Science in Christian Perspective



Length of Life

From: JASA 13 (June 1961):

One of the most stimulating scientific authors writing today is Dr. Hans Selye, whose 600 articles and 12 books have been widely circulated in many languages throughout the world. Writing with a unique combination of warm humor coupled with a keen understanding of human nature, Dr. Selye has demons:trated a rare skill for presenting complex medical theories in a manner understandable to the everyday citizen. Born in Vienna in 1907, Dr. Selye received his medical degree from the Germl~n University of Prague in 1929 and, two years later, his Doctorate in Philosophy from the same institution. A Rockefeller Research Fellowship brought him to John Hopkins and subsequently he moved to the University of Montreal where he is now Director of the Institute of Experimental Medicine and Surgery. His most recent article entitled "What Makes Basic Research Basic?" appeared in January 24, 1959, in the "Adventures of the Mind" series being published by the Saturday Evening Post.. However, it is his General Adaptation Syndrome Theory, concerning the stress of life, for which he is being widely heralded throughout the medical world as having made a major contribution to the course of modern medicine.

Although developed from a purely scientific point of view by Dr. Selye, this theory nevertheless has some far-reaching implications when applied to the problem of longevity in the early chapters of the Bible. Thus it is of particular significance to any Christian who, at one time or another, has had some uneasy twinges of uncertainty in attempting to reconcile the great spans of life outlined in Genesis 5 with the relatively few years now lived by man.

To the avowed skeptic, of course, the fact that "all the days of Methuselah were nine hundred sixty and nine years" is just another evidence of the inaccuracy of the Bible. To the skeptic the fact that Lamech is reported to have lived seven hundred and seventyseven years is further proof of the foolishness of accepting the Biblical account. Even the somewhat reduced ages found later in Genesis 11 are subjects of his scorn because even they run well over man's normal life expectancy today.

Many have been the theological gymnastics attempted by more conservative Bible scholars in order to bring such "implausible" age spans into better harmony with present-day experience. Some have argued that the earlier records suffered in transmission or that the "year" was different from our present

*Mr. Slocum is Executive Director of the Christian Business Men's Committee of New York City. He holds a Th.M. degree from Dallas Theological Seminary.

one. Others have suggested -that the disparity is due to the rapid spread of disease. Still others have quietly sidestepped the whole problem. Some, however, have been content to face the fact that here 44

lem as yet unanswered and to look for its expalmulftin God's chosen time. Perhaps these latter

shown the better wisdom when considered in the light of Dr. Selye's new hypothesis.

As popularly expounded in his book, The Stress of Life, Dr. Selye postulates that each of us is bom with a certain store of adaptation energy from which we draw to meet the wear and tear of life. He states, "Life is essentially a process which gradually spends the given amount of adaptation energy that we inherited from our parents." Furthermore, since it is not possible for us to replenish this store, Dr. Selye says our length of life depends upon the speed of its consumption. Taking an example from everyday life, he likens vitality to "a special kind of bank account which you can use by withdrawals but cannot increase by deposits." Thus, the only control one has over this most precious fortune is the rate at which the withdrawals are made.

In answer to those who believe that, after having exposed themselves to very stressful activities, a rest cAn restore them to where they were before, Dr. Selye says that such a view is misleading. His experimentshave shown that "each exposure leaves an indelible scar, in that it uses up reserves of adaptability which cannot be replaced," and just a little deficit in adaptation energy every day adds up to what we call aging.

In pursuing this thesis, Dr. Selye points out:

Due to the great advances made by classic medicine during the last half century, premature death caused by specific disease producers (microbes, malnutrition, etc.) has declined at a phenomena] rate. As a result of this, the average human life span increased in the United States from 48 years in 1900 to 69.8 years in 1956. But since everybody still has to die sometime ... an ever-increasing proportion of the human population dies from the so-called wear-and-tear diseases, or degenerative diseases, which are primarily due to stress.

He summarizes this by saying:

Life is a continuous series of adaptations to our surroundings and, as far as we know, our reserve of adaptation energy is an inherited finite amount which cannot be regenerated. (Nevertheless) I am sure we could still enormously lengthen the average human life span by living in better harmony with natural laws. [My italics.]

Special note should be taken of his use of the word "enormously" in connection with the possibilities of increasing the average human life span. In substantiation of this very startling statement, Dr. Selye asserts that in all his autopsies he has never yet seen a man who died of old age, nor does he think anyone ever has. "To die of old age would mean that all the organs of the body would be worn out proportionately merely by having been used too long." Thus would be accomplished the ideal objective of medical science. However, man invariably dies because, due to uneven stress, one vital organ has worn out too soon in proportion to the rest of his body. Since this is so, Dr. Selye is "certain that the natural human life span is far in excess of the actual one" of today. [My italics.]

Here then is a world-recognized medical scientist who, based upon careful research and extended experimentation, is convinced that given wisdom to properly adjust to the demands of life, man could enormously lengthen his average life span by living in better harmony with natural laws.

While not attempting to evaluate the scientific merits of Dr. Selye's hypothesis, it is interesting to note that his suggestions tend to corroborate what the Bible has stated simply as fact for these many generations. Furthermore, the correlation between Dr. Selye's theory and the Biblical record is even more precise than appears at first glance. Not only is his theory axiomatic, but the Bible offers the answer as to at just what point in history mankind lost this ability to live in proper harmony with natural laws. Despite the fact that Genesis 3 outlines the fall of man, Genesis 5 goes on to outline the genealogical list of some who lived to such extended ages after the flood and so we conclude that even though man was separated from God by the fall, he still was able to live in some reasonable harmony with natural laws. It would seem that, up to this point, the tensions in man's life were for the most part due only to his estrangement from God. As we read on, however, a noteworthy event appears which takes -on great significance in the light of Dr. Selye's theory. It is in Genesis 11 that we read of man's willful defiance of God at Babel and the subsequent judgment of the diversity of language. Here is the division of mankind into countless fragments with the result of conflict between mankind ever after. Certainly history has confirmed this ever since.

It is interesting to reflect that it was with this division into many separate groups that man's tensions multiplied, and that such.multiplied tensions directly effected the drastic curtailment in life expectancy. Nor can it be argued that this is not so just because Genesis I I follows with a list of ages that are many times greater than those today. The significant fact is that the ages in Genesis 11 are a recap of those who lived during the time of the division, and already it is to be noted that there is a sharp decline in life from over 600 years to somewhere around 200 years or less.

Although conflicts were obviously present in man's effort to set up a society apart from God, it is with this separation into many national fragments (each within its own limiting barriers of language) that man's tensions really intensified. Peace was no longer possible. justice became, at best, a relative matter. Oppression was more the rule than the exception. Poverty and hunger were common experiences. Man lived in constant fear and unrest. Certainly these same factors in our present-day society are those for which the psychologists blame much of the anxieties and tensions that claim men's minds and shrivel their souls.

If it be true, therefore, that man's life expectancy sharply declined because of the sudden increase in the tensions of life, then the interesting question is raised as to whether the Bible promises a yet future time when all such tensions will be removed and, if so, just what the effect will be. Man, of course, is striving to accomplish this very thing through human means as may be witnessed in the United Nations. However, it is God alone who can remove such divisions and prophecy confirms that such will actually take place with the Second Advent of the King! At the return of the Lord to earth the removal of such tensions will at once become reality. Scripture abounds wi-th statements concerning the glories of this period when there will be universal peace and joy throughout the world. There will then be perfect justice because of the presence of the Lord. All language will be one and worship will be without fear of enemy or oppression. A perfect economy will provide abounding prosperity and once more nature will be in perfect harmony. Among all these blessings (and probably because of them) will also be a longevity of life which will once again extend to many hundreds of years. Isaiah 65:20. Thus it would seem that the validity of Dr. Selye's theory is further attested by the Biblical prophecy that as soon as the tensions between men are removed there will be a time when once again man's life expectancy will parallel those in Genesis 5.

In this age when science is daily uncovering new areas for exploration, it would seem wise for today's skeptic to adopt a somewhat cautious position in his approach to the Biblical revelation and particularly so in regard to this matter of the langevity of life when considered in the light of Dr. Selye's theory.