I have been reading quite a bit lately about advancements in stem cell research especially in the area of tissue/organ regeneration. One article states that within 10-20 years the majority of damaged tissue will be able to be “grown” using stem cells. This may seem like a silly question, but will science/medicine get to the point where we won’t die? And if so, what effect, if any, would this have on our Christian beliefs?
Advances in biotechnology and pharmacology will eventually be able to extend the average human lifespan. In fact, this has already happened. The development of antibiotics, blood pressure medicines and chemotherapies have already extended the human lifespan. These technologies, however, although they have extended the average human lifespan, have not extended what is the normal maximum lifespan of about 110-120 years.
Will tissue regeneration using stem cell or other technologies be able to extend the maximum lifespan? I believe this is your question. My answer is that, given sufficient time, scientists will unlock enough of the mechanism that causes us to age and that causes cells to stop dividing, that, unless Jesus comes back first, will allow them to extend the maximum (as opposed to the average) lifespan. I am not convinced that stem cells will have this power. We cannot use stem cells to replace all the cells in a human body. Probably we will eventually be able to use stem cells to repair a damaged kidney or liver of lungs. This will almost certainly extend the average human lifespan, but it is not clear that it will expand the maximum lifespan because the brain and indeed all the cells in the body eventually stop reproducing and lead to an eventual breakdown of muscles and of all bodily functions. For this reason, stem cells will have an effect on average lifespan, but probably not on maximum lifespan. In order to expand the maximum lifespan, scientists will probably have to find a way to interfere in the mechanism of cell reproduction, which stem cells do not do, at least not directly. So, I predict that, given enough time, yes, scientists will succeed in extending maximum human life beyond 120 years, but that this technology will probably not come from stem cells.
Scientists might eventually be able to extend human lives out to 150 or even 200 years, but it will almost certainly remain impossible to extend that lifespan to thousands of years. Genetic mutations will make this impossible. Entropy will take over at some point, no matter what the cell-building technologies we develop. This is my prediction as a scientist. But… I might be wrong.
As for the effect of such a technology on the beliefs of a Christian, I see no obvious effect. If we were able to live for eternity in these bodies, which is almost certainly not possible, then I suppose one could argue that it would change the equation as far as Christian beliefs. However, I predict this will not be possible. If we live 150 years, I see no possible significant impact on any Christian practice or doctrine.