JOSHUA'S LONG DAY AND THE NASA COMPUTERS
Robert C. Newman
In recent years various versions of the following account have appeared in newspapers and magazines all over the U.S. and even beyond:
Naturally, many Christians are excited about the story, but others are asking, "Is it really true?" Such a question may sound like lack of faith to some, but without rejecting the biblical accounts, an attempt to investigate this story is just obedience to the apostle's commands "Prove all things; hold fast to that which is good" (1 Thess 5:21) and "Whatsoever things are true ... think on these things" (Php 4?9). So let us ask, "Is the story true?"
William Willoughby, the religion editor of the Washington, DC Evening Star and an evangelical who is seeking to have creation taught in the public schools, wrote an article on the NASA computer story in his "Washington Perspective" column of August 8, 1970. He had contacted NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center at Greenbelt, MD and was told that no one there knew of any such event having occurred. So many people have written NASA about the story that they have printed up a special form-letter to answer them.
Willoughby also contacted Harold Hill in Baltimore. Hill sticks to his story, which he claims to have on good authority, but he says he cannot locate his documentation.
These facts by themselves cast something of a shadow on the story, but the doubt increases when certain details of the story itself are examined. Mention is made of "a day missing in space in elapsed time," but nothing is said about how this day was discovered, except that a computer found it. But computers cannot do any calculations that humans cannot do, nor do they "know" anything that we don't. Their real advantages are speed and accuracy.
To detect a day missing in elapsed time, it would be necessary to have a known fixed-point in time before the day that is missing. Moreover, the above story suggests that the scientists found not only that exactly one day was missing, but that 23 hours, 20 minutes of it was lost in the time of Joshua (not after 1250 BC; many conservative scholars put it back around 1400 BC), and the remaining 40 minutes was lost in the time of Hezekiah (about 700 BC). So in this case, we need two fixed-points: one before the time of Joshua and another between the times of Joshua and Hezekiah. These fixed-points must be known with an accuracy of a few minutes both by astronomical calculation and by contemporary historical records in order to detect the discrepancy.
The only method I know of which could produce such accuracy would be observations of eclipses of the sun, since these are total only along narrow paths and only last for a few minutes at any specific locality. But the earliest dateable eclipse of the sun occurred in the year 1217 BC, after the time of Joshua (see the article "Eclipse" in the 1970 edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica). In any case, ancient eclipse observations are not given with a accuracy of a few minutes even by local time, so confirmation of Joshua's long day by science seems to be impossible at present. This strongly suggests that the computer story is a hoax.
In addition, the main features of this story are older than either NASA or electronic computers! In his Harmony of Science and Scripture, published in 1936, Harry Rimmer recounts the following story (pp 281-282):
Comparing this account with the NASA computer story, notice that both include the same three numbers: a whole day missing overall; 23 hours and 20 minutes lost at the time of Joshua; and 40 minutes at the time of Hezekiah. Here, too, we have a dramatic (but rather different) story of how a skeptic is brought to see the truth of Scripture. In addition, there is reference made to a book by a C. A. Totten, which dates back to 1890.
Charles Adiel Lewis Totten is listed in Who Was Who in America (1:1247). He was a professor of military science at Yale from 1889 to 1892, when he resigned to spend more time on his religious studies. He was a British-Israelist, believing that the Anglo-Saxons were the lost tribes of Israel, and an Adventist, who predicted the reign of Antichrist would occur in the seven-year period 1892-99. Among his many writings is Joshua's Long Day and the Dial of Ahaz, published in 1890. After some exertion and considerable frustration, I succeeded in locating a copy of the third revised edition, published in 1891. Since then, the work has been reprinted by Destiny Publishers of Merrimac, Massachusetts.
Reading Totten's book brought another shock -- the dramatic story of a skeptic convinced does not appear! Instead, Totten himself, a non-skeptic all along, seeks to show that a total of 24 hours are missing from past time, of which 23 hours, 20 minutes wre lost in Joshua's day, and 40 minutes at the time of Hezekiah.
Totten does not actually reproduce the calculations by which he seeks to prove his case, but merely gives the results. On pages 39, 59 and 61 of the edition I consulted, the fact emerges that Totten is using an assumed date of creation -- the autumnal equinox, September 22, 4000 BC (p 61) -- as the known fixed-point before the long day of Joshua! Taking the first day of creation to be a Sunday by his understanding of Scripture, and finding that by calculating back from the present, September 22, 4000 BC would fall on a Monday, he concludes: "...it can come so by no possible mathematics without the interpolation or 'intercalation' of exactly 24 hours" (p 59).
Totten's presentation tends to obscure his method of discovery. It looks like he really started with this 24 hours missing, then decided from the ten degrees mentioned in the Hezekiah incident to assign 40 minutes to that event (since the sun moves about 10 degrees in 40 minutes), leaving 23 hours, 20 minutes to Joshua. But Totten has mentioned no fixed-point between the times of Joshua and Hezekiah, and therefore he has no way of showing, independent of the biblical material, that just such a division of the total time is made. Totten's work, then, does not give any independent support to the Scripture accounts.
Totten does tell us where he got his date of creation. It was calculated by the British Chronological Association. This group, headed up by Premier Chronologist Jabez Bunting Dimbleby, used to publish an almanac entitled All Past Time, in which they claimed to be able to account for every day since creation. Examining their almanac for 1885, it appears that they established their chronology by adding up the numbers given in the received text of the Old Testament, using a liberal supply of speculation regarding ancient methods of keeping the lunar and solar calendars aligned. The whole work is rather technical, but a few minutes reading convinced me that their method of interpreting Scripture is often arbitrary. In the light of archeology, few conservative Christians would now accept 4000 BC as the date of creation, even among those who believe the earth is much younger than geologists are willing to concede. But Totten's whole scheme depends entirely on knowing the exact day of creation.
In summary, Totten's work has no foundation independent of the Bible, and it is questionable whether he has properly understood Scripture in regard to his fixed-point, the date of creation. Sometime between Totten's work in 1890 and Rimmer's in 1936, the results were put in the form of a dramatic story in which Totten becomes a bystander and a skeptical astronomer the calculator. Since 1936, the story has apparently been updated by the additions of "space age" features, including NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center scientists to replace the lone astronomer, and computers to speed up the tedious calculations.
Does this story have any lessons for us as Christians? I think so. We would all like to see skeptics turn to Christ, and it is sometimes a temptation for us to "bend" the truth a little to make a stronger argument. After all, the end (eternal life for someone) justifies the means (a little lie), doesn't it? No, it doesn't! This is trying to do God's work using Satan's tactics!
In the long run, when God allows the truth to come to light, such lies only give unbelievers modern examples by which to claim that the Bible writers were guilty of the same things. Our attempt to "help" God thus becomes an argument for unbelief. Instead, Christians should gave such zeal for the truth that unbelievers will come to see that we really have it.
We should rebuke the Rimmers and the Hills and others who have passed on these stories. They (and we) should be careful in checking sources, especially for materials which are favorable to our position. And certainly we should not be inventing stories to make Christianity look good! There are excellent evidences for the truth of Christianity, so that those who choose to reject it will have no good answer in the day of judgment. Let us be active helping people see this while they can still turn to Jesus Christ.