Life After Death? Maybe Not.

Hey guys: I was writing a paper on the topic of resurrection and I thought HEY this isn’t half bad. I decided to share it with you guys.


In the article, Hick attempts to provide a logical account of what resurrection might be through the use of three thought experiments. In this paper, I will summarize the three thought experiments and Hick’s reasoning behind each one as a plausible step towards the possibility of resurrection. Afterwards, I will critically evaluate each in turn in an effort to define precisely what has actually gone on, or possible issues with Hick’s concept of resurrection.

Before I begin summarizing the thought experiments, i think it’s important to detail a couple of important issues Hick brings up. Right at the beginning of the article, Hick makes a couple claims. First, that all being are psycho-physical beings. This means that the mind cannot be separate from the body, or vice versa; the two come as a single package, and cannot be broken apart. Hick claims that this allows for “… an empirical meaning for life after death.”
Second, Hick describes the idea of many spaces, or dimensions, that exist outside of our perspective. These other dimensions, or spaces as he calls them, are unobservable to us, but are quite real to anyone who lives in those spaces. From our point of view then, it would seem that these spaces do not exist; similarly, from the point of view of a being in that realm, our world does not exist either. Hick claims that with God, this is logically possible and necessary to illustrate his thought experiments on resurrection.

The Thought Experiments

The first thought experiment begins with a man at a party talking to scholars that takes place in a flat in London, England. The man is happily listening to another wizened scholar while munching on a snack, when suddenly and without any prior warning he instantly ceases to exist in the London, England flat is at that same moment of the cessation of his existence, a complete “replica” (used in the specific sense that this appearing man is in every way physically and mentally the same as the one that ceased to exist, not to mean that the man is a copy) appears quite unexpectedly in a flat in New York, U.S.A. Hick’s outlines that this is, although physically impossible, an interesting situation where the “replica” would have to be recognized as the person he claims to be, despite the initial man ceasing to exist, the reasons for which are mostly utilitarian: to quote from the article, “The factors inclining us to identify them would… far outweigh the factors disinclining us to do so.”

Before he moves on to the far stranger situation ahead, Hick needed to cover a bit more ground as to the nature of identity in the human being. Hick claims that the human body can be turned into code and transferred in it’s entirety; however, he claims further that the mind can be transferred in a similar fashion, and that despite the fact that the code transferred and reassembled somewhere else isn’t the same physical matter, it is still more appropriate to assume that the assembled person is the same person who was encoded in the first place.

After he defines what he means by replica (covered earlier in the paper), he continues on briefly to describe the second thought experiment, though he doesn’t spend much time on it. In this case, there is no disappearance at all; rather, the man dies and his corpse litters the floor of the London flat. At the very moment the man joins the choir invisible, the “replica” appears in the New York flat just as before with memory and continuity up until the moment of death. Hick claims that in this situation too, it would be easier and more beneficial to regard the “replica” as the same person whose dead body currently lies in London.

Hick decides that it is more important to delve into the third experiment rather than linger too long on the curious murder mystery above. In the third experiment, Hick claims to give a possible account of resurrection. Again, the poor man suddenly and quite unexpectedly dies in the london flat at the great inconvenience of the other guests, but instead of appearing in the New York flat, is transported to a different dimension or world that occupies its own space and time. In this dimension there are many other “replicas” that appeared right as their original selves on Earth had died. Keeping in mind the idea of a psycho-physical being that Hick purported we all are, this means that the body and the world they now live in is completely real to them; it simply happens to be that we cannot determine its real-ness for ourselves until we, as a “replica”, find ourselves in this strange version of a much more physical ghost town.


Although Hick makes an interesting claim, he is making a fundamental category or classification error. I am of the same belief that the mind and body are completely integrated, inseparable things, and that only together do they count as a person. I am also fully aware and can contemplate multiple dimensions that I cannot empirically prove the existence of (though contemplation does not mean existence, but that is a different point than what I am trying to bring up).

Instead, my issue arises in the Star Trek episode outlined to us in the above murder mystery by Hick. In the first thought experiment, what Hick outlines here is similar to what happens in Star Trek when someone uses a transporter. The person vanishes, and rematerializes elsewhere. In this amazing case, it is true that it is easier to count this replica (and I do mean it this time as the traditional word, a copy) as the same person as the one who disappeared in the London flat. There is a degree of continuity present here that cannot be ignored: but it would be foolish to assume that this is exactly the same person. This error of distinction becomes quite clear, especially in the second thought experiment.

In the second one, the man in the London flat is now dead, and a replica of the man appears in New York. Hick argues that it is logical to assume that the replica is the same person, when quite clearly he is not. Two obvious issues arise: firstly, if the replica is an exact copy of the corpse, then why isn’t the replica a corpse himself? It doesn’t logically follow that they are exactly the same and that one should die so suddenly and the other, who for Hick’s intents and purposes is exactly the same, should not. Even disregarding that, the even more obvious failing of this case is that the man in London, now a corpse, is currently experiencing the shedding of his mortal coil and the replica is not. There is one body which is dead, and the other alive. This distinct difference in status points to us the obvious: that the man in the London flat is dead, and the one who appeared in New York is not. Life might resume with the replica effectively replacing the corpse, but the original body is still dead, and this new one is still a copy (which is arguably not a full copy either, since he didn’t die the instant he appeared).

The same can be applied to the third case. Even if the man’s body is re-created in a space unknowable to us, the fact remains that there is a corpse in London and that the replica is in another world we cannot know (and somehow is, again, not in the immediate position to die). What has happened here is a very simple case of the corpse being one entity, and the replica is another entirely. They might be similar in almost all respects (I will let the health situation of the replica through for the sake of argument) but to assume that they are exactly the same person is entirely foolish.

There is a book entitled “The Collapsium” by Wil McCarthy. In this futuristic setting, people have developed the power to dismantle humans into code, and essentially fax themselves across great distances, create copies of themselves, fix errors in their “code”, and should a copy die they can always use a back up. McCarthy doesn’t make the same error Hick does, however; the characters explicitly know that this device creates copies that are, in essence, different people. They can be re-combined, and over the course of the story several copies outlive the originals or become completely different people.

In this case, Hick forgets to observe the important fact that a psycho-physical being lives and dies within their body. It is impossible to have the same mind between two bodies, even if one is dead. Using the very psycho-physical makeup that Hick has relied on so far, it is clear that each separate body has its own separate mind. The replicas could be in New York, another dimension, or in heaven itself, but the cold, hard fact lies on the floor of a London flat; had Hick not attempted to nail the corpse on the replica, the man would be pushing up the daisies by now.

Work Referenced
Excerpt of Death and Eternal Life

Reprinted in Philosophy of Religion, selected readings, Fourth edition

Peterson, M. et al.


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