Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Death and resurrection

I think that among the conditions that an account of resurrection needs to satisfy is this one: the account has to make it possible to explain why it is that it is very bad bad to die even if one is going to be resurrected. This condition is important. Unless it is met, it is going to be unclear why it is intrinsically very bad and unloving to kill innocent people.

Some accounts of resurrection satisfy this. For instance, Peter van Inwagen once played with the following materialist story: at death, a crucial chunk of your brain is removed, and taken elsewhere, and replaced by a copy in the corpse. On this account, death is very bad, because it involves one's existing in severely truncated form. It is clearly very bad to lose all one's limbs and sensory organs, and a fortiori it is very bad to lose all of one's body except for that chunk of the brain. (This doesn't mean that the account is otherwise satisfactory. This account fails to distinguish between death and an accident where everything but that chunk of one's brain is destroyed.) Likewise, on a dualist account on which the soul survives, death reduces one to an even more severely disabled form—one loses all of one's body.

On the other hand, an account (whether materialist or not) on which at the time of death you simply skip ahead—time travel—to the time of the resurrection, so that you simply enjoy gappy existence seems to fail this criterion, since then death does not seem a bad—it's just time-travel.

Whether accounts on which you cease to exist, but then later you are reconstituted (either directly by the power of God or by some new causal power that was implanted in you at the time of your death and that works across a temporal gap) pass this criterion depends on whether they can be distinguished from the time-travel account.[note 1]


Jonathan said...

I'm not sure why one would think that ceasing to exist "does not seem a bad." I'd take gappy existence over none, but, all else being equal, I'd really rather not cease to exist.

Also, the causal power need not be *new*. It may be a power that we all have but one that is manifested only in those rare cases where we die, perhaps also only with the coordinating activity of God. (Essentialists won't be too comfortable with the idea that a power can just be added at any given moment.)

Kevin said...

If we are the sort of Aristotelian for whom existence is a perfection, nonexistence is certainly an evil.

One's death, even if we understand it as time-travel to the moment of resurrection, still would be understood as an evil, since those times at which I am nonexistent are worse than if I had perdured. (The Christian can strengthen this argument, and say that for all times at which I am nonexistent a state has come about contrary to the will of God, which for the Christian is either the definition of evil or a strong indicator thereof.)

Despite this, the "time-travel" objection has plenty of merit. Christiane dicendo, there is a sense in which "death is gain," or is at the very least stingless.

Alexander R Pruss said...

But in the time travel case, it's really unclear why it's worse to have a gap in one's future, while it's not bad to have a really long gap before one's beginning.

James said...

I'm perhaps being thick. But supposing, as I do, that the afterlife is an existence where "all our tears our wiped away" and where our momentary suffering is "outweighed by an eternal weight of glory", I don't see why an account of resurrection would need to explain why it is that it is very bad to die any more than it would need to explain why it is that it is very bad to, say, be raped or assaulted or tortured.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Being tortured is still a bad thing even if followed by eternal bliss. We want to be able to say the same thing about being killed. Otherwise, it's hard to explain why murder is wrong.

James said...

Fair point. How about putting it this way then? Suppose there's no afterlife. What in this case makes it intrinsically bad to kill an innocent person? Presumably the fact that it deprives them of x years of existence. But what makes this answer unsatisfactory in the case where there is an afterlife? Because the years which someone is deprived of are outweighed by the eternity they'll later experience? If so, then why can't the pain they're caused by torture be outweighed by the bliss they'll later experience?

Alexander R Pruss said...

Suppose George is an immortal being born in 1940. George enters a time machine in 2009, and then jumps to 2020. And after that he just lives on, forever, without a time machine. Has he imposed a great evil on himself by entering the time machine? After all, he's deprived himself of living in the years 2010-2019.

My intuitions are mixed here. But I am inclined to say this: What happened to George in 2009 wasn't as bad as dying in 2009 would be (even if the dying were followed by a resurrection in 2020).

If this is right, and if death followed by nonexistence followed by resurrection is just like jumping forward in the time machine, then an account of resurrection that involves nonexistence between death and resurrection is unsatisfactory, and one would do better to opt for an account of resurrection on which one continues to exist between death and resurrection (but in truncated fashion--thence the badness of the death).

Suppose we say that what happened to George was as bad as death, because he did totally miss out on the years 2010-2019 (in external time). Then consider the following case. Fred, another immortal born in 1940, has a plan to go via time machine to the year 1910, and living until 1919, and then coming back to the present. But then he changes his mind. By changing his mind, he is acquiescing to missing out on years 1910-1919 in external time. So he is acquiscing in something as bad as death, it seems.

Now, one might distinguish: It is natural for an immortal to live through all the external years in his future, but not natural to live through the external years prior to his beginning. But I am not sure that's enough to dissuage the tension here.

Sorry, I'm a bit disjointed here.

James said...

I'm not too sure what I'm meant to conclude from your comment Alex. For wouldn't your misgivings concerning the intrinsic badness of Fred's decision not to enjoy the years 1910-19 also undercut any afterlifeless account of why it's intrinsically bad to murder innocent persons? If so, what's your preferred account of why murder is bad in an afterlifeless world (assuming the question is a sensible one, which I guess it may not be if an afterlifeless world isn't a possible world)?