It is a question heard repeatedly from Israelis: “If G-d is all-powerful, can He create a stone He can’t lift?”
The question inherently casts doubt on G-d’s omnipotence. After all, if G-d is all-powerful, how could He be unable to create a stone that He cannot lift? And if He can create such a stone, how could He be unable to lift it?
The question is often asked by those who, due to such questions, have lost their faith and connection to Judaism out of sheer bewilderment. It appears in comedy sketches on TV shows. But it also is asked by students at religious schools, whose education has apparently not equipped them with an answer to the apparently perplexing question.
However, on close consideration, the question is revealed to be a logical fallacy, conflating limitations of the object with limitations of the subject.
A simple parable makes this clear: Suppose you asked a master computer programmer working in binary code to input a digit in his binary string that is both a “0” and a “1” simultaneously.
The programmer would presumably look at you in pity, realizing you knew nothing about programming. After all, a binary digit is binary, i.e., it can either be “0” or “1” but it cannot be both at the same time. Indeed, the digit only imparts meaning to the code because it is one of the only two options.
Would it be correct to consider such a programmer incompetent, unable to freely and fully manipulate code according to his will? Certainly not, for he is able to input existing digits as he pleases.
What he cannot do is input a digit that is two digits simultaneously — not because he “cannot,” but because computation itself is a limited medium dictating that digits be either a “0” or a “1.” The same element is unable to be in two states at the same time; it cannot be both itself and the negation of itself.
With this in mind, we view the question of the stone from a new perspective. After all, the question posits a binary state of the stone being either “unliftable” or “liftable.” But the fact that a stone as we know it cannot simultaneously be both “unliftable” and “liftable,” tells us nothing about any supposed limitations of G-d, Heaven forbid. Rather, it expresses a fact we all know well: Physical reality is limited and G-d created it to be such.
Tangible, temporal existence is an inherently limited and constricted state of being: things are always something and not something else (tangible) and are at some time and not at some other time (temporal).
But G-d, Who preceded this physical reality and created it, is certainly not Himself bound or limited by it. Any limitations raised in this paradoxical question exist only in the stone — which is an inherently limited creation — and not in its Creator Who is indeed omnipotent.
After all, G-d can certainly create a stone as heavy and unliftable as He pleases, and by the same token He can cause any stone no matter how heavy and unliftable to elevate as He pleases. Our inability to imagine a single stone that can simultaneously conform to both truths indicates only how our power of conception is grounded in and limited by the material reality we live in.
Interestingly, recent revelations in quantum physics have pointed to how physical reality is in fact more malleable than we think — certainly far more so than the binary digits mentioned above.
Wave-particle duality is a concept that has been verified through testing, which explains that the behavior of every quantum entity, such as a light particle, can be described as either a “wave” or a “particle.” In other words, the same entity contains the nature of two different states. As Albert Einstein wrote in The Evolution of Physics: “We have two contradictory pictures of reality; separately neither of them fully explains the phenomena of light, but together they do.”
Given this, perhaps a stone that is simultaneously both “unliftable” and “liftable” is not impossible, even within our physical reality. Certainly nothing could stop the Creator from making it so.
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