibal's body are restored to you in your resurrection, wouldn't the cannibal's resurrected body be missing some of its original parts?  We don't have to imagine cannibalism to see the more general problem.  The human body is constantly losing some atomic bits and gaining new ones, so that these atomic bits can flow through many different bodies.  It's not clear then how all of this could be sorted out in the process of resurrection.  Augustine (City of God, xxii, 12-22) and Aquinas (ST, suppl., qq. 79-80) tried to resolve these and similar problems with the idea of resurrection.  But it's not clear that they succeeded.

Christians like Augustine and Aquinas have argued that, as indicated by Paul, our resurrected bodies will be glorified or perfected bodies that will be free of bodily defects and with no need for eating, drinking, or copulation.  But this creates the Transformation Problem.  If our bodies have to be utterly transformed in resurrection, then it seems that our resurrected bodies are not the same as our original mortal bodies.  If so, then it seems that we are not being resurrected to life, because we are actually being replaced.

The replication view of resurrection also has its problems.  Let's say that we're not resurrecting the whole body, because it's enough to replicate the right psychological blueprint--the distinctive personality of someone--regardless of the physical materials used.  So, shortly before your death, we download all of your memories, emotional dispositions, and opinions onto a digital file.  We then later upload that file into the brain of a robot.  Would that robot really be you?  Or would it be only a copy of you, not the real you?  If we uploaded the file into two or more robots, would they all be you?  Surely not, if two or more separate persons cannot be the same person.

Once we begin pondering questions like this, the whole idea of immortality through resurrection seems incoherent.

But then we might turn to the Soul Narrative as an alternative form of immortality, which we can take up in the next post.


Troy Camplin said...

You might be interested in Frederick Turner's ideas on this. Particularly from his Natural Religion.

It might be that resurrection (with future technology or via heaven -- and how would we be able to tell the difference?) is a recovery of our informational content. Given that information can have errors that can be corrected, it is possible to have something that is both the original and improved. From an informational point of view.

Alexander Gieg said...

"Would that robot really be you? Or would it be only a copy of you, not the real you? If we uploaded the file into two or more robots, would they all be you? Surely not, if two or more separate persons cannot be the same person."

From a transhumanist perspective the answers are: yes, yes and yes.

Yes, that robot really would be me, since he would be a continuation of me.

Yes, it would be a copy of me too. In fact, were the original version of me alive it'd be said that we've split. There would be first a single "me at t0", then either a single continuation "me at t1" or a splitting into "me1 at t1" and "me2 at t1", each one continuing to diverge from that point onwards.

(That relies on refusing of the Ship of Theseus paradox as a cognitive bias.)

Finally yes, for the same reason above.

Furthermore, if cognitive processing advances enough eventually merging could be available so that different splits "me1, me2, me3..." were able to reunify into a "meA", and this one in turn re-split into "meA1, meA2...".

Then even more down the line, perhaps synchronization would become available so as to keep all "meNx" in a state of semi-permanent integration with each other, in clusters or globally.