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The illusion of identity and why it matters to Christianity

By Michael Runyan ~

Imagine that you have developed a machine that can make a perfect clone of a person, atom for atom. The fact that this will probably never be possible is irrelevant to this thought experiment. Now, one day you decide to clone yourself and you accomplish this perfectly. Your clone is brought to life. As it is a perfect copy of you, it looks just like you, has all of your talents, knowledge, and memories. Although it is minutes old, it believes it is as old as you are, and, in fact, when it looks at you, it thinks that you are the clone since it also has the memory of building the machine and deciding to make a clone.

Now, suppose the clone, thinking it is the original you, decides that this was a mistake and proceeds to kill and bury you. You are now dead, but the clone assumes your identity and returns home to your wife, your children, your work colleagues, and your friends. No one knows the difference and even the clone mistakenly assumes that he is the original you. However, and this important- you are dead, just as dead as anyone who has ever died. Although the clone effortlessly assumes your identity, it has a different sense of an ‘I.’ The clone is not you. Notice here that the thing that you call your ‘I’ is not fully defined by your DNA, your experiences, your knowledge, or your memories- the clone shares all of these attributes, but it is not you.

Now, let’s assume that there is a god who has the same power as this machine and is able to reconstruct you atom for atom after you die. This resurrected person will look like you, act like you, and possess every single one of your characteristics. But, but just like the clone in our thought experiment, it is not you. You remain dead. You are left high and dry and your heavenly reward is instead enjoyed by your clone.