With the holiday season in full swing its time to reflect on some of the fundamental questions we as self-conscious sentient beings obsess over. One that has been addressed recently in a Dkos diary, concerns the perennial question of belief in God, and the conflict between the received word of God as recorded in the Bible and accepted scientific knowledge.
As we are all aware there is still an ongoing conflict between fundamentalist religious beliefs and secular scientific knowledge in our country. This conflict has obvious political and social consequences that get constantly played out in the MSM. Approximately 30% of the population are biblical literalists who believe in a strict literal interpretation of the Book of Genesis. A similar number are what might be called scientific naturalists who accept the fact that science has demonstrated an immensely old and vastly expansive universe that is at odds with biblical creationism. The vast middle ground, probably 40% or more, accept the cognitive dissonance inherent in accepting their religious teachings and the scientific precepts that underlie our modern technological civilization. There are many ways this is done. Some compartmentalize their religious and non-religious interpretations of the world around them. They can hold conflicting beliefs simultaneously, such as belief in the Bible and evolution. They just accept both without qualms. Others attempt to meld them together into some sort of amalgam such as theistic evolution, in which God is seen as the ultimate first cause guiding the unfolding of the evolutionary process. In support of this idea, those who give it deeper thought posit the Anthropic principle, that the natural world is made to order for human life.
One interesting attempt to accommodate biblical creationism with the physical record of a long geological record and cosmological past was first broached in the 18th century and popularized in a 1857 book, Omphalos by Philip Henry Gosse. Omphalos, Greek for navel, is a reference to the conundrum as to whether Adam had a navel. Being created by God and not by maternal birth he would have had no need for an umbilical chord and navel. Therefore if God had created Adam with a navel it would be to establish him as a product of natural processes. The same applies to trees. Did the trees that God created have growth rings? Did they germinate from seeds or were they created as full grown organisms. A literal reading of Genesis would suggest the latter, hence if they had growth rings they would have been an artifact introduced by God to give them a naturalistic heritage. This led to the idea that God created the universe and the world we live in with a full blown historical past and that the geological/fossil record and cosmos as we observe it were set up by God to have a "fictitious" past. Thus the world could have been created 6000 years ago with the appearance of being much older.
This idea obviously has many drawbacks that can be referenced at Wikipedia. One of the most amusing is Last Thursdayism, which by following the same principle suggests that the world could have been created last Thursday or for good measure minutes ago with all of our memories and the world around us the product of divine edict. Needless to say the Omphalos hypothesis has not gained many adherents. It was basically a way to rationalize away the fossil record and the evidence for deep geological time in the mid-1800s.
There is another take on the Omphalos hypothesis that may however resonate better with today’s understanding of the universe. It also accommodates to the Anthropic principle mentioned above. The question is how to account for the vastness of the universe with its billions of galaxies and untold trillions of stars the majority of which also have planetary systems like our own solar system. If the universe extends over a time of 13.8 billion light years, how can we maintain our centrality to creation that the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) require? Either the universe is replete with untold numbers of life bearing worlds some of which have obtained intelligent species with advanced technologies such as our own or we are alone in the vastness of space and time. The proponents of extraterrestrial intelligence take the first tact. It would be totally presumptuous on our part to suppose that we are central to the universe and somehow special in the eyes of God. God in this perspective either does not exist or is the ineffable first cause of the Deists who set it all in motion and than retired. But why the vastness of space and time? Why the billions upon billions of galaxies seen in the deep Hubble space field with their hundreds of billions of stars apiece? It all seems so superfluous if we are somehow central to God’s creation.
Here is where a reverse Omphalos hypothesis may come into play. Start with a desire to create a species such as our own, which is made in the image of God. In order to do so it must function biologically and be part of a intricate ecosystem. This would necessitate creating the complex world that we are apart of. But in order to do that there must be preconditions. The conditions must be laid to set in motion the events that would allow for the natural occurrence of our species in a larger biological context. Applying this principle backwards in time it can be imagined that the vastness of space and time and the evolutionary processes that were initiated with the big bang (i.e. creation) were the prerequisites for human life to eventually occur. Hence God set in motion the universe and its natural laws that we are still discovering as necessary preconditions for our existence to eventually unfold. The vastness of the universe, its unfathomable dimensions in time and space are of little consequence to a God who is outside of time and space. The uniqueness of humankind within this vastness thus becomes understandable, the universe must be as it is for us to exist as we are. Rather than being one of innumerable sentient beings scattered about the universe, we are its sole intelligent inhabitants. We could not exist otherwise. So revel in the knowledge that we are the sole intelligence in the universe and the universe was created as such for us to exist in and contemplate.
I don’t believe it for a second but it’s an interesting thought experiment.