Image for Neuroscience & the Soul

A Materialist Model of Christian Resurrection

Lynne Rudder Baker

Opening Statement

Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at University of Massachusetts
April 29, 2017

To the title question, my honest answer is “I don’t know; I don’t believe that anyone does.” Maybe the screen just goes blank—full stop. But I hope and trust that things go otherwise.

Here I shall propose a materialist model of Christian resurrection; it is materialist in that it does not countenance any immaterial entities, like souls. This model does not involve a thoroughgoing materialism, because it regards God as a wholly immaterial and transcendent being. With the presupposition that any event of resurrection requires a miracle by God, the proposed model makes three claims: (i) A resurrected entity is the same person who lived on earth; (ii) Resurrection is bodily, but a resurrection body (a “spiritual” body) is not the same body that was on earth; (iii) No finite person has an immaterial soul. I’ll summarize these three claims like this: “same person, different body, no soul.”

This model is based on applying to persons the comprehensive account of the material world that I call ‘the constitution view’ (Baker 2000, 2007, 2013a). By ‘person,’ I mean ‘finite person’ unless I specify otherwise. The conclusion that I’ll argue for is this: If the constitution view of persons is correct, then the model provides a relatively plausible way to understand how God can resurrect material people.1 I’ll consider the three elements of the model sequentially.

Sameness of Person

I take it to be a central feature of the Christian doctrine of resurrection that, at least for the saved, the very same person who starts out in the natural world ends up in an afterlife as a resurrected person. More precisely, if x is a resurrected person, then there is a y and a time t such that y is an earthly person at t, and x = y. (Since heaven may be an eternal realm with no time, I’ll not attribute temporal location to a resurrected person.) I take ‘sameness of person’ to be part of the Christian doctrine of resurrection. But what is a person?

Two of a person’s essential properties are important, and importantly different: embodiment and a first-person perspective. A person is essentially embodied in that she cannot exist disembodied. Essential embodiment does not imply that a person must always be constituted by the same body that she is born with, or even that she is constituted by a body that is continuous with the body that she was constituted by when she was born. Embodiment implies only that she must always be constituted by some body or other that supports her first-person perspective. So, it is not part of a person’s essence to have the body that she has. Essential embodiment only implies that whenever the person exists, she is constituted by some body or other that can furnish whatever mechanisms needed to underwrite a first-person perspective.

Indeed, we have empirical evidence, in the here and now, that organs in a human body can be modified (and made to function properly) with all manner of artificial parts—cochlear implants, mind-brain interfaces, artificial hearts and other organs (soon an artificial eye), prosthetic limbs, neural implants and on and on. Even now, paralyzed people who have mind-brain interfaces are not simply constituted by a human organism, but by a human organism and nonorganic prosthetic devices. At some point, there could be enough nonorganic devices that support a person’s mental and behavioral functioning that we should say that her body is no longer organic. Yet, she would still exist. I take these considerations to show that the same person can be constituted by different bodies at different times.2 So, according to the constitution view, the persistence condition of persons does not require “same person → same body.”

The other essential property that I am calling attention to is the person’s essence, which furnishes her persistence condition: exemplifying a first-person perspective. The essence of a person—what I call her ‘primary-kind property’—has two stages. The first stage, the rudimentary stage, is an in-hand3 capacity for consciousness and intentionality. The second stage, the robust stage, is acquired as a person learns a natural language. The robust stage is an in-hand capacity to conceive of oneself as oneself in the first person. A person who asserts or thinks to herself, “I wonder how I’ll die” exercises a robust first-person perspective. The second occurrence of ‘I’ in such a complex linguistic or psychological sentence is conclusive evidence that the person has a robust first-person perspective.4 So, a person has a first-person perspective, rudimentary or robust, at every moment that she exists. In that case, she must come into existence with consciousness and intentionality. How can this be?

A person does not come into existence until a human organism (perhaps a fetus near birth), develops the ability to support consciousness and intentionality.5 The person constituted by the organism then has a second-order remote capacity to develop a capacity to be able to conceive of herself as herself in the first person.

Many animals (essentially organisms) also have rudimentary first-person perspectives, but they are not persons.6 Why not? There are at least three reasons, which distinguish human infants with a rudimentary first-person perspective (persons) from animals also with a rudimentary first-person perspective (not persons): (i) An animal has only a rudimentary first-person perspective, and that only contingently, but a person has a first-person perspective, rudimentary or robust, essentially; (ii) An animal never goes on to develop a robust first-person perspective, but a person typically does; and (iii) An animal (including an organism that constitutes a person) has biological persistence conditions, but a person has first-personal persistence conditions determined by her first-person perspective. (An entity’s persistence conditions set boundaries on the circumstances that the entity can survive.)

Metaphysically speaking, the essence of a person is a first-person perspective—a dispositional property in both rudimentary and robust stages. A mark of a dispositional property—having consciousness, having intentionality, having an (in-hand) ability to conceive of oneself as oneself in the first person—is that it is exemplified even when it is not being manifested. A person exemplifies a first-person perspective essentially, and manifests it in different ways on different occasions. The first-person perspective is manifested throughout one’s life in characteristically human activities—from making contracts to celebrating one’s anniversaries to pursuing fame by entering beauty contests to seeking forgiveness.

On the constitution view, the persistence condition for persons over time is sameness of exemplification of first-person perspective. I do not believe that there are any nontrivial sufficient conditions for sameness of exemplification of first-person perspective.7 The conditions for transtemporal personal identity are trivial, because sameness of exemplification of first-person perspective presupposes the sameness of person. This is not surprising, inasmuch as an exemplification of any property requires an object (or objects), a property (or properties), and a time (or times)—schematically, a’s exemplifying F at t. So, sameness of exemplification presupposes sameness of exemplifier—i.e., sameness of exemplification of first-person perspective presupposes sameness of person.

In order to be informative, conditions for transtemporal personal identity would have to formulate persistence in nonpersonal terms, or in terms of distinct shorter-lived objects.8 If we had such informative sufficient conditions, persons would reduce to them and hence would not be basic entities.

However, on my view, persons are basic entities: that is, being a person does not consist in satisfying nonpersonal or subpersonal conditions, such as psychological or physical continuity. (Support for this view comes from the fact that all of the various proposed informative conditions are in one way or another defective, and we have no reason to believe that the future will be different.) If I am right that being a person does not consist in satisfying some nonpersonal or subpersonal conditions, then any correct account of personal identity over time must be uninformative; otherwise it would be reductive.9

We do have persistence conditions for persons, even if they are uninformative. Person x is identical with person y, either on earth or in the resurrection, if and only if x and y are the same exemplifier of a first-person perspective (rudimentary or robust or both) throughout their existence.

Van Inwagen wonders how God “can cause the future person and me to have the same first-person perspective without there being any physical continuity between us.”10 That worry has a straightforward answer. God does not “cause the future person and me to have the same first-person perspective” at all. The connection between any person at any time and her first-person perspective is necessary; so if there is a person, there is already an exemplification of the first-person perspective, and some body or other.

In the resurrection, God makes two contributions: He freely decrees a particular person to exist (and hence that her first-person perspective be exemplified), and he freely decrees a certain body to constitute that person. I conclude that, by a miracle, the same person who died can be resurrected.11

Distinctness of Bodies

Not only does biotechnology provide empirical data to believe that the same person can be constituted by different bodies, but there are also Biblical reasons to think that, in fact, resurrection bodies are not identical to earthly bodies.12 So, let’s turn to Scripture.

Much of what Scripture says about resurrection bodies is metaphorical, but the metaphors support the idea that a resurrection body is distinct from an earthly body. Consider the following passages. First, I Cor. 15: What you sow is a seed or a bare kernel, but the seed is not the body that is to be; “I tell you this, brethren, flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.”

These metaphors suggest that resurrection bodies are distinct from earthly bodies. A house made by hands logically cannot be identical to a house not made by hands. Nor can (a body of) flesh and blood that is corruptible inherit the kingdom of God. And perishability/imperishability (or corruptibility/incorruptibility) are persistence conditions, essential to the bodies that have them. So, if earthly bodies are perishable, but resurrection bodies are not, the two bodies cannot be identical.

Someone may object that the same body could be perishable until time t, say at death, and then, by a miracle, become imperishable for eternity. No doubt, by a miracle, this could happen, but it does not follow that there is just one body—a body that changes from perishable to imperishable. Such a change would be a substantial change, rather like the change of Lot’s wife into a pillar of salt. Neither Lot’s wife nor her body could have been identical to a pillar of salt: a pillar of salt is essentially different from a human person and a human body. So, if the earthly body is perishable, and the resurrection body is not, these are two, fundamentally different kinds of bodies.

Many Christians take it that Jesus’s resurrection on the third day after he died is the model for all resurrection. What about the empty tomb, they ask? God could have raised Jesus and at the same time made a substantial change in his body, so that his resurrection body was distinct from his earthly body. In that case, the tomb would have been empty, and his resurrection body would have been a different body from his earthly body. In the stories of his resurrection appearances, Jesus still had his wounds, and he ate meals. But he also walked through walls and was initially unrecognized by his close associates. These latter events could not have occurred if he still was constituted by his mortal body. And as we have seen, biotechnology gives us reason to think that a person may come to be constituted by an inorganic body, which would be a substantially different body from our ordinary organic bodies. If the stories of the empty tomb and the resurrection appearances are evidence, they are evidence that, after death, Jesus had a body, not that he had the same body that constituted him at birth, or even that he had a body that was spatially and temporally continuous with his infant body.

Consideration of the Biblical descriptions of the differences between earthly bodies and “glorified” or “spiritual” bodies, with their incompatible persistence conditions, leads to denial of the identity of earthly and resurrection bodies.

No Souls

Finally, no person has a substantial immaterial soul. I have argued both for sameness of person on earth and in the resurrection, and, for difference of body on earth and in the resurrection. And this without any appeal to, or presupposition of, a substantial immaterial soul.16 With the idea of the rudimentary and robust first-person perspectives on hand, we have an entity with consciousness, self-consciousness, and language. The idea of an immaterial soul is just gratuitous—and, to me, incomprehensible. The constitution view has in its account all that is needed for persons—the first-person perspective (rudimentary and robust) as primary-kind property, and, essential embodiment for whatever mechanisms (or analogues of mechanisms) are required for the first-person perspective. These properties account for personal identity both at a time and across time. There is no work left for a soul to do.

In conclusion, I offer my constitution view of persons as backing for a Christian view of resurrection as sameness of person, difference of body, no soul.


God can bring about resurrection on this materialist model simply by willing it. On a traditional view, God knows all contingent truths by willing them. Whether or not a particular person exists is contingent, as is what body constitutes her. So, there are no metaphysical constraints on God’s willing a person to be resurrected. What is not contingent is that the person have a first-person perspective. God knows by his natural knowledge that anyone He resurrects has a first-person perspective. So if God wills Smith, say, to be resurrected, He thereby wills that the first-person perspective continue to be exemplified by Smith. Finally, the negative element of the model—no souls—requires nothing from God, because souls are just otiose. In the resurrection, as on earth, what we care about are whole embodied persons.


1. The qualification ‘relatively’ means ‘relative to other views of resurrection’.

2. For details, see Baker 2011.

3. Robert Pasnau draws a useful distinction between an in-hand capacity (a capacity that is ready to be exercised) and a remote capacity (a second-order capacity to acquire a capacity) in Pasnau 2002, p. 115. A normal baby has a remote capacity to ride a bicycle; when she learns how to ride, she has an in-hand capacity to ride a bicycle. When she actually rides, she exercises her in-hand capacity.

4. See Baker 2013a.

5. The fetus hands off, as it were, consciousness and intentionality to the person whom the fetus comes to constitute. The constituting fetus then has the properties of being conscious and having intentionality derivatively—in virtue of constituting a person, who has these properties nonderivatively. A constituting entity, in this case the fetus, is subsumed by the constituted entity, in this case the person.

6. Since there is no person being constituted, the mammal has the properties of being conscious and intentional nonderivatively.

7. Baker 2012, 2013b.

8. See Della Rocca 2011, 596. Appeal to souls would not help here. The identity of a soul depends on whose it is (pace Aquinas). See Baker 2005.

9. See Baker 2013a. In short, the property of being a person is the property of being an exemplifier of a first-person perspective essentially, where the first-person perspective either is or is almost certain to become robust. The property of being me (Lynne Baker) is the property of being this exemplifier of a first-person perspective. It is being this exemplifier of a first-person perspective that makes me me.

Peter van Inwagen has complained that I have given no noncircular informative meaning to the words ‘x and y have the same first-person perspective’ (Van Inwagen 2006). To this I reply: Of course. Having the same first-person perspective is too closely tied to being the same person to be characterized noncircularly.

10. Van Inwagen 2006.

11. And if there is an intermediate state, there can be a temporal gap in the person’s existence (they can be “asleep in Christ”) or God can freely decree an intermediate-state body in the same way that He decrees resurrection bodies.

12. I use the terms ‘resurrection bodies’ and ‘resurrected persons’, because it is persons whom God resurrects, and in the resurrection, persons have different (imperishable) bodies.

13. I Cor. 15: 42-50.

14. 1 Cor. 15:52. Overall, this passage in I Cor. also seems to imply that there must be some kind of “intermediate state” in which the person exists between death and the last trumpet. If there is such an intermediate state, God could just as easily furnish an intermediate-state body of the person as He could furnish the imperishable resurrection body. (So I think that John W. Cooper (Cooper 1989) was mistaken to argue that the intermediate state supports soul/body dualism.)

15. I Cor. 15: 35-54.

16. I believe that denying that persons have immaterial souls also provides an elegant way to understand the two-natures doctrine of Christ. Christ is wholly material in his human nature, and totally immaterial in his divine nature.


Baker, Lynne Rudder. 2000. Persons and Bodies: A Constitution View. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

———. 2005. “Death and the Afterlife.” In The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Mind, edited by William J. Wainwright, 366–91. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

———. 2007. The Metaphysics of Everyday Life: An Essay in Practical Realism. Cambridge University Press.

———. 2011. “Christian Materialism in an Age of Science.” In International Journal for the Philosophy of Religion 70: 47–59.

———. 2012. “Personal Identity: A Not-So-Simple Simple View.” In Personal Identity: Complex or Simple?, edited by Matthias Stephan and Georg Gasser. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

———. 2013a. Naturalism and the First-Person Perspective. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

———. 2013b. “Three-Dimensionalism Rescued: A Brief Reply to Michael Della Rocca.” In Journal of Philosophy 110 (3): 166–70.

Cooper, John W. 1989. Body, Soul, and Life Everlasting. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Della Rocca, Michael. 2011. “Primitive Persistence and the Impasse Between Three-Dimensionalism and Four-Dimensionalism.” In Journal of Philosophy 108 (11): 591–616.

Van Inwagen, Peter. 2006. “I Look for the Resurrection of the Dead and the Life of the World to Come.” unpublished–Online pdf.

About the Author