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Quantum Physics and Bodily Resurrection


The Question

In the year 587 BCE, the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and brought many of the Jews back home as captives. Among them was the prophet Ezekiel. During this dark period of Israel’s history, God promised Ezekiel that Israel would rise again. We can read about it in the Book of Ezekiel, where God leads His prophet out to a battlefield in a valley, strewn with the dry, dusty skeletons of Jerusalem’s fallen army. There, God makes Ezekiel a strange request: He tells him to command the bones to live again. Ezekiel does as God says (telling his silent audience to “Hear the word of the Lord!”), and as his voice echoes through the valley, the earth begins to shake. The scattered bones reassemble themselves, and are covered with knotted lines of sinew. Over them grow new layers of flesh, skin, and hair. The breath of God, carried by the wind, blows over the bodies, and just as breath animated Adam, so too do the rebuilt bodies lying on the dust of the battlefield rise up, awake. By the power of God, “a great and immense army” now stands on its feet. Israel will rise again (Ez. 37:1-14).

The Bible offers many other examples of death and resurrection, written in the centuries following Ezekiel’s vision of the dry bones. There is the resurrection of Lazarus (John 11:38-44), the dead saints who emerged from their tombs at the hour of Jesus’ death (Matt. 27:52), and of course Jesus himself (Mark 16:9, John 20:14). These are all easy enough for us to picture in our minds; Lazarus and Jesus were both dead for only a very short time, their bodies bound up securely in folds of linen. Though Lazarus’ family had feared a stench when Jesus asked that his tomb be opened up, we can still imagine some process reversing his dead state or somehow rejuvenating him. The same goes for the dead arising in the tombs in St. Matthew’s gospel; though perhaps dead for many years, their bodies had remained undisturbed in their tombs until the day of Jesus’ death. And the same is true for the bones in Ezekiel's vision: Though the dead men Ezekiel saw being raised up were nothing but dust and dried bone, the remains of those soldiers slain on that battlefield remained (more or less) together.

The Challenge

Christianity is predicated on the possibility of resurrection, and the belief that on Easter, Jesus defeated death once and for all. More than that, He had the power to extend His new life to others, allowing them to share in His immortality. This is why, once the early persecutions of the Christians were underway, the Romans went to great lengths to discourage the belief in bodily resurrection. According to Eusebius of Caesarea, one group of Christians executed by the Romans had had their corpses left to rot for a week, unburied (so that they would be denied proper funerals). The remains were then cremated, and finally dumped into the Rhone River. As the ashes washed downstream, one of the overseers remarked aloud, “Now let us see if they will rise again!”

While the Romans might have worked hard to destroy the bodies of Christians, they really need not have bothered. In reality, just as human remains decay, so too do they disperse. In the valley Ezekiel saw in his vision, birds of prey would have already picked the bones of Jerusalem clean, carrying parts of the dead soldiers away with them in their beaks and bellies. And if the bones had remained lying there longer, they would have eventually crumbled into dust and been blown away in the wind, or washed out by the rain.

Now, think of all the people who have ever lived, and what has become of most of them over the past 200,000 years. Their tombs are lost, their bones long gone, consumed by predators, floods, landslides, at the mercy of the elements, or (perhaps) lying beneath the foundations of modern cities. With a very few exceptions (such as the Pharaoh Tutankhamen, whose untouched tomb was discovered in 1922, some 3,200 years after he was laid to rest) the inevitable, natural process of decay has utterly destroyed what remains of anyone who lived more than a few centuries ago. The Romans of Lyon need not have tried so hard!

Atheists are right to point out that this poses a serious problem for most Catholics alive now, who hope for resurrection and eternal life in the future. There are of course exceptions, examples of people who lived long ago, whose bodies remain intact until today: Pharaoh Tutankhamen, of course, the bog-people preserved in the medieval swamps of northern Europe, and the incorrupt bodies of a few special saints. But what about the rest of us? Our remains might one day be scattered across the planet, be consumed by worms, fertilize the grass, be consumed by cows, and be consumed by eaters of hamburgers.

If Catholics really believe in the possibility of resurrection, and wish to convince atheists that death is not the end of life, they must find a satisfying answer to this question. Explaining the "mechanics" of resurrection indeed poses a formidable challenge.

A Possible Solution

In 1935, Albert Einstein and two of his younger colleagues, Boris Podolsky and Nathen Rosen, proposed one of the most famous thought experiments in modern physics. The paper they wrote (with the lengthy title, "Can Quantum-Mechanical Description of Physical Reality Be Considered Complete?") describes a quality of physical reality known as "locality". Because of locality (location in the physical world), a domino at the front of a line cannot directly knock down a domino at the end of the end; it can only do so indirectly (via the movement of all the dominoes standing in between).

In the EPR paper (so named because of the initials of its authors), though, a perceived "fatal flaw" of quantum physics is revealed, in which locality plays a crucial role. But it is, in fact, not a flaw at all—it is a mystery! The paper describes a bizarre paradox that seemingly flies in the face of common sense (a paradox upon a paradox, as those familiar with Schrodinger's cat already know), yet which has been since verified many times in the laboratory.

To explain the paradox, let's keep talking about dominoes. Suppose I randomly take two dominoes from a pile and look at the number of dots on each. Let us say one has no dots at all, and the other has twelve. I shake the two dominoes in my hands, mix them up, and then look at the one on top. I see that it is the one that has twelve dots, and automatically know (even though I am not looking at it) that the one I cannot see has no dots.

This makes sense, until we start thinking about a similar situation on a quantum level. A quantum particle called a pi meson decays into a positron and an electron, which spin off in opposite directions. But their spins are not independent; they correlate with the original state of the pi meson before its decay. As a result, a physicist observing the electron will automatically know the state of the positron, just as I (in the above example) can tell you the number of dots on the domino I cannot see, so long as I am looking at the other one.

How is this a paradox? Well, in quantum physics (and the example of Schrodinger's cat), the state of a particle depends upon the presence of an observer. The properties of a particle (its position and momentum, for example) are undefined until an observer observes them (like Doctor Who's Weeping Angels, who have no definite, solid existence unless they are being watched ... don't blink!). Particles have no definite position or momentum until they are observed, yet by observing the electron a physicist can also know the state of a positron. Einstein, Podolksy, and Rosen, then, had apparently found a contradiction within quantum theory: the properties of particles really do exist, even if no one is looking at them.

The only other possibility would be what Einstein called "spooky action at a distance": the idea that an observation here can affect reality there. But that would be impossible, Einstein, thought, because of locality (just as knocking over a domino at this end of the line does not directly cause a domino to fall at that end of the line).

Or is it?

As I said already, this "spooky action" has been empirically verified many times in the 80 years since the EPR paper was written, perhaps most effectively by the Swiss physicist Niculus Gisin and his colleagues at the University of Geneva. In 1997, they sent pairs of entangled photons through a network of fiber-optic tubes to locations eleven kilometers apart, one north and the other south of Geneva. And yet even at that distance (keep in mind that these are subatomic particles!), the behaviour of one particle correlated with the behaviour of the other; when the paths of each member of the pair were compared, they were symmetrical. Though there had been many possible pathways through the tubes, what one particle had done, the other had done as well. Even though the two particles were separated by a large distance and had no way of influencing with or "communicating" with one another, the movement of one affected the movement of the other, from a distance.

This is the phenomenon of entanglement. Entanglement occurs constantly, everywhere. While we do not consciously perceive it with our senses, it nevertheless ties together all the most fundamental particles composing reality. Whenever two things, whether photons (light particles), electrons, or atoms interact, they are tied together, sharing a single "experience" and losing their separate existence. On the everyday, human level, these entanglements do not endure for very long; in our bodily experience, new interactions inevitably occur, resulting in new entanglements of new, shared experience. But these interactions have been observed and tested on both microscopic particles and macroscopic objects.

This shared relationship was demonstrated recently with diamonds large enough to be seen by an unaided eye. Physicist Ian Walmsley and his colleagues at the University of Oxford were able to cause two diamond strips to vibrate simultaneously across a fifteen-centimeter gap. This may not sound terribly impressive at first, until we realize that the experiment was conducted at room temperature; the heat of the laboratory and the air particles filling the room would have interfered with the entangling connection between the two diamonds (most entanglement experiments deal with atoms or subatomic particles at temperatures approaching absolute zero, in order to prevent atoms from jostling one another. Walmsley’s experiment involved macroscopic objects at, again, room temperature). Ultimately, Walmsley’s experiment showed that the ties of entanglement may continue to bind particles together, on a larger scale and in spite of outside interference.

A Speculative Conclusion

What does this have to do with resurrection? It suggests that particles may somehow remain united, regardless of the amount of space separating them (for entanglement is a non-local phenomenon, unaffected by distance).

This opens the door to two exciting possibilities. First, it is conceivable that a particular living body could continue on in some form, even after it has died and its component particles have decayed and/or physically separated (whether by an earthquake, a stick of dynamite, or a hungry bear). Second, entanglement suggests that particular events leave a lasting “mark” upon their subjects, right down to the subatomic level. Events unite particles together, whether the spin of a progenitor particle (like a pi meson), or (perhaps!) the shared participation in a particular living body.

So the efforts of the Romans to prevent their Christian victims from being raised up might have been fruitless, after all. While much more investigation is required before we can speak more definitely about this sort of thing (investigations which I will leave in the hands of physicists, though I will watch and listen with great interest), quantum entanglement offers a fascinating response to an important challenge posed to the possibility of resurrection.

In the meantime, incorruptible saints, bog bodies, Egyptian mummies, and dry bones will continue to lie in wait.
(Image credit: Planet Science)

Matthew Allen Newland

Written by

Matthew Allen Newland, PhD (c) studies at the Dominican University College of Ottawa, Ontario. He lives in Montreal, Quebec with his lovely wife, Olesia, and their two young children. He recently published his first book, Waiting in Joyful Hope: Reflections on Humanity’s Desire for Immortality and Its Possibility, which considers the possibility of bodily resurrection in greater detail.

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  • What an interesting article! I like the idea of explaining miracles, like the resurrection, as unusual natural phenomena. Whether that was the author's intent, he seems to have opened the door.

    A potentially severe technical problem to entanglement and resurrection: most dead bodies tend toward thermodynamic equilibrium with their environment. Thermodynamic equilibrium is composed of non-entangled states, and if entangled states arise (pair production or what not), the two states will become quickly disentangled (one photon will be absorbed by an atom as a random process, say).

    If quantum mechanics is deterministic (see last article and comments), then I could imagine a place for a sort of resurrection. Quantum states would evolve in a way that would always respect unitarity, and any present state of the universe would contain sufficient information to construct any past or future state of the universe. If this is true, then Jesus is in one sense immortal (we all are). The information about every one of our life events will be written into the white noise of the universe.

    • There's a horror story scenario that physicists like to speculate might be true if the Everett interpretation of quantum mechanics is true. (It also relies on some philosophical assumptions about how personal identity works.) The argument goes that, in such a universe, since there would always be some infinitesimal branch of the universal wavefunction where you improbably keep on surviving another moment, and since you cannot experience the (infinitely more numerous) branches where you are dead, that therefore from your subjective viewpoint you will experience living forever, endlessly getting older and more decrepit. Yikes!

      That scenario is incompatible with the Christian resurrection story, but I wouldn't be shocked if they could tweak the physics theory and their story to align the two in principle.

      • Yikes indeed!

        There should be some universe where I age but never become sick or weaker, always in perfect physical condition, at the apparent age of 25 (although with a more and more inexact memory). After all, physics allows it, so it must be out there in some universe.

      • sheckyshabaz

        Yet resurrection goes hand in hand with health and healing. Jesus not only raised people but also removed disease and injury. This is pure immortality with the added bonus of optimal health; in essence a person would live forever in the best health.

        It's not a crazy idea as science since the dawn of man has always been striving to find ways to reduce the speed of aging, remove any all forms of illness, injury, and death. Eventually science will discover new technologies that not only lengthen the lifespan, but also cure illnesses, repair and replace organs, limbs, tissues, blood, etc.

        Mankind can wait until science comes into this knowledge or we can discover how Jesus did it 2000 years ago and duplicate that today.

    • Matthew Newland

      Paul - My main inspiration for this article (though his name is never mentioned) is Alfred North Whitehead. His idea of reality as a great process, and of pulsing, living particles of matter composing everything, opened the door for me to an almost "naturalistic" explanation of resurrection. Of course, Whitehead's idea of GOD was in no way supernatural ... rather, GOD for Whitehead was ultimately natural ... the greatest example of nature.

      (I'm not necessarily a Whiteheadian when it comes to GOD, but it's a rather interesting idea and it yielded some interesting results while I was playing iwht it).

      • I don't know much about Whitehead, but I like the sound of this. It seems like Spinoza for a dynamic universe.

        • Matthew Newland

          Me too, Paul. Whitehead's ideas are really exciting, especially if we understand that the universe is composed of energy.

  • But what about the rest of us? Our remains might one day be scattered across the planet, be consumed by worms, fertilize the grass, be consumed by cows, and be consumed by eaters of hamburgers.

    ...and become part of the bodies of a new set of people? That could be problematic for physics-ish or other non-magical explanations.

    Explaining the "mechanics" of resurrection indeed poses a formidable challenge.

    Indeed, I'm happy to see steps in this direction. If the explanations are successful, they will have the effect of raising the prior probability of bodily resurrection. (An explainable mechanism is far more plausible than an inexplicable one.) But that's all it can do. The posterior probability (i.e. the conclusion) also depends on the evidence, and the evidence for resurrection is, so far, entirely absent.

    Well, in quantum physics (and the example of Schrodinger's cat), the state of a particle depends upon the presence of an observer. The properties of a particle (its position and momentum, for example) are undefined until an observer observes them...

    To be fair, this depends on which interpretation of quantum mechanics is true. If the de Broglie-Bohm theory or the Everett interpretation are true, for example, then the observer has no causal role. (It appears to have a causal role but the appearance would be an artifact that is present in our measurements due to our measurements being conditioned on a common effect.)

    Whenever two things, whether photons (light particles), electrons, or atoms interact, they are tied together, sharing a single "experience" and losing their separate existence.

    Again, that's only true on the assumption of certain interpretations of quantum mechanics. On the Everett interpretation, for example, it would be false. We don't have the evidence to distinguish between them yet.

    Ultimately, Walmsley’s experiment showed that the ties of entanglement may continue to bind particles together, on a larger scale and in spite of outside interference.

    Neat! A write-up in the popular press about the experiment points out that the researchers took advantage of an unusual property of diamonds: they are regular crystal lattices that can collectively maintain a vibration that has a quantum mechanical description like a particle. There's no reason from this experiment to think that similar kinds of entanglement of large, room-temperature objects would generalize to objects that don't have such a property. (Also, this is still explainable by the Everett interpretation as purely local behavior.)

    It suggests that particles may somehow remain united, regardless of the amount of space separating them (for entanglement is a non-local phenomenon, unaffected by distance).

    Entanglement might be a non-local phenomena. We don't have the evidence to definitely claim one way or the other yet.

    First, it is conceivable that a particular living body could continue on in some form, even after it has died and its component particles have decayed and/or physically separated.

    Wait, how does this follow, and how is it relevant? If say, the Copenhagen interpretation is true, and if every particle in your body were somehow entangled with a duplicate particle, those particles would still have to be gathered together and arranged into a duplicate body by some magical process. But if we have such a magical reconstruction process, why not just start with any particles? What's special about the possibility of your new body's particles having quantum numbers like spin and polarization that are correlated to those of your old body's particles?

    • Matthew Newland

      Hiya, Noah. Thanks for reading and responding. The "cannibal problem" is a whole 'nother kettle of fish (and it gets a whole section of my book). Maybe the kind folks at Strange Notions will give me a chance to elaborate on that in the near future?

      As for a few of the other comments ... do indulge me some speculation. I'm merely taking the Western belief in bodily resurrection and having some fun coming up with an explanation that takes decay and destruction into account (since bodies placed in graves do not really rest or remain there "forever").

      Quantum entanglement inches a door open to a possible explanation ... only time will tell if it's sufficient. In the meantime, I enjoy playing with ideas.

      I'd write more but my time is limited at the moment ... I'll try to check back later.

      • Quantum entanglement inches a door open to a possible explanation

        Does it?

        Step 1: Entanglement
        Step 2: ???
        Step 3: Resurrection!

        How can you tell whether you're closer to an explanation or not?

        It looks like all that has been done here is to say, essentially, "Quantum physics is real and is a mystery. Resurrection would be a mystery if it were real. Maybe they're the same mystery!"

        • Matthew Newland

          Noah - This is where Whitehead comes in. He described a universe surging with life (of atoms that practically boiled with activity) and processes of change, growth, and decay. Whitehead secured my speculations as to whether or not a living process might ever resume (a bit like foam on the surface of a river frothing up over a cataract of boulders, dissolving, and then ... refrothing [is that a word?] when it runs over rough rocks once again).

          Does that fit in the open spot for "Step 2"?

  • Christopher Bowen

    Great article! I would only like to offer one small correction; according to Matthew 27:52-53 the tombs were opened at the hour of Christ's death, but the dead saints didn't rise from their graves until after the resurrection.

    "The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, 53 and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many."

    • Matthew Newland

      Oh dear. Thank you, Christopher.

  • TomD123

    Personally, although it might be interesting to speculate, I see a problem here. That is, trying to explain the supposedly miraculous in a quasi-scientific way. That seems to be harmful on two counts: (1) It could undermine the miraculous nature of things and (2) When it comes to theories like QM which are inherently mysterious, it really just compounds the problem- for one, physicists themselves are often mystified with how to understand what they observe (despite the accuracy of QM itself as a theory) and for non-experts, it just makes it all the more likely something is said which really isn't scientific at all which just makes religion seem more and more anti-scientific.
    I believe in the Ressurection. I do not know what exactly it means or how it will occur, but I believe it based on the testimony of Christ

    • Do you think that there might exist a naturalistic explanation for the resurrection?

      • TomD123

        In one sense definately not- that is- the ressurection of a human being whereby someone who is dead is brought to life again- body and soul together is certainly outside of the natural order. However, in terms of what happens to our physical bodies and our continuity with them after the ressurection, I don't have sufficient evidence to say either way but I still don't think we can really figure that out right now and speculation can often do more harm than good

        • Matthew Newland

          TomD123 - I don't even want to get into the question of souls; bodily resurrection is good enough for me. I want to focus on the life of the body and the "experience" of the particles composing it. Imagining an energy pattern establishing its activity in another location (even a clay statue, a la Adam) would be a form of reincarnation.

          I want to see those dry bones come back together all on their own!

      • David Nickol

        Is there any reason to think that one of a pair of entangled particles could yield any information about anything other than possible quantum states of the other of the pair? It seems to me particles could not contain any information as to the identity or structure or composition of the macroscopic body in which the quantum event took place that created the entangled particles.

        • I don't think that the particle by itself could tell you anything even about its pair, because if all you knew was that one particle, how would you know it had a pair somewhere?

    • In the case of someone like Lazarus or the widow's son there can certainly be a natural element, but it would not explain/be sufficient to cause said event and, therefore, not negate the miraculous nature of the event. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ and our own bodily resurrection in the future, however, are of an entirely different kind, and I do not think there can be any naturalistic explanation for them whatsoever because it is not a physical event. We will have bodies, but whatever they are like they will not be like any physical body in a physical universe.

      • We will have bodies, but whatever they are like they will not be like any physical body in a physical universe.

        How do you know?

        • Matthew Newland

          That's the thing; I'm with Noah on this one. I am assuming that they WILL be physical bodies (it's "resurrection", not "reincarnation") and thus in a physical universe.

          • Matt, after reading your conclusion again I like that it emphasizes a continuity between our bodies now and our bodies at the resurrection. I think that is quite important. I still believe though that with this physical continuity our bodies (and, therefore, the particles, atoms, etc. of our bodies) will receive a transformation that transcends the physical world. This is why I distinguish it from other resurrections such as Lazarus's. The speculation of physics relating to this in some way (which I don't discount) is quite fun. Thanks!

          • Matthew Newland

            It IS indeed fun, Quanah. And I do indeed think that continuity is important if we want to identify a new life as a true resumption of a past one.

            Of course, this flie in the face of transubstantiation, which supposes that the bread and wine are transformed into the true body and blood of Christ, regardless of the fact that the particles in the bread and wine probably had no direct contact with Jesus while he was alive on earth. Perhaps there's another paper to be written here?

        • In the Catholic tradition our bodies which we again have after the resurrection are not bound by the physical world or laws; they are not subject to space, time, or any of the laws of physics. Nor will we reside in the physical universe. How do I know? It was revealed. There is no "proof" for this in a scientific/natural sense. In the end, it isn't a question of science.

    • I do not know what exactly it means or how it will occur, but I believe it

      Would you say, then, that your belief is merely commitment to the words, since you don't know what they mean?

      • TomD123

        In a sense my belief is a commitment to the teachings of Christ whatever they may be, and at times, I do not know the meaning of the words. But in this case, its not exactly that: What I know is that in the end, we will be given physical bodies of a sort again, which will not be exactly as they are now b.c they will be renewed but at the same time, there will be some sort of meaningful continuity. What exactly the nature of these bodies will be and what kind of continuity will exist and how the ressurection will happen are all open questions that I do not know if anyoen knows the answers to.

        • But in this case, its not exactly that: What I know is that in the end, we will be given physical bodies of a sort again, which will not be exactly as they are now b.c they will be renewed but at the same time, there will be some sort of meaningful continuity.

          Is that something you genuinely would claim to know? If so, why?

          • TomD123

            Not know in the same way that I know 2+2 =4. Know by faith, so not something which I, or anyone else can demonstrate using an argument, but something which I take to be true on faith- that is- because I believe God to have revealed it. There are many reasons why I hold Catholicism and its claims to be true

          • not something which I, or anyone else can demonstrate using an argument,
            but something which I take to be true on faith- that is- because I
            believe God to have revealed it.

            Hm, that makes a circular problem of evidence. One can't (you indicate) acquire sufficient evidence to justify belief in a general resurrection unless one already believes Christianity. But if the general resurrection is one of the truth claims of Christianity, then one cannot justifiably believe Christianity without sufficient evidence to believe in the general resurrection. So unless the same piece of evidence clinches both simultaneously, both should remain permanently unbelievable. Or, much more plausibly, they're both based on faith rather than knowledge. Only the latter option fits with your quoted claim, so for consistency I presume that's the one you'd go with?

          • TomD123

            And since the ressurection is a teaching of Catholicism, it follows from my beliefs about Catholicism in general being true

          • That's possible; high confidence in one claim should indeed raise your confidence in the claims it implies. But the total amount of evidence is conserved, and the situation is symmetrical. If you lack independent grounds for believing the resurrection, logically you must also lower your confidence in the original claim.

            i.e. If your belief in Catholicism-in-general is what raises your confidence in the general resurrection, then it has to lower your confidence in Catholicism-in-general.

            How much would you say that extending your belief to include the general resurrection has reduced your confidence in Catholicism? Is it proportional? If not, the rational courses of action are to deliberately lower your confidence in one, the other, or both, or to acquire new evidence to make up the difference.

          • TomD123

            Here is my response to both your comments:
            1) It goes like this: I have various reasons to believe in the Catholic religion. When I say this, I mean that I believe God revealed Himself through Christ and Christ established the Church to teach us the truths about salvation. That is what it means to be Catholic, to believe in a specific revelation from God and authority to interpret that revelation.
            2) The individual claims of the Church, for instance, the ressurection of the bodies at the end of time, I have no independent reason to believe in: that is what makes them articles of faith and not something discoverable through reason alone. I believe in them on account of my belief in the authority of Christ and the Church.

            3) When I say I believe on faith it means there is nothing intrinsic to the belief that makes me think that it is true and nor could there be for anyone. Believing on faith means believing soley on the authority of God. Hence the teachings of the Church regarding things like the general ressurection I do in fact, take on faith. By this however I do not mean without evidence. Rather, there is no intrinsic evidence that gives me reason to believe in these articles but there is extrinsic evidence, once again, the revelation of God.
            4) So there is nothing circular in believing this way. It is not as though Christianity is a description of a set of beliefs so much as one belief which entails the rest: the one belief in God's revelation in Christ as interpreted by the Church. The Ressurection is just a logical consequence of this belief.
            5) The reasons for believing however in Catholicism, that is, the reasons for believing that God has revealed Himself through Christ are independent of the specific claims of Catholicism. For instance, appeal to miracles is one way which supports belief in Catholicism.
            6) Finally, as to your comment on probability- that does not apply in this case. The reason is that the type of thing that religion, specifically Christianity is, we should not expect to have independent reasons to believe in the general ressurection or the other articles of faith. The reason is that these aren't simply beliefs that go hand in hand: rather, the one is more fundamental than the other and is in principle the only reason to believe in the other. So simply because I lack independent grounds to believe in the ressurection does not mean that my confidence in the original claim should decrease since given the nature of the original claim, I shouldn't expect to have any independent reason to believe that the ressurection in fact does occur. (Although, there is of course reason to believe that it is fitting because of the goodness of God and the fact that a human existing as an unembodied soul is incomplete, but those are other issues altogether and not directly relevant)

          • Matthew Newland

            Thanks, Tom. I admire your confidence.

            I'm not making such claims, however; I'm only saying that for resurrection to happen, THIS is what would have to take place: the particles of a once living body restored in their previous positions, resuming their previous shared activity (that is, "living").

            My question is, is it possible and if so, how? Without saying that I've found the answer, I do want to say that quantum entanglement might offer some interesting possibilities ...

          • TomD123

            I would just say that I am not certian that in order for there to be true continuity we have to have the exact same particles. I mean, even in this life, we change which particles are part of our body all the time yet we still say that there is material continuity. So there may be other ways, although certainly speculating is possible.

          • Matthew Newland

            TomD123 - But in the case of our present bodies, there is continuity. If my dad gives me an axe and years later the handle breaks (and I replace it) and then many more years the blade breaks (and I replace it), there's still a continuity of experience ... the same "axe event" continues.

            To have a soul enliven one body and then years later enliven another made from different materials is discontinuous, and thus a kind of reincarnation.

          • TomD123

            Well I am not sure what it even means to say that there is continuity between elementary particles-- as far as I know, there isn't even a clear answer to this.
            All I am saying is that there might be other answers to what makes something continuous physically besides same particles. Or, speculatively, maybe it is the same body in virute of being joined to the same soul. that is very speculative

          • Matthew Newland

            Noah - That's the Western belief in the resurrection of the body. Continuity is key; otherwise, you have reincarnation and another "copy" of you popping up somewhere else.

            I'm not claiming to know anything, only saying that for actual resurrection to occur, the same body (or at least, the same particles that once formed a body) have to regroup and resume the living process they once shared together.

            Whether it will actually happen or not is sort of beside the point; this is what the idea of "resurrection" entails).

    • Matthew Newland

      TomD123 - I was just wondering about the physical requirements of resurrection ... it'd be a tricky thing to do if one's body were obliterated by an atom bomb, for example.

      Someone who went even further than me was the Russian cosmist Nikolai Fedorovich Fedorov. Writing in the late 1800s, he speculated that one day our descendents would travel the stars, scouring the edge of the galaxy for the dusty remains of their (and our) ancestors as it drifted off into space. His idea was that they would one day possess the technology to restructure the bodies that dust had once belonged to. He imagined that children would resurrect their parents (just as their parents had given birth to them), which each generation restoring life to the generation preceding it.

      Fodorov was in fact a Christian (he was Eastern Orthodox). But in his mind, GOD's miracles would be performed by the hands of human beings (his take on the Mystical Body of Christ).

      • TomD123

        I understand that and appreciate the article because it provides some food for thought, but still, I think there is some caution in this kind of speculation. The reason is that revelation doesn't tell us a ton on this issue for starters and the current state of knowledge in the physical sciences is also really difficult to interpret- hence it compounds mystery on mystery- not to mention the difficulty of philosophy of identiy. And compounding mysteries can sometimes lead to more obscurities and errors than good

        • Matthew Newland

          I'm just having fun, TomD123. :) There will always be mystery.

  • Danny Getchell

    I don't think that an event which is .1 percent miraculous can be effectively distinguished from an event which is 100.0 percent miraculous. Do you?

    • What is "miraculous"?

    • Darran McDonnell

      Indeed. This is an interesting thought alright, but the distinction between easy and difficult only matters to the finite.

    • David Nickol

      I don't think that an event which is .1 percent miraculous can be effectively distinguished from an event which is 100.0 percent miraculous.

      If by miraculous you mean not explicable by the laws of nature, even in principle, then according to the Catholic view, virtually every human achievement is at least .1 percent miraculous, and therefore presumably 100 percent miraculous. If the capacity to think in abstractions requires a spiritual soul that does not function according to the laws of nature, then the fact that I am writing this at the moment is miraculous. All scientific discoveries would be miraculous (whether they are true or false!) since to make even wrong scientific discoveries requires abstract thought. If there is such a thing as free will, as Catholics describe it, every free choice act is miraculous. I quoted the following in a previous message:

      The twentieth-century philosopher Roderick Chisholm sums up the main idea this way: When we act freely "we exercise a prerogative which some would attribute only to God: each of us, when we act, is a prime mover unmoved. In doing what we do, we cause certain things to happen, and nothing—or no one—causes us to cause those events to happen."

      The question in my mind is how a choice that is not caused can be anything other than random. Thinking of "Lady Justice" holding the scales, it seems to me a "free" choice would have to be one which was made disregarding which way the scales tipped.

      • Danny Getchell

        A good point David, perhaps my comment was a bit over generalized.

        What I meant to get at was that if bodily resurrection is a purely natural event, then we ought to expect such resurrections to be evenly distributed across the earth in space and time, and perhaps to see partial or incomplete resurrections (which remind me scarily of an accident in the Enterprise's transporter room).

        And if it's not wholly a natural event, if the atomized remains require specific divine intervention for each reassembly, then it seems that a skeptic might well ask Matthew, "What's the point??" Surely a creator who can bring a universe into being ex nihilo should have no problem in reestablishing the bodies of vaporized Hiroshima victims from the same nothing.

        But it suddenly occurs to me that if Matthew's intent is not to convince skeptics that "see, resurrection could well be a natural phenomenon", but instead is an attempt to save the scriptural term "resurrection" as opposed to re-creation or reincarnation, then he's speaking to Christians rather than to skeptics, and my original comment is not particularly relevant.....

  • Elson

    I think that we are once again entering the realm of silly pants on SN. I am sure the author of the article is a fine fellow. And I am suspecting that the Dominicans and their students along with their teacher mentors are brainstorming in their efforts and ways to address the non-catholic dimension of academia and are willing to take liberties with the known and more or less accepted theories of the consensus of quantum science.... especially in the realm of physics and quantum mechanics, when it suits their fancies....and will grasp at every pseudo scientific straw that is proffered, not matter how far out, if the offering has a few academic credentials behind his or her name.

    The whole "Speculation" on this matter is very ,"entertaining and speculative" no doubt....but to give the article "Physics and Bodily Resurrection" some sort of credence is Sillypants! at best.
    Silly pants Entertainment for those who have nothing better to do.

    • Matthew Newland

      Elson - Thank you for giving my personality the benefit of the doubt. The Dominicans in fact have no idea what I'm up to; I wrote this in my spare time!

      And I also realize that the paper is ultimately "silly"; it provides no "final proof" nor answer to anything. Rather, it only shows just how difficult it is to imagine bodily resurrection, and that physically accomplishing such a feat would be nothing short of a miracle.

      Also, I had a great deal fun pondering the problem and writing this article. Hopefully you still enjoyed reading it, silliness aside.

      • Elson

        Yes Mathew....it was very entertaining....and gives some indication as to the depths that Catholics will go to to entertain the concept of everlasting life. I do however, give you credit for creativity. You are young...but no doubt you will go far in whatever field you choose to excel. Seriously.

        • Matthew Newland

          Thank you, Elson.You are most kind. And maybe they'll let me contribute something else here, one day.

          In the meantime, I wanted to write this article precisely because I don't think Christianity stresses the resurrection of the body ENOUGH. There's a lot of talk of "heaven" and the soul ... but aside from the story of Doubting Thomas, we don't focus on the fact that Jesus' new life involves his living body (the gospel writers go to great lengths to show that he is not a ghost).

          So I wanted to balance the scales a bit and focus on the body exclusively.

          • Elson

            I don't think Christianity stresses the resurrection of the body ENOUGH/blockquote> I fail to see that Christianity fails to stress the resurrection enough....It is a prerequisite to believe it!
            If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless.
            1 Corinthians 15:17 NAB

            I don't really see how you can say that it has not been stressed enough...if you be a Catholic...since the importance of such seems to be abundantly clear in your scriptures...and I fail to see what needs to be "balanced" in the context of normal Catholic teaching on the resurrection. The only way your comment would be understandable to me is if you are a pre vatican II Catholic of sorts that is not sympathetic to Vatican II changes, and are no friend of Hans Kung and his ilk. Anyway...you must be getting weary of responding to every commenter....so I will understand if you don't respond.....just wanted to respond. Forgive me if I am wrong on the pre Vatican II thing.

          • David Nickol

            Matthew, if you aren't aware of it, you may find N. T. Wright's 2008 article article titled Heaven Is Not Our Home interesting. An excerpt:

            The traditional picture of people going to either heaven or hell as a one-stage, postmortem journey represents a serious distortion and diminution of the Christian hope. Bodily resurrection is not just one odd bit of that hope. It is the element that gives shape and meaning to the rest of the story of God's ultimate purposes. If we squeeze it to the margins, as many have done by implication, or indeed, if we leave it out altogether, as some have done quite explicitly, we don't just lose an extra feature, like buying a car that happens not to have electrically operated mirrors. We lose the central engine, which drives it and gives every other component its reason for working.

            I think N. T. Wright would agree that this from the old Baltimore Catechism is a distortion:

            Q. Why did God make you?
            God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him for ever in heaven.

            I think he would say we are not destined to spend forever in heaven.

          • Matthew Newland

            Thank you, David! I was indeed not aware of N.T. Wright's article, but I shall seek it out and read it with interest. And I quite agree with his thoughts regarding our eternal destiny.

        • Francis Choudhury

          Catholics are the only ones who (will plumb the "depths" to) entertain the (proven silly and impossible) concept of eternal life. Instead of soaring to the imaginative heights of dismissive cynicism of the aging atheist regarding any such possibility. Who wants to pick the factual flaw(s), immature bias(es) and precocious hubris in these suggestions/assertions? Order, class! Order! One response at a time!

  • workforlivn

    Hit someone in the head in the right spot, take away speech, face recognition, piano lessons - forever. All this at the level of the physical brain.

    Die and rot in a grave, magically we rise to heaven and see grandma.

    Come on, such credulity is not a thing to be admired. Can't we make the same claims for the Easter Bunny and the Aztec gods? What is it about the Hebrew bible that recommends itself over Hinduism. They all make claims with no evidence.

    • Matthew Newland

      Workforlivn - Thanks for responding. Of course this comment naturally covers the whole scope of religious belief, not just the argument I am making. A bit like knocking out the foundations of a building while a rather pointed but nonetheless fascinating discussion is going on on the roof!

      More later. :)

      • workforlivn

        This is where discussion of Catholic thought has descended? There are better trod paths that trying to sew a patch of mysticism onto the quilt of Catholicism.

        There is nothing in your article that is Bible based if that is the standard. And if not bible based, you have no reason to restrict your discussion to the hebrew god.

        I would recommend William Bartram's botanical discussions about early America and others that cut the cord to European religions.

        If Catholicism has retreated in the advance of science this far then give it up and explore real mysticism. There is more evidence in Buddhist meditation than in trying to shoehorn Steve Hawking into Deuteronomy.

    • Ararxos

      You don't understand what Consciousness is to write this, if i cut your hands you won't be able to type but you will have the will to type, you just won't be able to type. A brain damaged patience still has Consciousness, even when he reports that his personality has changed (etc cries of feel angry without any reason, he knows it but he can't control it) . As for life after death if everything breaks down to materialism then life hasn't any difference from a rock because we can have in both materialistic explanations so dead or alive is the same.

      I know that i can't change the mind of a nihilism but you must read about this discovery


      Hameroff supports that the soul exists and together with Penrose they have found proof.
      We also have millions of OBE experiences that demand explanations because everyone describes the same, even atheists had OBEs, when the heart stops and there is no way for the brain to work properly to obtain these experiences without oxygen and the patients describe things that could only see with their eyes open there must be something!

  • Vivien

    Did I miss something? This article lost some credibility with me when you put Jesus' resurrection in the same category as people who were brought back to life. They are not the same. Being brought back to life is not the same as being resurrected as Jesus was. Jesus' body was glorified, as ours will be at the end of the world and the last judgement. I'm sure you are aware of this Mathew, so please explain your thinking here - I don't get it. Thank you

    • Matthew Newland

      Hi Vivien. Thanks for responding. But I am not sure that this in any way invalidates my point ... Let's say I hadn't mentioned Jesus' resurrection. My speculations on quantum entanglement would have remained unchanged.

      Thus, I am not certain as to why I "lost you".

      • Vivien

        Perhaps I said it too strongly. Just trying to understand if you are saying that being raised from the dead and being resurrected with a glorified body can possibly be understood using the the same theory.

        • Matthew Newland

          Vivien, could you explain the difference, please?

          • Vivien

            I'll take that as a yes. Thanks for answering my question.

          • Matthew Newland

            Go in peace

  • Mike

    I'd like to give the author credit for presenting quantum entanglement in a way non-scientists can understand.

    Although I have doubts that entanglement could remain for such a long period of time, as dephasing (I would think) diminish this effect over a relatively short period of time. Perhaps some of the physicists here can correct me if I'm incorrect. However, for the sake of argument lets assume that quantum entanglement persists on a relatively long period of time. If that were true, why haven't we observed resurrection already? Entanglement would only get weaker at time progresses. Paul Rimmer, I would think you are more qualified to characterize this, thoughts?

    Perhaps I missed the connection somewhere, but the logic seems (to me) to be: resurrection is hard to explain, quantum entanglement is weird and could explain the resurrection (in an extremely handwavy kind of way). It strikes me as a good intention to explain something difficult, but runs against a problem with data points. With this I mean, it's (almost) impossible to characterize something scientifically if it's not reproducible. One could speculate on a great many things using scientific theories to explain the supernatural (which may or may not reflect reality) but it's not scientific until the resurrection can be reproduced, or at least more data about the resurrection comes to light.

    Lastly it seems to me Catholics can't have it both ways. Either everything can be explained by science or it can't. If it can, then God can't exist, and the supernatural is just current scientific ignorance. I'm not interested in arguing if truly supernatural events have occurred, but it seems to me one can't argue a supernatural event can be such if it is explained by science. Either it's supernatural of it's not.

    • Matthew Newland

      Hi Mike. First off ... Let me be the first to admit that I don't know everything (they haven't let me graduate yet, so I can only assume I still have studying to do). This was just a fun speculation I'd always had on the back of my mind. The idea of resurrection is mysterious and problematic, and indeed, quantum entanglement is problematic and mysterious ... why not combine the two? Why not see what happens?

      I don't want to say whether or not science can explain the supernatural or not. Maybe it can ... It's beyond me to say. So I have said what I can, based on what I DO know.

      Having said that, you make two good points. First off, we don't know much about entanglement ... only that it's "spooky" and defies our experience of the world on the macro, "human" level. There's a ton more out there ready to be learned, and perhaps, in the end, those who want to physically explain resurrection will have to try something else. But in the meantime, the field is clear for speculation.

      Second point. I still think, weirdness aside, that pairing the two concepts together makes sense. A body's particles share a particular relationship until death physically disengages them. Entanglement shows that physically disengaged particles remain engaged on some other level. Thus, in my mind, the fit seems reasonable (but hardly certain ... this is why I only speculate).

  • mriehm

    Explain to me exactly what will happen when the atoms from someone who died years ago are now incorporated into someone else's body. This happens all the time.

    Stop looking for scientific explanations. Just invoke the supernatural and have done with it.

    • Matthew Newland

      mriehm - This is "the cannibal problem". Voltaire wrote about a French soldier sent to Canada. Separated from his regiment, he was forced to kill and eat (and digest) an Iroquois man. Little did he know, Voltaire says, that that Iroquois he had just eaten had been killing and eating Jesuit missionaries for the past several years! So you have a soldier digesting (and becoming) an Iroquois who was mostly Jesuit (at least, as far as his bodily composition was concerned). :)

      I talk about this in my book ... Maybe they'll let me write an article about it here at SN.

      • mriehm

        It is not just a cannibal problem. After someone dies, their body decays, it is dispersed. These atoms are going to get incorporated into all of the living environment around us including into other human beings.

        • Matthew Newland

          mriehm - Ah ... you are asking why entanglement should hold together a human body, but not the grass that grows over the grave (because it would be similarly "entangled").


  • Vincent Herzog

    Neat! Still, I'm not clear in why we're chasing down the particles of which a body was once composed. The fallacy of composition should warn us against that. I know you said "above" that you didn't want to get into souls, but since we are reasoning in the context of catholic thought, we can hardly talk of bodies without souls, for the soul is the form of the body—that is, the soul makes the body what it is, the body that it is. But that nearly solves our problem, right? For, if the soul comes again to animate properly ordered matter, no matter which particles it's composed of, then that which is animated by the soul is the soul's body. I've had many particles pass through my body in my lifetime. Now, I want my body back jn the general resurrection, but I don't care what particles it's composed of.

    • David Nickol

      I've had many particles pass through my body in my lifetime.

      Not exactly what you meant, but an excuse to link to this poem anyway. Discoveries made since the poem was written have rendered the second line inaccurate.

      • Vincent Herzog

        That's funny, David. Thanks. What I meant by having had many particles passing through my body has integrated into itself and later released many particles over my life. For as long as my life continues, it will continue to do so, through breathing, eating, and then perspiration, etc. In losing particles that were once integrated into my body, I am not losing my body—at least, not when they're lost in this natural way—and, on the other hand, just as my body assimilates new particles into itself and is still the same body, I see no reason why my resurrected body shouldn't have all new-to-me particles. Even if it does, it will still be my same body. God's giving it to me and my soul's ordering and animating it will make it so. (That first condition is, I think, actually built into the second.)

    • Matthew Newland

      Vincent, I'm actually not discussing souls at all; I'm specifically interested in the resurrection of the body (not any body, but my particular body). I am aware that I am more than the sum of my particles, yet at the same time I cannot deny that I would be nothing without them (you've no doubt heard of Phineas Gage, who suffered a railway accident back in the 1800s. He survived, but a large portion of his brain was destroyed, forever altering his personality).

      If brain damage effects who I am, and if destroying my body ends my earthly life, I'm interested in possible ways in which my earthly life (and thoughts) might continue.

      • Vincent Herzog

        If Phineas wasn't Phineas anymore, as the saying went, it wasn't due exclusively to the loss of particles, but rather mainly to the loss of function. It seems to me that you have too strictly identified the body with what it is made of, but what makes a body can in principle compose many other things. Without the soul to order them, even if they remain in a shape such as to resemble the body, that whole is a body "in name only." In fact, it's a corpse.

        To drive home the point about not identifying the body with the particles that compose it, I'll present a new difficulty: given that so many particles pass through my body over my lifetime and not all can be brought back to make my body—that would be too many particles for one body—which entangled particles are to be my body's? Only the ones I had at death? (But I don't want my nearly dead body back!)

      • Vincent Herzog

        Consider that the Corpus Christi is not His body because the particles which bear his life are particles which were part of his earthly body. Rather, the Eucharist and the Church can be His Body because of the unity in and animation by—the shared life in—the Spirit. Now, before we worry about the disanalogy between our individual bodies and Christ's mystical Body, consider why we can say that Christ's Mystical Body is truly a body. It has to do with the essence of 'body.' And that essence is—if you'll permit—not entangled with any particular particles.

      • Vincent Herzog

        I hope to hear more from you, Matthew. I think these comments are worth addressing. My main contention is that you are operating under an ultimately unintelligible conception of "body." The proponent of resurrection only needs to show that it is possible for a body to be resurrected by God, not that it is possible for bodies to resurrect themselves, as you (humorously?) say above that you would like to see. As Aristotle argues in part I of "On the Soul," and as the Church maintains (see CCC 365, 797), the notion of body is inextricably bound up with the soul, such that a soulless body is an unintelligible thing (don't tell fans of the vampire novels). Put another way, you have attempted but not accomplished far more than you needed to, and in the process ceded too much ground to the materialist in your assumptions that a body can be soulless and that bodies are to be identified with the parts and particles which compose them. It is one thing to show that resurrection is possible given the nature of the body, and that's all that ever needed to be shown. It is quite another to attempt to show that resurrection consists in the reconstitution of the body's parts, and further that the power of resurrection resided in those parts. We never needed a naturalistic explanation of resurrection in the first place and, in any case, if the rejoining of the particles which once constituted a body doesn't make for a body after all, then you don't even have the desired resurrection, but merely a strange case of a corpse or zombie which looks as fresh as the day it died.

  • Peter

    The cosmos is vast, the observable part being but a fraction of the whole. Could it not be possible that, through entanglement, in some impossibly distant unobservable galaxy, duplicates of ourselves with whom we have a direct participation will continue to exist after we have died? Could the heavens not be our heaven?

    • Matthew Newland

      Thanks, Peter. The only problem is, wouldn't they have to physically interact in order to be entangled?

      • Peter

        Perhaps the subatomic particles of our bodies and those which, by behaving in the same way, make up the bodies of our duplicates on the other side of the cosmos, are entangled through a common origin.

        By this reasoning, could there not be a mirror universe composed of particles behaving in exactly the same way as those in our universe, both sets of which have been entangled through a common quantum origin at or just after the big bang?

        • Matthew Newland

          But if parallel lines cannot meet ... how can parallel timelines interact?

  • Elson

    Time for a little injection of levity before descending to the very bottom
    of the rabbit hole...A little caveat...no offense intended to any
    sensitive believer.

    • Matthew Newland

      Thanks, Elson. No offense taken. Have you read any of Andrew Newberg's work? He studies and writes in an area known as "neurotheology": the physical effects of belief, mediation, and prayer on the brain. He's a subtle fellow, though; he makes great trouble to keep his own religious views out of the equation. So even after spending many hours reading his work and listening to him lecture, I don't know what he thinks about GOD ... I only know what he thinks about the effects the idea of GOD has on the brain.

      • Elson

        Thanks......I will look him up...and see what he has to say.

      • Elson

        If you are not already familiar with Dr. Persinger I am sure you will find him very interesting from Laurentian University in my own backyard almost. Though I cannot imagine that you are not already completely familiar with him and his work. I have a comment to make on the Andrew Newberg you mentioned....but will leave that to another time.


        • Matthew Newland

          Hold on ... isn't he the "God helmet" guy? (I can't watch the video now as my computer has no speakers)

      • Elson

        Dr. Newberg, was selected as one of Oprah’s nine “must read” books for 2012.

        ,b>Reason enough to not read his books....the fact that he is on the Queen Of Woo Woo's must read list.

        • Matthew Newland

          Thanks, Elson. I didn't know he was on Oprah's list (I honestly didn't pay attention).

          But on the other hand, perhaps Oprah's endorsement can be compensated by someone else's recommendation; I came upon Dr. Newberg via the work of philosopher J. Wentzel van Huyssteen, which played a pivotal role in my Master's thesis, after being recommended by my thesis director. So Newberg is on more than one person's list, it seems ...

  • Not really sure what to make of this. It seems to be a wildly speculative suggestion to account for a few claims of bodily resurrection in an ancient document.

    Sure, one possible explanation is that by some unknown mechanism that maybe involves quantum strangeness there is a natural way for bodies to be reassembled.

    Another possible explanation is that these claims of resurrection are not accurate.

    Additionally, if these resurrections occurred by natural means, then are we saying the god power of resurection is not supernatural? I thought the whole way we knew gods exist is because of facts that cannot be explained by naturalism.

    • Elson

      Logically speaking, how much credence can be given to the assumption that these resurrections if they occurred at all was because of "natural means"? IMHO none. If they actually occurred the only explanation would be by some "supernatural" means.
      Definition: supernatural: Unable to be explained by science or the laws of nature : of, relating to, or seeming to come from magic, a god,etc.

      Another possible explanation is that these claims of resurrection are not accurate.

      That is almost certainly true given the origin, history and age of the extant texts, lack of eyewitness accounts etc.Lest people jump down my throat, that is not to say that they do not contain elements of truth and much metaphor and many literary devices.

      • Not sure why you are responding to me. I see not good reason to accept these resurrection claims occurred, but if they did any natural explanation is more credible than supernatural. As, based on your definition, there can be no understanding or reasons to support supernatural explanations.

        • Elson

          "Logically speaking, how much credence can be given to the assumption
          that these resurrections if they occurred at all was because of "natural
          means"? IMHO none."

          What I was saying was that there is no evidence or reason to believe the events occurred at all "naturally" or "supernaturally", was not making a case for the supernatural. Could you not infer that from my comment? Sorry if I was not perfectly clear. I was not writing an essay....just an off the cuff comment.

        • Matthew Newland

          Brian - What I am basically asking is, IF theses events occurred, how did they happen? Of course I cannot provide a definite answer (these are, as you put it, "wild speculations", after all).

          I just thought applying quantum entanglement to the idea of resurrection might yield some interesting results. If anything, I had an enjoyable time thinking about it and writing this article!

          • As long as it is clear that this is wild speculation. I just wanted to be clear because it might have been interpreted as evidence that resurrection is possible.

          • Matthew Newland

            It may be! But we might be able to find a possible physical description of resurrection to compliment the theological idea.

  • Elson

    David Nickol mentioned in a comment a person by the name N.T. Wright who had an unorthodox view of the journey between death and the afterlife.

    I watched an interesting youtube video where he spoke , regarding Death Resurrection and the Afterlife, in which he indicated that the church has a mistaken understanding of this "journey". according to what he thinks...and the man has a few credentials to his name as well. I thought some of you may find it interesting.

    One of the interesting metaphors that he used was the following.

    At the time of our death, god downloads our software onto his hardrive, until such time as he gives us new hardware of our own in the afterlife.


    • Matthew Newland

      Elson - This is interesting, and thanks for bringing it to my attention. Unfortunately, there's a problem: copied software installed on a new computer is not a continuation, but a copy. If I am copied, my own life will still end, even if the other version continues. But we will not share the same subjective experience.

      • Elson

        Did you take time to watch the video?.....the metaphor that I quoted does not do justice to the talk that he gave. I only mentioned it because you expressed interest in the work of N.T. Wright, when David Nickol mentioned it in his comment. No reply to this comment necessary. Thanks. Enough on this. I will await the next article that SN puts out.

        • Matthew Newland

          Aha. Thank you! No I could not watch the video earlier (it wasn't possible on that particular computer). But I most certainly will now.

          Thanks again, Elson!

  • duhem

    I don't think there is a direct connection between quantum mechanics/entanglement and resurrection. There is a more direct connection between quantum mechanics/ the delayed choice experiment and God as the Berkeleyan Observer; see


    and quantum mechanics/ and the problem of free will; see


    Having given those points, I'll add that it is unwise to try to use Science (with uppercase) or science to justify faith or dogma. They are separate domains. Science is limited to that which can be verified quantatively, as Fr. Stanley Jaki put it in "The Limits of a Limitless Science".

    • Matthew Newland

      Only I don't agree that science and theology are separate domains. I believe it was Michael Ruse who said this, while responding to Stephen Jay Gould's idea of Non-Overlapping Magisteria (NOMA). Take the creation of the universe, for example, or the Incarnation (both physical events with theological explanations, if we happen to be religious). I should think that, as a physical event, resurrection is thus equally open to speculations involving physical processes.

      At any rate, it was fun to try.

      • Matthew, thanks for your reply. Science and religion are separate domains with a small fringe of overlap. Science requires that theories or hypotheses be tested by replicated experiments--you need a numerical value to test in order to verify that the prediction of the theory is valid. You might, in this connection, read Fr. Jaki's "The Limits of a Limitless Science"--I'm just repeating his arguments. The speculations involving physical processes can be put into a rational framework, but it wouldn't be science unless it could be verified by repeated measurements--and you can't do that with creation or resurrection. And that is not to say that there's a reason not to believe in these events (if the double negative doesn't make it too confusing).

        • Matthew Newland

          No, of course I follow :) And I would agree that such events cannot be subject to repeatable tests. I'll check out Fr. Jaki's writing and will read it with interest.

          In the meantime, I'll continue to imagine that miraculous events may still be subject to "physical exploration" (so long as they are in fact physical events).

          • Matthew, let me make my position perfectly clear (as the politicians might say :>) ). I hold with Psalm 19a "That the heavens declare the glory of God..." and that we behold His handiwork in the laws of nature, the beauty of mathematics, the inspiration of music, ... But that awe and wonder isn't science. So, if you want to explore physical events, that's great. But please don't try to cite such as scientific proofs for God; these wonderful events and things may be evidence for the existence of a deity, but they aren't scientific proof. Non-believers will scoff and cite histories of "God-of-the-Gaps" type arguments that have failed.

  • Valerie Smith

    This was a fascinating article. However, there is one point to be
    made. The physical body and spiritual body are not the same (1
    Corinthians 15:44). The physical body is a house for the spirit. At
    the resurrection, the spirit will receive a spiritual house (or
    body). As you said, the resurrection is not a reincarnation. This
    means that the spiritual body must come from the physical body. In
    order for this to take place, the physical body must be intact. Yet,
    Scripture plainly says the resurrection will take place
    instantaneously (1 Corinthians 15:52). It is as if God already sees
    the body intact.

    The physical body is as a seed, and the spiritual body is as a
    plant that is birthed from the seed. This is according to Paul's
    description in Corinthians, when he describes the resurrection as the
    physical body being planted as a seed and from it comes the spiritual
    body as it is planted (1 Corinthians 15:37). If you move a seed, the
    plant will still grow from wherever the seed is newly planted. If you
    scatter the remnants of a seed, it is clearly destroyed and cannot
    become a plant. Yet God will call the spiritual body instantly from
    the physical body. How can He do this? It makes sense that He sees
    the physical body intact and will instantly call the spiritual body
    forth from it at the resurrection. Quantum mechanics alone cannot
    resurrect a spiritual body from a physical body, but it can help
    explain how God sees the physical body to begin with, according to
    His creation, when He calls the plant from the seed (or the spiritual
    body from the physical body). The idea of entanglement you present as
    the rule behind resurrection still makes sense as applied in this
    way. Regardless, we know that the actual miracle of the resurrection
    will come from God.

    (1 Corinthians 15:37 And that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that
    shall be, but bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or of some other
    grain. 44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There
    is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.)

  • Lesley Connot Holmes

    Your book was suggested to me on pages to like as I was on Facebook and watching God's not Dead. Made me smile as your philosophy classes have answered many questions for my faith and also while spreading the word. Looking forward to reading the book and also this is a great article.

    • Matthew Newland

      Thanks so much, Lesley. So good to hear from you again (and a surprise to see you here!). Do let me know what you think!

  • Francis Choudhury

    Good and well written article, Matthew.
    As you yourself point out, we're possibly witnessing, via quantum/particle physics a door inching open into a deeper (theological?) realm of existence.
    I enjoy engaging in meditations like this (that's all it is at this stage, although I will maintain that it is on the right track - being one of those "you know you're onto something but not quite sure what" experiences.)
    Indeed I'm of the view that Christian theology and science are now closer to convergence than ever before, counterintuitive though that might be, given the evangelically proclaimed populist views of those who insist that the two are mutually exclusive and incompatible/irreconcilable. For me, they are both valid paths to the same ultimate (and absolute) truth/reality, although one relies more on divine revelation and the almost exclusively other on empirical evidence. I say "almost exclusively", because even for science there have to be certain basic, underlying, facilitating, "theological" assumptions, such as the intelligibility of the universe - which, patently, must derive from some "intelligence" or "reason" (Who, not "which", Christians know as the Logos, God). Man did not discover the intelligibility of the universe via science. Rather, he undertook science assuming that the universe is endowed with intelligibillity.)

    Here's another meditation (in similar vein to yours) that might intrigue you. In the creation story, we read that the first thing that God created is light. He begins His work of creation - before He creates the material universe - by decreeing, "Let there be light" (Genesis 1:3). In another account of creation we read that all things were made through Christ, Who is described as the life of men, and, interestingly, further referred to as the "light" of men (John 1: 1-4). In John 8:12 Jesus says of Himself: “I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” There are many other references in scripture to light as the source of life, often coming close to equating the two! Reading these, one might be tempted to conclude that the entire material universe/matter was actually derived from light - not just metaphorically, but even literally! And one might be rightly inclined to dismiss such a conjecture out of hand, unless some scientific experiment could actually simulate the creation of actual matter from light, right? Well... how about this:

    Keep up the silliness. It has more than just trivial, entertainment value. Quite the opposite, in fact. And thanks to Strange Notions for providing the platform for it.

    As a footnote, as far as the role of quantum entanglement vis a vis our own existence/resurrection goes, perhaps:

    Well I came across a child of God, he was walking along the road
    And I asked him tell where are you going, this he told me:
    Well, I'm going down to Yasgur's farm, going to join in a rock and roll band.
    Got to get back to the land, set my soul free.
    We are stardust, we are golden, we are billion year old carbon,
    And we got to get ourselves back to the garden.

    • Matthew Newland

      Thanks, Francis! I much appreciate your comments. And indeed, I've long loved that tune from Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. This article was really just some speculation--I find this sort of thing fun--that arose from some of my frustration after reading philosopher Stephen Cave's book, Immortality. It's worth checking out, but I found Cave to be lacking in imagination; his approach seems to be, "if it's difficult to imagine, it must be impossible". Being a dreamer, this wasn't good enough to me. I still recommend his book, though, as it sparked a number of interesting ideas for me as I read it.

      My real area of interest is in the mind-body problem (the topic of my dissertation). But as life after death is certainly a related topic, it's something I'll be coming back to soon.

      In the meantime, I've just produced an audiobook version of my book; here's a preview if you are interested:


  • This is less a comment and more a question. How essential to the doctrine of the bodily resurrection are the particular particles which make up a body?

    As this article hints toward the beginning, if a person's body decomposed centuries ago, and its material was recycled back into the environment, it seems likely that at least some of that material is reused in future human bodies.

    But if these particles maintain their bonds to a past human body through quantum entanglement, then to which body does a particle belong? Is it the first human to which it is bound, or to any one of the humans which have utilized it since?

    • Hello Good Fellow, I am the author of this particular piece. You might be interested in the followup I wrote for SN a year later, sexily entitled "How can Victims of Cannibalism Be Raised from the Dead"? That deals with a similar issue (though here the components of the deceased's body are being directly consumed by other human beings).

    • Michael J Felock

      Each quark of a person maintains its individuality. Examples of this are rife as demonstrated in various preternatural experiences

  • Doug Shaver

    You tell me that someday the dead will be restored to life. I ask for a reason to believe that. "Science does not say it is impossible" is not a good reason to believe it.

    • Well, I'm Catholic, so ... you could say I draw my knowledge/beliefs from several different wells.

      • Doug Shaver

        you could say I draw my knowledge/beliefs from several different wells.

        So do we all.

        • David

          The reasonable caracter of faith is what one searches when giving arguments for the resurrection. Science will never be able to prove this article of faith. Save maybe after it happens but then where would be the fun in proving something that needs no proof? We try as Catholics to awaken a desire within the human heart concerning their relationship with their creator. The intelligence participates in this act but still needs faith. God wants us to be like children, to believe he can do this. Whats weirder than 'spooky action at a distance', is that he wants to do it with us as in the case of Ezekiel. That is the weirder part even if it will be through Christ we will all participate in this resurrection (belief) Remember when we were children and our parents told us things that seemed like nonsense? Or that we did not believe they could do? God is more amazing than all the wonders of this world. Why can't he raise us from the dead in his time? (Why do we want him to would be another question. But that he can seems something to contemplate throughout our lifetime and should make us wonder not make us 'know'.)

          • The reasonable caracter of faith is what one searches when giving arguments for the resurrection.

            I never know what any particular Christian means by “faith” unless he or she tells me specifically.

            but then where would be the fun in proving something that needs no proof?

            I don’t pursue truth in order to have fun. It usually is a pleasant activity, but that isn’t why I do it.

            Remember when we were children and our parents told us things that seemed like nonsense?

            When I grew up, I learned that some of it actually was nonsense.

            Why can't he raise us from the dead in his time?

            You’re changing the subject. I don’t deny that if he is real, he can do anything he wants to do at any time he chooses to do it.

  • Catherine Henry

    Loved reading this! thank you. :)

  • Michael J Felock

    Many years ago I wrote a small, obscure book that explains these same Einsteinian principles of a bodily Resurrection but in unscientific terms

  • Gonzalo Palacios

    Were I 30 years younger I would tell some friends of mine, "I told you so!" Now, all I can say is that Dr. Newland's Strange Notions lead me to explain the resurrection in terms of quantum physics in the timeless locality of the NOW. Eureka? Gonzalo T. Palacios, PhD