Thursday, September 09, 2004

Do Electronic Systems and Human Beings Age the Same?

A recent article in IEEE Spectrum proposes an interesting theory about ageing in human beings. The theory suggests that concepts of relibilty engineering can be generalized to apply to ageing mechanisms in people. The simple version of this is that biologists could apply relibility engineering techniques to research with genetic engineering, stem cell research, and other areas of research to prolong our lifespan by slowing down the ageing process, or by creating "replacement parts" when our bodies begin to wear out.

I started to think about the religious implications of this a bit. A common thought among Christians is that in the post-flood days, the lifespan of men is limited to about 120 years. It is rare to see someone go beyond this, yet a few manage it. I dug in to the Genesis account to get some more information. In antideluvian times, from the fall to the flood, lifespans were listed to just under 1000 years. (See Genesis 3, 5, and 6.) After the flood, lifespans begin to rapidly decline to 500, then 400, 200, and eventually 120. (See Genesis 9 and 11.)

The argument about the literal or allegorical view of Genesis and the debate about its Babylonian origins is not something I want to get into here. The ages listed are the same no matter what view you happen to hold. What I specifically want people to note is that while the lifespan of mankind falls to about 120, nowhere does the text say that God specifically limited it. Some will argue that Genesis 6:3 argues that this number is fixed, but look at the translator's note from the NET Bible:

Heb “his days will be one hundred and twenty years.” Some interpret this to mean that the age expectancy of people from this point on would be one hundred twenty, but neither the subsequent narrative nor reality favors this. It is more likely that this refers to the time remaining between this announcement of judgment and the coming of the flood.

If you take it this way, there is no specific limit on our age other than the general effects of death in the post-fall world. It might be possible, then, for us to extend our lives for some amount of time beyond 120 years. Ultimately, we will still die, and at some point God will bring about the end of days, so this does not exempt us from judgement and the consequences of sin, but it may give us more time before His coming to get to the point of turning from sin and trusting Christ for the life that will last.

Let your brain chew on that for a while, then ask yourself some moral and ethical questions about genetic engineering, stem cell research, etc. Enjoy...