Rational Impossibilities

God cannot do rationally impossible things.

Generally there are two types of impossibilities: 1, The common impossibilities. 2, Rational impossibilities.

Common impossibilities are those things which are impossible under certain conditions although the mind does not consider them to be impossible in every condition. It is possible for the mind to image their occurrence if the prevailing conditions were different. Examples of common impossibilities are: bringing the dead back to life, transforming a stick into a snake or making the force of gravity on the Moon to be stronger than that of the Earth.

All those things are generally considered impossible for humans to do, however the mind does not deem them absolutely impossible. A being with sufficient knowledge and power may be able to do those things. Perhaps in the future, with the progress of science, human beings may have the ability to do many things that are considered to be ordinarily impossible today.

It is believed that God is capable of performing all common impossibilities since God is omnipotent and omniscient. He is able to bring things into existence, manipulate the composition of the universe and is also able to manipulate the laws of physics.

Rationally impossibilities are those ‘things’ which the mind can never accept as being possible under any circumstance. Some examples: a four sided triangle, a square circle, a married bachelor, a parent that never had any children & 2 + 2 = 5.

None of the above can ever exist. The mind can never imagine a four sided triangle, and a triangle by definition, always has three sides. All of those things are absolutely impossible since they bear contradictions.

Many great philosophers and theologians throughout history have held the belief that God himself cannot do the rationally impossible. That is, God cannot do things like create four sided triangles. This is a belief that has also been taught by the official leaders of Islam:

Imam Ali [a] was asked: “Does your Lord have the power to place the Earth in an egg, without making the Earth smaller or the egg any bigger?

He [a] replied: “Verily, Allah, the blessed and exalted, cannot be attributed with deficit/inability. However, what you have asked is impossible.[1]

When Imam Al-Sadiq [a] was asked a similar question and he said: “Although God’s power is infinite, nevertheless, what you are asking is a nothing.[2]

Thus the Imams [a] state that God can do everything except that which is impossible in itself. Imam Al-Sadiq [a] points out that rational impossibilities are considered to be nothing (la shai) because they can never exist. The inability do the rationally impossible is not really an inability since the rationally impossible is not a thing. God can do everything except that which is ‘nothing’.

Some religious people falsely believe that God can do rational impossibilities; they believe that human logic should not be able determine what is impossible for God. However this argument is self-defeating because it allows for the dismissal of ‘human’ reasoning and the argument itself relies upon human reasoning.

If God were able to do the rationally impossible then it would lead to the breakdown of human reasoning. It would become acceptable to say things like: “There is a square circle in that room” and “2 + 2 = 5” since it could be argued that God willed for things to be that way. It would be acceptable to contradict the laws of thought . Humans would be allowed to make irrational arguments with the justification that God is able to do anything.

The notion that God can do the rationally impossible is something that is sometimes promoted by people whose religious beliefs entail contradictions. They desire to justify those contradictory beliefs by invoking the infinite power of God.



[1] Shaykh Saduq, Kitab Al-Tawhid, chapter 9 narration 9.

[2] Ayatullah Jawadi Amuli, A commentry on Theistic Arguments, pages 219-220.

Who Created God?

Many of the concepts discussed in this post can only be properly understood after becoming familiar with the arguments discussed in the following post: The contingency of space-time.

If everything needs a cause for its existence then who or what created God? Theism teaches that God is the uncaused cause. That God creates but, is himself uncreated. However, how can such a belief be justified? If everything requires a cause for its existence then why should God be exempt from this need?

Throughout the ages these questions have been amongst the most difficult philosophical problems that a theist could face and they raise two further problematic objections:

1, If it is said that God does not have a cause then why not just accept the possibility that the physical universe does not have a cause? Why is there a need to invoke an uncaused creator and reject the notion of an uncaused universe? The belief in an uncaused God who created the universe just makes the whole scenario more complicated. The much more simpler explanation is that of an uncaused universe without the need for a God. There should be no need to make things much more complex by asserting the existence of an uncaused God, we could just believe in an uncaused universe.[1]

2, If everything does indeed require a cause for its existence then why reject the belief in an infinite regress of creators? Why not believe that God was created by another (perhaps superior) God who in turn was created by another God and have a series of creating Gods ad infinitum?

These questions can be very difficult to answer if the correct concepts have not been understood. Once they have been understood, the answers are actually quite simple.

The answer in short: Temporal entities cannot be eternal and must come into existence, thus needing a cause. Non-temporal entities must be eternal and thus do not need a cause. Physical universes are temporal and need a cause; God is atemporal (timeless) and thus needs no cause.

The second of the two objections is an easier one to deal with. An infinite regress of causes is impossible and thus even if there were a series of creating Gods, they would not be infinite in number (the series would have to be finite) and only the first in that series could really be called ‘God’; the rest would be created beings that depend on another being for their existence.

The first objection is invalid because it does not appreciate the distinction between temporal and non-temporal entities. Temporal entities clearly cannot exist eternally since time cannot regress infinitely. However non-temporal entities do not experience any time and thus the problem of an infinite temporal regress does not apply to them. Since no temporal regress is experienced by them, it would be incorrect to assert that their existence is not eternal.

Timeless beings are not contingent upon time. They cannot come into existence, they cannot stop existing and they cannot change in any way at all since the passage of time does not affect them. Thus a timeless God who created space-time would not need to have a cause for its existence since it would never begin to exist; it would exist eternally. On the other hand the universe is a temporal entity and scientific evidence (in support of the philosophical proofs) does show that it began to exist, therefore it does require a cause.

A finite series of timeless ‘gods’ as described above is also impossible since timeless entities cannot begin to exist.

The infallible leaders of Shia Islam always put great emphasis on the timeless nature of Allah. Thus they pointed out that questions such as “When did God come into existence?” were not actually valid.

Some of the words of Imam Ali [a] on this subject:

“When did He (God) not exist so that it may be asked when did He (begin to) exist? My Lord preceded the beginning and is without any begining. He will remian after the end without an end.” [2]

His Being precedes times. His Existence precedes non-existence and His eternity precedes beginning.

“Surely, after the extinction of the world, Allah the Glorified will remain alone with nothing else beside Him. He will be, after its extinction, as He was before its production: without time or place or moment or period. At this moment, period and time will not exist, and years and hours will disappear. There will be nothing except Allah, the One, the All-powerful.” [3]

Imam Al-Sadiq [a]: “He has always been, and always will be, the eternal first and the eternal last, without a beginning and without an end. Nothing takes place in Him, nor does He change from one state to another. He is the creator of all things.[4]



[1] Occam’s razor

[2] Shaykh Saduq, Kitab Al-Tawhid, chapter 28 narration 3.

[3] Nahjul Balaghah, sermon 186.

[4] Shaykh Saduq, Kitab Al-Tawhid, chapter 47 narration 1.

Islam and the Cosmological Argument

Many of the great leaders of Islam, including Prophet Muhammad [s] used a form of the cosmological argument to prove the existence of God. Below is an excerpt from the book “God an Islamic Perspective” by Sayyid Saeed Akhtar Rizvi which gives an example of the Prophet [s] using this argument.

Here I give the translation of the discussion of the Holy Prophet with the atheists, a part of which has been mentioned earlier:-

The Holy Prophet asked them: “What is the reason of your belief that the universe has neither beginning nor end and that these things are from ever and will remain for ever?”

Atheists: ” We believe only what we see. As we have not seen the beginning of the universe, therefore we say that it has always existed, and as we have not seen its extinction, we say that it will remain for ever.”

Holy Prophet: “Well, have you seen that the universe is without beginning and without end?”

Atheists: “No, we have not seen its being without beginning nor have we seen its being without end. “

Holy Prophet: ” Then how do you believe in its eternity? And why should your view be preferred to the view of that person who believes the universe to be transient because he has not seen it being without beginning or without end?”

Then after some more arguments the Holy Prophet asked: ” Can you tell me whether the days (time) which have passed on this earth were finite (limited) or infinite (limitless)? If you say that the time, which has passed so far was limitless, then how the later time came in if the former did not pass away?

“And if you say that the time is finite (limited) then you will have to admit that it is not eternal.”

Atheists: ” Yes, it is finite. “

Holy Prophet: ” Well, you were saying that universe is eternal, not created nor finite. Do you realize what is the implication of your admission that time is finite? What were you denying? What have you admitted?”

Atheists accepted that their belief was not correct.

Incidentally, this argument of the Holy Prophet shows that ‘time’ has unbreakable relation with matter. Otherwise, he could not have introduced the element of time in the discussion about matter. The beauty of this can best be appreciated by only those who have studied the theory of Relativity.

The Contingency of Space-Time

Synopsis: All temporal entities must ultimately have a supernatural cause. Since we have a temporal existence and live in a temporal world, then at least one supernatural cause must exist.

An infinite regress of causes is impossible. Imagine if a soldier (let’s call him the first soldier) at the battle front said “I will only attack the enemy if the soldier standing to the left of me attacks first”. Then the soldier to the left of him also said: “I will only start attacking if the soldier to the left of me starts first”. Similarly if there were an infinite series of soldiers lined up to the left, and they all said the same thing one after another, then the first soldier would have to wait an infinite amount of time before he could start. He would have to wait for an infinite number of soldiers to start attacking before he could make his attack. Thus the first soldier would never start attacking and none of the soldiers would ever start attacking. Therefore in this scenario the first soldier could only start attacking if the series of soldiers before him was finite in number. This demonstrates that an event cannot take place if the regress of causes preceding it is infinite in number. Thus an infinite regress of causes is impossible. For any event to take place, the series of preceding causes must be finite in number and must have a beginning point.

Similarly if time had no beginning then we would not be here today since we would be waiting for an eternity of time to pass away before our period of time could exist. To claim that the past is infinite is like claiming that it is possible for a person to count down from infinity to the number zero, and that is clearly absurd. A similar line of argument (given here) was used by Prophet Muhammed [s] to prove that the universe is finite in age.

From above we can undoubtedly conclude that all temporal entities, including our Universe, cannot be eternal and must have come into existence.

Space-Time is a single entity.

Someone could object to the above conclusion by saying that although time cannot regress backwards infinitely, it is possible for the beginning of the universe to exist in a timeless state and then transform itself into a temporal entity. This assertion would be a false one fro two reasons: 1, Matter cannot exist without experiencing time, and this can be demonstrated both scientifically and philosophically. 2, A timeless entity would not be able to become temporal.

According to Einstein’s theory of special relativity (a theory that has been demonstrated to be valid and has been accepted by modern scientists)  space and time are not separate entities. They exist as one unified entity called space-time which makes up the very fabric of the universe, as the world famous physicist Dr Paul Davies explains when discussing the origin of time:

“You can’t have time without space, or space without time, so if space cannot be continued back through the big bang singularity, then neither can time. This carries a momentous implication. If the universe was bounded by a past singularity, then the big bang was not just the origin of space, but the origin of time too. To repeat: time itself began with the big bang.”[1]

Thus the universe did not come into existence in time, but with time. The big bang theory could serve as a scientific confirmation for the philosophical proofs which demonstrate the impossibility of infinite temporal regress.

The unification of space-time is not only demonstrated scientifically but also philosophically, for the mind cannot image space existing without the existence of time.

If the universe is not eternal then does it need a cause for coming into existence? Could it not cause itself?

Anything that comes into existence must have a cause for its existence. It is completely irrational to believe that an event or an effect can take place without a cause. If absolutely nothing at all existed then it would impossible for something to come into existence from nothing. Absolute nothingness cannot cause something! Since space-time isn’t eternal and comes into existence then it requires a cause. The coming of the universe into existence must require a cause. The universe cannot cause itself because then the universe would have to exist before it existed and that notion is absolutely absurd. Circular causation is rationally absurd.

There is no doubt that the universe could be a product of another spatial and temporal entity such as a parent universe or a multiverse. It may be that the big bang for this universe occurred inside another parent universe (e.g. perhaps from a black hole), so we may be living in a sub-universe. It is also possible that our universe may even exist as an oscillating universe. However none of these can escape the problem of an infinite regress of time. Anything that experiences time cannot be eternal and must have a point of creation as highlighted above. The parent universe or multiverse would also need to have begun at some point. It is also possible that the parent universe itself was caused by another parent universe; infact there may be a whole series of parent universes giving birth to child universes. However since an infinite regress is impossible, there must have been a begining point were the very first spatial and temporal entites came into existence and they would not have been caused by other spacial and temporal entities.

The initial (very first) cause of temporal entities cannot be a temporal entity since it would also have to be finite and require a cause to bring it into existence, thus there must be an initial cause that is not composed of space-time and is supernatural. A spaceless and timeless entity.



[1] Davies, Paul. (2006). “The Goldilocks Enigma”.