Quest for longevity reminds us nothing’s more certain than death


A headline on a story in The New York Times by Pagan Kennedy, who often writes interesting articles, declares "No Magic Pill Will Get You to 100."

Now, I found this article interesting in part because it is a parallel argument to one I've been making for years.

Years ago, I received a call from a reporter from one of the nation's most influential newspapers. As a matter of fact, the very same newspaper. The reporter asked me, "Who would be the most credible faith healer to talk to?" And without skipping a beat, I simply said, "I wouldn't talk to one and wouldn’t consider one credible who is less than, say, 300 years old."

My point was simply this: There is no credibility to those who claim the word faith, health and wealth gospel and those who claim the power to defy death. Well, the fact is they die right on time.

But in a parallel argument, Kennedy is writing about the fact that those who have promised longevity by diets or other kinds of health mechanisms, well, history record they've died right on time too, sometimes even earlier than the norm.

Kennedy writes: "In the field of anti-aging and longevity research, self-experiments are all the rage." She cites many of them but then she goes on to say that many Americans are imitating those who are promising longevity and, well, very long and fruitful life if you will just follow their diet or their mechanism or take their drugs or their medical treatment.

But after citing so many of these, she asked the question: How much do our individual choices really matter? She says that question centered on what she describes as a safari through the obituary pages "hunting for dead longevity experts so that I could find out how their experiments had ended."

She says that in the 1930s an American nutritionist named Clive McCay designed a low-calorie diet for his lab rats at Cornell. They gave them all the nutrients they needed but kept them as thin as supermodels and she says presumably ravenous. She went on to write and I quote: "The diet seemed to act like a time machine and Dr. McCay's hungry rats maintained their dapper glossy coats of fur and frisk about their cages. Their well-fed counterparts doddered about in shabby coats and then died."

"In the laboratory today are two male white rats that are the equivalent in age to men more than 130 years old." Those are words from Dr. McCay himself, as Kennedy says, promoting the benefits of caloric restriction.

"Though trim and athletic, he had two strokes and died at 69,” she reported.
Later, she cites another scientist, Dr. Roy Walford. He also claimed that a strict diet could double the span of mice and, according to Kennedy, he stuck to about a 1,600-calorie-a-day diet. He was promising about 120 years. He actually wrote a work entitled the 120 Year Diet but he died at a fairly young age.

Some will remember decades ago the man she describes as "the wild foods enthusiast" Euell Gibbons. She says he was far ahead of his time and his advocacy of a diverse plant diet, but he died at age 64. The nutritionist, Adelle Davis who helped to wake millions of people to the dangers of refined foods, died at 70.
Nathan Pritikin, one of the foremost champion of low-fat diets died at 69, nearly the same age as Dr. Robert Atkins who believed in the opposite diet regimen.

But then perhaps the greatest parable Kennedy reported: "Then there is Jerome Rodale, founder of the publishing empire dedicated to health. In 1971, Dick Cavett invited Mr. Rodale onto his TV show after reading a New York Times Magazine article that called him the guru of the organic food cult. Mr. Rodale then age 72, took his chair next to Mr. Cavett and then proclaimed that he would live to be 100. And then within seconds, he made a snoring sound and died." We are then told that the recorded episode never aired.

Kennedy's article goes on and on but from a Christian biblical worldview perspective, the most important thing to recognize is that mortality is simply a part of humanity. It has been ever since Adam, and it will be until Jesus comes. The secular worldview is still looking for some kind of salvation from mortality by diet or blood transfusion or just about anything, and of course, Silicon Valley right now is rushing into a head-long experiment pouring billions of dollars into longevity research. But it's likely to end up just like that unaired episode of the Dick Cavett Show.

Thanks mostly to changes in public health, life expectancy has increased for the average American and also for the average person around the world, but we are still essentially and chronologically very mortal. The fact that Kennedy called her research "a safari through to the obituary pages" actually makes the point. We all end up there one way or another pretty much on time. The obsessive seeking after a secular salvation will end up, well, just as this article makes clear, only in the obituary pages. Salvation is found only in Christ, never in a diet, never in a pill, never in anything or anyone else.


Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, offers a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview. This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


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