What Would Happen If the Earth Stopped Rotating? (Josh. 10:1-15)

From time to time the Bible makes some interesting claims about how the cosmos works. There are the creation stories, the great flood, and frogs falling from the sky, but the one that I find truly amusing is found in Joshua. In chapter 10, Joshua and his army go to battle against the Amorites, and something quite special happens:

12 On the day the Lord gave the Amorites over to Israel, Joshua said to the Lord in the presence of Israel:

“Sun, stand still over Gibeon,
and you, moon, over the Valley of Aijalon.”
13 So the sun stood still,
and the moon stopped,
till the nation avenged itself on[a] its enemies,

as it is written in the Book of Jashar.

The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day. (Josh. 10:12-13)

Let’s ignore the obvious geocentric problem for now. In order for the sun to appear to have stopped overhead for a day, the Earth would have to stop rotating. Okay, what would happen if the Earth suddenly stopped rotating?

The circumference of the earth is just shy of 25,000 miles at the equator, which means the surface at the equator is zipping around at about 1000 miles per hour. We don’t notice this because we’re zipping right along with it (duh). But thanks to Netwon’s First Law of Motion, if the ground were to suddenly stop moving, everything (and everyone) else would keep trucking along at 1000 mph. And thanks to the curvature of the Earth, your eastward flight would quickly turn into an upward flight. The good news: the escape velocity for Earth is something like 25,000 mph. But good luck sticking the landing!

Remember, more than just people, animals, and buildings are spinning with the Earth. The oceans and atmosphere are too. A sudden stop would bring the oceans our of their basins, flooding basically everything, and winds would continue on their way at 1000 mph (over six times faster than a category 5 hurricane) long after you’ve reaquanted yourself with terra firma.

This is, of course, silly. Any natural (or, if you prefer, well-conceived plan by a non-interventionalist God) doesn’t work without killing everything on the planet. That really only leaves two possibilities, either this happened through special God magic, or it didn’t happen at all. (And it is included in this story because someone without much scientific knowledge thought it explained something.) Given that we don’t have any good reason to believe it happened (the event isn’t corroborated anywhere, the only source is incredibly flawed, etc. etc. etc.) I think it’s a safe bet that the earth has been spinning happily along without interruption since long before the dawn of man.

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