|The divine comedy|
“”Scrappy: [Those hills] were made thirty thousand years ago.
Rincewind: Oh come on, they look millions of years old!
|—Terry Pratchett's The Last Continent|
The hypothesis was promoted by the nineteenth-century naturalist Philip Henry Gosse, in his book Omphalos, published in 1857, although earlier examples of similar thought exist. The name comes from the mid-nineteenth-century Christian belief that Adam had a navel, despite never having been in a womb ("omphalos" is Greek for "navel"). So, the hypothesis stated that the Earth appeared old although it was not, just as Adam had a navel from a gestation he never experienced. Most modern creationists no longer believe that Adam had a navel. Answers in Genesis has some articles roundly condemning this unfalsifiable 'hypothesis' and others explicitly endorsing it.
God's motives in faking the age of the universe are not always explained.
Test of faith
Some believers see God's creation of things like ancient fossils and light from distant stars as a deliberate test of faith, while others do not believe that we should impugn God's motives and chalk it up as one of those enigmas of creation, like the problem of evil.
The Omphalos hypothesis speaks to the character of a god who would perpetrate such deception of false memories and evidence. That is, such a god would be a deceiver. While a lying god is not an entirely inconceivable possibility, it is still something most people would not readily consider (since it contradicts an oft-presumed characteristic of the reasonably well-known Abrahamic God version, namely that this entity is perfectly good and hence not deceitful).
The idea of a deliberately deceitful God is controversial to many theists, both in Gosse's time and since, and is one of the many reasons why the Omphalos hypothesis is not widely supported. Rocks that appear from radiometric dating to be millions of years old aren’t so old at all, God just made them appear old. Similarly, if astronomers analyse the results from their observations and conclude that the Big Bang happened 14 billion years ago, it didn’t really happen very long ago, God just made it seem so. God put us into a universe that appears to contradict the Holy Bible. Then God sends us to hell if we believe what God put into the world!
Saint Paul said that the nature of God can be known from the things that he created. So if the Omphalos Hypothesis is correct, and the young universe only appears to be old, then Paul is saying that God is a deceiver, though of course, that's open to interpretation.
If God is up to making things appear to be what they are not, that habit may not be confined to things like stars, rocks, and fossils. How about making the Bible appear to be saying things that aren't so?
Making a ‘complete’ universe
Despite the above, it is not necessarily a question of deceit. Perhaps “God” wished to create the Earth complete with a past, much like a writer would create his own literary setting. That makes God look superficially better. Still, if God wilfully created the universe looking older than it is, as an omniscient being or even as an intelligent being, he/she must have known this would mislead observers.
It is a serious question as to whether it is logically possible to create a complete universe with complex living things without the appearance of a prior history. Does not a mature animal or plant bear the marks of its prior history? A tree has tree rings marking years of growth. An adult mammal has knowledge which it has gained from experience. A river flows within its banks which have been formed from earlier flows, depositing silt in the delta.
Having to create in the middle of the Universe's cycles
This was Philip Gosse's own hypothesis. He believed that the entities in our Universe run in cycles, and that God has to create those entities at some point in those cycles. Thus, when creating the Earth, God has to create it at some position in its orbit. Likewise with the Earth's rotation. God has to create it in some orientation. In this hypothesis, Adam and Eve had navels because God had to create them as if they had grown in the usual way, umbilical cords and all. Likewise, created trees have rings because God had to create them as if they had grown in the usual way, annual growth layers and all.
This is evidently a variation of the complete-Universe hypothesis, and it has the same problems.
Omphalos asserts a young age for the universe, according to a Biblical tradition, and has been revived and promoted by some modern creationists. In spite of this, the wider young Earth creationist movement is usually considered to be distinct from the Omphalos hypothesis. Most creation science adherents reject the idea because they see it as presenting a wilfully deceitful God, and dispute the overwhelming scientific evidence of an old Earth rather than explaining it away as artificial evidence planted by God. For example, creationist spokesmen like Duane Gish, Kent Hovind, and Ken Ham claim that dinosaurs existed alongside humans in the age of Genesis, probably perishing in the Great Flood, while those supporting the Omphalos hypothesis would argue that dinosaur fossils are not actually evidence of any creature which ever lived – dinosaur bones are just some weird sculptures created a few thousand years ago, along with Adam's navel and the rest of the universe.
Compatibility with science
While the Omphalos hypothesis violates basic scientific principles, it is fortunate that someone who ascribes to Omphalos is unlikely to hinder science or insist that intelligent design be taught in the classroom, since no scientific finding could really contradict their religion.
The hypothesis was lauded by Martin Gardner for being 100% compatible with science. However, like many forms of creationism, it lacks falsifiability and therefore is not a valid scientific theory. As a philosophical theory, it is valid but comparable to thought experiments such as Last Thursdayism – in which the Earth is hypothesized to have been created last Thursday instead of 6,000 years ago.
“”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. There is no logically necessary connection between events at different times; therefore nothing that is happening now or will happen in the future can disprove the hypothesis that the world began five minutes ago.
|—Bertrand Russell, The Analysis of Mind, 1921, pp. 159–60) |
If God placed "events" that "occurred" "before" creation, then it would appear as if you events had actually happened something "before" creation. Because the omphalos hypothesis can explain anything, it operates as an unfalsifiable hypothesis.
The hypothesis fares poorly against Occam's razor, since the conclusions are counter-intuitive and can only be arrived at if we take some prior assumptions (namely that the Bible is correct) to each investigation of evidence.
However, the assumption that all of the universe was specially created is unnecessarily complex, when the actual universe appears to be really old; it thus makes more sense, via Occam's Razor, to assume uniformitarianism and an old universe.
- Last Thursdayism
- Non-overlapping magisteria: Another attempt to reconcile science and religion.
- Starlight problem
- Omphalos: An Attempt to Untie the Geological Knot by Philip Henry Gosse - online text at Gutenberg project
- The Pressing Question of Adam's Navel A hilarious sermon from the Landover Baptist Church
- The subtitle, An Attempt to Untie the Geological Knot, may make an allusion to the Classical story of Alexander the Great "untying" the Gordian knot by cutting through it. Charles Lyell, in his 1833 Principles of Geology: An Attempt to Explain .the Former Changes of the Earth's Surface by Reference to Causes Now in Operation, volume 1, page6 referred to "a desire manifested to cut, rather than patiently to untie, the Gordian knot"
-  This article claims that nothing in science proves the appearance of "age", only of "maturity", but explicitly endorses the idea otherwise.
- Christians regularly resort to 'divine mystery' when they cannot find a better answer.
- The faith-testing concept has been described as conjuring up the image of God burying dinosaur skeletons while, with a mischievous look on his face, saying, "That'll fool the bastards!" On the face of things it looks like a wilfully deceitful Creator - and the concept of such a God being a benevolent one appears implausible; that idea is implausible in any case. Can a God like that be trusted to tell us the truth about our salvation or about anything else?
- Romans 1:20
For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:
- Martin Gardner, Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science, second paperback edition,[When?] pages 125-127.