Designed to Live Forever
THE human body is marvelously designed. Its development and growth are simply a miracle. An ancient writer exclaimed: “In a fear-inspiring way I am wonderfully made.” (Psalm 139:14) Fully aware of the marvels of the human body, some modern scientists find aging and death a puzzle. Do you?
“Aging,” wrote Harvard University biologist Steven Austad, “so constantly confronts us that I’m surprised more people don’t perceive it as a central biological mystery.” The fact that everyone grows old, Austad noted, “makes [aging] appear less puzzling.” Still, when you really think about it, do aging and death make sense?
Last year, in his book How and Why We Age, Dr. Leonard Hayflick acknowledged the marvels of human life and growth and wrote: “After performing the miracles that take us from conception to birth and then to sexual maturation and adulthood, nature chose not to devise what would seem to be a more elementary mechanism to simply maintain those miracles forever. This insight has puzzled biogerontologists [those who study the biological aspects of aging] for decades.”
Are you also puzzled by aging and death? What purpose do they serve? Hayflick observed: “Virtually all biological events from conception to maturity seem to have a purpose, but aging does not. It is not obvious why aging should occur. Although we have learned much about the biology of aging . . . , we are still left with the inevitable outcome of purposeless aging followed by death.”
Is it possible that we were not meant to grow old and die but to live forever on earth?
Desire to Live
Surely you are aware that almost everyone resents growing old and dying. In fact, many fear the prospect. In his book How We Die, medical doctor Sherwin B. Nuland wrote: “None of us seems psychologically able to cope with the thought of our own state of death, with the idea of a permanent unconsciousness in which there is neither void nor vacuum—in which there is simply nothing.” Do you know anyone who wants to grow old, get sick, and die?
Yet, if old age and death were natural and part of some master plan, wouldn’t we welcome them? But we don’t. Why not? The answer is found in the way we were made. The Bible says: “[God] has even put eternity into [our] minds.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11, Byington) Because of this desire for an endless future, people have long searched for a so-called fountain of youth. They want to stay young forever. This raises the question, Do we have the potential for longer life?
Designed to Repair Itself
Writing in the magazine Natural History, biologist Austad presented the common view: “We tend to think of ourselves and other animals in the same way we think of machines: wearing out is simply inevitable.” But this is not true. “Biological organisms are fundamentally different from machines,” Austad said. “They are self-repairing: wounds heal, bones mend, illness passes.”
Thus, the intriguing question, Why do we age? As Austad asked: “Why, then, should [biological organisms] be subject to the same sorts of wear and tear as machines?” Since bodily tissues replace themselves, couldn’t they continue to do that forever?
In Discover magazine, evolutionary biologist Jared Diamond discussed the marvelous capacity of physical organisms to repair themselves. He wrote: “The most visible example of damage control applied to our bodies is wound healing, by which we repair damage to our skin. Many animals can achieve much more spectacular results than we can: lizards can regenerate severed tails, starfish and crabs their limbs, sea cucumbers their intestines.”
Concerning replacement of teeth, Diamond stated: “Humans grow two sets, elephants six sets, and sharks an indefinite number during their lifetime.” He then explained: “Regular replacement also goes on at a microscopic level. We replace the cells lining our intestine once every few days, those lining the urinary bladder once every two months, and our red blood cells once every four months.
“At the molecular level our protein molecules are subject to continuous turnover at a rate characteristic of each particular protein; we thereby avoid the accumulation of damaged molecules. Hence if you compare your beloved’s appearance today with that of a month ago, he or she may look the same, but many of the individual molecules forming that beloved body are different. While all the king’s horses and men couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty together again, nature is taking us apart and putting us back together every day.”
Most cells of the body are periodically replaced by newly formed ones. But some cells, such as brain neurons, may never be replaced. However, Hayflick explained: “If the cell has had every part replaced it is not the same old cell. The neurons you were born with might appear today to be the same cells, but in reality many of the molecules that composed them when you were born . . . may have been replaced with new molecules. So nondividing cells may not be the same cells you were born with after all!” This is because the components of the cells are replaced. Thus, replacement of body materials theoretically could keep us alive forever!
Recall that Dr. Hayflick spoke of “the miracles that take us from conception to birth.” What are some of these? As we briefly examine them, consider the possibility of the implementation of what he called “a more elementary mechanism to simply maintain those miracles forever.”
An adult is composed of some 100 trillion cells, each of which is incomprehensibly complex. To illustrate the complexity, Newsweek magazine compared a cell to a walled city. “Power plants generate the cell’s energy,” the magazine said. “Factories produce proteins, vital units of chemical commerce. Complex transportation systems guide specific chemicals from point to point within the cell and beyond. Sentries at the barricades control the export and import markets, and monitor the outside world for signs of danger. Disciplined biological armies stand ready to grapple with invaders. A centralized genetic government maintains order.”
Consider how you—some 100 trillion cells of you—came about. You began as a single cell that was formed when the sperm from your father united with an egg cell from your mother. At that uniting, the plans were drawn up within the DNA (short for deoxyribonucleic acid) of that newly formed cell to produce what eventually became you—an entirely new and unique human. The instructions within the DNA “if written out,” it is said, “would fill a thousand 600-page books.”
In time, that original cell began dividing, making two cells, then four, eight, and so on. Finally, after about 270 days—during which time thousands of millions of cells of many different kinds had developed within your mother to form a baby—YOU were born. It is as if that first cell had a huge room full of books with detailed instructions on how to make you. But just as wonderful is the fact that these complicated instructions were passed along to every succeeding cell. Yes, amazingly, each of the cells in your body has all the same information as the original fertilized egg contained!
Consider this also. Since each cell has the information to produce all kinds of cells, when it came time, say, to make heart cells, how were the instructions to make all the other cells suppressed? Seemingly, acting like a contractor with a complete cabinet of blueprints for making a baby, a cell picked from its file cabinet a blueprint for making heart cells. Another cell picked out a different blueprint with instructions for producing nerve cells, yet another took a blueprint for making liver cells, and so on. Surely, this still unexplained ability of a cell to select the instructions needed to produce a particular kind of cell and at the same time suppress all other instructions is another of the many “miracles that take us from conception to birth.”
Yet, there is much more to it. For example, the cells of the heart need to be stimulated so that they contract rhythmically. Thus, within the heart a complex system was constructed for generating electrical impulses to cause the heart to beat at a proper rate to sustain the body in the activity in which it is engaged. Truly, a miracle of design! No wonder doctors have said of the heart: “It is more efficient than any machine of any kind yet devised by man.”
An even greater wonder is the development of the brain—the most mysterious part of the human miracle. Three weeks after conception, brain cells start forming. In time, about 100 billion nerve cells, called neurons—as many as there are stars in the Milky Way—are packed into a human brain.
“Each one of these receives input from about 10,000 other neurons in the brain,” reported Time magazine, “and sends messages to a thousand more.” Noting the possible combination possibilities, neuroscientist Gerald Edelman said: “A match head’s worth of the brain contains about a billion connections that can combine in ways which can only be described as hyperastronomical—on the order of ten followed by millions of zeros.”
What potential capacity does this give the brain? Astronomer Carl Sagan said that the human brain can hold information that “would fill some twenty million volumes, as many as in the world’s largest libraries.” Author George Leonard went further, exclaiming: “Perhaps, in fact, we can now propose an incredible hypothesis: The ultimate creative capacity of the brain may be, for all practical purposes, infinite.”
Thus, we should not be surprised by the following statements: “The brain,” said molecular biologist James Watson, codiscoverer of the physical structure of DNA, “is the most complex thing we have yet discovered in our universe.” Neurologist Richard Restak, who resents the comparison of the brain to a computer, said: “The brain’s uniqueness stems from the fact that nowhere in the known universe is there anything even remotely resembling it.”
Neuroscientists say that during our present life span, we use just a small part of our potential brain power, only about 1/10,000, or 1/100 of 1 percent, according to one estimate. Think about it. Is it reasonable that we would be given a brain with such miraculous possibilities if it was never to be used fully? Is it not reasonable that humans, with the capacity for endless learning, were actually designed to live forever?
If that is true, why do we grow old? What went wrong? Why, after some 70 or 80 years, do we die, even though our bodies evidently were designed to last forever?
[Diagram on page 7]
(For fully formatted text, see publication)
The Cell—A Miracle of Design
The covering that controls what enters and leaves the cell
Enclosed in a double-membrane envelope, it is the control center that directs the cell’s activities
Structures on which amino acids are assembled into proteins
They contain the cell’s DNA, its genetic master plan
The site where ribosomes are assembled
Sheets of membranes that store or transport the proteins made by the ribosomes attached to them (some ribosomes float free in the cell)
Production centers for ATP, the molecules that supply energy for the cell
A group of flattened membrane sacs that package and distribute proteins made by the cell
They lie near the nucleus and are important in cell reproduction