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Omphalos hypothesis

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Scrappy: [Those hills] were made thirty thousand years ago.

Rincewind: Oh come on, they look millions of years old!

Scrappy: Yeah. Thirty thousand years ago, they were made a million years ago.
Terry Pratchett, The Last Continent[1]

The Omphalos hypothesis is a creationist idea asserting that the universe was created to appear very, very old (or simply "mature") despite being created not that long ago.

The hypothesis was promoted by the nineteenth-century naturalist Philip Henry Gosse, in his book Omphalos,[note 1] published in 1857, although earlier examples of similar thought exist. The name comes from the mid-nineteenth-century Christian belief that Adam had a navelWikipedia, 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.[2][3][4] Answers in Genesis has some articles roundly condemning this unfalsifiable 'hypothesis' and others explicitly endorsing it.[2][5]

God’s motives[edit]

God's motives in faking the age of the universe are not always explained.

Test of faith[edit]

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.[note 2]

Deceitful god[edit]

See the main article on this topic: 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![note 3]

Saint Paul said that the nature of God can be known from the things that he created.[6] 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[edit]

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 willfully created the universe looking older than it is, as an omniscient being or even as an intelligent being, they 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[edit]

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.


After the Flood...[7]
See the main article on this topic: Young Earth creationism

Omphalos asserts a young age for the universe, according to a tradition of selected Biblical texts, and some modern creationists have revived and promoted omphalism. In spite of this, the wider young-Earth creationist movement usually peddles ideas distinct from those of the Omphalos hypothesis. Most creation-science adherents reject the Omphalos idea because they see it as presenting a wilfully deceitful God, even though this might well gel with the "capricious and irascible" Old Testament Yahweh.[8]:243

They dispute the overwhelming scientific evidence of an old Earth rather than explaining it away as artificial evidence planted by an omnipotent Creator. 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 do not actually provide evidence of any creature which ever lived – dinosaur bones are just some weird sculptures created put together a few thousand years ago, along with Adam's navel and the rest of the universe.

Compatibility with science[edit]

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.[9]:125-127 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.[10]

If God had placed "events" that "occurred" "before" creation, then it would appear to an observer as if these events had actually happened - causing the false impression of something occurring (the "anything") "before" creation itself. Because the Omphalos hypothesis can explain anything in this way, it operates as an unfalsifiable hypothesis.

Occam's Razor[edit]

See the main article on this topic: Occam's Razor

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 by a thinking, all-powerful agent, and that this agent intentionally provided countless evidence to make the universe look old is horseshit unnecessarily complex. It thus makes more sense, via Occam's Razor, to assume uniformitarianism and an old universe.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. 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".
  2. Christians regularly resort to 'divine mystery' when they cannot find a better answer.
  3. 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?


  1. Terry Pratchett, The Last Continent. Doubleday, 1998. ISBN 0385409893.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Gary Parker, Did Adam Have a Belly-Button? Answers In Genesis, 1 June 1996.
  3. Arshad M. Khan, Adam’s Navel and Religious Traditions., 19 November 2010.
  4. Did Adam have a belly button? And what about Eve? Archived from, 7 July 2013.
  5. Tommy Mitchell, God Created Things to “Look Old”. Answers In Genesis, 26 October 2010. This article claims that nothing in science proves the appearance of "age", only of "maturity", but explicitly endorses the idea otherwise.
  6. 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:
  7. Noah the undertaker., 15 April 2014.
  8. Stephen Prothero, God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World, And Why Their Differences Matterz. Schwartz, 2011. ISBN 9781921866388.
  9. Martin Gardner, Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science, Dover Publications, 1957. ISBN 0486203948
  10. Bertrand Russell, The Analysis of Mind, 1921, pp. 159–60.