Identity Continuity and the Soul

If resurrection consists in the new creation, not the renewal or even the transformation of the body, then it is clear that the bearer of continuity and identity across the divide between this life and the next must indeed be something like the soul as traditionally conceived, namely as an enduring spiritual substance, preserved by God's sustaining hand through death and resurrection, death being the loss of the old body, resurrection being the gift of a new, imperishable, immortal 'body'. The transformation involved is from the old embodiment to the new. The question now arises: does this bring us straight back, as Davis apparently believes, to unqualified soul—body dualism?

Before answering this question, let us review the criteria of personal identity, as they apply in our present existence. They are at least five in number: bodily continuity, memory, character, a particular life history of interpersonal relation, and awareness of being the person one is (even if suffering from amnesia). The last of these was tellingly stressed by H. D. Lewis in his writings, and certainly played a role in his defence of soul—body dualism. The crucial point to note is that the last four of these criteria cannot simply apply to the body as a material, physical and biological organism. They all require a mental, indeed, spiritual subject: the subject of a life history, with its relationships and memories, and endowed with distinctive character traits. Admittedly, all these, including subjectivity itself, are, in the present life, inseparable from bodily continuity. They are, as Polkinghorne says, aspects of the psychosomatic unity that forms a person. But qua subject, a person is more than just a highly developed organism with a highly developed brain. It is not unreasonable to think of the subject as a spiritual substance, at present inextricably linked to a growing organism but not identifiable with it. It is this that leads us to retain the idea of the soul.

The least plausible aspect of Swinburne's otherwise plausible defence of dualism, in The Evolution of the Soul, is his treatment of the soul as a separately created spiritual substance, specially made to inform a biological organism at a crucial stage of its development.34 It would be more plausible to think of the soul as an emergent spiritual substance that supervenes upon an organism at a certain stage of developed complexity. On this view, created matter possesses the God-given capacity to evolve spirit, which then can be sustained by God, past the death ofthe body, until it is re-housed in the resurrection body in the resurrection world. A more appropriate analogy than either the grain/wheat analogy endorsed by Zimmermann and Davis (following St Paul) or the software/hardware analogy endorsed by Polkinghorne would be the chrysalis/butterfly analogy. This allows for the discarding of the old body — the chrysalis — and the emergence, and then new life, of the soul — the butterfly. It is still, of course, a 'crude and inadequate' analogy. For an actual butterfly retains material causal continuity with the chrysalis, and indeed is still a biological organism. Certainly the soul retains causal continuity with its previous embodied life, but material continuity ceases. This entails a broader sense of'cause', of course. But that is required anyway if matter is so created as to be able to evolve spirit, which itself can interact with matter, as when a child raises a hand to answer a question.

Let us consider how far the view just sketched differs from Geach's position, discussed above. It has more in common with Geach's Thomism than with his Aristotelianism. For it treats the soul in much more substantial terms than is allowed for by Geach's talk of'mental remnants'. Moreover, it parts company with Thomas Aquinas, Geach and Davis in dispensing with material continuity between the present body and the resurrection body. Causal continuity is maintained, on this view, simply by the soul.

One other way of attempting to resolve the problem of soul—body dualism is suggested by Stephen Voss, drawing upon the work of David Wiggins. Suppose both body and soul (or anima, as Voss calls the part of the human being essential to survival) are not two different substances, but rather aspects or modes of a human being. The dissolution of the body at death is then no more than the cessation of a mode of functioning that is not essential to the survival ofthe anima. This is certainly a line ofthought worth pursuing.

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