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The Question

(Submitted March 25, 1997)

Can the event that took place in Joshua 10:13 be confirmed, for example by counting the positions of heavenly bodies backward in time?

The Answer

According to the laws of physics, there are only two possible explanations for having the Sun stand still in the sky for a day: (1) the Earth would essentially have to stop spinning on its axis...for which there is no evidence. -or- (2) the Sun would have to start moving about in the solar system in a very specific way so that it appeared to us on our spinning Earth to be standing still. There is no evidence of this occurring either.

We, too, have heard an "urban legend" about scientists at NASA GSFC finding the "missing day" in computer calculations of the motions of the planets. The legend has been around for longer than NASA itself, but turned into a NASA "event" sometime in the 60's. The story goes that some scientists were doing orbital mechanics calculations to determine the positions of the planets in the future, for use in determining the trajectories of future satellite missions. They realized they were off by a day. A biblical scholar in the lot remembered the passage from Joshua and all was set right. But these events, in fact, never occurred. It is easy to understand why:

The "GSFC finds missing day" urban legend doesn't make sense for the following reason. If we want to know where the planets will be in the future, we use accurate knowledge of their initial positions and orbital speeds (which would be where they are located now), and solve for their positions for some time in the future. We solve a very well determined set of equations that describe their motions. The major dynamical component of any planet's orbital motion is determined by solving an equation (force is equal to the mass times the acceleration) which is the perhaps the most fundamental in classical physics. The validity and predictive power of this equation are well documented and can be seen every day: a recent example is the lunar eclipse that was visible to much of the world last Sunday. This calculation would not cover any time before the present, so some missing day many centuries ago, if it had occurred, could not be uncovered with this method.

In general, trying to prove events that are said to have occurred in the Bible, using scientific principles, doesn't work. Most scientists draw a clear distinction between things that are taken on faith, and those that are testable and therefore falsifiable. Science deals with the latter, and religion with the former.

Check out:

Brunvand, Jan Harold (1984) The Choking Doberman and Other "New" Urban Legends. W. W. Norton and Company, pp. 198-199.

Brunvand, Jan Harold (1991) "The Missing Day in Time," paper presented at the annual conference of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), Berkeley, California, May 4.

Loftin, Robert W. (1991) Origin of the Myth About a Missing Day in Time. Skeptical Inquirer. vol. 15, no. 4, Summer, pp. 350-351.

McIver, Tom (1986) Ancient Tales and Space-Age Myths of Creationist Evangelism. Skeptical Inquirer. vol. 10, no. 3, Spring, pp. 258-276.

and

Talk.Origins Archive Feedback for June 1998

Has NASA Discovered Joshua's "Lost Day"?

Regards,
Padi Boyd and Laura Whitlock
for Ask an Astrophysicist

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