After hearing George Harper once again tell his story about NASA finding some "missing time," I knew I had a file on the computer somewhere. So, after many moons of searching (Leipzig has the Middle East, I have C:\NETSCAPE\PROGRAM\), I bring this file. If I can find that other file I was looking for, it shall be sent up as well.
Five bucks says George Harper won't understand this article.
There is an urban legend that sometimes circulates which is a report of scientists as NASA finding a "missing day" in their calculations. When they add in the report of Joshua making the sun stand still, the formulas suddenly work out. Some of the less reflective Christians repeat this story as proof that the Bible is correct.
James Kiefer, an Episcopalian who sometimes participates on the mailing list CHRISTIA (or the Usenet equivalent, `bit.listserv.christia'), spent some time looking this up and found what may be the source of this story. This essay can be found in the CHRISTIA library at asuvm.inre.asu.edu. I posted it to "talk.origins" earlier, and someone there suggested that it would be appropriate here.
You can contact Mr Kiefer directly at "email@example.com".
A listmember 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[sic] 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.
CONCLUSION: 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 if 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.
MORAL: 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.
DISCLAIMER: 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.
NOTICE!!! All this does not mean that the stories in Joshua and 2 Kings are false[which, of course, they are]. 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.