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Creation 40(3):40–43, July 2018

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Why don’t we live as long as Methuselah?

Extracted from chapters 15 and 24 of The Genesis Account



Probably the most striking feature of Genesis 5 is that our ancestors lived about 10 times longer than people do today; the longest recorded is Methuselah, living for 969 years. This should be believed because God’s Word says it, and He was an eye-witness. Modern science is now shedding light on possible mechanisms.

Fallacious explanation: pre-Flood paradise

Many creationist works from a few decades ago portrayed the antediluvian world as a paradise of sorts, horribly spoiled at the Flood. But this is not taught in Scripture. Furthermore, it obscures the teaching that the big spoiling of paradise occurred at the Fall. This was the time that death, childbirth pain, and thorns and thistles were introduced, when Adam and Eve were tossed out of the Edenic paradise, and when the whole creation started groaning in pain.

However, this pre-Flood paradise idea was very popular, because it supposedly explained how people before the Flood lived for over 900 years, while lifespans dropped exponentially after that. But there is insufficient geological evidence for this view—certainly not enough to overcome its severe problems:

Lamech’s explanation for his naming of his son Noah (5:29) suggests the opposite of a paradisiacal state: “Out of the ground that the Lord has cursed, this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the painful toil of our hands.” Here we have a direct statement that life before the Flood was hard and painful. If a model like ‘pre-Flood paradise’ was meant to be Bible-based, then this consideration alone might be enough to abandon it.

Noah’s lifespan wasn’t shortened despite spending the last third of his life in the alleged ruined environment. The decrease started only with his descendants.

Many fossils show clear evidence of disease, including tumours, gout, and osteoporosis, which hardly supports the idea that it was a healthier environment. Also, some pre-Flood fossilized trees have tree rings that indicate seasonal changes, not a uniformly warm climate. As for the alleged scientific evidence for a pre-Flood paradise, the following will show that it’s not so clear.

Higher atmospheric or oxygen partial pressure?

One idea for the pre-Flood world, derived partly from the fallacious pre-Flood paradise assumption, is that oxygen concentration or atmospheric pressure was higher than today. Indeed, with the abundant plant materials on Earth prior to the Flood (as attested by the huge amounts of coal worldwide) one might not expect the atmospheric concentrations of oxygen and carbon dioxide to be identical to modern values. As will be shown, however, this is not necessary. But the argument is that this higher oxygen partial pressure would have beneficial effects duplicated in today’s hyperbaric chambers.

Yet would this increased oxygen partial pressure be as beneficial as claimed? First, it’s well known that anti-oxidants have proven health benefits. Second, hypoxia (low oxygen) may actually have health benefits. In Russia, intermittent low-oxygen therapy has been used for years to treat conditions like asthma, heart disease and chemotherapy toxicity. Others are trying it for diabetes and chronic fatigue.1 Third, hyperbaric (high pressure) treatments are not always good. Sometimes the opposite—hypobaric treatments—are useful; there is such a thing as Negative Pressure Wound Therapy (NPWT).

To be fair, evolutionists have also proposed higher oxygen concentration or higher atmospheric pressure on Earth in the past, for some of the reasons below.2 Despite being supported by some scientific evidence, this argument does not hold up. The following are the main reasons adduced for higher pre-Flood oxygen:

Higher oxygen levels in amber air bubbles

Bubbles within amber are not a closed system—gases diffuse in and out. Furthermore, contraction under solidification would shrink bubbles, thus raising pressure according to the law named after the creationist ‘father of modern chemistry’, Sir Robert Boyle (1627–1691), that gas pressure is inversely proportional to volume. Also, even the formation of bubbles in itself must increase pressure, to counteract the resistance of surface tension to producing the new surface area of the inside of the bubble.

Pterosaurs needed high pressure to generate enough lift to fly

Previous models of pterosaur flight overlooked the function of the tiny pteroid bone that would have supported a controllable flap. This would greatly increase lift in both takeoff and landing.3,4

Gigantic insects could not have gained enough oxygen under normal pressure

Figure 1: Decay of lifespans from Noah to present-day. The decay curve is just what would be expected from accumulation of mutations. After Sanford, Genetic entropy.

The fossil record shows huge insects such as Meganeuropsis permiana, a dragonfly with a wingspan of 71 cm (28 inches). For a long time, scientists thought that insects didn’t breathe, and oxygen diffused passively through holes (spiracles) through tiny tubes in the abdomen (tracheae). Since this could work only over very short distances, how could such a creature survive without extra oxygen?5 Yet recent synchrotron X-ray microscopy shows that insects really do ‘breathe’ by squeezing the tracheae, such that half the gas is exchanged every second.6,7

Raising some insects in higher oxygen concentration did result in some of them increasing in size, although nothing remotely approaching Meganeuropsis. But some of the insects, such as cockroaches, did not enlarge.8,9

This doesn’t disprove a higher oxygen concentration and air pressure, but it shows that they were not needed scientifically. They are definitely not needed on biblical grounds.

Decreasing lifespans

Figure 2: Patriarch ages at death (light column) and recorded fatherhood (dark column); courtesy of Dr Robert Carter.

Since the change in environment is inadequate, in the 1990s, it was proposed that the decline in lifespans had genetic causes.10

Indeed a genetic basis for longevity has been demonstrated in animals, e.g. fruit flies, such that genes for longevity can be lost from a population. Recent research on the accumulation of mutations in the human genome has provided further support for the idea. One of the problems with old-earth belief is that humans add over 30 new mutations every generation. The overwhelming majority of these are not eliminated by natural selection. This should cause an exponential decay in fitness. So if humans had been around for as long as evolutionists claim, we should have become extinct from the huge mutational load. That we have not become extinct is strong evidence that humans have not been here for longer than a few thousand years.11

Recent advanced computer simulations vindicate this proposal, showing that an exponential decay of lifespans fits well with accumulating mutations after the catastrophic population bottleneck at the Flood.12This can be seen from comparing the decay curve produced by the computer simulation with the recorded lifespans from Noah to the present day (Figure 1).

Why was Shem’s lifespan much shorter than Noah’s?

As shown, genome decay after a population bottleneck explains the general trend of lifespan decay after the Flood. But what about Shem, born before the bottleneck, but he lived only ⅔ as long as most of his ancestors? (The lifespans of his brothers, Ham and Japheth, are not recorded.) There is of course the ever-present possibility in any individual of a non-aging-related cause of death such as disease or accident. But there is also a plausible genetic explanation: he was born when his father was 502, i.e. over half-way through his lifespan. His ancestors were much younger when they fathered their named sons. It has long been known that children born to aged mothers have a higher risk of developing non-hereditary genetic disorders such as Down’s Syndrome, and it is plausible that Mrs Noah was about the same age as Noah. But even if she were much younger, more recent research points to aged fathers as a major source of genetic disorders. This should not be surprising since men keep producing sperm throughout their lives from the division of stem cells (some 840 divisions by age 50).13 In theory, the risks of spontaneous mutation increase with each round of sperm cell division, so the sperm of older men are more likely to carry mutations.14,15

So it is not surprising that Shem, while very fit by today’s standards, would have been considerably less fit than his parents, and carried extra heritable mutations. So Shem and all his descendants had much lower lifespans than the pre-Flood patriarchs.


The recorded lifespans of people pre-Flood, in particular their subsequent drastic decline, are very consistent with recent genetic findings that also severely contradict the idea of a world millions of years old.

References and notes

  1. Fox, D., Breathless, New Scientist 177(2385)46–49, 8 March 2003; see also Wieland C. and Sarfati, J., Running out of puff: Low oxygen may have medical benefits—implications for the ‘Vapour Canopy’ model, creation.com/puff. Return to text.
  2. Dudley, R., Atmospheric oxygen, giant Paleozoic insects and the evolution of aerial locomotor performance, J. Experimental Biology 201:1043–1050, 1998. Return to text.
  3. Wilkinson, M.T., Unwin, D.M.and Ellington, C.P., High lift function of the pteroid bone and forewing of pterosaurs, Proc. R. Soc. 273(1582):119–126, 2006. Return to text.
  4. Sarfati, J., Pterosaurs flew like modern aeroplanes, Creation 28(3):53, 2006. Return to text.
  5. Graham, J.B., Dudley, R., Aguilar, N.M. and Gans, C., Implications of the late Palaeozoic oxygen pulse for physiology and evolution, Nature 375(6527):117–120, 1995. This proposes a maximum O2 concentration of 35%. Return to text.
  6. Westneat, M.W. et al., Tracheal respiration in insects visualized with synchrotron X–ray imaging, Science 299(5606):558–560, 2003. Return to text.
  7. Catchpoole, D., Insect inspiration solves giant bug mystery, Creation 27(4):44–47, 2005. Return to text.
  8. Geological Society of America, Raising giant insects to unravel ancient oxygen, Science News, sciencedaily.com, 30 October 2010. Return to text.
  9. Wieland, C. and Sarfati, J., Some bugs do grow bigger with higher oxygen, J. Creation 25(1):13–14, 2011. Return to text.
  10. Wieland, C., Decreased lifespans: Have we been looking in the right place? J. Creation 8(2):138–141, 1994. Return to text.
  11. Sanford, J.C., Genetic entropy and the mystery of the genome, Ivan Press, Lima, NY, 2005; see review by Truman, R., J. Creation 21(1):43–47, 2007. Return to text.
  12. Sanford, J.C., Baumgardner, J.R., Brewer, W.H., Gibson, P. and ReMine, W.R., Mendel’s Accountant: A biologically realistic forward-time population genetics program, Scalable Computing: Practice and Experience 8(2):147–165, June 2007. Return to text.
  13. Buwe, A. et al., Effect of paternal age on the frequency of cytogenetic abnormalities in human spermatozoa, Cytogenet. Genome Res. 111:213–228, 2005. Return to text.
  14. Green, R.F., Association of paternal age and risk for major congenital anomalies from the National Birth Defects Prevention Study, 1997 to 2004, Ann. Epidemiol. 20(3):241–249, 2010. Return to text.
  15. Schubert, C., Male biological clock possibly linked to autism, other disorders, Nature Medicine 14:1170, 2008. Return to text.

Helpful Resources

Readers’ comments

Judith S.
Someone suggested to me, many years ago, that the years pre-flood may have been months, which makes Methuselah around 80 when he died.
And he was born when his father was 5.
Lionel T.
Something nobody has yet addressed here is the astronomical changes that occurred at the time of the Flood, and afterwards. While I don’t doubt that the ancients had a combination of favourable environment and superior genetics, and lived hundreds of years, we should consider the possibility that the earth’s rotation speed may have changed somewhat. It appears God designed us with a sleep requirement to suit a shorter night. I speculate that the days may have been somewhat shorter. How can we be sure that a year had the same number of days? Our planet and others show evidence of major catastrophes in the recent past.
Jonathan Sarfati
I know of no evidence for a drastic slow-down of the earth’s rotation after the Flood, nor any indication that this would affect longevity.

I refute claims that an asteroid could have tilted the earth’s axis in my commentary, p.. 190–192. The problem is the same: the earth’s enormous angular momentum that means it acts like a giant gyroscope resisting change.
John H.
I did the Adam-to-Jacob graph years ago. I was encouraged by the gradual drop off. Even Moses made 120 years. As with any good graph, it makes some dry numbers really interesting. I think Noah is still alive when Abraham pleaded with the Lord to spare Sodom. In that day everyone should be aware of God’s wrath.
Maurice W.
Before the Flood, mankind was still drinking water from the garden of Eden. The source of the rivers was still the garden, even though man could not enter the garden. There are references in the Bible to the river of life.
I don’t know (or claim to understand) the mechanism, but I believe this is why lifespans reduced after the Flood.
Jonathan Sarfati
A problem is: why didn’t Noah’s lifespan drop as well, the common problem for all environmental explanations of longevity decrease?
Doug L.
All of these points are pretty good stuff Jonathan. Great article. Thanks. Even if you believe (as I do) that the 120 years does refer to lifespan, it's still constructive to think about how God lowered lifespans. On that topic, you objected to my understanding of the 120 years because of reports of a few individuals who have slightly exceeded the 120 years, like Jeanne Calment. Good question, really. My answer would be twofold: can we be absolutely certain she was 122 when she died? We know when she died but what verifiable info is there about her birth year? Second, to me it’s intuitively obvious that God's statement was a generality. If he chooses to allow an individual here and there to live longer, that’s his prerogative. As a rule, no one can expect to live even that long. As a rule, man’s days are limited to 120 years. The second point is that Man didn’t die out after 120 years. If man’s days referred to mankind we would have all been gone. We’re still here! Anyway, to me, ‘man’s days’ is the way we talk about longevity. But whatever.

You didn’t mention about plant growth. If there had been more oxygen then wouldn't there have been less CO₂? (Assuming the same density of course.) So plant growth should have been inhibited unless there was less Nitrogen. Is there information from those bubbles about the Nitrogen content in pre-Flood times?
Jonathan Sarfati
Glad you liked the article.

Yes, we can be certain that Jeanne Calment lived to 122. If you have any evidence to the contrary, it needs to be presented. And even without her, we had of course the post-Flood patriarchs living far longer than 120, Aaron centuries later living to 123 (Numbers 33:39), and centuries after that, Jehoiada lived to 130 (2 Chronicles 24:15). So Genesis 6:3 would not even be much of a generalization if it referred to lifespans.

But if you allow for generalizations, then you have no cause to object to the interpretation that it was the time to the Flood. After all, out of the millions or billions of people, only eight survived!

An extract can’t cover everything. CO₂ is only a tiny fraction of the atmosphere (0.04%) while O₂ is a major component (20%), and of course the largest component is N₂ (78%). So a large proportional change in CO₂ would need only a small proportional change in the major component gases.

Anyway, to me, ‘man’s days’ is the way we talk about longevity.

But what matters is what the original readers would have understood.
Phil W.
The decrease in ages in the Genesis genealogies is similar to the decrease in ages (or reign durations) of the Sumerian King List: huge ages in the deep past, gradually (not stepwise) dropping to “normal” ages. Considering they are both Ancient Near East writings of similar genre, purpose, period, and locality, the similarity means a cultural/stylistic norm in accounting for and depicting ages in a non-literal fashion cannot be simply discounted. There is most likely a misunderstanding on the part of the modern reader in what was being portrayed (and how) by those ages. It is much less likely that there is some physical cause that left no other physical evidence on anything else, other than a couple lists you assume we are reading correctly despite evidence otherwise.

Hypo/hyperbaric conditions and genetic purity are hypotheses with unknown effect or prevalence. Inflated ages in ANE writings, including the source materials for Genesis 1–11, are normal and even expected. Occam’s Razor points to the latter being the solution.
Jonathan Sarfati
This all presupposes that Genesis is borrowed, but the reverse is true. I explain reasons for this in my commentary, both for the Sumerian Gilgamesh Epic and the Sumerian King List (which mentions Gilgamesh as a king of the first dynasty of Uruk who reigned for 126 years), the latter as follows (pp. 448, 453):

There were much longer lifespans claimed in extrabiblical sources. The most famous is the Sumerian King List, from Sumer in Mesopotamia, dated to 2,000 BC. This has eight kings with an average reign of 30,150 years totalling 241,200 years, compared to an average lifespan of the biblical patriarchs of 858 years and a sum of 8575 years for their full lives. However, it’s likely that the compilers of this list knew of the biblical patriarchal list, and mistakenly thought the decimal numbers of the Bible were their sexagesmal (base-60) numbers. This would explain the grossly inflated numbers. [Ref: The antediluvian patriarchs and the Sumerian King List.]

It’s notable that the Sumerian King List (see above) mentions that the seventh ‘king’ was intimate with the gods and an expert in occult practices. This is further evidence that the Sumerian document is a pagan distortion of Genesis 5, since Enoch’s walking with the true God is distorted into the seventh king’s devotion to the false gods.

Also, even if you don't believe either the Genesis or the Sumerian lists, there is no doubt that the original readers read them as intending to teach real vast ages.

Since I don’t agree with the hypo/hyperbaric explanation, I am not sure why you bring it up. The genetic issues are hardly of “unknown effect or prevalence”—I documented what is known about them!
Roberto L.
Hi, i have a question about the verse in Genesis 1:29-30 where God says that men and animals ate just vegetation... but when? If dinosaurs ate others animals and from the beginning there were not these condition. Thank u
Jonathan Sarfati
Humans and animals were created vegetarian. God allowed humans to eat meat only after the Flood, but some animals were eating meat some time since the Fall. Certainlycarnivory existed by the time of the Flood, as we can tell from the fossils. See my earlier article When did animals become carnivorous?
Erik H.
Thoughts according to Gen 6:3. Just philosophically
Because of evilness God wants to shorten mans lifespan but does it successive so that sons still outlive their fathers while shortening the lifespan. When an evil man dies, the evil dies with him. With shorter lifespans it will take longer before evil takes over.
Jonathan Sarfati
Since Genesis 6:3 doesn’t refer to lifespans, it is not germane to the rest.

Maybe God did want to shorten lifespans for the reasons you state. It wouldn’t rule out God’s using the genetics mentioned in the article as His means to achieve this.
Martyn M.
I’ve been pondering that since Adam and Eve were told that the ground would produce thorns and thistles, childbirth would be painful, and that they would produce crops from the sweat of their brow, then did they know about thorns, thistles, hard work, and pain, before the Fall? Or were they only told about the change that was coming in a way they could understand and since this written by Moses, he related the narrative in a way we are all familiar with?
Jonathan Sarfati
God programmed Adam and Eve with language so they could communicate immediately. This would need to include things they had not seen before, including abstract concepts and logical relationships. E.g. Adam was instructed not to eat a fruit—did Adam see a ‘not’? The warning also presupposed that Adam could grasp a logical connection between eating and dying. For more, see my commentary pp. 320–21.
Raymond S.
If accelerated nuclear decay generated heat for accelerated plate tectonics, then perhaps the mutations were increased by radioactive exposure after the Flood.
Jonathan Sarfati
But then, how come Noah still had the third-longest recorded lifespan despite living a third of his life after the Flood? Any sound explanation must explain the lifespans of both Noah and Shem.
Joshua B.
Interesting article, but what of the large dinosaurs which apparently had nostrils only as large as those of a modern horse? How would those get enough oxygen without a denser atmosphere, more oxygen in a less dense atmosphere, or a combination of more O₂ and a more dense atmosphere?
Jonathan Sarfati
What sort of respiration system would require more O₂, do you think? We don’t have the fossil evidence, so it’s premature to think that we must resort to a different atmosphere. What if they were created with a flow-through lung system involving their pneumatized bones, similar to the avian lung system, as many scientists now think? The lessons of the premature judgment about pterosaur and insect requirements apply here.

Also, according to a 2011 review paper Biology of the sauropod dinosaurs: the evolution of gigantism, “Sauropod nares are large, and the fleshy nose was obvioulsy a highly sophisticated structure [Ref. Lawrence M. Witmer, Nostril position in dinosaurs and other vertebrates and its significance for nasal function, 2001].
Keith P.
Today we’re told that vegetarians live some 7–10 years longer on the average than those who eat meat. The Biblical record tells us the introduction of meat into the diet came at the same time we see the shorter lifespans start, so perhaps there is a relationship with this factor. Perhaps meat in the diet tends to induce higher rates of mutations?
Jonathan Sarfati
But then, perhaps not, since God explicitly allowed us to eat meat, and even commanded that the Jews eat the passover lamb, as Jesus did himself. He even ate fish after His resurrection. The introduction of meat doesn't explain the biblical data on lifespans.
Deon S.

I love the article. I have never noticed the comment around Noah’s naming.

I find it interesting that you did not mention (Genesis 6:3 NIV)  Then the LORD said, “My Spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal; their days will be a hundred and twenty years.”

I do think that Lamech found it much tougher to survive than Adam in the garden of Eden. But someone farming in the Australian outback today may not have agreed with Lamech if he had an opportunity to farm next to Lamech. What I am trying to say is that sometimes we think our life is cursed and hard until we compare it to someone else.

I learnt a lot from the article.
Jonathan Sarfati
I didn't mention Genesis 6:3 in the part of my commentary extracted for this article, but most definitely did mention it in the commentary (see pp. 480–2).

Glad you found the article helpful.
Erik H.
Isn’t it so that our lifespan is limited to maximum of 120 years because God decided it to be so, Gen 6:3. A supernatural act by God in our genome. That our cells divide only a certain number of times according to the telomeres. Like we are programmed. In an article in Nature the conclusion was that it seems like there is a limit just around 120.
Jonathan Sarfati
What makes you think that Genesis 6:3 was about maximum lifespans? If so, then it would be plainly wrong, because many people in biblical times lived much longer, and even in the 20th century, one woman exceeded this (Jeanne Calment). Rather, this was the time mankind as a whole had before the Flood.

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