One of the most persistent “urban legends” in Christianity is the tale that NASA computers have confirmed the Biblical account of the long day of Joshua. This tale has become so widespread that once, while being interviewed on television, an Answers in Genesis–U.S. speaker was asked to comment on how wonderful it was that science had proved the Bible in this fashion. Again, this argument is well meaning but misguided.
The most common version of the story is that some years ago, NASA scientists were doing some advanced computer computations to determine the positions of the sun, planets, and stars. In the course of completing these calculations, the computers ground to a halt. As scientists investigated the problem, they found that the computers had discovered a day was missing. The team was totally frustrated and unable to solve the problem. Then a member of the team, who was a Christian, recalled that the Bible tells of a missing day. He got out his Bible and read:
So the sun stood still, And the moon stopped, till the people had revenge upon their enemies. Is this not written in the Book of Jasher? So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and did not hasten to go down for about a whole day. (Joshua 10:13)
Then, after taking this into account, the NASA team was able to account for 23 hours and 20 minutes of the missing time. But what about the remaining 40 minutes? Well, it was further pointed out that 2 Kings states:
Then Isaiah said, “This is the sign to you from the Lord, that the Lord will do the thing which He has spoken: shall the shadow go forward ten degrees or go backward ten degrees?”
And Hezekiah answered, “It is an easy thing for the shadow to go down ten degrees; no, but let the shadow go backward ten degrees.”
So Isaiah the prophet cried out to the Lord, and He brought the shadow ten degrees backward, by which it had gone down on the sundial of Ahaz. (2 Kings 20:9–11)
This 10-degree movement would precisely account for that missing 40 minutes! NASA has proven the Bible!
Well, not really.
Further investigation reveals that this type of tale dates back to the late 1800s. The story picked up more steam after the 1936 book The Harmony of Science and Scripture promoted it. As time passed, the story was updated to include the advancement of technology, thus the addition of NASA scientists and computer calculations, etc.
So what is the truth? The truth is that this entire scenario is impossible. We can calculate the past or future positions of heavenly objects with great precision. However, in order to detect any “missing time,” we would need an accurate earth-based clock with which to compare our astronomical observations. Otherwise, how could you know anything was missing at all? However, accurate earth-based clocks do not go back to the time of Joshua. Nor do we have precisely-timed astronomical observations from that time. The illusion of astronomical precision for dating past events has in fact led many people to dogmatically hold unsupportable positions without realizing the multiplicity of variables that form a sandy foundation for their contentions.
We know the accounts in Joshua and 2 Kings are real events in history. In no way do we dispute the historical accuracy of the Bible. However, the tale of the scientific discovery of Joshua’s lost day and Hezekiah’s extra minutes is a fable—another argument a Christian should not use.