The Infinite, Between Science and Creator

Interview With Monsignor G. Basti

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ROME, NOV. 8, 2005 ( Is the universe finite or infinite? Can it be measured? What is beyond the universe?

To what degree can the human mind understand the infiniteness of God? How is earthly reality combined with the transcendent?

These are questions a group of scientists will try to respond to, when they meet Wednesday through Friday at the Lateran University for an international congress on «The Infinite in Science, Philosophy and Theology.»

For a perspective on the topic, ZENIT interviewed Monsignor Gianfranco Basti, a professor of philosophy of science and nature, and director of the STOQ Project, promoter of the congress.

Q: Is the universe finite or infinite? Where does the beyond begin?

Monsignor Basti: It is a question that is difficult to answer. But if the universe was infinite, it would be a virtual infinity because it is a dynamic, not static, reality.

There is a difference between the infinite of creation, which is virtual, and the infiniteness of God, which is actual. The objective plane cannot be confused with the transcendent.

But there is no opposition between the two planes, because the virtual infinite is a notion that is not in contrast but perfectly in agreement with the actuality of God, and is in agreement with the most pure theological tradition. Suffice it to read St. Augustine and St. Thomas to see this harmony.

Q: The prevailing culture relativizes the infinite and, in this way, leaves the concept of God to one side.

Monsignor Basti: It is true insofar as the prevailing culture but, in the rank-and-file culture, the search for the infinite and for God is growing and enjoys very good health.

Many scientists belong to this rank-and-file culture. Today it is difficult to find a scientist who is totally closed to talk about the idea of God. There is a rebirth of the sense of God, very widespread, in which a great number of scientists participate.

At present, science knows that it can only speak about the finite, while the infinite has been displaced to the field of the virtual.

The debate was already intense in the 19th century, when the great German mathematician Georg Cantor tried to calculate the infinite. It was thought that the infiniteness of God had become immanent in mathematics, and Cantor rebelled against this interpretation because he was a believer.

This proves the manipulation of a certain immanentism that tried to reduce God to what could be scientifically treated, for example, the mathematical infinite.

Q: In the advanced world, above all in Europe, we are witnessing a crisis of registration in scientific schools. How can this congress contribute to scientific progress?

Monsignor Basti: The crisis of registration in scientific schools is a worrying fact. I give classes in a humanistic faculty, but I promote the scientific faculties because it is very grave to stop studying science.

When I had only been a priest for two years, John Paul II went to Cologne. He met with scientists and said that, beyond the question of Galileo, the role of the Church is to promote scientific culture as a search for truth. In this way, the Pope presented the Church as defender of science.

This intervention is little mentioned, but all people of good will should feel committed to the re-emergence of science, because genuine scientists are allies, not enemies, of those who seek truth.

Q: Therefore, you hold that the search for the infinite on the part of science favors the search for God?

Monsignor Basti: Exactly. And to give an example, I can tell you that many of the great scientists who will speak in the congress were not on our agenda — they offered themselves. They wanted to take part in the congress because they are very interested in debating about the infinite.

There are many scientific congresses in the world, but virtually none address basic topics such as the infinite. The congress also has concrete practical repercussions in relation to the models of calculation.

To resolve certain problems of the infinite means to resolve certain problems of calculation. It is not easy to find an opportunity to debate on the infinite in these terms, and we have given it to them.

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