For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.—Corinthians 15:53
Noah’s Living Longer Story
Imagine a hip, a knee or any other joint that lasts a thousand years. How about a heart that keeps pumping for nearly ten centuries without surgical intervention—no stents, replacement valves or bypasses. And teeth without decay. Sound like the future? Actually, its ancient history. It’s the story of Noah.
Many of us snicker with disbelief when reading about Noah living to be 950 years old. He wasn’t the only early patriarch which the bible relates lived into their 900s. According to the biblical account, Noah fathered his five children at 500 after he married at the same age—obviously no ED either. The story seems to defy the current state of archeology and anthropology.
We know very little about Noah’s wife. Was she of a similar age or was she younger? We’re not even sure of her name. The bible doesn’t give as much detail about women’s’ lifespans. Unverified speculation suggests Noah’s wife lived as long as he did. The reality though is the oldest woman actually mentioned in the bible was Sarah who died at 127 followed by the prophet Anna who survived to 84.
Could the Story Be True?
An educator, Dr. Georgia Purdom, and an anatomist, Dr. David Menton, actually take the biblical account at face value. In their article Did People Like Adam and Noah Really Live Over 900 Years of Age? they accept that for 1500 years after Adam’s fall from grace, humans routinely lived such lives. Biblically speaking Lamech died the youngest at 777 and Methuselah (Noah’s grandfather) lived the longest at 969.
Purdom and Menton assert that after the Great Flood, longevity as described in the bible, gradually declined. Biblically speaking the flood reduced the worlds population to eight persons (i.e. Noah and his wife and his three sons and their wives) and it was those eight who began the earth’s repopulation. They write that “the fossil record…prior to the flood…[shows] a tropical type of environment [worldwide].” The actual time of the flood is debatable. David Wright of Answers in Genesis calculates it occurred 4,359 years ago while an underwater archeologist Robert Ballard has calculated it occurred 12,000 years ago. Regardless, by the time of Jesus’ birth, the world’s population had rebounded to a respectable 300 million.
After the flood, Purdom and Menton assert, “there clearly was an environmental change resulting in an ice age [covering 30% of the earth which] adversely affected life spans.” They also write that genetic mutations also began to occur which caused the decline in human longevity. As longevity declined, they note, Abraham lived to 175 and Moses passed on at 120 “who was unusually old for his time.”
Following Purdon and Menton’s thesis, human lifespan longevity steadily declined until the early 19th Century. Since then, according to the Oxford conomist Max Roser, life expectancy has steadily, albeit, slowly increased. Today, the average American lifespan is 80 for a man and 84 for a woman with the “highest achievable age today of about 120 years!” according to Purdon and Menton. Today there are 72,000 centenarians living in the United States—they are the fastest growing part of our population. At the current rate of growth it is anticipated 1,000,000 seniors will live to be one-hundred by 2050.
For those of us who have achieved or exceeded our biblical three score and ten years of life , we can only shake our heads in wonderment at the revolutionary medical advances we have seen in our own lifetime—not to mention the marvel of anticipated medical/scientific breakthroughs to come.
Seniors today can remember a world without heart surgery when the replacement of valves or clogged arteries with stents and even a heart transplant was science fiction. Heart attack victims through the 1950s were typically placed in an oxygen tent and given digitalis with the hope the heart muscle would recover. The first successful heart bypass surgery was performed in New York in 1960. We can remember a world with children, men and women in iron lungs, wheel chairs, leg braces and arm slings resulting from polio—a paralytic disease now almost completely eradicated by immunology. We can remember a world when back surgery resulted in being bed ridden for months to recoup. Today many routine back surgeries are same day in-and-out procedures. The same goes for hip and knee replacements. These are but a few of the extraordinary medical achievements many of us have witnessed in our lifetime.
Increased Lifespans Are Almost Here
It seems like every day we are learning about next-generation procedures that are truly amazing. Within the past few months we learned that Israeli scientists have created a miniature “Vascularized engineered” human heart from “[scientifically modified] human cells” using “bio-ink” in a 3D printer. Scientists are predicting that eventually “organ printers…in hospitals…[with] these procedures will be used routinely.” Bio-hackers in Silicon Valley are searching for ways to extend quality of life and (by insinuation) extending human life spans.
Aubrey de Grey, a biomedical gerontologist, insists “someone alive today will live to be 1,000.” This prompted one Michigan professor and 28 aging experts to call de Grey’s assertion “so far from plausible…[that] it commands no respect.” But is it farfetched?
As we age, we grow fewer blood vessels in our muscles causing them to degrade. Harvard researchers have recently successfully injected old mice with chemicals that manipulate vessel growth, greatly enhancing the mice’s’ muscles and thus energy levels. In England, genetically engineered viruses have been developed to fight infections that wouldn’t respond to antibiotics. In yet another breakthrough, doctors can now transplant cadaver uteruses into infertile women allowing them to give birth.
“Grinders” are installing hardware in their bodies. Rich Lee of Utah, a cabinet maker, has installed a chip in his arm that “monitors body temperature, finger magnets that open car doors and headphones permanently implanted in his ears.” In Sweden thousands of people have implanted rice sized chips in their hands that replace “keys, passwords and e-tickets.” At the University of Southern California, Dr, Theodore Berger has been experimenting with chips implanted in human brains which are designed to circumvent dead neurons and reconnect electrical signals as a means of overcoming Alzheimer’s Disease.
Many of society’s smartest are in the vanguard of this effort to increase lifespans: Oracle’s Larry Ellison “finds mortality “incomprehensible.” Tesla’s® Elon Musk is developing digital implants for the human brain. Facebook’s® Mark Zuckerberg is investing in life-span enhancement bio-technologies. The Week Magazine reports “There are tens of thousands of biohacking engineers and basement hobbyists in the U. S.”
The Effects of Longevity on the Church
What about the practical effects on the Church? In an age of declining vocations, will the Church be able to entice enough men and women into the priesthood, brotherhood and sisterhood? Will priests, nuns and brothers be able to extend their spiritual ministering beyond the current retirement age? Ministering today is exhausting by 65—how many will be able to go 20 0r 30 years longer?
What about the economics of this new world? Can the Church continue to maintain and grow its considerable resources? What effect will longer lifespans have on the devoted? Will theology change with longevity? As an example, for hundreds of years the Church believed “all studies of physical nature, including medicine, were…inherently sinful [and] in league with the devil.” It’s truly a brave new world ahead.
So, what does this all mean to Catholicism? Theoretically, as we live longer were going to have more time for spirituality and devotion and, of course, to sin. More Rosaries, Masses and Confessions. Some will assert it’s all unnatural and defies God’s will. But does it? For sure God took away the eternal “good” life when Adam and Eve fell from grace but nowhere is it written that He ever said we couldn’t use our God-given knowledge to delay our mortality. Maybe it’s part of His plan for us—another aspect of the mystery of faith—that lingering little doubt most of us have that makes us want to live as long as we can. As Pope Benedict XVI wrote “[none of us] can quite escape either doubt or belief.” It seems that God encourages us to improve our lot in the life He’s given us as a result of Adam and Eve’s fall. We really shouldn’t doubt that.