How The Resurrection Makes Sense


How to understand the Christian hope of the resurrection of the body against the background of modern science? A physicist and Fellow of the Royal Society, who is an Anglican priest, explains how he brings his scientific researches to bear on his Easter faith. John Polkinghorne was formerly president of Queens’ College Cambridge.

John PolkinghorneWHAT is a human person? A smart tap on the head with a hammer will show that we depend in an essential way on our bodies. So are we simply bodies, merely material beings? What about the soul?  In the history of much Christian thinking, and in much popular piety, people have thought of themselves as if they were apprentice angels. In that case, the “real me” would be a spiritual component, trapped in a body but awaiting release at death. Today, that is an increasingly difficult belief to hold. Studies of brain damage and the effects of drugs show how dependent our personalities are on the state of our bodies. Charles Darwin has taught us that our ancestry is the same as that of the other animals. Earth was once lifeless and life seems to have emerged from complex chemical interactions. Many scientists think that we are nothing but collections of molecules and they write popular books to assert this belief.

Yet that also is a pretty odd thing to believe. Could just a bunch of chemicals write Shakespeare or compose Handel’s Messiah, or discover the laws of chemistry, for that matter? There is something more to us than the merely material. Yet, whatever that extra something is, it is surely intimately connected with our bodies. We are a kind of package deal, mind and body closely related and not wholly detachable from each other. It is a puzzle.

Strangely enough, a clue about how to wrestle with the problem may be offered to us by modern science itself. For a new kind of scientific paradigm is in the making. It is called “complexity theory”; so far it has only reached the natural history stage of studying particular examples.

The Blue Apocalypse - Aaron Arkkelin

The Blue Apocalypse – Aaron Arkkelin

Physicists naturally started by considering the simplest systems available. After all, they will be the easiest to understand. Recently, the use of high-speed computers has extended our scientific range. As complex systems began to be explored, an unexpected realization dawned. Very often these turn out to have a quite simple overall behaviour, ordered in some striking pattern.

Heating water in a saucepan can provide an example. If the heat is applied gently, the water circulates from the bottom in a remarkable way. Instead of just flowing about any old how, it forms a pattern of six-sided cells, rather like a honeycomb. This is an astonishing phenomenon. Trillions of molecules have to collaborate and move together in order to generate the pattern. The effect is a simple example of a new aspect of nature that scientists are just beginning to learn about.

Traditionally, physicists thought in terms of the bits and pieces that make up a complex system. The exchanges of energy between these bits and pieces look extremely complicated. It turns out, however, that if you think about the system as a whole, there can be these remarkably orderly patterns of overall behaviour.

In other words, there are two levels of description. One involves energy and bits and pieces. The other involves the whole system and its pattern. At this second level, using computer-speak, we could say that what we need to think about is the information that specifies the pattern.

 Saint Thomas Aquinas

Saint Thomas Aquinas

We have become used to the concept of cyberspace – the realm of information accessible through our computers. That world is one of human contrivance, a world of virtual reality. We are less used to the idea, in fact because it is so unconsciously familiar, that we live in a world of intrinsic information-generating capacity, the world of actual reality and so the world of God’s creation.

We human beings are immersed in this realm of being in which energy and informational pattern complement each other. It is a world altogether richer than its pale shadow in cyberspace, for people are much more than computers made of meat. Our powers of thinking, including our access to meaning and to mathematical truths that cannot be established within the confines of the purely logical formulation we may be considering, show that we transcend the limitations of the merely computational.

One might ask what all this has to do with the human soul and coherent hope. What-ever the soul may be, it is surely the “real person”, linking what we are today with what we were in the past. That real me is certainly not the matter of my body, for that is changing all the time, through eating and drinking, wear and tear. We have very few atoms in our bodies that were there five years ago. What provides the continuity is surely the almost infinitely complex pattern in which that matter is organised. That pattern is the real person, and when we talk about the soul, that is what we are referring to. The infant science of complexity theory encourages us to take this kind of thought very seriously.

SUCH a manner of thinking need hardly come as a surprise to Christians. After all, the ancient Hebrews certainly did not think of human beings as apprentice angels. They took the package deal view that we are bodies full of life. St Thomas Aquinas thought the same. He helped the Church to free itself from the straitjacket of Platonic thinking imposed upon it through the great influence of St Augustine, with its reliance on a dualistic picture of soul and body as distinct entities. Instead, Aquinas made use of the then newly recovered insights of Aristotle. In Aristotelian thinking, the soul is the “form” (that is, the pattern) of the body.

Saint Augustine of Hippo

Saint Augustine of Hippo

In these terms, we can understand in a coherent way the great Christian hope of a destiny beyond death. That hope is to be expressed in the classic terms of death and resurrection, and not in spiritualist terms of “survival”. Death is real and a real ending, but it is not the ultimate end, for only God is ultimate. The last word on human destiny does not lie with the fact of death but with the greater fact of a faithful Creator and a merciful Redeemer.

Of course, as far as embodiment in the matter of this world is concerned, the individual pattern that is the human soul will be dissolved at death. It makes sense, however, to believe that God will hold that pattern in the divine memory and then reimbody it in the environment of the new creation at the resurrection of the dead.

Our real hope that death is not the end has to depend on our belief in the trustworthiness of God. Appeal to that belief was exactly the way in which Jesus countered the disbelief of the Sadducees (Mk 12: 18-27). He reminded them that God was the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The patriarchs mattered to God once and so they must matter to God for ever. Israel’s God is “God, not of the dead but of the living”. If we matter to God now, as we certainly do, then we shall matter to God for ever. At death, we shall not be cast aside like broken pots on some cosmic rubbish heap. Human beings are not naturally immortal, but the faithful God will give us a destiny beyond our deaths.

Jesus teaching at the Temple - James Tissot

Jesus teaching at the Temple – James Tissot

We can take with all due seriousness all that science can tell us about ourselves and this world and still believe that God will remember the patterns that we are and will recreate them when we are resurrected into the life of the world to come. As Christians we know that this is not a mere theoretical possibility, for we have the resurrection of Our Lord as the foretaste and guarantee, enacted within history, of the destiny that awaits us all beyond history.



Christ in Judgement – John De Rosen at Saint John’s Memphis, TN

December 29, 2013

I want to begin with the Mural behind you on the tower wall.  On the left you see an angel with a book held above his head. You might think this is the book of life, but, in fact it is the Book of Knowledge.  Inscribed on the Book of Knowledge is Albert Einstein’s last equation.  Over sixty years ago when John De Rosen painted this  mural this equation marked the edge of human speculation on the nature of reality.  It turns out that this equation is incorrect.  Yes, our Book of Knowledge is in error.  That seems appropriate, somehow.

I WILL BEGIN WITH the language of Quantum Physics and move to the Readings for Today.  I believe that Quantum Physics and John’s Poetic Prologue speak to the same reality!!!

Thomas Young

Thomas Young

Albert Eeinstein

Albert Einstein

Quantum Mechanics

  •    In the late 19th century,  Thomas Young found that light  is a wave.
  •    In 1905 Einstein discovered that light is also a particle.

This was a terrible dilemma.  What do you do with contradictory evidence?  There were two options:

 If this had the church we would have formed rival groups, the Particularians and the Waveites,  accused each other of heresy and carefully decided who was in and who was out. They could accept one set of evidence and reject the other.  What they did do was hold on to the evidence and look for a way to explain the paradox. [A statement that seems contradictory, unbelievable, or absurd but that may actually be true in fact.]  It took 25 years to sort out but Quantum theory now tells us that light is not particle or wave but rather, BOTH particle AND wave. Reality is actually richer than we had imagined.

Now consider the poetic language that John uses in the prologue to the Gospel that bears his name. We will look at the Gospel reading but before that lets go back to the beginning.  Biblical Poetic Language  Now turn with me to the Gospel reading for this morning.

Please forgive me for stating the obvious but the whole thing begins in Genesis 1:1-2.


I’m reading from the Schocken Bible a translation by Everett Fox,  “At the beginning of God’s creating of the heavens and the earth, when the earth was wild and waste, darkness over the face of Ocean, rushing-spirit of God hovering over the face of the waters – God said: Let there be light!  And there was light.”  Fox’s translates Hebrew to English retaining the rhythm of the Hebrew language.

Let us then  consider God as Noun and Verb, Particle and Wave.

Notice the verb in relation to the Incarnation.  In the collect: ALMIGHY GOD, you have poured upon the NEW light of your incarnate WORD. In Isaiah, “You shall be called by a New Name (noun) that the God will give.  God restores things that are fallen and have grown old.  God does new things!  As a way of speaking about this creative and playful aspect of God,  someone has said that God’s favorite practical joke was old women getting pregnant!

  • Old Women getting pregnant!   Sarah, Rebecca, Samuel’s  momma & Sampson’s.
  •  Behold, I am doing a new thing.  A Virgin shall conceive and bear a son!
  •  Note the annunciation mural,   Here Mary sits amid dry and arid stone, yet as Gabriel speaks to her   the word of God the ground around her bursts into flower.

 The energy of New Light of thing incarnate – The wave of New Light becomes an incarnate particle.   Isaiah    For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden cause what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations. …  You shall be given a new name.  Do you hear the train a’coming!

The energy of the uncreated light is the same energy that makes the desert bloom and the virgin conceive! Here we see the train a’coming.  In John’s Prologue, WORD is better translated: CREATIVE ENERGY. Read aloud with me. … For the creative entergy was  with God and the Creative Energy was with God and the Creative Energy was God The light Incarnate is wave and particle!

The Church is also Wave and Particle, noun and verb!

We do know that the nature of matter is not object or wave it is both!.  Embracing this paradox is what Richard Rohr “non-dual” thinking – moving beyond a either/or to a yes/and

Church is both noun and verb – particle and wave

Note how the “Body of Christ” functions.   We are the gathered people of God in a particular place, at a certain time, to worship God (because God is worthy) and to encounter the Risen Jesus in the breaking bread, through the Power of the Holy Spirit and then having been fed with bread we move from noun to verb, go out into the world to be bread for those who are starving for what we just become.

If we have been fed be bread!

Do you see beloved?  The Renewal Works is simply a way of thinking for us as we open our hearts and minds to the light of God’s grace and love. This process is to help us get clear about our place in the economy of heaven, the physics of grace!  If we have been fed then let us be bread!