Tom’s out sick from the 2018 Higher Things conference in Lawrence, KS. Does that mean his breakout session on the Lifespan of the Ancients is kaput? Thanks to the modern technology of podcasting—by no means!

Listen in as Tom asks the question: does Adam’s lifespan defy credulity? Or is it another example of the truth being stranger than fiction?

In this BONUS episode, Thomas Lemke proposes scientific mechanisms responsible for the dramatic decline in human longevity since the flood. Turns out it’s not just possible for the ancients to have lived for centuries—based on modern discoveries it’s downright likely!


Tom’s notes:

  • Could it be that ancient man lived three, four, five… or even nine hundred years old?
  • This is a sticking point for skeptics
    • 126 years old
  • We have a dilemma
  1. The Genesis account speaks of men routinely living into their 900s
  2. In our day we see folks topping out not long after 100
  • Outside of faith it sounds fantastic to us because it’s outside of our experience
    • Does that mean it’s not so?
      • Don’t discount ancient stories just because they seem too fantastic
      • Dragons sounded fantastic too – and then we found dinosaur bones
    • Discernment is one thing – encouraged
    • But don’t rule it out based on nothing but skepticism for things we don’t have first-hand experience with
    • Avoid chronological snobbery (anachronism)
    • Just because modern people don’t, does that mean our ancestors couldn’t?
    • Don’t assume we have exhaustive knowledge of the ancients
      • Neanderthals, for instance
  • Look at what scripture says – does it jive?
    • Let’s take a look and find out
  1. Scripture tells us that man was created to be essentially immortal
  2. The threat of the consequences for defying God’s command was that of death
  3. The command was broken, and the sentence carried out, the first man stopped breathing at 930
  4. Men for nine more generations lived most commonly more than 900 years old
  5. A man called Noah was called to build an enormous boat and set to the task even though he was over 500 years old at the time – so by all accounts in top shape
  6. A cataclysmic flood swept over the entire globe, wiping out every living creature save those native to the sea and those on the ark
  7. The following generations born successively after the flood saw shorter and shorter lifespans until, by Moses’ time 800 years later, 70 or 80 was the norm
  8. And that trend continues until today
  • There it is – that’s what the Bible says
It’s one thing to say “don’t worry about it, just trust your Bible”
I want to take it a step further
Ask the question:
  • Is it plausible that this happened based on our limited scientific knowledge?
  • Absolutely. Let’s talk mechanisms
    • Firstly, what really is aging? What causes it?
    • Compromised cellular function – as the result of:
      • Slowed cell turnover
      • Loss of ability to restore damaged tissues
      • Reduced ability to remove exogenous and endogenous toxins
        • Resulting in the buildup of damaging substances
      • Cell death
  • But why do those things happen? In the words of aging researcher Bernard Strehler, “genetic damage (particularly gene loss) is almost certainly (or probably the) central cause of aging.”
    • Why?
  • Healthy cellular function is dependent upon a healthy genetic code producing normal molecules
    • If the blueprint contained in the DNA is altered and unhealthy, the product will often be as well
  • The more genetic mutations, the more problems like this you will have
    • With structural proteins
    • With enzymes
  • Sickle cell anemia example (structural)
    • Altered DNA
    • Altered hemoglobin
  • Progeria example (structural)
    • Altered DNA
    • Altered prelamin A
  • Structural is relatively straightforward, enzymes are a whole new bag of fun
  • Healthy cellular function is dependent upon a legion of molecular substrates and products
    • For instance, you eat a potato and the glucose (substrate) is turned into energy (the product) through a series of reactions
    • Or, you drink alcohol (substrate), and your body turns it into water and carbon dioxide (products)
      • That’s right, you turn wine into water
    • These reactions require several catalysts, without which the reaction would halt
    • These catalysts are almost always enzymes
  • How does your body make enzymes?
    • By relying on the blueprints in your genetic code
  • What happens if the blueprint isn’t there?
    • This happens with genetic damage (called mutations)
    • No blueprint, no enzyme (or a misshapen one that doesn’t work, just like hemoglobin in sickle cell)
  • Phenylketonuria example
    • Genetic mutation to DNA coding for phenylalanine hydroxylase
    • Phenylalanine to tyrosine blocked
    • Phenylalanine to phenylketone instead
  • Cockayne syndrome example (very meta)
    • Genetic mutation to gene regions coding for DNA repair proteins
    • Causes rapid aging (think Indiana Jones and the last crusade with a longer time-lapse)
  • Think you’re not a mutant?: Vitamin C example
    • l-gulono-g-lactone into ascorbic acid
    • L-gulonolactone oxidase
  • Everyone on this planet is affected by scores of these mutations, many of which are still undiscovered
  • All of which shorten our lifespan due to their effect on optimizing cells function, benefits which we do not enjoy
    • 100s to 1000s of mutations per generation
    • Most benign, but certain bad ones have accumulated
    • But the ancients would not have had these in their time, by definition
  • So what I put forth is this:
    • If aging is the result of compromised cellular function
    • And if genetic mutations resulting in defective structural proteins and enzymes take away cellular function and our ability to preserve cellular function
    • It stands to reason that, if we were to walk back these genetic defects, we could end up with an organism with a vastly greater capacity for longevity
    • In other words, knowing what we know, it is more than plausible for the ancients to have outlived us by a factor of 10x
  • So what happened?
    • Great question
  • Ages of the antediluvian patriarchs:
1 Adam 930
2 Seth 912
3 Enosh 905
4 Cainan 910
5 Mahalalel 895
6 Jared 962
7 Enoch 365 (translated)
8 Methuselah 969
9 Lamech 777
10 Noah 950
  • 10 Generations of consistency
    • Serious mutations had yet to accumulate
    • Also, it’s possible the antediluvian environment was more hospitable in general
  • Then something catastrophic happened: The Flood
  • Changed the face of the world, and I would argue the environment, forever
  • Ages of post diluvian patriarchs:
11 Shem 600
12 Arphaxad 438
13 Shelah 433
14 Eber 464
15 Peleg 239
16 Reu 239
17 Serug 230
18 Nahor 148
19 Terah 205
20 Abraham 175
  • Then several generations later, Moses wrote the 90th psalm saying “The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty.”
  • Natural (or, “exponential”) decay rate
  • Over time a dynamic equilibrium was achieved
  • Something happened about the time of the flood that dramatically altered mankind’s longevity.
  • Probably several things:
  1. The flood altered the environment in incalculable ways
    • Possibly giving rise to new or increased levels of mutagens
    • Possibly reducing levels of beneficial compounds
      • O2, maybe
    • Altering mankind’s food supply
  2. The genetic bottleneck effect
    • Only Noah’s, his wife’s, and the three son’s wives’ DNA left
    • Any mutations they had accumulated were locked in
    • No descendant would have hope of overcoming them by virtue of other genetic material
    • Vit C
  • Humanity found a new baseline for longevity over the generations
    • But you would not call an Alzheimer’s sufferer’s baseline of confusion and memory loss “normal”
    • You would call it the result of decay (the wages of sin)
    • In the same way, our current, reduced baseline for lifespan is not normal
    • It is also the result of decay playing out on our physiology
  • Yet somehow skeptics feel that this current baseline provides ample reason to scoff
    • Can you imagine a civilization of Cockayne syndrome sufferers in four thousand years scoffing at the idea that once people lived to 90?
    • That’s the skeptic
  • We’ve come to accept aging as a normal process
    • As I’ve shown, it is a cellular process
    • And cellular processes can be altered
  • Christians contend that these cellular processes have been altered, from the time of the patriarchs until now
  • I believe research in the next ten years will discover even more enzymatic pathways that have been altered
    • Recognition of how much the decay of our genome has ravaged our lifespans will increase
    • Christian trust in the Scriptures will be vindicated again
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