Sunday, May 1, 2011

Is Impossibility Possible?

One of my best friends requested that I write on this topic about a week ago. I thought about just sitting down to pound it out, but I figured it would be a better idea to take some time to actually think about what I actually believe and why.

The question was:
Is it possible for something to be impossible?

There are two different sides to this question. There is the strictly physical, mathematical side, as well as the metaphysical, spiritual side. I'll start with the former, as it is a little easier to tackle.

The word "impossible," at its core, requires a level of certainty and proof that human beings are incapable of providing. I read not long ago science, at its core, is wholly incapable of showing certain black-and-white facts to be true, but incredibly adept at proving opposing facts to be false.

Take gravity for instance. General knowledge says, "Gravity causes anything with mass to fall to the ground." Science says, "In every recorded trial, something has caused anything with mass to fall to the ground." (Obviously simplified, ignoring buoyancy, etc.) It cannot say anything more. There is no way to say with absolute certainty that the NEXT trial will not be the one that sees a block of steel float in the air, against conventional wisdom and thousands of years of science.

What science can say, without hesitation, is that there is no physical law that will cause that block of steel to float in opposition to what we have named gravity all of the time. If you have a hard time believing this, hold something heavy over your foot and try to tell me that you have mathematically proven gravity does not exist. The chances of that object resisting gravity are as close to zero as we can comprehend.

So my answer to whether something can be impossible in the physical world is yes, even though we may not be able to determine with perfect certainty what those things are. For all intents and purposes, there is a zero percent chance that you will fall through the center of the earth at any given moment and end up in Asia unharmed.

The metaphysical side of the question is where you will get different answers depending on who you talk to. (There may be some dispute over the physical world definition of impossibility, but probably not a whole lot.) It really all comes down to what you believe. As a Christian, I am compelled to believe that at any moment, God is in control of every single minute detail of the universe. Miracles have happened and continue to happen, and they are, by definition, impossibilities made real.

As a scientist and engineer, this can be a tough pill to swallow. Miracles are not easily found, and are impossible to conclusively classify as such. However, the Christian faith requires miracles. Without miracles, there is no resurrection, and there is no salvation.

Such is life with the knowledge of an omnipotent God. So is it possible for something to be impossible? Yes, in the absence of divine intervention.


  1. Nice writing Peebs :)
    The last two lines got me thinking - aren't ALL things actually impossible in the absence of divine intervention? The physical laws that govern this universe, cause things to fall instead of float, and hold the atoms of that steel block together are designed and maintained by divine intervention. No?

  2. Great point. A better way of putting it might be "Yes, in the absence of a divine divergence from established trends" or something like that.

    It's tough to form and communicate a concrete opinion on the subject when it depends so much on what the person you're "arguing" against believes.