(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?
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
(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
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.
Brunvand, Jan Harold (1984) The Choking Doberman and Other "New" Urban
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
Skeptical Inquirer. vol. 10, no. 3, Spring, pp. 258-276.
Talk.Origins Archive Feedback for June 1998
Has NASA Discovered Joshua's "Lost Day"?
Padi Boyd and Laura Whitlock
for Ask an Astrophysicist
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