Friday, March 4, 2016

Death is bad: An argument against cessationist models of resurrection

Consider cessationist models of resurrection. On these, the person who is saved completely ceases to exist at death--not even a core of the person, like a soul, continues to exist. But then some time later God resurrects the person to full existence, an existence that involves complete human fulfillment for an infinite amount of time.

Many Christian materialist models are cessationist. Perhaps God gathers the matter and forms it into something close to what the body was like at death in a way that ensures personal identity. Perhaps God gives the body at death a miraculous power of causing a future body at the time of resurrection. Or perhaps God arranges for the pre-death body (or some part of it) to time travel to the time of resurrection and replaces the original body with a simulacrum which we bury.

Now consider this argument:

  1. Death is always a great harm for the person who dies.
  2. Death is not a great harm on cessationist models.
  3. So cessationist models are false.
In this post I am going to take (1) for granted, even though I know that a number of Christians deny (1). I want to focus on an argument for (2). Suppose Francis dies in his sleep and is resurrected a thousand years later. So: Francis goes to sleep. Next thing he knows, he wakes up resurrected, and much happier than when he went to sleep. Where is the harm in that? Sure, had he not been resurrected, it would have been bad for him. But given that he was going to be resurrected, it wasn't.

Maybe the harm is that there was a thousand years without Francis. But that sounds like a harm for the world, not a harm for Francis. Moreover, there were billions of years without Francis before Francis was conceived, and that wasn't bad for Francis. As far as Francis is concerned, he basically time-traveled by a thousand years into the future (cf. Merricks). Maybe we can worry that his heavenly existence is short a thousand years, but that seems mistaken: it's infinite, after all, and infinity less a thousand is no shorter than infinity.

Let me try to make the point perhaps more vividly. Consider two people, Hyacinth and Agnes. Both of them go to sleep in the evening at age 80, and neither has dreams.

Agnes has a heart attack in her sleep. But at the very moment that she would otherwise have been dead, the resurrection happens, so she never dies. Instead, she wakes up to heavenly life. The badness of death didn't touch Agnes since she never died.

A much more complicated thing happens to Hyacinth. He, too, has a heart attack in his sleep. But one second before he was going to die, he time-travels to a time one second before his conception (or whatever point marks the beginning of a human being's life). He lives for one second then, albeit asleep, and then dies. Eighty years later the resurrection happens. Coincidentally, the resurrection happens the moment right after Hyacinth was whisked back in time.

Hyacinth died but Agnes didn't. However, notice that Hyacinth actually exists at every moment of time from his conception onward. He also has that weird little extra one second of existence before his conception due to time travel. But surely that's insignificant. It doesn't seem that Hyacinth is noticeably worse off--or even at all worse off--than Agnes.

But now compare Hyacinth to Francis, who dies in his sleep 80 years prior to the resurrection without any time travel. Both Hyacinth and Francis die 80 years before the resurrection. The only difference is that for Hyacinth, that death 80 years before the resurrection takes place just before Hyacinth's conception. But surely that doesn't make Hyacinth significantly better off than Francis. Francis and Hyacinth are roughly on par in how well off they are. And by the same token, Francis and Agnes are roughly on par. But Francis dies and Agnes doesn't. So death isn't bad for you on the cessationist model.

What models of resurrection make death be bad for you? I think it's models on which you continue to exist between death and resurrection but in a way that is importantly diminished. For instance, a dualist can say: It's really bad to lose your arms. But when you die, you lose your arms, so dying is really bad. And you also lose your legs, your eyes, your ears, etc. (You even lose your brain though maybe God miraculously supplies the mental functions that we normally need a brain for?) Granted, you are more than amply compensated by union with God, but that a bad is compensated for does not make it not be bad. Similarly, a non-cessationist materialist could think that God snatches your brain out of your body just prior to death, replaces it with a replica, and then makes you literally be a brain in a vat in heaven. Such a non-cessationist materialist would be able to say why it is really bad for you to die, because you lose your arms, legs, eyes, ears and most of your body, except your brain.


Richard H said...

First thought: One might see some equivocation in the subject of #1 - "for the person who dies." #2 offers no subject of death, apparently presupposing the same subject as in #1.

The "person who dies" experience of life is "life up to the point of death" or someplace very near. The person who is resurrected, the person who has, potentially at least, experienced cessation, would have a different self-understanding. It would not just be experience of "life up to the point of death" but also now "life on the other side of death." If all one had was experience 1 (up to the point of death), death could clearly be seen as a great harm. On the other side of cessation, now in experience 2, death would not merely be a great harm; it would be in the past and now experience as a transition point/event to something positively good.

M.A.D. Moore said...

#1 seems difficult (impossible) to jibe with Phil. 1:21, "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain."

Richard Davis said...

I not a cessationist, but to speak on their behalf: could the great harm which happens to a person at death be an indignity? The indignity of temporarily ceasing to exist when one was meant to be an immortal being. Perhaps Hyacinth suffers this indignity while Agness doesn't.

Richard Davis said...

I not a cessationist, but to speak on their behalf: could the great harm which happens to a person at death be an indignity? The indignity of temporarily ceasing to exist when one was meant to be an immortal being. Perhaps Hyacinth suffers this indignity while Agness doesn't.

Alexander R Pruss said...

M.A.D.M.: Death in itself can be a great harm even though on balance it results in a better state. Similarly, amputation of a limb is always a great harm in itself, even if it results in better overall health.

R.D.: I feel that indignity doesn't quite cover it. But I don't have an argument.

Michael Gonzalez said...

I think what the Christian should believe is that, were it not for the resurrection, death would be a great harm. The prophet Hosea wrote, at Hosea 13:14, "I will ransom them from the power of Sheol [or, "the grave"]; I will redeem them from death: O death, where are thy plagues? O Sheol, where is thy destruction?"

There is just too much Biblical testimony to (at the very least) our being totally unconscious after death, prior to being resurrected. Full-blown cessation is also taught in passages like Genesis 3:19, Psalm 104:29, and Ecclesiastes 12:7. Also, unless someone is a non-cessationist about non-human animals, they ought to take Ecclesiastes 3:18 - 20 as teaching cessationism.

Even the question of "losing your arm" is quite different in a world where arms grow right back. Likewise, if we lose our whole existence, but get it right back (and have no consciousness of any interval in between), then where is the great harm?

Alexander R Pruss said...

If death isn't a harm, murder is a victimless crime. But murder is a paradigm of a crime that isn't victimless.

Michael Gonzalez said...

Being killed is certainly a harm and it has a victim. I mean, it is usually painful (not only to the one being killed, but also subsequently to the ones who loved that person). I think it's relevant to add that the wrongness of murder is predicated more on who has the right to take life and death into their hands. I submit that only God has that right, and that it is thus fitting that our prospects of coming back into existence are entirely in His hands.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Michael: Death sometimes is painless to the person dying and some people lack anyone on earth caring about them in particular.
It's true that you can explain the wrongness of murder with respect to God's prerogatives. But we also have the intuition that murder is wrong at least in part because of its being harmful.