The Metaphysical Problem of Intermittent Existence and the Possibility of Resurrection
Hershenov (David)
Source: Faith and Philosophy, 20:1, January 2003, 24-36
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Introduction

  1. If one does not possess an immaterial and immortal soul, then the prospect of conscious experience after death would appear to depend upon the metaphysical possibility of the resurrection of one’s biological life. By “resurrection,” I don’t mean just the possibility that a dead but still existing and well preserved individual could be brought back to life. My contention is that the human organism can even cease to exist, perhaps as a result of cremation or extensive decay, and yet still can be brought back into existence at a later time. That is, the same organism can live again after a period of nonexistence. However, a number of philosophers, religious and secular, insist that once an individual ceases to exist he does so forever, regardless of whether God or a future technology reassembles his atoms. Their claim is that the resulting human being would be a duplicate, for intermittent existence is impossible - at least for living creatures. In the pages that follow, I aim to establish, not that the dead will be resurrected, but that some of the alleged barriers to such an event are dubious. My contention is that resurrection after a period of nonexistence is not a metaphysically impossible state of affairs.
  2. The purpose of the first and longest section of this paper is to challenge Peter van Inwagen’s claim that were God to reassemble the scattered atoms of a destroyed individual, the resulting living being would not be the human being that had died but a duplicate of him. However, I do agree with van Inwagen that it would be metaphysically impossible for each of us to be resurrected as we were at the age of twenty if we die as senior citizens, say as infirm eighty year olds. But I do not believe that we are condemned forever to that frail form with which we must be resurrected. The second part of this paper aims to provide a plausible explanation of how it is possible for us to experience a resurrection and healthy afterlife1 without violating any of our fundamental mereological and biological convictions. This includes a response to the worrisome possibility that many of our molecules once were (or will be) in someone else at the time of the latter’s death. But even if the parts we each shared with another were vital or numerous, this does not rule out the resurrection of either of us - although it does prevent our simultaneous resurrection. Nevertheless, the proper account of part replacement would permit us both to eventually be resurrected and to coexist for eternity.

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