Infinity in science and religion. The creative role of thinking about infinity

This article discusses the history of the concepts of potential infinity and actual infinity in the context of Christian theology, mathematical thinking and metaphysical reasoning. It shows that the structure of Ancient Greek rationality could not go beyond the concept of potential infinity, which is highlighted in Aristotle's metaphysics. The limitations of the metaphysical mind of ancient Greece were overcome through Christian theology and its concept of the infinite God, as formulated in Gregory of Nyssa's theology. That is how the concept of actual infinity emerged. However, Gregory of Nyssa's understanding of human rationality went still further. He said that access to the infinity of God was to be found only in an asymptotic ascension, as expressed in apophatic theology, and this view endangered the rationality of theology. Deeply influenced by the apophatic tradition, Nicholas of Cusa avoided this danger by showing that infinity could be accessed by symbolic representation and asymptotic mathematical reasoning. Thus, he made an immense contribution in making infinity rationally accessible. This endeavor was finally realized by Georg Cantor. This rational accessibility revealed discernible structures of infinity, such as the continuum hypothesis, and the cardinal numbers. However, the probable logical inconsistency of Georg Cantor's all-encompassing Absolute Infinity points to an intuitive understanding of infinity that goes beyond its rational structures – as in apophatic theology.
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DOI 10.1515/nzst.2005.47.4.392
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