Difference Between Rationally Impossible & Something Improbable, By Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi

Translated By: Professor Muhammad Hasan Askari & Karrar Husain
Compiled By: Mufti Umar Anwar Badakhshani

Answer To Modernism

3) Third Principal

  • What is rationally impossible is something totally different from what is merely improbable.
  • The impossible is opposed to reason itself, while the improbable is opposed merely to habit.
  • The predicates of reason and those of habit are quite distinct, and it is erroneous to identify them with each other.
  • What is impossible can never exist, but what is merely improbable may exist.
  • It is the impossible alone which can be described as irrational, while the improbable is only something which reason cannot understand by itself. It is a great error to confuse the one with the other.


Definition of rationally impossible

The impossible is that, the non-existence of which is shown by reason to be necessary (as we have explained with an example under Principle No. 2).

Definition of merely improbable

And the improbable is that the existence of which is allowed by reason, but since no one has ever seen it to exist nor heard of it from sufficient number of observers when one comes to hear of its existence, one is at first astonished and perplexed (as we have explained with an example under Principle No. 1, while discussing the “inability to understand”). The necessary deductions which follow from these two are quite distinct.

The ruling about rationally impossible and improbable

It is necessary to reject the impossible outright merely on the ground of its being impossible, while it is not even permissible to reject and deny the improbable merely on the ground of its being improbable.

Of course, if there are, beside improbability, other arguments for its rejection, then it is not only permissible, but even necessary to reject it.

As we have seen in the first and the second illustrations given under principles No. 1 and No. 2, if someone were to say that “one is equal to two”. It is necessary to reject this statement, but if one were to say that “a railway train runs without being pulled by a beast”, it is not permissible to reject this statement, even though such a thing should be improbable and astonishing for a man who has so far, in the habitual course of things, only seen carriages being pulled by beasts.

In fact, all those things which are not supposed to be astonishing are all in reality very astonishing, but since we have repeatedly observed them to be like this and have grown used to them, this familiarity does not allow us to pay any attention to their being really so astonishing, while in actual fact they are probable and improbable in equal degree.

Let us take two examples – on the one hand, the railway train running as it does, and, on the other, the male seed entering the womb and becoming there a human and living form.

Is there any essential difference between the two cases from the present point of View? Essentially, the second case is the more astonishing fact. But the rustic who has never seen the first case but has repeatedly been observing the second since his childhood, would consider the former to be very astonishing, and would not consider the latter to be at all astonishing, though it is much more so.

Similarly, the man who has become habituated to see a gramophone speak but has never seen human hands and feet doing so, does not consider such an action on the part of the gramophone to be at all astonishing, but feels astonished when he hears of the same action emanating from hands and feet. It would not matter very much if he finds it only astonishing, but the great and regrettable error is that he should consider what is merely astonishing to be impossible as well, and taking it for granted that such a thing is impossible, should go to the extent of denying a clear statement in the Holy Qur’an and the Hadith, or should proceed to makeunnecessary and false interpretations.

In short, it is a great error to treat a certain fact as impossible merely on the ground of its being improbable. Of course, if, beside improbability, one can find some other valid argument also to prove that such a thing does not exist, then it becomes necessary to negate it, as we have already said under Principle No. 1, in presenting the example of the train which was supposed to have covered the distance between Calcutta and Delhi in an hour. On the other hand, if one can find a valid argument to prove its existence but cannot find an argument having the same degree of validity to prove its non-existence, then it would be necessary to affirm its existence. For example, in those days when wireless telegraphy had not yet come into vogue and people had not generally heard of it, if someone had reported that he had seen such a thing for himself, and if we did not already possess a proof of his being truthful, in that case there could be some apparent, though not real, ground for rejecting his statement as false. But if we did possess a sure and certain proof of his being truthful, there could be no ground whatsoever for rejecting his report.

These, then, are the different predicates of what is impossible and what is merely improbable.

The bridge of Sirat is not impossible but only improbable

On this basis we must say that as the passage of people over the bridge of Sirat is not impossible but only improbable, and as a truthful reporter (namely, the Holy Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم) has reported to us that this fact is real and does actually exist, it would be a great rational error to deny and reject the report about this passage over the bridge. Similarly, it is a vain and senseless effort to try to interpret it away.

SOURCE: Answer to modernism, By Maulana Asharaf Ali thanvi

Answer to Modernism: To read the Fourth Principle Click on the link below:


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