Why do All Things Die

Casey Asks:

Hello, my name is Casey. I am an Evangelical Christian. I believe in the Bible, and it’s reason for why all living things die. I am not looking for a debate, but I would like to know what an atheist believes is the reason for the death. Why do all organisms have life spans?


22 Responses to Why do All Things Die

  1. Adam Benton says:

    Assuming we can avoid all the external things that can kill us, such as mistreating our bodies or disease, we are still bound to die.

    This is because our bodies are imperfect and so, as it goes about it’s daily business it will make mistakes. Normally our body is good at spotting these errors and fixing them but occasionally some will slip through the net.

    Sometimes such a mistake will be enough to kill us outright (like cancer), other times they will only do a little bit of harm.

    However, over the course of a lifetime a lot of mistakes doing a little bit of harm can add up and eventually the body can cope no more.

    Then we die.

    I hope that answers your question.

    • you can call me bob says:

      things die because things were born and anything that begins ends no matter what. We can try and prevent it all we like but the fact is we can only prolong it but it will eventually happen. Death is another way of saying change and everything has to change otherwise be trapped forever. Growth will eventually reach a point it can grow no more and when this happens we must change otherwise be trapped forever the same. This universe and everything in it is just a part of life and not what we should be believing life actually is. Life is infinite, united, loved and free. This universe is one of duality because nothing is infinite nothing is united nothing is loved and nothing is free unless we realize it is. In realizing this we realize everything that isn’t these things is a lie until it is all united, loved, infinite and free. Death is so because we would never know these thing if it was not. A world without death would be HELL. Encompass everything and deny nothing.

      • you can call me bob says:

        I forgot to say that existence itself never ends because it never actually began because it always was (is) and will be. Of course we cannot understand that because we are not experiencing such a thing but with the help of meditation, logic and intuition we can come to understand and know something we could not understand or know before. In doing this we realize we are not truly here because we are not truly what we think we are. We are not human beings we are being human there is a difference (laughs)

  2. The Atheist says:

    Hi, Casey.

    I tend to think that death is not an accident. It’s not a failure of organisms to repair themselves. Rather I tend to think that senescence evolved because of it’s benefit to the group. One thing that points me in this direction is the fact that scarcity of food results in longer lifespans and less offspring (at least in mammals). Longer lifespans and fewer offspring seem to be a defense against the famine part of feast-famine cycles. Replacing group members with new offspring requires more food than sustaining older members. Shorter life spans and more offspring (during periods of feast) promote faster evolution.

    The other thing that points me in this direction is that there seems to be complicated biological mechanisms that work in concert to regulate lifespan. It’s possible that these mechanisms are unintended by products of other beneficial traits, but it doesn’t seem likely.

    • Adam Benton says:

      What you are saying is reflected in k/r selection theory.

      Basically, some organisms are r-selected (it’s just a term, the letter means nothing) for shorter infancy, shorter gestation, produce more offspring etc.

      Others are k-selected for longer infancy and fewer offspring, but longer lifespans. More is invested in fewer offspring, making them of higher quality.

      K-selected organisms, such as humans, typically fall victim to the errors I mentioned in my previous post. I do not know if r-selected organisms perish because they have evolved some population regulatory mechanism or just because their focus on fast reproduction means they neglect body maintenance.

    • The Atheist says:

      Hi, Adam. Exactly right. The reason I tend to favor this theory is that there are organisms that are biologically immortal – so it’s possible for an old organism to continue to repair tissue damage just like a young organism does, and accumulated copy errors from cell division don’t seem detrimental enough to their survival. That coupled with evidence about organisms’ response to feast and famine conditions makes me think that death isn’t an evolutionary side effect but rather a selected feature.

      • Adam Benton says:

        Some of the decay associated with longevity can be rather harmful. The gradual shortening of telomeres, something that happens every cell division, is postulated by some to be the cause of ageing. As such, it seems perfectly plausible that errors in the body are capable of explaining death.

        Further, I am rather skeptical that death is a directly selected trait because it doesn’t seem to be an evolutionary stable strategy. If a single individual usurped the mechanisms which keep the population in check then they would be wildly successful as they reproduce a lot in their extended lifespan.

        Any attempt at controlling the population typically fails rather fast on these grounds.

  3. Anonymous says:

    We die because:

    A. Individual organisms dying and being replaces by inexact copies facilitates the process of change in the species. Change in the species facilitates adaptation. The quality of adaptability is favored in the struggle for life and selected for naturally.


    B. This is all a test that some have been destined to fail since before time began. The hundred billion worlds in each of a hundred billion galaxies in this universe were created as a stage upon which to play out a drama whose end was known by God. That play and its ending would entail literally infinite suffering. And some who would suffer would be guilty of nothing more than being born, and pursuing their God given instincts with their God-limited intelligence. But it was the best that God could do (since He would certainly do the best thing).

    I believe I’m siding with Occam here in going with “A.”

  4. Happy Heretic says:

    Why not die ? It’s just the way it is. Nothing stays the same for ever – even your beloved god, if he exists, is subject to change. As a Buddhist I accept the fundamental principle of impermanence. Death is a spur to spiritual growth before it is too late, but there is no need to assume that there is a god who created us. That could be seen as a rather juvenile attempt to overcome anxiety by convincing yourself that you have a big daddy in the sky who keeps everything fair. It’s just your wish fulfilling imagination.

  5. Casey says:

    Thank’s for your views about it, they are very interesting. I have always pondered about the natural reason for death. Although I’ve never studied science and biology very far, they have always held my imagination. Here’s another question if I may, and forgive me if it sounds dumb. If certain starfish are regenerative, why will they eventually die as well? I guess I will have to ask about why things age as well, most things degenerate as they grow older.
    Again thanks for your answers, and like I said before I am a Christian who believes in the supernatural reason for death. Please don’t think I am looking for evidence to change my belief, I am just interested in a secular view.

    • Casey says:

      Also, do you think any natural organism, under any perfect environment or circumstance, could live forever?

    • Adam Benton says:

      A few animals, such as some jellyfish and starfish, have the ability to “revert to factory settings” so to speak. They can wipe the slate clean and revert to an earlier state, complete with “young” cells that are free from any errors. This would make it very difficult for such mistakes to accumulate since they’re all fixed every time it does that.

      Such organisms are believed to be immortal, which would suggest that should we develop the ability to fix all the mistakes in our bodies we too might live for a long time, potentially forever.

      However, without such medical advances or the jellyfish style regeneration ability organisms are doomed to accumulate mistakes and die.

    • The Atheist says:

      Casey, I’d like to clarify a point in your initial question: there isn’t an “atheist view” per se on the reasons for death, other than the fact that atheists by and large look to science (vs. other sources like religion for example) for answers about the physical world. There are scientific views about aging and that’s what we’ve been discussion here.

      Let me say that your questions aren’t dumb at all! In fact, I think they are very good. The field of biology is filled with researchers pursuing these same questions. Your questions are particularly good in light of what you said about having little knowledge about biology. Here are a few articles from Wikipedia about the biology of death that are a good overview and maybe a good place to start:

      The biology of death (“senescence”):

      Animals that don’t die:

  6. steve says:

    suggest looking up biological immortality. There are living creatures extant that have been alive for in excess of 4000 years at latest estimate. Although no complex organisms display biological immortaility, simpler forms do not appear to suffer from senesence. This is by no means certain, since to know if something is immortal we would need to keep an eye on it forever, but barring accidental destruction not everything may die of old age.

    That everything will eventually die is almost certain since as far as we understand at the moment conditions in the unverse will one day change to a state that doesn’t support life, but, well, thats life.

  7. omen555 says:

    Some very good responses here, of which I agree with for the most part. I am not as well versed nor educated as some of the people here but from what I have observed in my life time, I have learned that nothing ever stays the same.
    Stars and planets are “born” and yet they “die” or change to something else. All organisms on a planet it appears are no different. They “die” or change to another state of being or nothingness depending on how you interpret it.
    I believe that living organisms are nothing more than “machines” that will eventually break and die.
    However we are wondrous machines. As humans, we have evolved much compared to what we have discovered of other organisms, yet the more we learn, the more we realize how little we know of the Universe including living organisms. Our own planet for example.

    Scientists estimate that 86 percent of existing species on land and 91 percent of species in the ocean have yet to be described.
    New species of life are discovered every day.

    Describing living organisms as nothing more than elaborate machines composed of matter or energy that will eventually follow the laws of science and change their state of being (die) makes much more sense to me than creationism or an after life.

    It would seem to me that you are faced with the same dilemma with your beliefs as I am as an Atheist with mine…

    I cannot prove that God does not exist.

    You cannot prove that he does.

    Neither can we prove ANY organism possesses a soul.
    I hope I didn’t stray to far off topic lol! It just seems to all fit together.

  8. Anonymous says:

    The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good.

    Psalm 14:1

    • steve says:

      and that advanced the discussion a lot, faith is a dead end for critical thinking and rational beings everywhere, why bother commenting at all is what I wonder.

      • Anonymous says:

        There is stupid theists, and then there is smart theists. There is stupid atheists, and then there is smart atheists. Many of the first mathematicians and scientists were theists so to say faith is a dead for critical thinking is wrong.

        Ignorance is a dead end for critical thinking.

  9. ijk2 says:

    Well, quite obviously, things die because cells don’t last forever. While new cells for things like skin are produced by the human body, things like your eyes have been the same since the day you were born. Besides, if nothing ever died, that would cause a rather nasty case of over-population.

  10. Bazza says:

    Basically speaking it’s a trade off.

    All life is, physically speaking at least, a complex of chemical systems.

    Since all systems tends thermodynamically towards entropy, those chemical systems must be constantly replenished and there comes a point of diminishing returns for most evolutionary strategies.

    For example there are creatures which don’t ‘die of old age’ in the sense that we’d think of it and can continue repairing themselves or reproducing indefinitely. However this is a massive trade off in terms of energy and resources – energy and resources that could be put into something like additional capabilities that make survival more certain – perhaps adaptability to new environments or increased defensive ability or predatory abilities or, perhaps more commonly, reproduction.

    In other words while the strategy of eternal life might seem desirable, it’s out classed by an organism that simply reproduces faster or is able to tolerate a wider range of environments – so much so that such organisms are relatively rare.

    Further one must remember that evolution often develops into strategic arms races between different, competing organisms. In such a case immortality is a hindrance rather than a benefit in terms of passing on units of reproduction (genes) since other, shorter lived organisms with a higher turn over will continue to adapt new strategies that render old ones obsolete. An organism that doesn’t age can’t possibly keep up against new viruses and bacteria, for one example, that it hasn’t evolved to defend against.

    Finally without very metabolically expensive gene repair mechanisms, mutations will build up in cells leading to a cancer like situation or other form of dysfunction. This is because essentially all creatures are constantly subject to mutagens in the form of chemicals and radiation in their environment.

    In summary immortality is obviously not that successful strategy in evolutionary terms, save for in very specific environmental niches where the potential to survive and remain able to viably reproduce after vast periods of time is the main natural selection pressure.

  11. Trevor says:

    Population control, plain and simple. Imagine if nothing died but kept reproducing?

  12. Mike says:

    I believe that all living things die because… Conditions on the earth are always changing so life must also adapt constantly through evolution. Evolution creates diversity of life forms and varients of species. The purpose of all life form is to replacate DNA. Therefore life is merely perpetuating the survival of DNA . Furthermore, if all life forms lived for ever they would use more resources than the earth can provide and all would eventually perish. I must also note , I have came to the conclusion that humans with their small brains and limited senses can never fully comprehend such thing as infinity, where the universe came form and such. I just think it just is and we will never know

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: