OHPT: Thoughts on The Resurrection of the Body (Chapter 21)

A short chapter! Praise be. On a topic that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me (and the author kind of agrees) so this was a fun little breeze. Also, I drop a “WTF” regarding Catholic theology so… fun times and let’s dive in.

“The Resurrection of the Body” was written by Dr. Trenton Merricks, Commonwealth Professor of Philosophy and Director of Placement at the University of Virginia. He is in the ranks of seemingly 99% of philosophical theologians in earning his PhD at the University of Notre Dame and his main research interests are metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of mind, and, as you would expect, philosophy of religion.

The doctrine of the resurrection claims that there is life after death (for the saved) and that that life involves inhabiting the very same body we had during life on Earth – just glorified. As Merricks points out, this doctrine comes up against serious metaphysical complications. 1). Which of our bodies will be resurrected? All the atoms from my 5-year-old body, or all the different atoms from my 38-year-old body? (I love how this gestures towards the Ship of Theseus question.) 2). How do we account for the temporal gap between death and the Day of Resurrection if we are holding to an account of identity that is temporally coherent? 3). What about those parts of someone’s body that have made it into my body? Bodies decay, atoms go into the soil and the air and become part of other bodies. How do we account for this?

Merricks provides some answers to the challenges, mainly that we can argue that the ground of identity is not spatiotemporal continuity and that the thing that will ground our identity as resurrected bodies is just unknown to us now: “…no one should presume to know exactly how God pulls off any miracle, including the resurrection of the body” (480). I think we all know how I feel about this answer. *insert grumpy or winky face depending on the day*

The part of his exploration I found the most interesting was Merricks’ claim that we are actually identical with our bodies. I have never heard a Christian theologian claim this — the resurrection is often defended by those saying that our identities are our souls and they can inhabit other bodies, but of course this is rather odd if they want to claim that our very bodies will necessarily be the ones resurrected, and that this is important for our eternal lives. Resurrection of the body is in the Nicene Creed so for those who give heavy credence to authority that is pretty solid reason to accept the doctrine. (I… do not on either account.)

But anyway, Merricks says that if we are identical with our bodies, then the resurrection doctrine can make sense… and then he goes on an interesting tangent about the intersession of the saints. If we are identical with our bodies, and we are only resurrected altogether in one big Day of Resurrection (DoR, as it were), then the doctrine of the intercession of the saints is problematic. However, since God knows what the saints would or will say (future knowledge, or perhaps counterfactuals) then she uses that knowledge to respond to the request. To which I wrote in the margins:

Either way, if we are identical to our bodies, Merricks still has to account for the temporal gap between dead and decomposed/decomposing body and the Day of Resurrection. He says it’s reasonable to believe that we have kind of a “time machine” moment and all reach the Day of Resurrection at the same time. How I take this is each individual experiences spatiotemporal continuity and an uninterrupted personal identity timeline, but that those timelines are all of them separate from the spatiotemporal continuity experienced by the world as a whole. Even this structure doesn’t answer either the problem of how our bodies are resurrected if some of “us” are also constitutive elements of another human body, nor the question of which version (which body) of ours will be resurrected. So I remain unsatisfied by the idea of resurrection with all this.

The belief in bodily resurrection seems to me to be something akin to taking the authority of centuries-old claims far too literally and seriously. They didn’t know much about the body in 325 CE. Maybe we should update our doctrines for what makes actual, factual, logical sense.

Also, as much as I appreciated Merricks’ brevity and his claim that we are identical with our bodies, I felt there was quite a bit I would have liked to have expanded. If we are identical with our bodies, what does that mean for the soul? What is the soul, in this case? Also, I think we need more explication of the idea of “grounding identity” when trying to understand how important spatiotemporal continuity is to the way identity can survive the transition from Earthly death to heavenly resurrection. I could do more work to explore this, but I have two major philosophy papers to read today so BYEEEEE

Best passage:

[Because] it presupposes that temporal gaps in a body’s career are impossible, […] the thesis [that spatiotemporal continuity is necessary for bodily identity over time] is a question-begging reason to conclude that such temporal gaps are impossible. So it is not a good reason for that conclusion.

Merricks 481

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