Eden: The Sequel

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 the Senior Editor of The Catholic Thing and a Senior Fellow of the Faith & Reason Institute. He is a former Literary Editor of National Review. His most recent book, Sons of St. Patrick, written with George J. Marlin, is now on sale. His The Compleat Gentleman is now available in a third, revised edition from Regnery Gateway and is also available in an Audible audio edition (read by Bob Souer). Mr. Miner has served as a board member of Aid to the Church In Need USA and also on the Selective Service System draft board in Westchester County, NY.