What Do We Know About the Human Life-Span
FOR most persons the present length of man’s life-span is just a known fact. They feel it should be viewed as neither strange nor subject to change. “It has always been this way and it always will be,” they say. They do not claim to know the cause of aging and accompanying weakness and death. But they feel sure nothing can be done about it.
How do you feel about it? Have you investigated the subject to any degree? Has man’s life-span always been so short? Is it really unchangeable, and is it “unscientific” to think otherwise?
Did you know, for example, that medical scientists are still very uncertain as to just why men grow old and die? The book Science Year for 1967 states that, at a four-day meeting of gerontologists (specialists in the study of aging), it was agreed that “the aging process is still largely a mystery. ‘We do not have the faintest idea what causes aging,’ said Dr. Nathan W. Shock of Baltimore City Hospital, Baltimore, Md.”
Not that there are no theories about aging. There are many. Most of them involve the death of cells. According to most current theories, during the growing years the body produces more cells than those that die. In a grown person it is estimated that every minute some three thousand million cells die and, in the same time, are replaced—almost. The evidence is that an imbalance develops between the death of old cells and the formation of new ones. The decline in cell production is believed to cause the body deterioration—loss of muscle tone, slowing of reactions, fading senses, brittleness of bones, wrinkles and, most serious, the impairment of organic functions—that we know as aging.
Thus, an article in Science Digest of February 1969 reports: “The collective failings of the cells appear as symptoms of the degenerative diseases and the ravages of age, according to Dr. Howard J. Curtis of Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, L. I.”
When does aging start? Dr. Shock, after ten years of research, is quoted in the same article as believing that “aging begins when growth stops,” that is, at about eighteen to twenty years of age. Then what? The article continues: “Almost all functions then start declining slowly. At 30, they begin deteriorating at a faster but still modest rate which remains constant until death. In plain language, we go over the hill at 20, and the downgrade steepens after 30.” On the basis of his studies, Dr. Shock likewise believes the cause is the death of cells.
The problem is that the scientists still do not know just why it is that human cells, after a period of years, fail to reproduce their kind and thus to maintain the body’s needed supply.
How Long Is It Possible for Men to Live?
Some people, as we know, do live to a hundred years or more today. In modern times, the oldest age at death generally accepted as authentic, according to the Encyclopædia Britannica (1968 edition, article on the human life-span), is that of Pierre Joubert, who was born on July 15, 1701, and died November 16, 1814, at the age of 113 years and 124 days.
Do you believe that is the maximum age anyone could live? The Bible, for example, states that “Moses was a hundred and twenty years old at his death. His eye had not grown dim, and his vital strength had not fled.” (Deut. 34:7) Perhaps you will accept this as also possible, since the difference is only some six and two-thirds years.
What, then, of Moses’ ancestor Abraham, who, according to the Scriptural Record, lived “a hundred and seventy-five years” before dying? (Gen. 25:7, 8) And what of Abraham’s ancestor Shem, who is reported at Genesis 11:10, 11 as living six hundred years, or his great-grandfather Methuselah, whose days prior to the global flood “amounted to nine hundred and sixty-nine years and he died”? (Gen. 5:25-27) Would you draw the line somewhere between certain ones of these men and view the other ages as “unscientific” or “unreasonable”?
Before you answer, consider the following:
In the article mentioned earlier, the 1968 Encyclopædia Britannica shows that the average years men now live and the number of years a man could live are two different things. How long could a man live? The Encyclopædia says the span of life possible to humans is “a theoretical number whose exact value cannot be determined from existing knowledge. Presumably there is a maximum life span for the human race, but until there is discovered some property of protoplasm that definitely limits the possible duration of human life, the exact duration of man’s span of life will remain unknown.”
Do you find this surprising? Continuing, the article says: “At first thought, this statement seems irrational. Surely no human being can live 1,000 years. Even though all may agree that the likelihood of an individual living 1,000 years is infinitesimal, there is no scientific proof that this statement is, or is not, true.”
People, then, may reject the possibility of Methuselah’s age, even joke about it. But they cannot do so on truly scientific grounds, for genuine science admittedly knows no certain or absolute limit to human life.
What age would you set as the maximum that a human could live? Suppose you were to set the positive maximum at 120 years. Would you then adamantly refuse to believe that a man could live 120 years and one minute? And if you are willing to accept an extension of one minute, then why not 120 years and one day—or one week, month, year, and so on?
Dr. Harold F. Dorn, who served in the Biometrics Research Branch of the National Heart Institute as chief during 1960 to 1963, used virtually the same illustration in the article on the human life-span in the reference work mentioned. In view of the evidence presented, his conclusion is: “Thus, based on existing knowledge of longevity, a precise figure for the span of human life cannot be given.”
What Hope from Medical Science for Longer Life?
What hope, then, do the medical scientists and researchers in longevity offer for the future? Do they expect man soon to rival the tortoise in passing the hundred-year mark? Do they offer any substantial hope for you to enjoy an extended lifespan? If not, is there hope from any other source?
Science Year of 1967 says: “Medical optimists are looking ahead to the 21st century when many present-day problems may be solved. Yet most specialists doubt that the average life span will be extended much beyond the proverbial threescore and 10 years.”
True, now and then some rather sensational predictions are made in newspapers or magazines of great advances expected by some scientist. But there is no solid evidence of any progress toward a dramatic increase in the human life-span from such sources. As the Scientific American magazine of March 1968 put it:
“Even if the major causes of death in old age—heart disease, stroke and cancer—were eliminated, the average life expectancy would not be lengthened by much more than 10 years. It would then be about 80 years instead of the expectancy of about 70 years that now prevails in advanced countries.”
Does that mean that there is no real hope for longer life? that generations of men and women will keep right on dying while beech trees, oaks and sequoias keep on living? Is there any source of information that gives reliable basis for believing otherwise?
Reliable Source of Hope
There is. And it is a source that not only specifies the fundamental cause of aging and death, but also shows how human life can and will surpass that of any of earth’s living plants and animals. It is the same source that gives the “proverbial” figure of man’s life expectancy the scientists refer to. It is the Bible, which says at Psalm 90:10: “In themselves the days of our years are seventy years; and if because of special mightiness they are eighty years, yet their insistence is on trouble and hurtful things; for it must quickly pass by, and away we fly.”
You may say, “But that simply confirms the shortness of man’s life-span.” True, that psalm written thousands of years in the past shows that the picture has not changed much as far as human life expectancy is concerned. But it does not say that this was always the case, that men never had a life expectancy of more than seventy or eighty years, or that they never will. In fact, it is the Bible that gives the record of nine men who lived prior to the global flood of Noah’s day and which record shows an average life-span of 847 years.—Gen. 5:1-31.
Scientists in general admit their ‘mystification’ as to why man ages. The Bible explains it in simple terms. It shows that man ages and dies because of inherited sin and imperfection passed on to him from his first parents, Adam and Eve. For this reason the apostle Paul wrote: “Through one man [Adam] sin entered into the world and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men because they had all sinned.”—Rom. 5:12.
Man’s Creator designed man so that his life was dependent upon certain things. He had to breathe air, drink water, eat food. Without these, man would die. But not just these material things were involved. Man’s life was also dependent on his right relationship with his Creator. God’s Son quoted from the Hebrew Scriptures in saying, “Man must live, not on bread alone, but on every utterance coming forth through Jehovah’s mouth.” (Matt. 4:4) The first man had God’s expressed law but violated it and thereby impaired the relationship of humankind with God. This wrong action resulted in imperfection, and imperfection brought eventual death. When the first pair began to procreate, the law of heredity caused their offspring to inherit their sinful nature and resultant imperfection.—Ps. 51:5.
Scientists admit that they cannot ‘scientifically’ fix any certain limit on the possible maximum span of life for humans. The Bible shows that span was originally unlimited, that God informed the first human pair that as long as they obeyed they would not die. (Gen. 2:16, 17) It was their breaking their right relationship with God by disobedience that brought sickness, suffering, aging and death to all mankind, us included. From that time forward mankind has steadily weakened and the lifespan has reduced from an average of hundreds of years prior to the Flood to the present seventy- or eighty-year span.
The Bible’s explanation means that without sin man would not experience the aging process, would not weaken and suffer disease producing death. Removal of sin and restoration of right relations with God would therefore result in unending life. In fact, the Bible offers just that, the “hope of the everlasting life which God, who cannot lie, promised before times long lasting,” as the apostle Paul wrote at Titus 1:2. Jesus Christ when on earth said, “I have come that they might have life and might have it in abundance.” (John 10:10) He did not restrict that hope of abundant life to heaven, for he taught his followers to pray to his Father: “Let your kingdom come. Let your will take place, as in heaven, also upon earth.”—Matt. 6:10.
Does it seem unreal to you, this prospect of unending life on earth? Yet within your own body you have evidence that humans were made to live without undergoing the aging process and death. Consider that evidence now and see how it adds confirmation of the reasonableness of the hope the Bible offers.
[Picture on page 9]
Scientists in general admit they do not know why man ages; yet the Bible explains it in simple terms