Wednesday, May 25, 2011

To your scattered bodies go

You complete me

In one of Innumeracy's more notorious examples, John Allen Paulos provides a back-of-the-envelope calculation for the probability that you just inhaled a molecule from Julius Caesar's dying breath: “The surprising answer is that, with probability better than 99 percent, you did just inhale such a molecule.” (If you gasped at learning that, the probability probably went up.)

It immediately follows that your body has an exceedingly high probability of containing atoms that were once part of Caesar's body. And atoms from Brutus, too, of course. While Carl Sagan liked to point out that we are made of star stuff, one must not forget that we are made of recycled star stuff.

This has amusing implications for the devout Christian, since all of humanity is supposed to stand before Jesus for final judgment in reconstituted physical bodies. When Jesus says the magic words to assemble all of the dearly departed (including those he conveniently killed by destroying the world), who gets dibs on all of those “previously owned” atoms?

Fairness suggests they should go to the original owners. Therefore Adam and Eve would appear before the throne with intact resurrection bodies (assuming for the moment for the sake of argument that the Edenic couple were real people), but subsequent generations would be increasingly challenged as one progressed along the family tree. I daresay that the most recent revenants would be likely to present a most ghastly and moth-eaten aspect. (God may want to secure the services of George Romero to act as producer-director of the Last Judgment.)

Fortunately for all of us, there are serious scholars available to answer the questions we might have about such significant matters. Such was the case in a recent installment of “Catholic Answers,” the radio call-in program that broadcasts throughout California on the stations owned by Immaculate Heart Radio. A concerned listener wanted to know what would happen on the day of judgment to people whose bodies had not been buried intact. For example, what about organ donors? Could you end up standing before Jesus with a hole in your chest if your heart had gone to another?

Father Tad Pacholczyk, director of education for the National Catholic Bioethics Center, was equal to the task:
It seems like there might be some concerns that would come in the wake of the decision to donate a lot of organs and then sort of the whole question at the resurrection whose body will it be and so on? These are in a sense mysterious questions that we don't have all the answers to, but we know, for example, when people end up having their bodies basically destroyed—and all of us will, I mean, if we're buried in the ground. Eventually, you know, our bodies decompose completely and there's nothing left of them. And some of the elements from our bodies might be taken up into plants that grow above the grave and then those plants would be eaten by animals and then those animals would be eaten by humans. So some of our materials may even be recycled, so to speak, into other people's bodies. None of this is going to pose a problem for the infinite power of God. These are the kinds of things that, yeah, we don't know how he's going to do it, but do know that he is going to do it.

I sometimes also mention the example of St. Maxmilian Kolbe, who died in Auschwitz and his body was put into the crematoria and his ashes went up and were spread all over half of Poland. And when he resurrects, the Lord will be able to, you know, bring his entire body back through the power of God.
Okay. I guess that's all settled now. It's magic.

I knew there had to be a good answer.


Karen said...

Okay. I guess that's all settled now. It's magic.

Come now, Zeno, did you ever have any doubt? Of course it's magic!

Zeno said...

Well, no, Karen. Not really. But it sure would ruin the radio program and the careers of quite a few "experts" if all answers were reduced to "It's magic. Thanks for calling. May we have our next question, please?" Even dead air would be more engaging. Can't blame them for fancying it up. Otherwise they'd all have to abandon it as a bad deal. (Hmm. If only...)

Anonymous said...

God keeps backups.

Robert Hagedorn said...

Adam and Eve? Do a search: First Scandal.

The Ridger, FCD said...

OTOH, at least an answer like this stops people being afraid to be organ donors.

Kathie said...

How does this augur for Ted Williams' cryogenically-frozen head? (Or wasn't he Catholic?)

Anonymous said...

Fractal rapture?

Anonymous said...

That self-righteous prig (Tad Pacholczyk) came to 'debate' the ethics of embryonic stem cell research at my university. I went, mildly curious to see if someone who apparently has a PhD in a biology-related science might actually have a half-believable argument against their use. He spent the entire time trying to convince the audience that they knew 'in their hearts' that it was wrong, and they were just making excuses. And when I got the chance to question him afterward, everything went back to the magical sky faerie. Yale should be embarrassed they gave him a degree in anything but god-bothering.

Anonymous said...

Worrying about how god can put a dismembered body back together while calmly accepting the "bring dead body back to life" bit is a bit silly. Like worrying about the color of Jesus' socks while he walked on water.