In Defense of the Faith
Wednesday, December 07, 2016
By Wendy Wippel
Aubrey de Grey, gerontology researcher at the University of Cambridge (England), is famous for asserting (confidently) that the next few decades will see huge increases in human lifespans. His exact words, in fact, were, “the first person to live to be 1000 years old is certainly alive today”.
He has lots of company. But (as we know well from politics) reputation doesn’t necessarily equal results.
De grey has been joined by a cadre of other scientists: gerontologists, cryonocists biologists, molecular biologists, and nanotech experts, as well as other wealthy hopefuls with an enthusiasm for pushing the current biologic limitations. (Said enthusiasm, based in part on the fact that the last hundred years has witnessed a huge increase in average lifespans, in part because anti-aging drugs in progress seem to show some promise and in part on research in which scientists had some success in lengthening the life spans of mice, worms, and fruit flies in the laboratory.)
Joon Yun, for example, a hedge fund manager in Palo alto, California, who in 2014, offered a million-dollar prize to the first scientist to push human longevity beyond its current, seemingly fixed length.
Google, who in 2001, spun off the California Life Company (Calico), its avowed mission, “to reverse engineer the biology that controls lifespan”.
Craig Venter, who with Francis Collins first sequenced the entire human genome and who, with Peter Diamandis in 2014 founded the company Human Longevity, Inc.
Not to be outdone, de Grey himself founded Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (senescence being the fancy scientific word for getting old. Deteriorating.)
And deteriorate we do.
As we age, mutations accumulate in the chromosomes both in the nucleus of our cells and in the mitochondria.
Garbage accumulates both inside and outside cells, causing other biological processes to break down.(i.e atherosclerosis and memory, i.e. Alzheimer’s)
Cells, as they age, reproduce themselves less efficiently, which negatively and progressively affects organs and, in turn, organ systems, which lose function as aging continues. (Parkinsons’/ loss of immune function)
Cells themselves can become dormant, in which they no longer divide but also do not die and get preplaced, over time destroying function of the organ to which they belong. (Type 2 Diabetes, loss of immune function). Dormant cells are also prone to randomly secreting proteins that can be deleterious to optimal health.
And (finally!) The proteins that hold cells together, with age, tend to proliferate, causing the tissues to harden and impede proper function– often resulting in arteriosclerosis and presbyopia.
Admittedly, the stats boasted by the Longer Lives Bunch appear to be convincing. All of human history, in their estimation, consists of 8,000 human generations. Using 40 years as a standard generation, gives us 320 million years.
We’re not buying that, but let’s just go with it for illustration purposes. For all of those years, as far as scientists have any ability to discern it, the average life expectancy remained somewhere between 25-50.
In the industrialized world today, it averages nearly 70.
And that increase was realized in just the last four of humanity’s 8,000 generations.
The Long Life bunch, to their credit, is willing to admit it’s not their accomplishment. It’s antibiotics, clean water, better sanitation, technology, a whole lot of reasons related to the thousands of years of progress we are able to enjoy in 2016.
Nonetheless, these scientists are convinced that the progress will continue. De Grey has said that acceptance of aging makes his job hard, and he followed that with a declaration that the reality is that “aging is simply a medical problem” that science can and will solve. “A vintage car can be kept in good condition indefinitely with periodic preventative maintenance, so there is no reason, in principle, why the same can’t be true of the human body.”
“We are, after all, biological machines.”
I hate to be the one to wet on his Wheaties, but Aubrey, there is a reason.
The Bible that tells us so. Way back in Genesis. The Nephilim had corrupted the human population, every man did what was right in his own eyes, and God decided to start over. And one of the new realities in the new world to come was a cap on human life spans: And the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not strive[a] with man forever, for he is indeed flesh; yet his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.”
You can watch the average lifespans decline, in Genesis, after the flood, and for all of human reckoning since then the maximum human lifespan has hovered right around 120. It would appear to be an average, a built-in biological barrier.
Only one person in all of recorded history has exceeded it: (Jeane Calment of France, who died in 1997, at the age of 122, if her records are correct. The other 9 of the top ten of all history ranged from 116-120.
At this point I have to remind you, dear readers, of my favorite quote, 500 + years old, from the lips of a famous scientist, Sir Francis Bacon: A little science estranges a man from God, a lot of science brings him back.
And (Surprise!) a lot of other research on the future of human lifespans has revealed that their case for us all hanging around until the year 3000 has just a few fundamental fallacies.
Another group of researchers at Albert Einstein Colle of Medicine in New York looked at a Human mortality database that went back to 1900.
What they observed was that most of the observed increase in life spans over the last four generations was due to ongoing success in efforts to decrease infant and child mortality. A huge decrease in the deaths of infants and children increased the average lifespan tremendously.
Which prompted another study. This time they looked exclusively, worldwide, at people that had reached at least 100 years of age. This study found that, starting about 1960, the age of the oldest person in the world increased steadily, till it hit the age of 122 (with Jean Calment), then declined again to more commonly reported levels.
It would seem from looking at all the science, that in the 21st century we have optimized our environment about as much as we can. The rest depends on our DNA. And the verdict according to these researchers is that there is, in fact, a maximum life span hard-wired into human DNA.
The good news is that we seem to have reached it. The bad news is there ain’t nothing we can do about it.
Didn’t God say that?
So much for living to see 3016.
Nonetheless, there’s a whole lot of this world that is enthusiastically buying into it. The thing I find strange—but kind of amusing—is this: isn’t this the same crowd that is always predicting that global warming and toxic emissions are going to destroy the planet by like a week from Tuesday? What gives?
But as for me, I am like a green olive tree, planted in the house of the Lord. (Psalm 52:8)
That said, I my own self personally have reached an age where whenever I pass a bathroom I think, “ I better take advantage of that while I’m here.”
I am getting old fast. But I know where I am going.
Which reminds me of a poem by Emily Dickinson:
Because I could not stop for Death –He kindly stopped for me – The Carriage held but just Ourselves –And Immortality….
Swing Low, sweet Chariot. Anytime. I’m ready.