Can You Have a Resurrection without a Soul?

Jordanian Man in the doorway of his shopMuch to the chagrin of the monist, it is very difficult to conceive of a resurrection without there being some kind of “soul”.  Just when you think that you have proved that the Bible clearly teaches monism, one might come to the sudden realization that you have kind of painted yourself into a philosophical corner!  As much as the Bible talks about the resurrection of the body as being the mechanism to life after death, at some point the die-hard monist may step back and say, "wait a moment, how can you really have a resurrection of the body, without some kind of soul?"  When you stop and think about it, a resurrection of a dead body is highly irrational without some kind of concept of a "soul".

We know that once the brain cells have not received oxygen for about 15 minutes, at normal temperatures,  that’s pretty much it!  If modern science can’t get the brain reanimated after 15 minutes of death, how do we think that it could possibly happen thousands of years later?  Exactly what do we think is going on here?  What did the monistic Jews think happened?  Did they think that the memories and personality were somehow preserved in the bones and rested there in a dormant state until the resurrection?

However we may conceive of the mechanism or physics of the phenomenon of the Biblical resurrection, it almost certainly necessitates some process whereby the individual, with all of her memories, emotions, and personality can get from the original body that dies, to the new one that God creates, at the end of time. 

In most cases there will be a gap of hundreds, if not thousands of years between bodies!  The question on everyone’s mind then is, "what is the nature of this transitionary state?"  How is the person preserved?  What is the process of transmission back into the new body?  Where does the “personage” reside until the end of days?  Is she in any way aware of her surroundings or is she totally unconscious?  Does she wait in the shadows of Sheol, or does she spend time enjoying paradise, learning the ways of eternity, before the great "resurrection morning"?

However we might understand this preservation mechanism, might we not agree that the best term for this “identity in the state of preservation”, as the "soul"?  Doesn’t it just make good logical sense to think of there being some kind of invisable energy force inside us all that can separate from the body at death, and contain within it everything that person has been?  Can’t we just call this energy force, our "soul", and move on?

The monist may be quick to offer a modern analogy for an alternative view.  He might say, “I don’t see any real problem here.  I backup my computer every night.  Should my computer get struck by lightning in the middle of the night, nothing is lost.  I can get a new computer with a fresh new system drive, and upload the entire contents of my old computer into the new one.  In essence I have my old computer back, just as it was, only in a new ‘body’”.

The dualist might be quick to ask, “so … was your “system” made of two parts or one?  Wasn’t the backup drive, in essence the “soul” of your computer?  Without it, your new “body” would be nothing, especially if you were working with a completely formatted system drive!

Without perhaps realizing it, the Sadducees of Jesus day were fairly astute.  Yes, they were basing most of their belief-system on the books of Moses, and because Moses never mentioned anything about an afterlife or a resurrection, they chose not to believe it.  But there must have also been a certain level of logic and rational skepticism involved as well.  A resurrection?  Really?  Bones, dead for hundreds of years are suddenly going to come together, flesh will appear out of nowhere and the same person who lived in the past will come alive again inside that new body? How?

It is probably not so much that the Sadducees could not conceive of the idea that the Supreme Being who created all things did not have the power to create new bodies.  The question was more likely, how do you get the old person that has been long dead, to suddenly exist the new body?  If the Greeks were right about everyone having souls that could survive outside a dead body, then that might help make the resurrection possible, but not even their "liberal" colleagues, the Pharisees, were willing to concede to the dualism of the Greeks.  For the Sadducee, the resurrection, without some kind of Platonic soul to help facilitate that, was absurd.

This in fact may be one of the reasons that the fathers of the early Christian Church eventually incorporated the Greek philosophy of a human soul, into the belief system of the church.  The resurrection, on its own, just doesn’t make sense.  The concept of the Platonic soul helps bring logic and rational possibility to the concept of a resurrection.  It is no longer absurd.  People understand “spirit possession”.  They have observed the spirits of evil angels wreak havoc inside the body and mind of a person.  If people also have spirits, like the angels, it suddenly makes it very easy to visualize how that spirit could leave the body at death, be kept safe somewhere until the resurrection, and then enter and “possess” the new body that is created for them.

This belief has given great confidence to the Christian hope for at least 1600 years.  Unfortunately, all of that is changing.  With the great leap forward of modern science, belief in a human spirit or soul is losing ground, fast.  With each new paper on brain research published, with each new study of human psychology released, it is becoming more and more apparent that the monists may have been right all along!  Modern science is telling us that the person and the physical body are pretty much one and the same!

As long as people could believe in the reality of a soul, even science might allow for the eventual discovery of a process whereby the “soul” might conceivably be transferred to a new, perhaps cloned body.  But now that science is showing that in all likelihood, people do not have souls after all, the mechanism, for transferring the identity to a new body has been lost.

The only possible, viable, scientific (or perhaps, science fiction) solution left would be to find some way to electronically transfer all of the memories stored in the brain cells of a person, while they are still alive, into either some type of temporary backup storage, or directly into the new cloned body.  (Picture for a moment the last B Science fiction movie that you saw with two bodies next to each other in dentist chairs, with diodes stuck to their heads and a lot of futuristic looking equipment facilitating the transfer of the memories and identity from one body to the other.)

All science fiction aside, the real point of this essay is that whether you believe in monism or dualism, if you are a Christian, there are some challenging days ahead.  Science is making a real case that people do not have souls as the church has believed.   Theologians are scrambling, re-evaluating the teachings of the Bible and are discovering that Scriptures in fact bear a testimony that harmonizes more with modern science, that people don’t have souls after all, at least not in the Platonic sense that the church has come to teach.

The problem is, without souls to help facilitate the process of the resurrection, we are kind of brought back to square one.  Once again we may be challenged, like the Sadducees, by the "absurdity" of the concept of the resurrection.  At least to all human logic and reason, it becomes absurd.  And, unfortunately, it is upon human logic and reason that young people make big decisions, like whether to believe in God or not.

I would suggest that Christianity has set itself up for a fall.  It has developed a (non-Biblical) doctrine of an immortal soul, to help God out.  It may have been well-meaning at first, a way to help people understand how a resurrection could be possible.  But in the end, at the most critical time, science comes along and proves that the human soul does not actually exist.  When millions gave up their faith in God when they found out that the Earth and Universe was much older than 10,000 years, how many more are likely to give up their faith when it is shown that people do not actually have souls, as the church has taught?

Some Christians might be able to make the transition to monism, but then the nagging question remains, “how is the resurrection possible without a soul?”  History repeats itself and we end up like the church congregation in Corinth that writes to Paul, wondering how the idea of the resurrection could, in any way be possible, especially without a soul!

To answer the problem of the “absurdity of the resurrection”, Jesus shares a solution.  His proposition was so powerful that, even the skeptical Sadducees were quieted.  We will take up this amazing proposition in our next essay, "What did Jesus Believe about the Soul?