Robert George and Patrick Lee respond to Stephen Barr's comments on their reaction to the Bodies exhibit discussion at First Things.
Dr. Barr had some comments to make after Cardinal Schonborn's piece on evolution was published in the NYTimes (alternate). Here is Cardinal Schonborn's response to Dr. Barr. (Dr. Barr went on to write an article for First Things, "The Miracle of Evolution.") My sympathies lie with Cardinal Schonborn; I will leave a critique of Barr's article for another time, focusing instead on the FT discussion of the resurrection of the body.
(Found this during my search for links, observations on the controversy by J. P. Hubert.)
So do I have a not-so-tiny axe to grind with Dr. Barr? Yes, I'll admit it. I'm tired of Catholic scientists or philosophers who believe they must concede to contemporary scientific dogma an status of certitude or of having been [strictly] demonstrated that it usually does not deserve, and if they had the proper training they should realize this. And yet they not only take it upon themselves to be experts (understandable, to a point), but have no problem drawing out the "theological" implications of their positions. Shades of Galileo.
There is nothing like stubborness and ingrained opinion, whether it be attachment to contemporary physics or to a certain school of political philosophy, to defeat true inquiry.
Dr. Barr's comments:
Elementary particles, assuming that they do exist as parts of a whole, obviously do not have an individual identity while they are parts of that whole. The question is whether they can/do have independent existence as individuals of a lower order of material reality, and if so, whether they can properly said to occupy a certain place.
I am not competent to get involved in the theological and philosophical discussions among Robert P. George, Patrick Lee, Robert T. Miller, and Claire V. McCusker on the relation between bodies and souls. However, as a physicist I am interested in one statement made here yesterday by Robert George and Patrick Lee concerning the resurrection of the body. They note that in their forthcoming book, Body-Self Dualism and Contemporary Ethical Issues, they defend the view that the resurrection of the body involves “God’s reassembling at least some of the numerically same particles that once were in our living bodies when we were alive.” That seems to me to be a very problematic notion from the point of view of modern physics—indeed, strictly speaking, a meaningless notion. It is meaningless to ask whether an electron, say, that exists at one place and time is the same one that exists at another place and time. Elementary particles, such as electrons and protons, have no individual identity (in medieval terms, one might say that they have no haeceitas), though one can meaningfully talk about how many there are and (with less precision) about where they are.
Even though he is a physicisit, Dr. Barr does not understand that there is a difference between the "indeterminancy" resulting from the natures of the things taken by themselves, without interactions with anything else, and "indeterminancy" that is a result of intrinsic constraints on our ability to measure phenomena on that level. That is to say,
For example, if today I have a box containing ten electrons, sealed off so that no particles can enter or escape, there will still be ten electrons in it tomorrow. But modern physics teaches us that there is no meaning whatsoever to the question of whether “this” electron here today is the “same one” as “that” electron there tomorrow. One might try to give this question some meaning by marking or labeling each electron in some way, but that cannot be done even in principle. Or one might try to “keep an eye on” each electron and follow its movements from moment to moment, as one might try to keep an eye on the shell containing the hidden object in a shell game. However, that too is not possible even in principle, as the concept of a particle following a continuous path or trajectory through time is a classical concept—quantum theory tells us that one cannot follow particles around in that way. When particles get near each other, they unavoidably get mixed up with each other. To explain fully this famous “quantum indistinguishability of particles” is not possible to do in a brief space.
(1) Things cannot be measured because they are intrinsically unmeasurable.
is not the same as
(2) Things cannot be measured because we cannot measure them with our tools.
One cannot point, whether with one's hands or with tools (even of the most advanced kind) to one "elementary particle" and keep track of it. But God's knowledge of things (and where they may be) is not like ours, dependent in some way on those things. Rather, His knowledge is of them as their cause--would He therefore not know where they are, since He holds them in being? It's a mistake by quantum physicists (and physicists in general) to make a claim about the nature of lower-reality entities when in reality the phenomena reveals the limitations of our ability to measure.
The analogy with money fails because one is dealing with what was a non-tangible instrument to begin with. If, for example, one was using gold as currency, and one deposited one's gold in a primitive bank (where it could not be lent out), then one could very well point to one's gold and say that is my gold, i.e. the gold I deposited. On the other hand, if it is a more advanced bank, where people's gold is taken together and lent out, and one is issued a receipt or IOU, then even if one could identify a certain portion as being that which was originally deposited, nonetheless, one has given up one's legal claim on that original deposit, accepting instead an IOU for gold of the same amount as that deposited, understanding that in the future one will not receive the identical gold that one deposited, just gold of the same amount.
Perhaps an analogy will help. Suppose on Monday I have five dollars in my bank account and deposit another five by means of a check on Tuesday. Then on Friday, I withdraw five dollars from my account by writing a check. Are the five dollars I withdraw the same ones that were there Monday, or are they the ones I deposited on Tuesday, or are some of them the ones that were there Monday and others of them not? One can see that this is a meaningless question. One can talk about how many dollars there are and where they are (in the sense that the dollars are in this account or that account), but dollars in an account have no individuality. What I am saying about elementary particles is not at all controversial among physicists. It is a well-accepted fact of life in fundamental physics. Therefore, if one is to make sense of the identity of a resurrected body with the former body, it must do it in some terms other than the identity of the particles of which they are composed. At any rate, so it seems to me.
Analogies may help illustrate one's point, but one better make sure one understands that analogy.
(1) Here is the modern scientist's reliance on laws, whether as exact descriptions or as approximations. [Would such laws, as predictions, have the status of science for Aristotle? No, because of the contingent nature of things coming-to-be.] An Aristotelian does not talk about laws, unless he is trying to reconcile modern scientific discourse with Aristotelian teachings. Rather, he talks about natures, and how things behave with respect to themselves and to other things, and to the cosmos as a whole.
There are other problems as well. If one is going to talk about the resurrected body as being made up of the same kinds of particles—electrons, protons, and so on—one will be forced to say that the world to come has physical laws that are the same (or differ very little) as the laws that govern this universe. This would raise all sorts of awkward questions. Just to take one example: Organic life in our world requires energy, which comes ultimately from the sun, in most cases. So will there be stars in the world to come? Will they burn up their nuclear fuel in billions of years? If so, then what? Will God perform continuous miracles to prevent our aging, and the new “sun” from burning out, and all the other effects of temporality that are inherent in a world with laws such as our present universe has? But if there are continuous miracles, would it even make sense to speak anymore of a world governed by laws? And if the world to come has not laws like ours, then the whole question of whether there are the same kinds of particles becomes meaningless, since what you mean by a particle and its properties is bound up with the deepest structure of the laws of physics.
(2) The modern confusion about energy, which is due to its reification. I don't have time to trace the origin of energeia (which is especially relevant with respect to debates with the Orthodox about God), but the sun, through its light, acts upon plants, which in turn grow, etc. As far as I know, there is no official teaching on the fate of rest of the cosmos, and what exactly the New Creation will be like. But just because we do not know what will happen after the Last Day does not mean that from the data of Scripture and Tradition we cannot say something about the resurrection of the body.
"And if the world to come has not laws like ours, then the whole question of whether there are the same kinds of particles becomes meaningless, since what you mean by a particle and its properties is bound up with the deepest structure of the laws of physics."
Here we see Barr granting some sort of priority in being to the laws of physics--rather than natures being prior in being, and laws being the result of our reason or intellect coming to know them. Will things have the same natures? If they continue to exist, they will. If their natures are different, then they are no longer the same and do not exist. Perhaps even at the core Barr is a reductionist, claiming that the properties of a particle (and everything else) are fully explainable by the fundamental laws of physics. If so, then he's in worse shape than I thought.
We see that Dr. Barr is not afraid to engage in some exegesis in order to shore up his "scientific" prognosis of the question. Obviously, we do not have direct experience of glorified bodies, so we cannot say anything about it that is based on our experience. Nonetheless, we do maintain that Christ's body after His Resurrection was glorified, and that the Apostles had some experience of it and what it could do, and recorded this in Scripture. (Hence Aquinas' discussion of its properties in the Summa Theologiae.)
I think it is a profound mistake, given what we know today, to try to imagine how our bodiliness in the next world will be realized. And I think that the Scriptures warn us that this is a mistake. 1 John 3 tells us that “what we shall be has not yet been revealed.” St. Paul tells us that “eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man … what God has prepared.” He also tells us that our bodies will be “spiritual bodies,” and that “in the twinkling of an eye … we shall be changed.” These passages suggest (at least to me) that in whatever sense we shall have bodily existence in heaven, it shall be very different, unimaginably different, different in a way that has not yet been revealed. And so, perhaps, we should leave it at that. It is probably as futile for us to try to imagine the next life as for a baby in the womb to try to imagine its life after it is born and grown up, or for a caterpillar to imagine life as a butterfly. Someday we shall know; now it is not necessary for us to know.
If we truly remain human after the resurrection, and human nature consists of body and soul, and not just any body, like that of a gorilla or a cat, but a "human" body, then we do have some sort of idea of what it is like; at the very least we have an idea of what it won't be like.
Because Dr. Barr does not have a proper understanding of the principles of nature, of matter and form, act and potency, he is unable to imagine how things can be continuous and yet somewhat dissimilar. It's all an either-or thing for him. Either it is 100% the same, or it is 100% different.
Scripture has other suggestive passages. In the Book of Revelation, we are told that in the world to come “there will be time no longer,” and we are also told that “there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever.” No time? No light except that given them by God? This suggests a realm utterly different from the one we now inhabit, a realm in which many of the physical principles and realities of our world will have no counterpart. Is it not possible that our bodiliness will be fully realized within the Body of Christ, and that God will be our food, our light, our everything—so that God is indeed “all in all”?
If it's 100% different, then why talk about what the resurrected body will be like? For it too may be 100% different from the body we have now.
It may also be a failure to appreciate, among other things, the difference between natural potency and obediential potency--assuming that there is some continuity, and not an entirely new order of things (which is a possible understanding of the data).
Now, for Dr. George and Dr. Lee:
Ah yes, it is problematical if one does not know the difference between matter and energy. This is what happens what Einstein's matter-energy equivalence is taken too seriously, and one does not see how mathematical physics is not a full account of nature. If energy, as defined in mathematical physics, is just as measurable as real things, they must therefore have the same ontological status. Not quite.
We are grateful to Stephen Barr for his comments on our recent posting in which we say that the “reassembly” conception of the Jewish and Christian doctrine of the resurrection of the body is most probable. We described that conception as “God’s reassembling at least some of the numerically same particles that once were in our living bodies when we were alive.” Barr wonders whether this idea has any real meaning in light of contemporary quantum physics, which holds that subatomic particles lack individuation or individual identity, in part because they lack the property of being here rather than there.
We fear that our use of the term particles may have been infelicitous inasmuch as it might suggest (especially to physicists, such as Barr) our taking a position on questions of the status or behavior or subatomic particles. Our point was not to do that, but to suggest that belief in the resurrection seems to entail some type of material or bodily continuity. And that would have to be by God’s reassembling something material. How to refer to that something material is problematical: perhaps parcels of matter, or parcels of matter-energy. In any case, we think that belief in some form of material continuity, indeed, a partial identity with respect to the material aspect of the human person, is part of what it means to believe in the resurrection. Perhaps Barr will not agree, and no doubt he could say much more to throw light on the perplexing question of how to relate the macro-level (where individuality, continuity, and identity are facts) to the micro-level (where a subatomic particle’s being here does not seem to exclude its being there).
I agree with this part.
Believing Jews and Christians know that the doctrine of the resurrection of the body expresses a profound mystery. They do not suppose that we can fully comprehend the resurrection or render its meaning transparent. Theologians have explored questions about the doctrine partly because some philosophers have claimed that it is internally incoherent and therefore unworthy of assent, and partly also from a desire to understand what we can without claiming to have removed the veil that still shrouds its depths. Our concern in our forthcoming book is to show that belief in bodily resurrection is not incoherent (that it is not self-contradictory, which is not the same as to show that it is true or even intrinsically possible), and, of course, to do so without evacuating it of all realism—reducing it to mere symbol or metaphor. Thus, we completely agree that “eye has not seen, and ear has not heard . . . what God has prepared for those who love him.”
This does not mean, however, that heaven is completely unintelligible, only that it is a mystery, that there is more there than we can understand. This is especially true of the supernatural dimension of heaven—the supernatural communion with God and those who dwell in perpetual friendship with Him. Heaven will also include, though, a fulfillment of our human nature, and here it is important not to mystify our thinking about this that it is inadvertently denied. We will be bodily beings because that’s the kind of thing we are. We shall have glorified bodies, “spiritual bodies,” in St. Paul’s phrase, but they will still be bodies. That means at least this much: We will be able to walk and talk, see with our eyes, gesture with our hands, etc. Glorification (thinking about the passages about Christ after his Resurrection) seems to mean that some of the body’s limitations will be removed. No doubt it will also include a lot more that we cannot now understand—on that point Barr and we agree. However—and on this Barr no doubt also agrees—heaven will include real bodies, and our own bodies, so that the persons there will really be us; and that, it seems, must involve some material continuity or identity.
This is somewhat akin to the position that individuation of material things is through form, not through matter.
The main philosophical challenges regarding resurrection have arisen because some argue that in order for a human person at one time to be identical to a human person at an earlier time, there must be material and organic continuity from the one to the other, but such continuity does not obtain on the Christian view of the resurrection. Various replies have been proposed to this objection. One is that the persistence of the concrete, immortal human soul, with its same act of existing, provides sufficient continuity for the risen to be the same human being with the one that died. As we indicated in our earlier posting, we think this view might be true—that is, it is neither self-contradictory nor clearly incompatible with data of faith.
This is pretty much an elaboration of my earlier point--if I had read this part before typing my response to Barr, I wouldn't have bothered to include it as a part of my own response. Ah well. This is what happens when one critiques as one reads, instead of reading everything before critiquing.
However, though possible, this proposal seems to have serious difficulties. First, it is clear from Scripture, and the constant faith of the Church, that Christ’s tomb was empty. So, although Christ’s body is glorified—a truth we in no way wish to minimize—nevertheless it was the same body that was buried three days before and that was now alive and talking with Mary Magdalene (although she did not at first recognize him), showing his wounds to Thomas who had doubted, and eating and drinking with the apostles. If the opponents of Christianity had been able to produce his dead body, they surely would have done so, and, what is the important point here, if they had done so that would have falsified the Christian belief in Christ’s Resurrection. Thus, in Christ’s Resurrection there is some type of material, bodily continuity, indeed, some type of material identity—the same body that was buried, now lives, though it is now glorified.
Our resurrection—as St. Paul teaches—is patterned after, and is mysteriously a participation in, Christ’s Resurrection. So, first, if it is true that persistence of the immortal soul between death and resurrection is sufficient for identity of the person after resurrection with the person before death, then at least this much must be said: Those who die just before the end of the world so that their bodies do not corrupt must in some way have the same body or same matter in them at their resurrection. Certainly it would be contrary to the notion of resurrection if Joe is resurrected but his body is still in the tomb—that would not be a resurrection but only a re-creation. So, if one says that persistence of the human soul is sufficient continuity for identity of the resurrected human being with the one who died, one will have to add that those who are resurrected before their bodies corrupt must get those same bodies—in some meaningful sense of the word same, at least in the sense that if the body is here, talking to So-and-So, it cannot at the same time be there, in a tomb.
Now, Dr. George and Dr. Lee have traced out the arguments (in a more thorough fashion than me) for our taking about the resurrected body in an intelligible manner. But they do not attempt to explain how there is continuity, only that there is some sort of continuity.
Finally, we think that this is probably true of all human beings, no matter when they lived and died. For, it would seem odd that the character of the resurrection of one (albeit small) class of human beings would be radically different from that of others. Also, the resurrection of all human beings—not just those who live and die very near the end of the world—is patterned after and is a participation in Christ’s Resurrection. And finally, the very idea of a resurrection—a rising again—seems to demand some type of bodily continuity—though the body is also glorified, and that, we agree, means there is more to it—but not less—than the same body (or matter) being alive that once was dead.
Without delving in the technical distinctions between the various kinds of identity, it is clear that for most of us, the resurrected body is not numerically identical to the the body, taken as a whole in itself, we have now. Our body decays, 'disintegrates' and its parts are taken up by other living things in the cycle of life.
It is also the case that there will not even be numerical identity for many or most of the parts--after all, it seems that some of our parts have been shared with other human beings. This carbon atom, say, or that oxygen atom. Perhaps God could do a lot of work to make sure that we only share parts with things that cannot be resurrected, but is it really necessary for this kind of identity to obtain in order for there to be "continuity"?
Let us assume that Aquinas does hold that for materal things, individuation is by matter, rather than form--there are two things to remember here:
(1) matter is to form as potency is to act
(2) the more complex a thing, the higher the form (the greater degree of organizing it must do)
When complex things come to be, it is not the imposition of a substantial form on pure potency, i.e. prime matter (which would be the case for the simplest things in existence, the elements whatever those may turn out to be). (As the 16th and 17th ce Jesuits thought, according to Marjorie Grene.) Rather, there it is remote matter, which is already in some way organized.
Take for example the human development. Let us assume for the sake of simplicity that a human soul is infused at conception (*though I have not seen any argument from natural reason that this must be so, and that a temporary non-rational animal soul that cannot also pattern human development.) The human body does not come to existence from pure potency, or from the simplest elements. Rather, what happens is that when the spermatazoa and egg fuse, that which results is the in potency to be actualized by the human soul as its substantial form.
Can we say that the human soul can be used to (re-)animate the body of a cat instead of a human body? While this may be contrary to our dignity as human beings, it is beyond the realm of possibility of the rational soul? I would say yes, because the soul is the substantial form not of a cat body, but of a human body, even if it is in an immature state of development (i.e. the zygote). What it actualizes and makes living is not a cat body, but a human body, so that which "receives" it must be proportioned to it, as matter is proportioned to form. Not only that, but there is not one "general, one-size-fits-all" soul that every human being has, with individual differences (eye color, height, etc.) being comletely due to chance. Let us not go to the extreme of saying that all such individual traits are due to our DNA, but admit that DNA nonetheless is an important part of us.
This is where I think the proportion form:matter::act:potency must be kept in mind when talking about matter being the principle of individuation. While the precursors of the body, the spermatazoa and the egg, have an 'independent' existence before fertilization, they are nonetheless united, taken up, and integrated in fertilization through form into a human body. Development of the human body, along with the generation of individual traits (eye color, etc.) is possible because of the powers that come with that form [especially that of development]--not taken by itself, but in tandem with the body, as nature, the principle of motion and rest in a thing, is not simply form by itself or matter by itself, but both.
Do we need to undergo development again, with the same sort of remote matter, as found in the spermatazoa and egg, in order to have those same traits reappear? I think that it should be obvious that God is not required to repeat morphogenesis in order to generate a body with the same individual traits. Surely His power is greater than that. With an creative knowledge of the mature adult form to be achieved, how difficult would it be for God to animate the body with the soul to which the body belongs? (Not that this occurs in stages, with the resurrection of the body, followed later in time by the infusion of the soul.) God does not need to use the same identical elements, atoms, etc. that our bodies had at a certain time. What needs to be present are the appropriate parts of a mature human being, possessing the qualities and so on that serve to distinguish us as individuals (having brown eyes as opposed to blue eyes, and so on).
Perhaps this may be unclear; I wouldn't be surprised if it were, since it is getting late, and I cannot write that well at the moment. But I just wanted to get these perliminary thoughts down so that I will have something to return to if I ever decide to revise my thoughts and write a longer piece in the future.
Note: distinction between proximate matter, undifferentiated "matter" of the zygote, and parts qua "matter"