The Catholic Thing
Eden: The Sequel Print E-mail
By Brad Miner   
Sunday, 25 September 2011

In Genesis 5 we read that Methuselah lived 969 years; also that his son, Lamech, was born when his father was 187. Lamech was the father of Noah, born when Lamech was 182 and Methuselah was 369. Noah’s three sons weren’t born until their father had passed the ripe old age of 500 – assuming that was even “old” back then – and when the Ark was finally lifted upon rising waters, Noah had just celebrated the Big Six-Oh-Oh, and then lived on another three-and-a-half centuries. These antediluvian patriarchs really knew how to live . . . and live . . . and live.

Then something happened.

At the end of Genesis, we read that Joseph died – prematurely it would seem – at 110; in Exodus, Moses is cut off at 120. The legacy of edenic longevity is gone, and we’re bereft of some eight centuries of lifespan. Lives of a thousand-years seem incredible, although since God determines all possibilities, such longevity can’t be considered impossible, nor can we assume Divine second thoughts: that even given war, pestilence, and famine, the Lord realized that such lifespans doomed Earth to become a rotting apple aswarm with ants – the “Oh, God!” view, in which the Creator (George Burns) admits error: “The avocado: I made the pit too big.” But God doesn’t make mistakes, and we know His word is true; we just don’t understand some of its truths.

But now the new science of “life extension” is going all Biblical on our future. In 1850, people lived, on average, forty years – now most reach eighty, and scientists are seriously talking about doubling that number, and quickly. Some are even dreaming of functional immortality, although nobody is talking about recreating Eden. Not yet.

Of course, significantly extending life is no fantasy. Consider: scientists recently created a new trachea from a cancer patient’s own stem cells, which they then grew on a “scaffold” of nano-synthetic material and finally transplanted, and now the dying man isn’t dying anymore – not, anyway, of windpipe cancer.

    Noah’s Sacrifice by Daniel Maclise, c. 1850

As Sonia Arrison, author of 100 Plus, suggests, longevity is partly a matter of spare parts. As we further decode the human genome and develop more sophisticated transplantation techniques, we may well be able to recreate just about any organ of the human body and then install it as a replacement for the “rusted” part. Add to this our rapidly expanding pharmacological armamentarium, and you can begin to imagine that a century from now we may well push the lifespan limit onwards towards two centuries or more.

At her website, Ms. Arrison writes: “Humanity is on the cusp of an exciting longevity revolution. The first person to live to 150 years has probably already been born.”

Just one person living that long would be news, but if the average lifespan jumps to 150, it’s a paradigm shift, and the implications will be great for social policy and perhaps (although not necessarily) for the Church. Consider: a Catholic baby born yesterday may marry in 2031 and die in 2161. If he or she weds another Catholic who lives as long, they’ll have shared a 131-year marriage! Does this change the sacrament? It shouldn’t. But it’ll sure change retirement. Will that begin at 100? How much money will be required to fund a couple’s half-century in the sun? Will government fund it? As the word of the moment describes it, that’ll be unsustainable.

Although we’ll all welcome cures for cancer and Alzheimer’s, good Catholics, we assume, will never avail themselves of medical procedures to artificially extend a woman’s childbearing years. But if you’re going to live to be 150 your finances had better be shipshape, and a good way to ensure that would be to have at least a dozen kids, each of whom would have a dozen kids, and pretty soon you’ve got hundreds if not thousands of progeny (great- and great-great-grandkids: remember how long you’re living) contributing financial support for your old age. A little from each would compound nicely, although you’ll be dividing up the largess among the dozens (if not hundreds) of other grand-persons in the extended family, which may better be described as a “clan” or a “tribe” or even, getting back to Genesis, a “nation.” You’ll need an Excel spreadsheet just to work out who visits whom at Christmas. You’ll want to rent Rhode Island for the weekend of that tribal reunion, and Rhode Island surely will be for rent. I’m kidding. But consider what some humorless souls are calling transhumanism:

Unguided, natural evolution has done all it could hope to do. Transhumanists believe that from here on out, humans should take up the reins and craft the evolution of our species using nanotech, genetics, pharmaceuticals, and augmentations to go above and beyond our biology. [Emphases added.]

Was there ever a more portentous use of the word “unguided”? Leon Kass offers kudos to life-extension scientists, but adds: “may our children and grandchildren continue to reap their ever tastier fruit – but without succumbing to their seductive promises of a perfect, better-than-human future, in which we shall all be as gods, ageless and blissful.” Medical progress is one thing – usually a very good thing – but if “from here on out” our way forward is directed by transhumanists, we will be living under the aegis of just such an elite as the author of the epistle of James (4:4) addressed:

Adulterers! Do you not know that to be a lover of the world means enmity with God? Therefore, whoever wants to be a lover of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 

We are meant for death, and death is not our enemy.

Brad Miner
is senior editor of The Catholic Thing, a senior fellow of the Faith & Reason Institute, and a board member of Aid to the Church In Need USA. One of his books, 
The Compleat Gentleman, was published in a revised edition in 2009.
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

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Comments (11)Add Comment
written by Manfred, September 25, 2011
My business is the area of financial and estate planning and I meet clients of intelligence and means every day. I have known some for years and they are quite candid with me.
They look at their lives as one Long March to raise money to spend on the high costs of living in this area, the education of their children and "putting something away" for their retirement. Then they have been dealing with the external world of finance since 2008 and an economy resulting from a collapsing empire. Two income families have become a necessity. They will admit that life makes very little sense to them, religion, even for serious Catholics, is almost a hobby, and they await the day they pass from this earth quickly so they don't spend ten years in a nursing home with a festoon of dribble from the left side of their mouths due to the stroke they suffered when they were eighty-three. It is an interesting piece, Brad, and I look forward to the feedback from the readers.
written by Grump, September 25, 2011
Interesting piece, Brad. Imagine what living to 969 would do to the Social Security trust fund! Methusaleh likely would have not collected even a tenth. Then what would he have done? Even 150 would break the Treasury so perhaps it's best that we be satisfied to get our "biblical 70".

As for age, what does it matter what number you reach? As Mark Twain said, "Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter."
written by debby, September 25, 2011
Today's epistle from St. Paul to the Philippians 2:1-11 is perhaps the most recognizable of the Pauline passages; it is among my favorite. I hear the "....that at the NAME of JESUS, every knee must bend...." and the very hair on my head tingles with expectancy, longing, hope and the "let me bend now my Lord, now and then," plea arises in my heart with tears streaming behold Him and be so honored to be low before Him.....
but the passages opens with a great appeal from St. Paul. For a complete oneness, for humility, for imitation of Christ's own emptying instead of Adam's grasping. Isn't this grasping of Eden's apple the lie of our culture? Our 21st Century culture of Death: birth control, abortion, sterilization, euthanasia, pulling-the-plug and denying food and water on the one hand, denying and killing present life, yet All-Powerful in the name of progress and science, pouring countless dollars into an abyss of transplants, stem-cells, life extensions?
Only the very kenosis of Christ lived and poured out in our own lives will complete both the "joy of St. Paul" and bring the life everlasting we all long for. "So in life or in death, we are the Lord's."
written by DrMac, September 26, 2011
Malthusian nightmare.
written by Mike, September 26, 2011
Moderns scoff at multi-century lifespans in the bible. But what if today the AIDS virus were to become spreadable by mosquitoes, to everyone on earth, and there were no cure or treatment? Children would all be born with it, and we would live to be 20 or 30 at most, dying of other diseases and infections we would be unable to fight off. Eventually in the future, people would scoff at the stories of lifespans of 80, 90 and 100 as if they too were mythical.

How do we know something like this didn't happen in the past, an inbred infection that has made us lose our 500-year life expectancy? These stories could be true.
written by Howard, September 26, 2011
A more plausible scenario is one in which "youth" is guaranteed up to age 70, when the "Sandmen" come to put you down -- unless you're one of the "best and brightest", say, a US President-for-Life, in which case your life is extended indefinitely.

But the MOST plausible scenario is this:
"For the hoary social curse
Gets hoarier and hoarier,
And it stinks a trifle worse
Than in The days of Queen Victoria,
When They married and gave in marriage,
They danced at the County Ball,
And some of them kept a carriage,

Perhaps this time it would be an epidemic rather than a flood, but the idea is the same.
written by Steve, September 26, 2011
People have been willing to do extreme things to limit population when longevity is in the mid to 3/4 century range. If a rich powerful elite discerns that they can be living hundreds of years the desire to suppress, control and limit the masses will be .....
written by TeaPot562, September 27, 2011
Demographically, the problem in Social Security is that we have TOO FEW people of working age to support the people who want to retire. This isn't Malthus; Au Contraire!
In Greece, twenty-five sets of four grandparents, (100) on average, have only forty-two grandchildren to support them. Is it surprising that the Greek government cannot continue making the retirement payments they are currently making to their oldsters?
In the USA, the "Woodstock generation" failed to give birth to enough children to support them IF they retired as early as age 67. How about 70? How about 73? If you don't have enough children to support your retirement, you better work long enough to save PLENTY. (Twelve years of retirement income? Maybe fifteen?)
written by Fred, September 27, 2011
The "average" age of people has nothing to do with longevity, Brad. Longevity has to do with whether man's body itself can survive past, say, 120 years. The "average" age when people die has to do with general health. and, it's even more absurd to think that a 40 year old in 1850 was the equivalent of an 80 year old today. Even if most people died by age 40 in 1850, which isn't the case if you exclude infant mortality, a 40 year old then is the same as a 40 year old today. (Except that he probably dressed and behaved like an adult and didn't run around in jeans, Reebocks and T-shirt like his 14 year-old son).
written by dpence, September 29, 2011
"We are meant for death and death is not our enemy." I would never argue for excessive prolongation of life as fallen man's medical goal but it is quite wrong and careless terminology to see death as anything but our enemy. It is death which was slain at Calvary.
written by indignantcatholic, October 02, 2011
There is a flaw in this article. God indeed changeg His mind and reduced the human lifespan. We can read it in Genesis 6, 3: "And God said: My spirit shall not remain in man for ever, because he is flesh, and his days shall be a hundred and twenty years". The meaning is, that man's days, which before the flood were usually 900 years, should now be reduced to 120 years. That was a punishment established by God on account of the sins of the men on earth.

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