Omphalos hypothesis

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The Omphalos hypothesis is the argument that God created the world recently (in the last ten thousand years, in keeping with Flood geology), but complete with signs 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 (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 (although other creationists reject this explanation[1]). Many creationists believe that Adam and Eve had no navels, and that the trees in the Garden of Eden had no growth rings.[2]


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.[3]

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[4] 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.[5]

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.[6]

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.[7]


When did false history begin?

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.[8] This idea is sometimes called "Last Thursdayism" by its opponents, 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

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'. 'Human beings', posited in being five minutes ago with built-in 'memory' traces, would not be human beings. The suggestion is logically incoherent.[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'.[11]

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,[12] 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?[13]

Gosse, however, did not assert that God deceived us, only that any act of creation of human, animal or plant would "at the instant of its creation present indubitable evidences of a previous history"[14] in far more subtle, microscopic and unavoidable ways than the presence or absence of hair or navels. He presented it not as an hypothesis but as a law or logical necessity: any created organism must be "from the first marked with the records of a previous being".[15] The alternative, he argued, would be a created earth in which trees (larger than saplings) would exhibit no seasonal growth rings.

A consistent creator

Some Jewish commentaries on the age of the Universe delve into the Omphalos hypothesis. In particular, rabbi Natan Slifkin writes:

Gosse took it as a given that each animal species was created ex nihilo rather than having evolved. Based on that premise, he pointed out that there is no such thing as creating something at the "first stage" in an animal's existence. A cow begins life as a calf; but before that, it is a fetus, and earlier than being a fetus, it was an ovum, part of its mother. Every species is an endless cycle of life.[16]

"However, careful consideration shows that the false history was most certainly not complete."[17] Would Adam have had memories of his non-existent childhood? Would he have possessed mementos from his non-existent childhood? Likewise, surely not. Would he have scars from non-existent childhood mishaps? Well, since he knew that he never experienced any such mishaps, then he surely would not have possessed scars either. But, by the same token, there is no reason why he should have had a scar from the umbilical cord not being removed ... Since it must necessarily have been incomplete, it is difficult to argue that God should have created any false history at all.[17]

Other formulations

Five-minute hypothesis

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]

Borges's Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius

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:[18]

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"[19] 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.

Last Thursdayism

Last Thursdayism is a similar response to omphalism which posits that, by the same logic, the world might have been created last Thursday (or by implication, on any other given date and time), but with the appearance of age: people's memories, history books, fossils, light already on the way from distant stars, and so forth. It is aimed at the logic point that when this logic is permitted, it can be used to prove any "fixed date creation" schema. The first known reference is on November 2, 1992, in a Usenet post titled "Last Thursdayism proven!", responding to an apocalyptic prediction:[20]

As everyone knows, it was predicted that the world would end last Wednesday at 10:00 PST. Since there appears to be a world in existence now, the entire universe must therefore have been recreated, complete with an apparent "history", last *Thursday*. QED.

It developed on into a satiric parody religion with a catechism;[21] other postings started the "heretical" splinter groups Last Wednesdayism and Last Fridayism. Another version, claiming not to be a parody, incorporates ideas from solipsism.[22]

See also


  1. How can we see distant stars in a young universe?
  2. Did Adam have a belly-button?
  3. 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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> 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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Rabbi Dovid Gottlieb, "The Age of the Universe".
  5. Morris, John D. (1990). "Did God Create with Appearance of Age?". Acts & Facts 19, (9). Retrieved 14 Feb 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Aardsma, Gerald E. "Correspondence: Virtual History". Retrieved 13 Feb 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. 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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. David L. Wilcox, God and Evolution:A Faith-Based Understanding, Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 2004, 30,
  9. Reverend Canon Brian Hebblethwaite, biography online at
  10. 10.0 10.1 Russell, Bertrand (1921). Analysis of Mind. G. Allen & Unwin.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. 11.0 11.1 Reverend Canon Brian Hebblethwaite, In Defence of Christianity March 6, 2005, p. 4-5
  12. G. Safran, "Gedolei Yisroel Condemn Rabbi Nosson Slifkin's Books". Dei'ah veDibur, January 12, 2005.
  13. Slifkin, p167
  14. (Gosse, p335)
  15. (p336)
  16. Slifkin, Natan. Challenge of Creation, Zootorah 2006, page 161
  17. 17.0 17.1 Slifkin, p164
  18. Borges - Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius
  19. 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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. Seanna Watson (1992-11-02). "Last Thursdayism proven!". Usenet: Retrieved December 5, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. Micheal Keane (1996-08-25). "Church of Last Thursday FAQ". Usenet: 4vovtf$ Retrieved 2007-10-08.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. "Last Thursday Catechism". Retrieved 2008-03-06.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links