Omphalos hypothesis

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The omphalos hypothesis is the pseudoscientific[1] argument that God created the universe recently (within the past ten thousand years, in keeping with flood geology), but also introduced false evidence that the universe is of great age. It was named after the title of an 1857 book, Omphalos by Philip Henry Gosse, in which Gosse argued that in order for the world to be "functional", God must have created the Earth with mountains and canyons, trees with growth rings, Adam and Eve with hair, fingernails, and navels[1] (ὀμφαλός omphalos is Greek for "navel"), and that therefore no evidence that we can see of the presumed age of the Earth and universe can be taken as reliable. The idea saw some revival in the 20th century by some creationists, who extended the argument to light that appears to originate in far-off stars and galaxies.


The 4th century theologian, St. Ephrem the Syrian wrote:

Although the grasses were only a moment old at their creation, they appeared as if they were months old. Likewise, the trees, although only a day old when they sprouted forth, were nevertheless like ... years old as they were fully grown and fruits were already budding on their branches.[2]

Chateaubriand wrote in his 1802 book, Génie du christianisme (Part I Book IV Chapter V): "God might have created, and doubtless did create, the world with all the marks of antiquity and completeness which it now exhibits." Rabbi Dovid Gottlieb supports a similar position, arguing further that the evidence for an old universe[3] is strong: "The bones, artifacts, partially decayed radium, potassium-argon, uranium, the red-shifted light from space, etc.—all of it points to a greater age which nevertheless is not true."

Creationists still argue the same way. For instance, John D. Morris, president of the Institute for Creation Research talks about the "appearance of age":

When Adam was created, he no doubt looked like a mature adult, fully able to walk, talk, care for the garden, etc. When God created fruit trees, they were already bearing fruit. In each case, what He created was functionally complete right from the start—able to fulfill the purpose for which it was created. Stars, created on Day Four, had to be seen to perform their purpose of usefulness in telling time; therefore, their light had to be visible on Earth right from the start.[4]

He does not extend this idea to the geological record, preferring to believe that it was all created in the Flood, but others such as Gerald E. Aardsma go further, with his idea of "virtual history". This appears to suggest that events after the creation have changed the "virtual history" we now see, including the fossils:

This raises one more major point of difference, the handling of the Fall. Briefly, Creation with Appearance of Age runs into a theological snag with things like fossils of fish with other smaller fish in their stomachs: "Do you mean that God chose to paint, of all things, a facade of SUFFERING and DEATH onto the creation when He gave it this arbitrary appearance of age at the time of creation?" The virtual history paradigm recognizes simply that all creation type miracles entail a virtual history, so the Fall, with its creation type miracles (by which the nature of the creation was changed—"subjected to futility") carried with it its own (fallen) virtual history, which is the virtual history we now see. We do not see the original utopian pre-Fall creation with its (presumably utopian) virtual history.[5]

The past president of the Missouri Association for Creation has said:

The appearance of age in the things which God created is a much-debated issue in contemporary Christian scientific circles. Can God—or more accurately—would God create something which at the very moment of its creation has the appearance of age? The short answer to this question may be: How Else? How, indeed, could God create anything that did not appear to us to be aged (like a fine wine) at the moment of its creation ... Maybe you thought of a visible star—depending on its distance from the earth, its light might appear to have been traveling for over a billion years to reach your eyes. All of these things would have the appearance of age and an ongoing process at the very moment of their creation.[6]


When did false history begin?[edit]

Though Gosse's original omphalos hypothesis specifies a popular creation story, others have proposed that the idea does not preclude creation as recently as five minutes ago, including memories of times before this created in situ.[7] This idea is sometimes called "Last Thursdayism" by its opponents,[8] as in "the world might as well have been created last Thursday." The concept is both unverifiable and unfalsifiable through any conceivable scientific method—in other words, it is impossible even in principle to subject it to any form of test by reference to any empirical data because the empirical data themselves are considered to have been arbitrarily created to look the way they do at every observable level of detail.

A deceptive creator[edit]

From a religious viewpoint, it can be interpreted as God having "created a fake", such as illusions of light in space of stellar explosions (supernovae) that never really happened, or volcanic mountains that were never really volcanoes in the first place and that never actually experienced erosion.

This conception has therefore drawn harsh rebuke from some theologians. Reverend Canon Brian Hebblethwaite,[9] for example, preached against Bertrand Russell's Five-minute hypothesis:[10]

Bertrand Russell wrote, in The Analysis of Mind: "There is no logical impossibility in the hypothesis that the world sprang into being five minutes ago, exactly as it then was, with a population that 'remembered' a wholly unreal past.". [11]

The basis for Hebblethwaite's objection, however, is the presumption of a God that would not deceive us about our very humanity—an unprovable presumption that the omphalos hypothesis rejects at the outset. Hebblethwaite also suggests that God necessarily had to create certain elements of the Universe in combination with the creation of man:

To be an adult human being, we have to have gone through a real process of growth and nurture and a real history of interpersonal relation in a real and specific culture. One can even suggest that it is necessary for the Creator to have fashioned us in and through a whole evolving physical universe. As, again, Austin Farrer put it, "if God wished to make no more than any single one of us, he would need to make half a universe. And why? Because no one of us would be the creature he is, if a thousand thousand lines of converging history, both physical and personal, had not met in him. Your life or mine is but a half-sentence in the book of the world. Tear it from its place, and it cannot be read; or if it can be read, it signifies nothing".[12]

In a rebuttal of the claim that God might have implanted a false history of the age of the Universe in order to test our faith in the truth of the Torah, Rabbi Natan Slifkin, an author whose works have been banned by several Haredi rabbis for going against the tenets of the Talmud,[13] writes:

God essentially created two conflicting accounts of Creation: one in nature, and one in the Torah. How can it be determined which is the real story, and which is the fake designed to mislead us? One could equally propose that it is nature which presents the real story, and that the Torah was devised by God to test us with a fake history!

One has to be able to rely on God's truthfulness if religion is to function. Or, to put it another way—if God went to enormous lengths to convince us that the world is billions of years old, who are we to disagree?[14]

Similar formulations[edit]

Five-minute hypothesis[edit]

The five-minute hypothesis is a skeptical hypothesis put forth by the philosopher Bertrand Russell that proposes that the universe sprang into existence five minutes ago from nothing, with human memory and all other signs of history included. It is a commonly used example of how one may maintain extreme philosophical skepticism with regards to memory.[10][15]

Borges's Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius[edit]

Jorge Luis Borges, in his 1940 work, Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius, describes a fictional world in which some essentially follow as a religious belief a philosophy much like Russell's discussion on the logical extreme of Gosse's theory:[16]

One of the schools of Tlön goes so far as to negate time: it reasons that the present is indefinite, that the future has no reality other than as a present hope, the past none other than present memory.

Borges had earlier written a short essay, "The Creation and P. H. Gosse"[17] that explored the rejection of Gosse's Omphalos. Borges argued that its unpopularity stemmed from Gosse's explicit (if inadvertent) outlining of what Borges characterized as absurdities in the Genesis story.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Gardner, Martin (2000). Did Adam and Eve Have Navels?: Debunking Pseudoscience. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. pp. 7–14. ISBN 9780393322385. 
  2. ^ Kathleen McVey, ed. (1994). "Commentary on Genesis. Section I.22". St. Ephrem the Syrian: Selected Prose Works. The Fathers of the Church. 91. Washington: Catholic University of America. p. 90. ISBN 978-0-8132-1421-4.  See also Louth, Andrew, ed. (2001). Genesis 1-11. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. 1. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press. p. 15. ISBN 0--8308-1471-X. 
  3. ^ Rabbi Dovid Gottlieb, "The Age of the Universe".
  4. ^ Morris, John D. (1990). "Did God Create with Appearance of Age?". Acts & Facts. 19 (9). Retrieved 14 Feb 2013. 
  5. ^ Aardsma, Gerald E. "Correspondence: Virtual History". Retrieved 13 Feb 2013. 
  6. ^ Menton, David N. (August 1995). "Creation and the Appearance of Age". St. Louis MetroVoice. Vol. 5, No. 8. Missouri Association for Creation. Retrieved 13 Feb 2013. 
  7. ^ David L. Wilcox, God and Evolution:A Faith-Based Understanding, Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 2004, 30,
  8. ^ Isaac, Mark (2007). The Counter-creationism Handbook. University of California Press. p. 9. ISBN 9780520249264. 
  9. ^ Reverend Canon Brian Hebblethwaite, biography online at
  10. ^ a b Russell, Bertrand (1921). Analysis of Mind. G. Allen & Unwin. 
  11. ^ Bertrand Russell, Analysis of Mind, London, ([1921]1924), p. 159
  12. ^ Reverend Canon Brian Hebblethwaite, In Defence of Christianity March 6, 2005, p. 4-5
  13. ^ G. Safran, "Gedolei Yisroel Condemn Rabbi Nosson Slifkin's Books". Dei'ah veDibur, January 12, 2005.
  14. ^ Slifkin, p167
  15. ^ Are we only five minutes old? Acock on the age of the universe J.W.Smith and S.Ward Philosophy of Science, vol.51, no.3, Sept.1984, p.511-513
  16. ^ Borges - Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius
  17. ^ Borges, Jorge Luis (1964). "The Creation and P.H. Gosse". Other Inquisitions, 1937–1952. translated by Ruth L. C. Simms. University of Texas Press. pp. 22–25. ISBN 0-292-71549-8. Retrieved 2008-02-27. 

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