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Tuesday, April 01, 2014
Wendy Wippel

A supplicant on ''Yahoo Answers'' asked recently how Genesis lifespans could be explained. (''especially with primitive medicine''). They also issued a disclaimer: ''I wouldn't be asking if I accepted this as fact''. Softball question. God created Adam, and he ''was good''. A better question? Why life spans dropped so precipitously. And now (as of 2009) we know.

The answers said supplicant got to his/her question, by the way, are really pretty entertaining:

"Nathan" offered that; "No skeletons have been found which support the notion of people living to such old ages. Quite the opposite. Disease was as rampant as today and more likely to kill you." (Ummm…the world that was perished? II Peter 3:6) "Also, the Flood never happened." (Really? Are you 10,000 years old?)

"Esmerelda V" made guesses: "Maybe it's made up." "Maybe if you have no birth certificates people exaggerate their age like some of the people who claim great ages today do."

"Yetis Enjoy Christians" proposed that all it took was a "steady diet of brontosaurus burgers".  (I think that was meant to be a jibe, but who knows?)

"Skeptic" opined that "they can be explained as a common mythological mechanism. Virtually every culture's indigenous mythos includes stories in which their ancestors are larger, stronger, and  longer-lived, than they themselves. The Sumerian "kings list" includes people who ruled for tens of thousands of years."

Skeptic finished his answer by saying, "Take that, Methuselah".

Skeptic, actually had his facts almost straight, although I would differ with his interpretation. When "virtually every culture" has the same mythology, the mythology is based on history. A fact lent much support actually, by the advent of DNA technologies to study history. Where DNA evidence has been utilized in studying ancient cultures, the reliably lines up behind the culture's mythology, and NOT the history constructed by archaeologists based on archaeology.

Historical records of other ancient cultures in the Near East, dismissed by archaeologists, also record life spans much longer than those now considered normal:

  • The Sumerian King List, inscribed on the Weld-Blundell Prism, did, in fact, record ten antediluvian kings with life spans in the thousands of years, which decline sharply after the flood.
  • The Lagash King list (also Sumerian) which records that people were children for 100 years, interestingly, the same length of childhood recorded by Greek author Hesiod in describing the "golden age".
  • Babylonian priest Berossus (about 300 BC) whose pre-flood king list also gave life spans in the thousands of years.
  • And, interestingly, all the king lists record sharp drops in life spans after the flood.

(So much for the motivation being proving that your ancestors were superior.  Take that, "Skeptic".)

And it's really the question of that precipitous drop (recorded consistently in ancient records, after a global flood that followed ten long-lived kings) that is the interesting part of the story. Because if all ancient histories record that drop, it must have actually occurred. And if it actually occurred, it has to have a scientific explanation. 

And as of 2009, it does. Two words: DNA. And telomeres.

The DNA inside your cells, most of the time, floats around inside the nucleus like a ball of yarn unwound. Every so often, however, the cell divides, and in preparation for division the DNA bundles itself up into the 46 chromosomes that each human cell contains.

When the DNA bundles up into chromosomes, at the end of each chromosome are repeating sequences of DNA called telomeres. (You can kind of envision this cap on the chromosome like the cap on your shoestrings.) These telomere “caps” protect the DNA, but they have very one additional, and very interesting function.

Every time the cell divides a little bit of the cap is shaved off. Over time (because of  repeated rounds of cell division) that little protective cap ends up acting as a tiny little lit fuse. When the cap is totally removed (and the fuse reaches the chromosome itself), it initiates a pre-appointed cell death called apoptosis. The cell, at a point pre-determined by its telomere size, commits suicide.

This biological countdown, a pre-programmed limit to human life, is called intrinsic senescence and is hard-wired into our physiology.

Job, a man thought to have lived shortly after the flood, eerily records an understanding of the physiological change that God had apparently wrought by the events surrounding the flood (involving a huge increase in ultraviolet light exposure with a decrease in water vapor in the atmosphere) in humankind:

"His days are determined, the number of his months are with thee, thou hast appointed his bounds that he cannot pass." Job 14:5

Job is expressing a biological reality, written into our genetic makeup, that determines, genetically, the human lifespan.

It's interesting that life spans, as recorded in Genesis, decline slowly but steadily before the flood, but then plummet after the flood before leveling off at current levels. 

God created Adam and Eve in the garden, and He said: "it is good". They were created perfect. But that was before The Fall. (Capitalized to distinguish it from September, October and November).

Before Eve and Adam swallowed the forbidden fruit.

The Bible tells us that at the fall, creation itself was subjected to corruption. (Romans 8:21) Adam and Eve, created immortal, became mortal beings. God told Adam and Eve that; "For dust you are, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:19)  Their DNA, created perfect, started to decay.

God also told them that,

"Cursed is the ground for your sake; In toil you shall eat of it All the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, And you shall eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread."

So isn't it interesting that stress has been shown to shave off telomeres in people with high levels of stress much faster than in people with low stress? And shaved telomeres mean fewer years lived.

But wait, there's more.

What do we know about the flood?  The Bible says that the excess water came from both under the patriarchs feet (the fountains of the great deep opened up) and from above their heads: for the first time, it rained. 

But it didn't just rain. It rained for 40 days and 40 nights. That's a lot of rain.  Which is why scientists theorize that there may have been a higher content of water vapor in the air at that point in history. A water canopy of sorts, that for some reason at-- the time of the flood --was abrogated and the water came raining down.

A water canopy that would, by definition, have blocked a lot of UV rays. And UV light causes mutation in our DNA. Your DNA and mine accrue 1000 UV-induced  mutations a day.

Fortunately, God designed in sophisticated repair processes, so that all of those, every day, are repaired.

But that's another story.

The fact that the release of the water canopy would have, by definition, increased UV exposure makes it doubly interesting that reports in just the last few years show that DNA damage in our cells requires additional cell replication to repair. And each cell replication shaves down the telomeres.

More simply, UV exposure shaves down the telomeres.

Which means that what the Bible describes--the release of a water canopy that would, by definition, increase UV exposure-- is exactly the mechanism that would produce drastic decreases in life spans.  Telomeres are the biological mechanism for what the Bible describes.

Point, Genesis.

Who knew?

About Wendy Wippel

Last week: Sunshine and Shadows

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