9 April 2004 Welcome - Charles - Thoughts - Years

Not growing old seems to be a life-time's occupation for some people. Many seem to dread ageing, long for youth (except whilst youths, of course), and try to hide or reverse the symptoms of age. How successful might they be?

The classical expectation of life expectancy for those in the western world has long been expressed as "threescore years and ten" although that biblical quotation (Psalm 90: 10) does go on to offer not just seventy, but eighty years to the strong, "if by reason of strength they be fourscore years..." This does seem to match experience, with life expectancy (at birth) in Britain being 77 and in the USA, 76. Incidentally, Andorra scores 83. (source) But there are reports of lifetimes significantly longer in some parts of the world and life expectancy is an averaged figure based on, well, life. It takes into account variables such as disease, options like drug abuse, occupations like skydiving, and junk food eating habits etc.. It also allows for advanced healthcare, too. What is a realistic maximum?

Firstly, what are the limits? "As old as Methusalah" is a good starting point, and he made it to 960. Rather more than people manage these days! A recent article in Time magazine (26 Aug 2002, page 30) concerns the relatively high number of people on Sardinia who are more than 100 years old; 220 out of 1.6 million. Similarly recent informed opinion suggests 120 might be normally achievable. Again from Time magazine comes the comment that "life span (the maximum age to which the perfectly maintained, disease-free body could remain alive before it simply wore out and broke down) has remained fixed at a hard ceiling of about 125 years". (21 Jan 2002, page 65) Some time ago I plotted the genealogies in the early chapters of the Bible (Authorised Version) and produced the following:

life spans from book of Genesis plotted showing the great decline

For me, this seems to head firmly to the 120 mark, and I find a greater biblical authority for this as a defined limit than for the threescore years and ten which is an expression of what was being observed then, in those conditions (life expectancy rather than life span). The book of Genesis tells of several events that have direct impact on man's longevity. Two of them are:

"And the LORD said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years." Genesis 6: 3

The statement was soon followed by an event which probably enacted the decision by devastating man's environment; the Genesis flood.

"The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence. And God looked upon the earth, and, behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth. And God said unto Noah, The end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth. Genesis 6: 11-13

The battle to extend life expectancy continues. Often the battle seems to be against lifestyle rather than nature, or against politics rather than disease. Lifestyles which allow stress to deprive us of good food, for example, reduce our ability to repair physical damage and repel disease. Policies that encourage us to pollute our environment create massive health problems which only aid our natural pathogenic enemies. Progress has be made, but often against our artificially created enemies. Life expectancy in Britain has almost doubled in the last 120 years, but much of this gain has been due to environmental improvements (like moving to smoke free fuels), teaching basic health care (like washing) and reducing infant mortality. Some of these trends now seem to be reversing as attention is concentrated on more exciting scientific research, and responsibility is off-loaded to "the government". Meanwhile, what of the sometimes desperate attempts to disguise age, and to ameliorate its effects? Well, my simple approach is that disguising age is an unreasonable and selfish deceit, though taking reasonable steps in ameliorating its effects is a sensible thing to do in order to maintain quality of life for the ageing and those around them. Age should be respected, not despised, particularly where the old are not abusing their temporal rank. The Bible makes a few comments on this, too. e.g.:

"Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head, and honour the face of the old man, and fear thy God: I am the LORD." Lev 19: 32

"The hoary head is a crown of glory, if it be found in the way of righteousness." Prov 16: 31

"So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom." Psalm 90: 12

Notes and References

In the graphic of lifespans, the lines are equally spaced down the page for two reasons: it is simple, and I do not know how to do it properly. The intervals between the birthdates of the people charted vary, and are perhaps of the order of a third of the parents lifespan. I was unsure whether to use that as the time interval, the actual computed date, or involve some other parameter. I am of the opinion that the decline seen after the flood was caused by damage done by the environmental change. That damage might have been effected at each birth, or it might have been accumulated between birth and fathering the next generation. Either way, I do wonder if the chart might reveal, say, an exponential curve, or similar if plotted with the correct time parameter.

The figures used are from the King James Authorised Version of the Bible. Other older versions of the scriptures have slightly differing figures, I think.

New Scientist magazine articles:
"Forever young", vol 171 issue 2309 - 22 September 2001, page 26.

Time magazine articles:
26 Aug 2002, page 30 and 21 Jan 2002, page 65

Photius, quoting the CIA's 1999 World Fact Book provided life expectancy figures.

Since posting this "thought" I have come across a far more detailed analysis of the Biblical genealogies and the apparent step-reductions in longevity, by Richard H Johnston, a mathematician. The context makes it obvious that he is a Bible-believing Christian (actually there isn't any other sort). You might want to separate the mathematics from the reasoning. I don't.