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The Table Video

Tim O'Connor& Thomas M. Crisp

O’Connor on Human Persons and Life After Death: Pt. 2, The Resurrection

Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Baylor University
CCT Scholar-in-Residence and Executive Board Member / Professor of Philosophy, Biola University
September 11, 2012

Tim O’Connor (Baylor University) discusses his “Emergent Individuals” view of the human person in light of the problem of personal identity and the Christian doctrine of resurrection.


So, we see then how there could be an intermediate state, if such a fissioning were to happen. You would be existing somewhere prior to the resurrection.

Tim: Yes.

And then how does resurrection work on?

Good. Yeah, yeah and so you might say well okay so we continue as embodied beings it makes the resurrection look anti-climactic, right? Whereas the content of Christian hope we look forward to the resurrection of the dead. If I already have a body what’s so special about the general resurrection? That would be one way of posing the question. I should say that, you know, not all Christians have thought that there is such a state as an intermediate state between death and the resurrection.

Although it’s a very widespread view and there is some reason to think it’s so based on our theological sources and the Bible. A few fleeting passages suggest that it is so. And often the language of soul is used to describe the souls of those waiting for the resurrection. And so you might say well doesn’t the Bible just straightforwardly indicate that we don’t have bodies, that we are just souls. But there I think the term soul is, there is reason to think, that the biblical authors don’t have a particular metaphysical view about what constitutes the soul. Right? It’s that aspect of ourselves that is our psychological and spiritual aspect of ourselves. And I think it is an interpretation to say that consists in an immaterial substance. It could be so.

But I don’t think that there’s a clear teaching in the Bible one way or the other. Just because the language is used and that language is traditionally associated with a certain metaphysical picture. So I embrace the language of the soul. It’s biblical language. And what’s at issue is how exactly we should think about that. So, yeah, so on my picture then because we are essentially embodied, the interim state would have to be in an embodied state. But it could be that it’s a very impoverished type embodied state.

Tim: Certainly we’re told by the apostle Paul in the one extended passage that we have in the Bible about the resurrection in his epistle to the Corinthians. That he, well first of all, Paul uses the analogy. He says as a seed is sown into the ground and becomes a living plant, so our bodies sown into the ground at death rise and become something very different.

All right, so there’s an implied material continuity of some sort just because the seed is materially continuous with even a very large tree that subsequently develops out of it. But also a significant discontinuity where our bodies are said to be imperishable, indestructible, right? Presumably human persons who are subject to all sorts of grave physical deformities or cognitive impairments that are biologically rooted are not going to continue to labor under those problems in the afterlife. So there’s going to be dramatic change.

And our bodies are not as they are now constituted are subject to easily to decay. So there’s going to be dramatic change. And so the way I think of the resurrection moving from an interim state is a very rapid process of changeover of possibly of the very particles that constitute our bodies. Certainly the environment that we will inhabit to make the language that Paul uses, the great truths that Paul holds forth to us, that we will one day have imperishable bodies to be possible. Just as, you know, science now contemplates people, artificial sorts of parts that can be grafted and integrated within the human body where we have diseased parts of our bodies.

Who knows what the possibilities are for God to in a way that involves a continuous process where I continue to be exist and be conscious nevertheless my body undergoes very rapid change. And so that’s how I would think of the resurrection. Now, you might say well that doesn’t sound like resurrection. But it could. God could speed up those processes. It could take place in an extremely short interval of time. And it could be a dramatic change and so it could be experientially it could be as if I’m suddenly something altogether new.

Well you think about the way the resurrection is depicted. In Jesus’ case,


You might think it was a rapid transformation


of this recently deceased organism into a new kind of organism. So one thing that seems at least logically possible, I wonder what you’d have to say about a scenario like this. So we can certainly imagine that God affects a fission of the kind you’ve described and splits you into two. But likewise, we can imagine God splitting you into many more that two.

How do you think about a scenario in which God fissions you into five different duplicates? One gets blown to smithereens somehow, presumably you don’t go with that one. But now what about the remaining four? Which of those is you? And how on your picture does that get decided?

Tim: Yeah. Well I think at the end of the day I am a, there is a primitive fact about being the individual that I am. And well let’s consider the soul case. Of course souls they don’t have parts. So I want to make a point that I’ll carry over because I think there is an analogous question that applies to the soul though it’s not obvious. The soul doesn’t have parts so the soul can’t fission, perhaps. But human beings, if we are mental substances, souls, are associated with bodies and interact with our bodies via our brains and our brains in the natural order of things sustain our souls in existence on this picture.

Now God might miraculously take over what the brain was doing in sustaining our souls at death. But while things are going naturally, the functioning of our soul and indeed it’s plausible that the very existence of our soul is sustained by the brain. Now our brain is composed of two hemispheres along with a brain stem and a band of fibers that connects those hemispheres so the can communicate. And you can sever that band of fibers that connects it and we could imagine a future kind of surgery where the hemispheres are completely separated but both preserved and transplanted into two different bodies.

And each of the hemispheres is sufficient for sustaining a soul and indeed a thinking mind. There’s a lot duplication of biological mental function in the two hemispheres. Our two hemispheres are not perfectly symmetrical but we can imagine a scenario where they were made to be perfectly symmetrical. That’s just a troubling detail but let’s not worry about that. So let’s pretend there were perfect symmetry. So now how should a dualist who thinks of human persons as souls, think about what would happen in this scenario? There are three possibilities. It could be that me, my soul. goes with let’s call him Lefty, a left individual or it could be that it goes with Righty or it could be that it goes with neither.

Two new souls come into existence. I go out of existence. It can’t be that I’m both because they’re not identical to each other, all right? So presumably there’s the fact of the matter, right? But it would seem from an empirical point of view to be just arbitrary to say I’m Lefty or I’m Righty. Both Lefty and Righty will claim to be me because they’ll have continuity of memory and so forth. One of them has just appeared in existence with a lot of false memories about who he or she is. But at least one of them.

But it could be the case that in fact I am one of those individuals. There is the fact of the matter. It has to be the case that either I am one of them or I’m none of them. And it’s unclear that there’s anything you could point to about the nature of the bodies, the hemispheres that would dictate which of those it is. It’s just an ultimate fact. It’s kind of mind boggling. It’s seems like it would be a fact that could be known only to God, perhaps.

And so I would say similarly if God certainly would have the power to cause the fissioning of my body into multiple bodies, living bodies. And he could do it in such a way and he would know which of those individuals would be me, assuming any would. But there would be no way of determining it. So it’s just a brute fact of being me.

My individuality is not something that’s reducible to just all the facts about me, right? I am an individual thing and so I don’t know how that would go. But I don’t think there’s anything we could point to empirically that would tip us off to which one was me. But there would still be a fact of the matter.

So some philosophers have used the term thisness. It’s the idea that there’s a primitive feature or constituent of you that makes you you that would go with one of these bodies and not with the others. And it would be by virtue of that thisness, this property or constituent that followed one of these bodies and not the others. That that one is you.

Tim: That’s, yes. I think so. I mean so imagine two identical human individuals not just identical twins but who are created at the same moment with the exact psychological profile, exact same memories, exact same beliefs, desires and intensity of desires. Exact same intentions, goals, et cetera. Clearly they’d be two. I’ve just described this scenario.

It’s perfectly coherent there are two but they might be, in terms of their properties that they have, their characteristics, utterly identical and yet they’re different. There’s just a brute fact of being this individual and being that individual and that brute fact of thissness, you know, being this and being that, isn’t determined by anything about the characteristics of the individuals. Their nature. It’s just a brute fact of individuality.