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:
Okay. I guess that's all settled now. It's magic.
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.
I knew there had to be a good answer.