Letters to the Editor
I humbly request a chance to respond to the article entitled "Sun, Stand Thou Still," which appeared in Creation/Evolution XXI.
It would be proper at this time to introduce myself, since there seem to be some assumptions made which are not valid. I am not a fundamentalist, as the author implies. I do not believe we have an "inerrant" Bible, as the author also implies. Neither am I a believer in an "errant" Bible. When one approaches any subject with that kind of bias, one is walking on shaky ground. For several years, I was president of the Bible Science Association. I resigned because there were those on the board who thought I ought to make a confessional statement of this nature. I respect their opinions, as I respect those of Dr. Jefferys, but I refuse to be put in a box just because of my association with a mixed bag of individuals.
The title of the article, "Sun, Stand Thou Still," implies that the main thrust of my brief paper was based upon the assumption that I took the story of Joshua literally. I presented the subject of Joshua's long day with the introductory statement, "If the sun and moon stood still on the long day of Joshua. . . ." This statement was a simple introduction to the study. I made that clear to Dr. Jefferys in my letters to him. In my letter dated December 15, 1985, I state:
I cannot make the determination if the event "seemed to extend" the day or actually extended the day through some stellar phenomenon. Hence I have used the word phenomenalogical. The graph is intended to read the calculated positions of the bodies without making any adjustments. That is the way I prefer to leave it.
As a matter of fact, I found a solar eclipse over Arabia on the date Joshua recorded the battle (May 2, —1420 Julian), and now hold that the standing still of the sun was a solar eclipse and was not a physical stopping of the sun and moon. Previous to that find, I did not commit myself to any position on the subject.
Dr. Jefferys insists that my chronology is wrong concerning the first millennium BCE based upon absolute chronology established by the larger context of Middle Eastern scholars, which, in turn, is based on astronomical fixes. Then he proceeds to tell us about the variances which take place among the opinions of these scholars. I sense a significant inconsistency with that. For example, he insists that the destruction year of Jerusalem is fixed by astronomical means and then goes on to tell us that it was either 586 or 587 BCE but does not allow me to argue from astronomy that 588 BCE, the traditionally held view, is correct. Further more, he does not comment that experts in these areas of academia voluntarily placed their positive comments on the jacket of my book, History, Harmony, and the Hebrew Kings. These men include Dr. Menahem Mansoor (professor of Hebrew, University of Wisconsin), Dr. Paul Maier (professor of ancient history of Western Michigan University), and Dr. James Strange (archaeologist and professor of Middle East history, University of South Florida). These men are all experts in the field of study and were impressed with the book.
Dr. Jefferys took issue with my computer program, indicating that it did not allow for variations in the moon's orbit, and so forth. My original program came from Dr. Myles Standish, one of his colleagues at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Dr. Jefferys himself concludes in his letter of June 16, 1986:
When I make that correction, the time I calculate agrees very closely with yours. I now find that the time of the conjunction occurs early Thursday morning, almost perfectly 0.4 days later than 6:00 PM Wednesday evening, as you said. Therefore, there is no longer any discrepancy, and I can proceed with my study of your paper secure in the knowledge that we are talking the same language.
He also argues that the ancient Jews operated from an observed calendar, which would make human calculations invalid, since cloudy days would delay the month. That "assumption" does not hold. David knew when a new moon would be expected, for he stated, "Look, tomorrow is new moon . . . " (1 Samuel 20:5). He further argues that the biblical seventh day is not to be taken as the sabbath day. I would agree with him if one were to always argue from that premise, however, one must take the context of the reference. As some examples, creation week ended with the seventh day which was a sabbath day. It was part of the law to read the "Law" on the sabbath; therefore, if God gave the Revelation on the seventh day, and seven days later Moses went to God, it is not bad exegesis to assume it was a sabbath day. If the computer evaluation proves it was one, the assumption is given more credence. Then again, if the priests rotated on the sabbath, and we find a rotation of the priests on a particular lunar date, we have valid reason to insist that it was a sabbath day.
Dr. Jefferys scoffs at the idea that a four-body geocentric alignment of planets is unusual. Let me expand. Any four-body alignment which includes the visibility of Mercury and is less than one degree is very rare. To have an ancient history book date an event of this nature almost six thousand years ago is hardly to be taken as casually as he stated: "I calculated that the actual odds in any year of the order of a few hundred to one."
Dr. LeRoy Doggett does not seem to agree, for in an article for the March 10, 1982, National Geographic he writes:
As far as we know there's never been a "Grand Alignment" and there probably never will be. Studies of planetary motion over millions of years have not uncovered a time when the planets would ever be in a straight line or even very close.
Dr. Jefferys sent me an article from Sky and Telescope (November 1971) which concerns itself with some bunching of planets. The author also does not seem to think that five-body planet alignments are common. It begins with the sentence:
A beautiful and extremely rare celestial spectacle is said to have been visible on March 17, 1725, when Mercury, Venus, Mars, and Jupiter were all in the same telescopic field of view.
This "rare alignment" was in a field of four degrees—not one! The article goes on to say:
An even more remarkable planetary grouping occurred nearly 4000 years ago, according to R. B. Wietzel of Washington, D.C. . . . On the morning of February 26, 1953 BC, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn were clustered in a field of 3.8 degrees.
Dr. Jefferys casually remarks concerning the planet alignment I found: "As far as I can determine, however, that day was just an ordinary day in history, indistinguishable from any other hot day in August."
The day was much more significant than a "ho hum" remark. It did not take place in August; it was at the time of the vernal equinox. It was not just any day; it was a specified day of the week. It was not just a random day in the past; it was a day out of the ancient historical records, an event found to be true! If one found an ancient Babylonian astronomical record true, what would our grounds be for rejecting it? If we find a Hebrew record true, what is the academic justification for rejecting it other than religious bias?
Dr. Jefferys concludes by stating:
Scientifically, conjunctions are of interest only if they provide special observing conditions, like eclipses, and to accord them greater significance smacks of astrology and numerology, not science. Surely one must come up with more than this to refute the overwhelming scientific evidence that exists for the great age of the Earth.
My studies had objective purpose, and that was to test the chronology of the Bible as recorded by an ancient
people who used the sky for their calendar and clock. If that study demonstrated that these records were correct, we as academics do not have the right to toss them aside because of our bias. That is as narrowminded as some fundamentalist views which assume that science is wrong and their views are right. Neither view is good science or, for that matter, common sense. . . .
E. W. Faulstich
I am pleased to learn that Faulstich has abandoned the notion that the events reported in Joshua could have meant that the sun and moon actually stood still and has adopted a more plausible explanation involving a natural phenomenon such as an eclipse. Whether or not it was an eclipse is, of course, still problematical (if, indeed, the Bible reports an actual event), and whether it was the particular one he identifies is also uncertain. Of course, I had no way of knowing that he has changed his mind on this point.
Let me also say that I did not intend to put Faulstich into any kind of "box," and I am glad to know that his mind is open on the question of biblical inerrancy. His refusal to sign a "confessional statement" while he was president of the Bible Science Association is commendable and attests to his integrity. Nevertheless, I admit that I am now puzzled about how to interpret the following statement from the beginning of his paper:
Moses wrote precise history, so precise that we can examine the details of history, even to the hour of the day, all the way back to Creation. There are no gaps in the first verse of Genesis, the Creation account, or the genealogies. His history is perfect and ordered in such a way as to demonstrate that it was written by God for the sole purpose of exposing Himself to man by and through Jesus Christ, the Son of Man and the Son of God.
Turning to Faulstich's comments, every authority that I have been able to find puts the accession of Nebuchadnezzar II in the year 605-604 BCE. This accession date is consistent with either 587 or 586 BCE for the fall of Jerusalem, but it is inconsistent with Faulstich's 588 BCE date. . . . The evidence that fixes Nebuchadnezzar's accession in the luni-solar year 605-604 BCE is overwhelming.
Even if it were to turn out that Faulstich is correct about the dates of Nebuchadnezzar's accession and the fall of Jerusalem, other discrepancies (such as records of King Ahab and Menahem and the dating of the Exodus) must be explained, and I found his treatment of these very doubtful. Faulstich's chronology would require us to abandon so much compelling evidence that by any objective measure his case is very weak indeed.
As for the authorities that Faulstich quotes on the cover of his book, I interpreted their comments as friendly but cautious. I certainly did not read them as validating his work. For example, Professor Strange suggests that Faulstich's book should be read alongside Thiele's, and I cannot disagree with that since Faulstich makes some interesting points that probably should be considered by a serious student. But this is a far cry from endorsing his chronology.
I do not dispute the fact that Faulstich used an accurate program to compute the conjunction in 4001 BCE. What I do say is that he must have used an incorrect method to compute the dates and days of the week of the twenty events listed in his paper. As I stated in my paper, those twenty dates are consistent with the calendar program he sent me, a program that does not take into account either the inequalities in the lunar motion or the circumstances of the new moon's visibility. They are inconsistent with a correct calculation. A substantial number of them cannot have taken place on the days of the week he says they did.
Faulstich's assertion that the ancients did not operate on an observed calendar is surprising, in view of his statement: "The occurrence of the new moon was so essential to the recordings of dates by the Hebrews and to the accurate observation of the festivals in Israel that three pairs of witnesses were required to sight its appearance" (History, Harmony, and the Hebrew Kings, 1986, p. 27), . In any case, the authorities agree that the ancients, , used actual observations of the crescent moon to fix the first day of the month, at least until quite late. According to Richard Parker and Waldo Dubberstein, it is uncertain whether calculations ever replaced observations of the lunar crescent for calendrical purposes (Babylonian Chronology 626 BC-AD 75, 1956).
The cuneiform record demonstrates this quite convincingly. Most strikingly, there are examples of months that had only twenty-eight days! This occasionally happened when there were two successive twenty-nine-day months and bad weather resulted in the first month , being given thirty days. Such a thing could not occur with a calculated calendar.
First Samuel 20:5 does not contradict this. The ancients could frequently tell that the next day would be the first day of the new month, even though they had no general way to calculate it in advance. For example, no month was allowed to have more than thirty days. Therefore, if the thirtieth day of a month had already begun without observing the new moon, then the month had to end at sundown that evening and the next day would automatically start a new month. But this special circumstance only occurs about half the time, and it is entirely different from being able to calculate the first day of any month in advance. The ancients, therefore, had to rely upon actual observation in the face of uncertain observing conditions. It follows that we cannot, from our modern vantage point, determine with mathematical certainty lunar calendar dates during the period 1500-500 BCE as they were actually reckoned. The best we can do is calculate the most probable dates.
Faulstich is correct that one can consider chronological context to determine whether "seventh day" means "sabbath" in a particular instance. However, one cannot then legitimately turn around and use the agreement of that date with the chronology to validate the chronology, as he does in his paper. If the choice of day of the week is dictated by the chronological context, it is no longer statistically independent of the chronology, so a probabilistic calculation like the one he gives would be meaningless. (I want to point out that, for the event in question, Faulstich's date cannot have fallen on the sabbath, so his calculation is wrong in any case.)
In my paper I gave the dates of twenty-eight close conjunctions of the moon, Mercury, Venus, and Mars within the seven-thousand-year span from 4500 BCE to 2500 CE, an average of about one per 250 years. Despite this, Faulstich still argues that events like his are rare. He quotes several authorities in support but fails to recognize that the conjunctions they discuss all involve the planets Jupiter and Saturn. It is obvious that conjunctions involving slowly moving objects occur less frequently than those involving rapidly moving objects, and calculations confirm this fact. For example, replacing the swiftly moving moon by plodding Jupiter would make one-degree alignments about thirty times less common. Therefore, comparable alignments of Mercury, Venus, Mars, and Jupiter average only one per seven or eight thousand years. A similar event involving Saturn in addition to Jupiter might take place only once in two or three million years. Thus, there is no contradiction whatsoever between the high frequency of alignments of the moon, Mercury, Venus, and Mars and the comparative rarity of the alignments discussed by these authorities.
I should mention at this juncture that R. J. Schadewald independently calculated the probability of such alignments, obtaining results very similar to mine. This fact was footnoted in my manuscript but inadvertently omitted from the final copy.
Faulstich also implies that his alignment was particularly visible. The visibility of such an event is governed primarily by its elongation from the sun, because, if the configuration is too close to the sun, the latter's light will overwhelm the relatively faint planets (particularly Mercury). The elongation of Mercury during Faulstich's conjunction was about 18.5 degrees. Eleven of the twenty-eight alignments I found are farther from the sun than this. Some of them are much farther and hence much more visible. Indeed, two of them are over 27 degrees from the sun! Thus, not only was Faulstich's alignment not particularly rare but its visibility was not particularly good.
Faulstich takes me to task for saying that his alignment took place in August. I never said that. In that paragraph I was referring to the alignment which took place in 1827. The point is that coincidences like these alignments, whether they are rare or common, are quite devoid of cosmic significance. To claim otherwise is to dabble in astrology not science.
He says that his alignment took place in the spring on "a day out of the ancient historical records." According to his paper, Faulstich expected the conjunction to happen on Wednesday evening, when he says the planets were created. But calculation puts the alignment on Thursday morning, so his statement that it took place on "a specified day of the week" is falsified. The rest of his claim depends upon our accepting his biblical exegesis over competing ones. His chronology differs considerably from others based upon the self-same biblical material. To give but two well-known examples, Bishop Ussher put the creation several years earlier than does Faulstich, and Jewish tradition puts it several hundred years later. Both have the event in the autumn, not the spring. It should be evident that many chronologies are consistent with the Bible. So I don't know what Faulstich means when he says, "If we find a Hebrew record true, what is our academic justification for rejecting it other than religious bias?" Just what does he mean by "true"?
I do not merely "toss aside" a demonstrably correct biblical chronology. On the contrary, I have tried to approach Faulstich's work on its own merits and not to let my biases prejudice my conclusions. Moreover, I have spent a good deal of time studying the work of other scholars that is relevant to the questions he raises. Although I ultimately found his case unconvincing, I believe that my reasons for rejecting his chronology are very substantial.
Finally, I want to take this opportunity to correct two oversights that were noticed too late to appear in the
published article: thanks go to Dr. E. Myles Standish for his assistance in providing ephemerides to check my
calculations and to the Reverend Bob Breihan for some useful discussions.
William Jefferys' fine article in Creation/Evolution XXI prompted me to open my correspondence files to recall my exchange with Eugene Faulstich. We corresponded for about a year. During that time, we discussed the matter of the miraculous (terrestrial) planetary alignment.
The moment probabilistic interpretations are made, it is of paramount importance to recognize the basis of all such assessments: randomness. If the sample set upon which one evaluates the data is not based upon randomness, probabilistic pronouncements are almost meaningless. If a coin is biased, or not randomized in a selection procedure, it is nonsense to discuss the probability of any specific outcome. The next most important thing to establish is the size of the sample set. If the "coin" has seven equiprobable faces, all but one of them heads, it is nonsense to talk about the fifty-fifty chance of turning heads.
Well, what about the solar system? Are the planetary motions random? Even if we agree to restrict the planets to roughly planar, elliptic orbits? How are the planetary positions to be incremented (this would determine the size of the sample set)? By degrees of arc? Minutes or seconds of arc? Faulstich used degrees of arc. He could have made his probability thirty-six-hundred times less likely by choosing seconds of arc. Or any other arbitrarily lower probability could be realized by opting for a still finer division of the orbit. Hence it is clear that the size of his sample set is arbitrary.
And even if it is allowed that Mars could be found anywhere in its orbit at any instant of time, how is it that Faulstich's computer did, indeed, find Mars in a particular place at a specific time? Computers are very good at taking laws and extrapolating as far as one wishes, but they are useless for predicting a specific outcome of a truly random event. (Of course, this is not a flaw in computers, software, or hardware; it is the nature of randomness.)
Faulstich's computer found the planetary alignment precisely because it was certain. The probability is 1, not, as he supposes, 10-14.
This alleged miracle proving that the universe was created on Wednesday, 4001 BCE at 6:00 PM is about as astounding as releasing a stone from one's hand and marveling that it fell to the ground instead of flying off and landing in a tree.
In issue XXI, Russell Trojan argues that the watch analogy says that, if we find organization or order in the universe, then we should look for an orderer or organizer. He says the design argument poses two questions: (1) can random events produce an ordered product; and (2) does the presence of an ordered product imply design?
First, absolute randomness would itself be the strongest type of nonrandomness—namely, an invariant relation. Absolute randomness is a self-contradictory, self-negating idea. The significance of a contradiction is that it proves falsehood with mathematical certainty. There is no alternative to there being some elements of nonrandomness in the universe. Given a cubic foot of air at sea level in a cubic foot container, random events, molecules of gas striking the inner surface, produce an ordered product, the pressure exerted on that surface. Given a constant quantity of air, the pressure varies inversely with the volume, which is an ordered product of randomness. An improvement on the first question would be: what combination of random and nonrandom variables combined to produce an ordered product? Evolution answers that question.
Second, "no order" would itself be the strongest type of order—namely, an invariant relation. "No order" is a self-contradictory idea. There is no alternative to there being some order in the universe. That there is order is irrelevant to whether there is design. There would be order with or without design and with or without a designer. The presence of an ordered product necessarily does not imply design or a designer.
The design argument is necessarily a false analogy. Analogies can illustrate but cannot ever demonstrate.
An argument similar to the above—for example, "there are no invariant relations"—is itself a statement of invariance. Therefore, there is no alternative to "there are some invariant relations" being true. A true statement is one that cannot be successfully attacked by skeptical questioning. This is like saying that there are no absolutes, which is itself an absolute statement. There are some invariant relations, some absolutes—namely, the laws of nature.
This is a demonstration that there is no alternative to Einstein's principle of equivalence being true. The principle of equivalence states that the laws of nature are exactly the same all of the time and everywhere. The laws of nature are the invariants. They are the order that necessarily exists—that is, has form. The principle of equivalence has proven scientifically unassailable. (Science magazine, published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, August 23, 1985, p. 745.) . . .
I would like to comment on Professor Joseph E. Laferriere's "Morality, Religious Symbolism, and the Creationist Movement" in Creation/Evolution XXI.
The professor's definition of religion "as a system of morality and ethics which establishes a common basis for human decision-making and which provides emotional support and a sense of purpose and direction for its adherents" is as ridiculous as it is wrong.
If this definition is true, then the establishment clause of the First Amendment can be written to read:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of a system of morality and ethics which establishes a common basis for human decision-making and which provides emotional support and a sense of purpose and direction for its adherents, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.
Think of the hordes of laws that Congress has passed concerning ethics and morality which no one ever guessed were unconstitutional! . . .
Don't forget Article Six of the Constitution which, among other things, declares that "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States." If the professor's definition is true, then it is unconstitutional to inquire of a candidate or nominee if he or she has any "system of morality and ethics which establishes a common basis for human decision-making and which provides emotional support and a sense of purpose and direction" for him or her. If this is true, then Judge Bork should sue Congress, for he was, by this definition, given a religious test for the office of U.S. Supreme Court Justice, and, because his "system of morality and ethics" that serves him and those like him as "a common basis for human decision-making" was repulsive to too many Americans, he was found unsuitable for that office. . . .
The definition is also ridiculous because it serves solely the professor's desire—one which he shares with some fundamentalist Christians—to stretch the concept of religion to cover every square inch of the intellectual realm usually called philosophy. The commonly accepted definition of the term religion renders this attempt ridiculous. Religion is not used to mean what the professor considers it best means, not even by fundamentalist Christians—except when they are trying to get secular humanism ruled a religion in the courtroom in order to bring it under the regulation of the establishment clause of the First Amendment. . . .
The most primitive society known to us regulates human behavior with "a system of morality and ethics which establishes a common basis for human decision-making and which provides emotional support and a sense of purpose and direction for its adherents." This sort of social behavior is so completely automatic for humans that to call it religion is merely to say that religion is just instinctive social behavior—and this is really what the professor has said religion is. This is one reason why his definition is as wrong as it is ridiculous. . . .
The best definition of religion is "the faith-derived certainty that reality consists of the material universe and some kind of supernatural realm, with some degree of communication between the two that enables humans to interact with the supernatural realm."
This definition is best because it accommodates the commonly accepted definition of religion. It covers every kind of religious behavior I have seen or read about. It exposes the radical difference between religious behavior (which is an effort by humans to interact with some kind of supernatural realm, usually to procure some sort of benefit from that supernatural realm) and materialist behavior. It makes clear what the founding fathers were determined to regulate with the two laws concerning religion in the U.S. Constitution. It promotes understanding of a major force that influences human behavior.
The professor's definition is wrong because it does none of the above. . . .
G. Richard Bozarth