Senescence (aging) is defined as a decline in performance and fitness with advancing age. Senescence is a nearly universal feature of multicellular organisms, and understanding why it occurs is a long-standing problem in biology. Here we present a concise review of both evolutionary and mechanistic theories of aging. We describe the development of the general evolutionary theory, along with the mutation accumulation, antagonistic pleiotropy, and disposable soma versions of the evolutionary model. The review of the mechanistic theories focuses on the oxidative stress resistance, cellular signaling, and dietary control mechanisms of life span extension. We close with a discussion of how an approach that makes use of both evolutionary and molecular analyses can address a critical question: Which of the mechanisms that can cause variation in aging actually do cause variation in natural populations?