Thursday, August 31, 2017

My Spirit shall not abide in man forever

Mining data from some 75,000 Dutch people whose exact ages were recorded at the time of death, statisticians at Tilburg and Rotterdam's Erasmus universities pinned the maximum ceiling for female lifespan at 115.7 years. 
Men came in slightly lower at 114.1 years in the samples taken from the data which spans the last 30 years, said Professor John Einmahl, one of three scientists conducting the study.
This immediately brought to mind Genesis 6:3:

Then the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.”

I have read over the years some atheists who claim one way to prove the inspiration of the Bible is for God to have handed down some sort of information that was unknowable to ancient people, such as a scientific formula that could only be understood with generations of scientific progress. Perhaps, for example, finding Ohm’s Law snug between two laws in Deuteronomy. Setting aside the likelihood that a later scribe would probably erase such a (to him) nonsensical set of symbols as an interpolation or similar erratum, the presence of such a formula in the Bible would demonstrate, or at least heavily support, divine authorship.

(I am at a disadvantage here in formulating this argument, as it is the sort of objection (?) I have encountered and broadly understand, but wouldn’t know what the best formulation might look like.)

The evidence that the maximum human age is approximately 120 seems like the sort of scientific truth that meets the conditions set above. It is hard to imagine how an ancient, largely nomadic people could have discovered the maximum age anyone could live was approximately 120 years. (I say “approximately” because a lot of numbers in the Old Testament are rounded, and I don’t see why this one wouldn’t be either.) Record keeping wasn’t the best, and there wasn’t exactly the infrastructure—or the interest—in carrying out statistically significant population studies.

I doubt it will convince many skeptics, but it does provide, at least for me, support for the inspiration of this passage.


  1. I take it you don't give credence to the interpretation that the "120 years" is the time left before the Flood.

  2. We'll see people pressing on that number soon ... all kinds of talk about enabling human telomeres to endure longer, etc. Although, I'm not sure why a 100 year old person would want to try to live another 50 years.

  3. The meaning of Genesis 6:4 is not clear. The Old Testament notes people after the flood living longer than 120 years. The oldest verified person was 122 years, 164 days.

  4. ---
    I say “approximately” because a lot of numbers in the Old Testament are rounded...

    There's also the fact that a Hebrew year wasn't 365 days (like we have now, plus leap days and even leap seconds and all that jazz).

  5. Jayman, people after the flood lived longer than 120 years but the long lifespans seem to be phasing out. So that would mean that God's command was not intended to be immediate, but a limitation that was phased in over a handful of generations.

    Of course there is still the issue if whether or not the large lifespan numbers are symbolic. There remains ongoing debate about that.