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The Story

New research suggests the maximum life span for humans is somewhere between 120 and 150 years.

The Background

A recent study published in published in Nature Communications puts the maximum life span for humans at somewhere between 120 and 150 years.

“[The researchers behind the study] are asking the question of ‘What’s the longest life that could be lived by a human complex system if everything else went really well, and it’s in a stressor-free environment?’” says Heather Whitson, director of the Duke University Center for the Study of Aging and Human Development, who was not involved in the paper. The results point to an underlying “pace of aging” that sets the limits on lifespan.

The research finds that even if we omit the usual causes of death—such as chronic disease or accidents—our body’s capacity to “restore equilibrium to its myriad structural and metabolic systems after disruptions” (i.e., return to a state of normal health) fades with time. Even if we make it through life with few stressors, writes Emily Willingham, this incremental decline sets the maximum life span for humans at somewhere between 120 and 150 years.

What It Means

The book of Genesis directly claims not only that Noah lived to be 950 years, but that several men lived more than 700 years, including Adam, who lived to be 930, and Methuselah, who lived to be 969. Using the accepted rules of biblical interpretation, we have to conclude the Bible is saying that these men truly did live for nearly a millennium.

If Scripture makes such a clear factual claim, why do we have such a hard time believing it? Perhaps because we think it’s not possible. The longest we think people can live is about 120 years (the oldest well-documented modern lifespan was that of Jeanne Calment, who lived to be 122). In this case, what we need is not to consider just the biblical interpretation but how we interpret nature, or the natural world.

“God has, in fact, written two books, not just one,” said Sir Francis Bacon, the man who invented the scientific method. “Of course, we are all familiar with the first book he wrote, namely Scripture. But he has written a second book called creation.” Sometimes we need to interpret Scripture based on what we know from reading the book of creation. But sometimes we have to interpret creation based on what we are told in Scripture. The lifespan of man is a prime example.

The claim that a man could live for 950 years was less plausible when Moses wrote the book of Genesis than it is today. Back then it sounded unbelievably absurd. But based on the latest scientific research, we now know there is no inevitable fixed limit to human longevity.

Why then do humans today not live for 950 years or longer? Why do we live less than a century? The natural reason is what we call aging, or what scientists refer to as senescence. Senescence is the gradual deterioration of a biological organism, usually at the cellular level. According to the biomedical gerontologist Aubrey de Grey, there are seven causes of aging, all a result of damage to our cells: (1) cell loss, (2) death resistant cells, (3) nuclear DNA mutations, (4) mitochondrial DNA mutations, (5) intracellular junk, (6) extracellular junk, and (7) extracellular crosslinks.

This is the primary reason our current pace-of-aging limits our lifespans to below 150 years. However, some researchers, like de Grey, think aging could eventually be reversed, and that within 100 years humans will be able to live indefinitely. Other researchers think we’re not even close to coming up with a cure for aging.

What most all agree on, though, is that it is possible in theory to reverse the effects of senescence. It’s almost like someone turned a knob in our cells that prevents us from living more than 120 years. In fact, according to the Bible, that is essentially what happened. Because of the wickedness of humankind, God says in Genesis 6:3, “My Spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal; their days will be a hundred and twenty years.”

We can believe both that Noah lived to be 950 and that God has since limited the maximum human lifespan to 120 years. And neither ultimately conflicts with a scientific understanding of the world. When we correctly interpret both of “God’s books”—Scripture and creation—they will never ultimately be in conflict because all truth is God’s truth.