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Why Must People Die?

A number of answers to this question have been proposed by philosophically oriented biologists such as Sherwin B. Nuland and Basiro Davey and colleagues. The results of tissue cultures indicate that cells are "preprogrammed" by their genetic code to cease the dividing processes after a certain number of divisions have occurred, and then die. A further argument proposes that death is adaptive at the population level, ensuring that individuals do not compete with their offspring for scarce resources and instead channel precious energy into reproduction. Research accounts of the biochemical changes that occur in cells as they age support both these theories and a more straightforward "wear and tear" argument, indicating that death on a biological level can be understood as a combination of a number of factors.

These biological explanations for the occurrence of death focus on the process of aging. The death of younger people, especially one's own child, opens up broader philosophical questions that may be even more difficult to answer: "Why did my baby die, God?" is one of the ways human beings ask this type of question. If God truly is in his heaven and all is right with the world, why do babies die? Human beings have struggled with this type of question through the millennia, and there do not appear to be any definitive, widely accepted answers. Individuals seem to come to grips with such questions in an extraordinarily varied range of ways.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Cyanohydrins to Departments of philosophy:Death - Defining Death, Bereavement, Grief, And Mourning, Why Must People Die?, Historical Perspectives