New Discoveries About Aging
Have a Biblical Connection
-Sam A. Smith
August 1, 2005. New information on the impact of mitochondrial DNA mutations on aging published in the July 15, 2005 edition of Science (Vol. 309, Issue 5733, 481-484) suggests that accumulated errors from mutations are more likely to be the cause of aging than the production of free radicals leading to cell damage. There might be a biblical connection to this finding.
Old Testament interpreters have long suggested that in the pre-flood era, there was a vapor canopy covering the earth’s atmosphere (cf. Gen. 2:5-6) that contributed to a greenhouse-like effect. Some observational evidence also suggests this might have been the case. (Tropical vegetation and large oil deposits found in arctic regions suggest there might have been a greenhouse effect in the earth’s atmosphere at one time, though the case from Scripture is inconclusive.) The notion that certain changes in the earth’s atmosphere occurred at the time of the universal flood may have some bearing on this issue. The graph below illustrates the decline in human longevity after the flood.
Two current theories link aging with exposure to cosmic radiation (or to substances exposed to such radiation)—the accumulation of error theory and the free Radical theory. If there is a connection between aging and levels of cosmic radiation penetrating the atmosphere (cosmic radiation can damage DNA directly or indirectly), the decline in longevity after the flood may indicate that significant changes in the earth’s ability to either filter (atmospherically) or shield cosmic radiation (magnetically) occurred at the time the Bible alleges the flood to have occurred. This, if true, could be a historical clue to a major environmental catastrophe (the biblical flood), and could serve to confirm, in part, the biblical account of history. Even those who reject the message of the Bible must confess that it seems quite beyond coincidence that we possess an ancient document with a uniformly declining longevity curve, recording data from the exact time in history that it purports a global environmental catastrophe occurred—a catastrophe that could reasonably be related to what modern science now thinks to be the cause of aging—genetic mutation, possibly affected in some way by cosmic radiation.
While this does not mean that the research cited confirms the biblical record, it is an interesting correlation between modern science and the ancient text that bears further scrutiny. It may well be that we are living on the verge of scientific discoveries that will demonstrate the reasonableness of the biblical account of history. This has already been the case in theoretical cosmology, and will likely be the case in the biological sciences in the near future.
As many are aware, biblical history and modern radiometric methods of laboratory dating are greatly at odds. There are several methods of radiometric dating; two of the most well known are Carbon 14 and Potassium-Argon.
Carbon 14 (a radioisotope produced when cosmic radiation bombards atmospheric nitrogen) combines with oxygen in the atmosphere to form carbon dioxide. Since plants take in carbon dioxide, C14 is introduced into the food chain where it is passed to animals. The half-life of C14 is 5,770 years. This means that in 5,770 years, half of the C14 will have decayed. In another 5,770 years, three quarters of the C14 will have decayed, and so the process continues. Since plants also take in C12 (a stable form of carbon) and the original ratio of C14 to C12 in the atmosphere is presumed to be known, measuring the proportion of the original C14 that has decomposed should allow the scientist to mathematically derive the approximate age of the sample. (Remember, living organisms cease to transpire at death. At that point the starting proportions of C14 to C12 are assumed to be known, i.e., approximately the same as current levels in the atmosphere.)
Unfortunately C14 dating is frequently wrong when used on samples of known age. The difficulty seems to be with the assumptions made by this dating process. At the very least those assumptions include the following. 1) The once living material in the sample has neither lost nor gained any C14 or C12 since the time of its death, i.e., no contamination of the sample. 2) The rate of C14 decay is constant over time. 3) The proportion of C14 to C12 in the atmosphere was not significantly different in the past. Of the three assumptions, the last is the most troubling. On this point, science relies on its uniformitarian assumption that physical processes were pretty much the same in the past (at least the last few million years) as today. However, this is an unproved assumption and there are numerous factors that could have changed the proportions of C14 to C12 in the atmosphere; the following are just a few examples. 1) Since C14 is a byproduct of the bombardment of the earth’s atmosphere by cosmic radiation (cosmic radiation converts nitrogen in the upper atmosphere into C14), any variation in the earth’s magnetic shield, or atmosphere could cause a variation in the proportions of C14 to C12. 2) An irregular influx of radiation would have the effect of producing “spikes” or “dips” in the proportions of C14 to C12 in the atmosphere, making this form of dating unreliable for the periods covered by these unstable influxes. 3) The levels of nitrogen in the atmosphere would need to be constant over time in order for this method of dating to be reliable. However, it has not been proven that the levels of nitrogen in the atmosphere have been constant. 4) Changes in the composition of the earth’s atmosphere could also affect the results of C14 dating.
If the Bible’s account of declining longevity is accepted, it might serve as evidence of the increase of cosmic radiation penetrating the earth’s atmosphere after the biblical flood. That in turn would have profound implications for the validity of radiometric dating methods that might be sensitive to fluctuations in cosmic radiation penetrating the atmosphere. We may someday discover that these radiometric dating systems are not as reliable as has been assumed by modern science.
Copyright 2005, The Biblical Reader / Sam A. Smith