"Has NASA established the missing day of Joshua?"
James J. Lippard
This story has been circulating in its NASA version at least since the 1960s, largely due to its promulgation by one Harold Hill, who says that he was present at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center when the above events allegedly took place.
NASA denies that this ever occurred, and Hill, the former president of the Curtis Engine Company of Baltimore, was involved in diesel engine operations at Goddard and had no involvement with any computer operations.
The story predates Hill’s NASA version, and goes back to Charles A. L. Totten’s Joshua's Long Day and the Dial of Ahaz: A Scientific Vindication (1890). Hill published his version in Harold Hill, as told to Irene Burk Harrell, How to Live Like a King's Kid, 1974, Logos International. (Logos International was a Christian publisher with no qualms about publishing phony testimoniesit also published Mike Warnke’s The Satan Seller, Michael Esses’ Michael, Michael, Why Do You Hate Me?, and Fernand Navarra’s Noah's ArkI Touched It, all of which have been debunked.)
For a detailed account of the missing day story, see:
Brunvand, Jan Harold (1984) The Choking Doberman and Other New Urban Legends, W. W. Norton and Company, pp. 198-199.
(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.
Dept. of Philosophy
University of Arizona
Tucson, AZ 85721
Charles N. Brennecke
Charles N. Brennecke
This yarn is without a doubt the most ridiculous piece of fiction I have seen in a long time.
Item: What is the source? The author clearly intends to remain anonymous--and with good cause.
Item: The report is said to be from the Jayton Chronicle, but the anonymous writer doesn't say if this is Jayton, Texas, which is the only Jayton shown in world atlases, or some other unlisted Jayton (assuming even that Jayton, Texas, does have a newspaper name the Chronicle). The story is said to have been reported in "other newspapers," but they are carefully not identified.
Item: No such incident ever happened in Greenbelt, Maryland. The author of the story obviously knows nothing about how computers work or what astronometrics is all about. NASA has a real computer center there, and one of their tasks is to calculate a table that is know as an ephemeris (plural, ephemerides). These tables give us the positions of astronomical bodies (sun, moon, stars, satellites) with respect to a given point of observation. The point can be anywhere in space, even on the planet Pluto if necessary; it can go back (or ahead) to any point in time.
The problem is that the calculations are based on the observed orbits of these bodies, and accurate observations are not more than 300 years old. Observations accurate enough for long term projections didn't even begin until fifty years ago. Based on these observations, the computer can hustle back to Joshua's time and tell in which direction Joshua would have had to look to see, say, the planet Venus, and how far above the horizon he would have had to raise his eyes.
Item: Are those calculations correct, in the sense that an actual Joshua living over 3000 years ago, would have actually found Venus at the predicted point? Not necessarily--both Earth and Venus may have changed their orbital characteristics since that time. The only way to check their correctness would be for NASA to send somebody back to Joshua's time and actually measure! So far this is beyond the capability of rocket science. So when the story-teller says that the Greenbelt people were "checking" their calculations, we have to ask, "Against what?"
Item: The problem of the computer stopping because it found a "missing year" is hilarious. A computer knows nothing about "years" until the programmer tells it. What the computer does is continuously repeat a particular calculation, each time with a different set of numbers plugged into the calculation to get a result. The computer stops only when the programmer tells it to; this can be done by telling the computer to do just so many repetitions or by telling the computer to keep track of each result as it is calculated and then stop when a certain result is achieved. The computer is totally insensitive to the facts underlying the numbers it is crunching.
Item: Somehow the passage in Joshua, chapter 10, became converted from "about a day" to the precise "23 hours and 40 minutes." If the computer couldn't tell Greenbelt that a day was missing, how did it calculate the exact time of 23 hours and 40 minutes?
Item: The author relied on the KJV translation in 2 Kings, but he assumed a lot from a questionable translation. The word translated here as "degrees" is a word that is elsewhere translated as "steps" or "stairs" and is rendered "degrees" only in the story about the extension of Hezekiah's life. Other translations besides the KJV and NKJV use "steps" instead of "degrees" even in the tale about Hezekiah. Actually, then, Isaiah was asking Hezekiah if he wanted the sun to go ahead 10 "steps" or back 10 "steps." Hezekiah made the interesting observation: "No, anyone can make the shadow move ahead--instead let it move backwards ten steps." We can't really know what "ten steps" meant in terms of measuring time in Hezekiah's era or for that matter what kind of measuring device they were using. If they used sundials like the modern type, it would have been easy to make the shadow move in any direction without ever involving the sun at all, by just giving the gnomon a little shove with an elbow.
Of course, the measurement of angles in degrees, minutes, and seconds, as well as the measurement of time in hours, minutes, and seconds is a relatively late invention. How the author of this tract converted the angle measurement of "ten steps" into precisely 40 minutes remains a mystery.
We haven't even addressed the physical consequences of stopping the earth's rotation for even a few seconds, much less a 24-hour period. The energy requirements are so huge that it would take the impact of a major celestial body, striking at just the right angle and the right spot on the earth's surface, with exactly the correct velocity. Since the earth acts like an enormous gyroscope, stopping the rotation would immediately make it tumble at right angles to its path in orbit, so Joshua might have gotten a few seconds of darkness before the sun began to come up in the north and set in the south! Dissipating all that rotational energy would have raised the temperature substantially and perhaps fractured the mantle down to the iron core. All life would probably have been exterminated within a few seconds, and poor ol' Josh would never have gotten to savor his victory.
If this story is the sort of childish nonsense that appeals to Bible-believers, they are certainly welcome to it. I do hope, for their sake, that they don't try to apply their insights to actual projects!
The Skeptical Review
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A moments thought will show that it is a ridiculous story. If you put the present position of the planets into a computer and run it backwards, it will not know if a missing day exist or not, because you only have the one reference point, the present position. The computer will go backwards and give you the position of the planets based upon their present position. It wouldn't be able to tell if there were any anomalies in the planets' orbits, and wouldn't unless you had the starting positions of the planets when they formed (or were formed if you wish), and nobody knows (or can know) that, not even NASA!
Here is what a Christian who studied the origin of this urban legend wrote:<URL:http://www.lhup.edu/~dsimanek/longday.htm>-----------------------------
Joshua's Long Day,
by James Kiefer
A list-member has posted an account of a computer confirmation of the missing day in Joshua 10 and the missing 40 minutes in 1 Kings 20. He quotes a 1969 newspaper article which in turn quotes an engineer, Harold Hill. (Mr. Hill has written several books for Christians, such as How to Live Like a King's Kid.)
William Willoughby, at that time religion editor of the Washington (D.C.) Evening Star, inquired of the NASA Spaceflight Center at Greenbelt, Maryland, where the computer proof is said to have occurred. They denied all knowledge of it. He spoke with Mr. Hill, who says that he obtained the story from a reliable source, and is sure that it is true, but has mislaid his notes and cannot remember exactly where he read or heard it. Many of us know the feeling, and will absolve Mr. Hill from the charge of conscious dishonesty (he has never admitted making it up, and I find no reason to suppose that he did), but at the same time will insist that his account is not acceptable as evidence.
I first encountered the essentials of Hill's story some years before the Greenbelt facility was built. The book The Harmony Of Science And Scripture, by Harry Rimmer, written in 1936, contains the following account (281f), which I here condense:
> There is a book by Prof. C A Totten of Yale, written in > 1890.... > Professor Totten wrote of a fellow professor, an > accomplished astronomer, who made the strange discovery that > the earth was tweenty-four hours out of schedule! ... Prof. > Totten challenged this man to investigate the question of the > inspiration of the Bible. ... Some time later ... his colleague > replied: "In the tenth chapter of Joshua, I found the missing > twenty-four hours accounted for. Then I went back and checked > up on my figures, and found that at the time of Joshua there > were only 23 hours and 20 minutes lost." > ... the astronomer ... read on until he came to the 38th > chapter of the prophet Isaiah (NOTE by JEK: this recounts the > same episode as 2 Kings 20).... So the accuracy of the book > was established to the satisfaction of this exacting critic.
Charles Adiel Lewis Totten is described in Who Was Who In America. He was a professor of military science at Yale from 1889 to 1892. His book (one of many), Joshua's Long Day and the Dial of Ahaz, was published in 1890. In this book, the skeptical astronomer convinced by a study of the Scriptures does not appear at all. Totten's argument, so far as I understand it, goes like this.
> We know from Daniel 9:27 and from various other passages > (mostly in Revelation) that the public ministry of Jesus lasted > three and a half years. Since He was crucified at the spring > equinox, He must have begun to preach at the fall equinox. > Since he began to preach when He was thirty years old, He must > have been born at the fall equinox. Since the world was created > 4000 years before He was born, the world was created on > September 22, 4000 BC. Therefore this day must have been a > Sunday. But calculating back using a calendar, we find that > this date was a Monday. Therefore there is a missing 24 hours. > Since 40 minutes of this are accounted for by the story in 2 > Kings 20 (or Isaiah 38), we see that the "about a day" mentioned > in Joshua 10 must account for the remaining 23 hours and 20 > minutes. End of proof.
It appears that the story began with Totten's calculations, which you will note are not based on any astronomical discoveries, bit on some questionable assumptions about Bible chronology. As references to Totten's work were repeated, persons who knew that Totten claimed to have calculated that the calendar was missing a day, but did not know how he had done so, assumed that the calculation must have been an astronomical one, and so we have the story as it appears in Rimmer. Later, it became natural to assume that an astronomical calculation of this sort must have been done with computers, and since Goddard is one of the chief centers for astronomical calculations with computers (I know an astronomer who works there), it was natural to assume that the calculation must have been done at Goddard. And so the story reached its present form, probably not through conscious fraud, but through the willingness of man to repeat the story, adding details of how they were sure it must have happened.
Even if I did not have evidence about how the story arose, I would
still find it hard to believe, because it doesn't make sense.
(1) If I drop a tennis ball from the top of a tall building, and use the Law of Falling bodies to determine where it will be x seconds later, my calculation tells me only where it will be it nothing interrupts the fall. It does not tell me whether anything (such as a tennis racquet suddenly stuck out the window by someone on the fifteenth floor) will interrupt the fall.
(2) If I observe an automobile driving north at 60 miles an hour past a checkpoint on a long straight highway, I can calculate that 20 minutes ago the auto was 20 miles south of the checkpoint, and 73 minutes ago it was 73 miles south of the checkpoint, and so on, all on the assumption that it has been moving with constant velocity. If I have a report that it passed a checkpoint 80 miles south, not 80 minutes ago, but 90 minutes, then I have evidence that something has interfered with its constant 60-mile-an-hour progress. Perhaps the driver stopped for gas, or to change a tire, or to get a speeding ticket from a traffic officer. But if I have no information except for my observation of the car at the one checkpoint, then all my calculations about its position at various past times are based on the ASSUMPTION that it has been traveling north at the same velocity, with no interruptions. My observation and calculations tell me nothing about whether such interruptions may have occurred.
(3) If I use the present positions and velocities of the Sun, the planets, and their satellites to determine by the Laws of Planetary Motion where every one of these bodies will be 10000 years from now, my calculation shows only where they will be if there is no unanticipated interference. It does not show whether there will be such an interference.
(4) If I use the present positions and velocities of the aforesaid components of the Solar System to determine by the laws of physics where they were just before Joshua's time, my calculations will show only where they were at that time, on the assumption that there has been no interruption, no interference with their motions. They will tell me nothing about whether there has been such an interruption. Now, if I have a checkpoint in the past, I might be able to show a discrepancy. For example, if I had ancient historical records of a solar eclipse in a given year (preferably between 1200 and 700 BC), observed as total at some given point, and my calculations showed that the path of totality for that eclipse in fact passed 10 degrees to the west of that point, then I might conclude that between that observation and the present day something has happened to slow the rotation of the earth by ten degrees, and I might think of the dial of Ahaz and say, "Aha!" (Of course, I might also consider the possibility that the eclipse report was in error.) However, there do not appear to be any such reports. If anyone knows of any, I am always happy to learn.
When you encounter stories that appear to confirm the truth of the Christian faith, and you cannot trace them back to a reliable source, or when there are unanswered questions like How do we know this?, it is best, in evaluating them, to err on the side of too much skepticism rather than too little.
I have read Hill and Rimmer, but my account of Totten is second-hand, being derived from several sources, including an article by Robert C Newman in the 23 August 1974 issue of the UNITED EVANGELICAL, a fortnightly published by the Church Center Press in Myerstown, PA 17067 for the Evangelical Congregational Church (which, despite its name, I conjecture to be a Pennsylvania Dutch offshoot of Methodism, possibly arising out of the preaching of Jakob Albrecht or Philip Otterbein anyone with better information?). I have seen Totten's book, but not read it.
All this does not mean that the stories in Joshua and 2 Kings are false. It just means that the alleged computer proof does not in fact show them to be true. One can dismiss the Totten-Rimmer-Hill proof completely and still be a Bible inerrantist.
Westside Church: Earth's Missing Time
Perpetuating the Myth