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  • How Can Human Symbols Represent God? A Critique of and Constructive Alternative to Robert C. Neville’s Account of “Indexical” Theological Truth

Charles S. Peirce’s semeiotic—his theory about signs, reference, interpretation, meaning, and communication—is applicable with illuminating results to innumerable processes of semeiosis or sign interpretation. Robert C. Neville is the first deep student of Peirce’s semeiotic to have systematically applied that theory to the analysis and theory of theological signs, interpretation, and truth—hereafter, theological semeiotic. The result is easily the deepest and richest theological semeiotic currently available. Being the best, it is also most worthy of critique. In this essay, I argue that Neville misinterprets Peirce’s concept of an index, conceiving an index in terms of the interpreter-object rather than sign-object relation. Among other unfortunate consequences, this error mars Neville’s account of theological truth, especially his claim that theological signs can be “iconically false and yet indexically true.”1 After making this critique in section 2, I offer an alternative account based on the hypothesis that the creation itself is a genuine index, a sign representing the Creator both indexically and iconically (section 3). This thesis, when combined with the thesis that the idea of God arises via a logical process Peirce termed “hypostatic abstraction” (section 4), provides the logical backbone needed for developing a realistic theory of theological reference and truth.

I. Peirce’s Concepts of Degenerate and Genuine Indices

Let us begin, not with Neville’s misconceived index, but by summarizing Peirce’s concepts of degenerate and genuine indices. Peirce’s “first and most fundamental”2 classification of signs into icons, indices, and symbols divides signs according to the different ways they represent their objects. An icon represents its object because the icon’s qualities are like the object’s qualities. [End Page 73] Thus, a squiggly arrow on a road sign is like the curvy road ahead, a drawn caricature resembles the portrayed, and an accurate map corresponds point-by-point with the represented territory. Iconic significance is the simplest and most ubiquitous kind. Anything imaginable is an icon of whatever it is similar to. An index represents its object via a direct relation, whether causal or consisting in mere spatio-temporal proximity. Examples include footprints, weathervanes, pointing fingers, and letters attached to geometrical diagrams. Indices denote. They are essential for representing anything existent. A symbol represents its object because a convention or instinct determines that the interpreter will interpret the symbol as standing for that object. Almost all words are symbols. So are the red, green, and yellow colors of a stoplight and signals devised by conspirators, like the lanterns American revolutionaries used to signal the mode of the British invasion.

Peirce recognized two kinds of index.3 A degenerate index represents its object thru sheer spatio-temporal proximity. For example, a pointing finger represents whatever it indicates, regardless of likenesses or causal relations holding between the finger and its object. “This” and “that” are words whose grammatical functions are purely indexical: although capable of standing for any object or word within a sentence, these words are incapable, by themselves, of communicating anything about those objects or words. Peirce provides another example: “Horatio Greenough, who designed Bunker Hill Monument, tells us in his book that he meant it to say simply “here!” It just stands on that ground and plainly is not movable. So if we are looking for the battlefield, it will tell us whither to direct our steps.”4 A two-hundred-foot-tall obelisk crowning Bunker Hill in Charlestown, Massachusetts, Bunker Hill Monument is visible from nearly anywhere in Charlestown. Thus, you can reach the battlefield from anywhere in Charlestown by simply walking uphill toward the monument. The monument is a degenerate index because it soars dumbly, high above all else, communicating nothing about the battle, yet indicating for all to see where the battlefield is located.

Like everything else imaginable, the inherent qualities of degenerate indices make them icons of whatever exhibits similar qualities—e.g., Bunker Hill Monument is like other obelisks. Nevertheless, degenerate indices are not icons of the objects they indicate. The letters labelling a geometrical diagram are not like the points, lines, and angles they label; rather, they represent those objects thru sheer spatial proximity. Indeed, if the letter used did resemble the diagram, this would surely breed confusion. Imagine that the letter “X” labelled a point [End Page 74] on a diagram of two lines intersecting in an X-like pattern. The diagram’s interpreter would likely wonder whether “X” stood for the immediately proximate point or for the whole diagram. Because they do not represent their objects iconically, degenerate indices cannot, by themselves, communicate anything about their objects’ qualities. Given their strictly indexical function, Peirce often used the alternate label pure index.5

Genuine index is Peirce’s technical concept for a natural sign. An effect of a causal interaction, a genuine index both indicates its cause and communicates positive iconic information about that cause. While degenerate indices are “pure” because unmixed with icons, genuine indices are “genuine” precisely because they combine indexical and iconic representations of the same object, thereby fulfilling the special potentiality gained with indices—the capacity to communicate positive information about particular objects. For example, animal tracks indicate not only that something recently walked by; for a skilled tracker their shape, depth, and frequency also convey information about what kind of animal, how fast it was moving, in which direction, etc. Fingerprints and blood at a crime scene not only indicate that someone besides the victim was present; they also provide police with richly detailed information, often sufficient to identify the guilty individual, about the patterns on the perpetrator’s fingers and the sequence of their DNA. Relatively precise knowledge of the laws governing natural processes allows scientists to extract rich information from genuine indices like stones, fossils, ice cores, starlight, and miniscule ripples in space-time caused by the cataclysmic merger of black holes. Here are two of Peirce’s examples:

The simplest example of a genuine index would be, say, a telescopic image of a double star. This is not an icon simply, because . . . the mere appearance of the telescopic image of a double star does not proclaim itself to be similar to the star itself. It is because we have set the circles of the equatorial so that the field must by physical compulsion contain the image of that star that it represents that star, and by that means we know that the image must be an icon of the star, and information is conveyed.6

[A weathercock] is fit to be taken as an index of the wind for the reason that it is physically connected with the wind. A weathercock conveys information; but this it does because in facing the very quarter from which the wind blows, it resembles the wind in this respect, and thus has an icon connected [End Page 75] with it. . . . It is remarkable that while neither a pure icon nor a pure index can assert anything, an index which forces something to be an icon, as a weathercock does, or which forces us to regard it as an icon, as the legend under a portrait does, does make an assertion, and forms a proposition.7

Peirce carefully notes the indexical and the iconic elements of both examples. The indexical component is grounded in the causal relation between the genuine index and its object: the light from the star physically compels the photograph, and the weathervane is forced by the wind to point where it does. This indexical component is essential: regardless of how perfectly a fingerprint matched a suspect’s finger, it would not count as evidence if it was known that the fingerprint was caused, not by the suspect’s finger, but by a meticulous forgery.

Genuine indices also represent their objects iconically. In the fingerprint and telescopic photograph examples, the qualitative similarity between the genuine index and its object is obvious. The likeness between weathervane and wind is more abstract but still apparent. In other instances, the qualities of the genuine index convey information about the qualities of the object only when interpreted in light of prior knowledge of the laws governing the causal relation between the genuine index and its object—e.g., when astronomers interpret the frequency of starlight emitted by a star as conveying information about that star’s chemical composition, or when small changes in the electrical resistance of an absorbent material within a hygrometer are interpreted as reliable signs of air humidity.

Because they combine indexical and iconic representations, genuine indices are “informational” signs analogous to symbolic propositions: a weathervane “does make an assertion and forms a proposition.”8 Likewise, a telescopic photograph communicates information about star X only because the telescope, via an equatorial mount, has rotated in order to compensate for the Earth’s rotation, thereby remaining fixed upon star X throughout the photograph’s development. Genuine indices are “informative” in the sense that, prior to being interpreted, they are capable of communicating positive information about their objects to any properly situated and adequately equipped interpreter. In Peirce’s words,

If, for example, there be a certain fossil fish, certain observations upon which, made by a skilled paleontologist, taken in connection with chemical analyses of the bones and of the rock in which they were embedded, will one day furnish that paleontologist with the keystone of an argumentative [End Page 76] arch upon which he will securely erect a solid proof of a conclusion of great importance, then, in my view, in the true logical sense, that thought has already all the reality it ever will have, although as yet the quarries have not been opened that will enable human minds to perform that reasoning. For the fish is there, and the actual composition of the stone already in fact determines what the chemist and the paleontologist will one day read in them . . . although nobody has yet been in condition to translate it.9

Fecund philosophical implications follow from the fact that genuine indices like fossils are informational signs that are significant—i.e., they possess a grounded capacity to represent their objects—prior to being interpreted. T. L. Short claims that one of Peirce’s main motivations in developing semeiotic was “to construct a naturalistic but nonreductive account of the human mind.”10 Genuine indices are crucial for this purpose because they are natural signs, informational signs, and utterly ubiquitous, providing by themselves strong justification for Peirce’s seemingly wild assertion that “all this universe is perfused with signs, if it is not composed exclusively of signs.”11 These ubiquitous information-bearing natural signs constitute an invaluable resource for any naturalistic theory of mind’s emergence from matter.

II. Neville’s Misconceived “Index” and its Consequences

With Peirce’s concepts in mind, let us examine Neville’s interpretation of the term “index.” Neville sometimes defines Peirce’s concept accurately: “There are three principle ways by which signs relate to objects: as icons that mimic the objects, as indices that are causally connected with objects and point in that way, and as symbols that are conventional.”12 However, when Neville uses the term “index” in his constructive theological work, a different concept is usually functioning. An “index” in this idiosyncratic sense is a sign that grabs an interpreter’s attention or orients that interpreter toward the object, ultimately allowing the interpreter to practically engage that object. Similarly, the phrase “indexical truth” means for Neville, roughly, pragmatic truth—an interpreting action or habit of action that, due to a sign’s representation of the object, rightly comports the interpreter toward the object’s reality and value, given the interpreter’s needs and interests. [End Page 77]

Neville’s emphasis on the pragmatic upshot of theological semeiosis is salutary, and he is correct that indices are essential for directing attention and for grounding the sort of pragmatic habits of engagement that Peirce regarded as the paradigmatic or “ultimate” interpretants of intellectual concepts.13 Nevertheless, Neville’s use of the term “index” remains problematic, for the following reasons:

  1. a. Neville defines an index in terms of the interpreter-object relation rather than the sign-object relation, a profoundly consequential (see b-d) error.

  2. b. By defining indices according to their rhetorical consequences—indices’ directing of interpreters’ attentions, etc.—rather than their denotative significance, Neville ends up defining indices in terms of phenomena that indices are needed to explain.

  3. c. Neville’s misconceived index blights his account of theological truth, leading him to defend the indefensible—according to Peirce’s concepts of icons and indices—thesis that some theological signs are “iconically false and yet indexically true.”14

  4. d. Because he is satisfied with his idiosyncratic “index,” Neville overlooks the need for an account of how indexical—in Peirce’s sense—theological representation is possible.

Neville’s deepest error is (a): he defines an index, not according to how indices represent their objects, but according to how they relate interpreters to those objects:

Indexical reference involves a causal connection between the interpreter and the object interpreted as mediated by the signs involved. An index, like pointing a finger to get the viewer to turn to look at the object, establishes a causal relation between the object and the interpreter. That causal relation allows the interpreter to pick up on what is important in the object in the respect in which the sign refers to the object. The causal relation causes some transformation in the interpreter to orient the interpreter to the object, like a turned head, or a jogged memory.15

Neville defines “indexical reference” in relation to “a causal connection,” not between the sign and the object, as in Peirce’s genuine index, but “between the interpreter and the object.” This definition is problematic, first and foremost, [End Page 78] because relating interpreters to objects is not peculiar to indices: it is what signs in general do. A sign is something that represents an object to an interpretant, thereby bringing the interpretant into relation with the object. In Peirce’s words, “A sign is anything . . . which mediates between an object and an interpretant . . . in such wise as to cause the interpretant to be determined by the object thru the mediation of this ‘sign.’”16 Icons and symbols also relate interpreters with objects: seeing a face like my friend’s causes me think of and call her; using a grocery list, I purchase all the items my roommate wants. Any actually interpreted sign brings its interpreter into relation with its object, whether for better or for worse.

More importantly, defining an index in terms of the interpreter-object relation misrepresents the fundamental rationale of Peirce’s icon/index/symbol division of signs, which divides signs according to the different ways they represent their objects. Indices, recall, represent their objects because they are directly related to them, whether causally or thru mere spatio-temporal proximity. Neville rightly emphasizes that indices are essential for directing interpreters’ attentions, for securing the denotative reference of icons and symbols, and for grounding our capacity to translate other signs’ meanings into embodied actions and habits of action that practically engage the environment. But that for which indices are essential is not that which is essential for being an index. Rather than any logical, rhetorical, or practical consequences of interpreting indices, the essence of an index is its denotative significance, which is grounded in the index’s direct relation with its object.

Second, because Neville defines indices according to the symptoms of their significance—e.g., grabbing attention, orienting interpreters, etc.—rather than their significance itself, he also tends to regard the identification of such symptoms in the upshot of a process of semeiosis as a satisfying account of the interpreted signs’ indexical significance. That is, Neville asserts that the interpretation of a particular theological sign—whether cigars in heaven,17 Jesus as Cosmic Christ,18 or Neville’s magnum opus Philosophical Theology19—orients interpreters toward Ultimate Reality and then concludes, on this basis, that the interpreted sign is “indexically true.” The actual explanatory situation is that anyone claiming that some theological sign orients interpreters toward Ultimate Reality needs to provide an account of the indices, in Peirce’s sense, that ground this orienting power. [End Page 79]

Thirdly, because Neville’s distorted concept of an index is crucial to his account of theological truth, the latter is also marred, especially his crucial claim that theological symbols can be “iconically false yet indexically true”:

Much confusion in understanding religion comes at the point where the apparent iconic reference of a symbolic engagement has a different object from the real indexical reference. This is particularly true in popular religion where the apparent iconic reference of much of the religious life is superstitious and patently false to modern reflective thinkers. Yet living a religious life guided by those symbols might very well have powerful and true effects through indexical reference. Praying to the gods of the garden and kitchen might be iconically false but still powerfully true in attuning the cook indexically to properly revere and appreciate the economy of food. Believing that the creator of the universe is a person might be iconically false, because persons exist only within the universe with other things to relate to; but it might be indexically true in causing the interpreter to be in an attitude of profound gratitude for the “gift” of existence.20

This passages suggests that the primary function Neville’s iconically-false-yetindexically-true thesis performs is to transform theological symbols that are “superstitious and patently false to modern reflective thinkers” into symbols that are “indexically true” because they help interpreters comport themselves rightly toward the reality and value of other people and things. True, there are no “gods of the garden and kitchen”; but if praying to them helps you appreciate the food you cook, then those prayers are indexically true. God is not really a person, but if so symbolizing God helps one accept life as a gift, then that symbol is indexically true. There is no demon goddess with waist girdled by severed human heads, but if meditating on that symbol “frighten[s] the meditator into giving up some cherished attachment that inhibits spiritual growth,” then indexically true it is.21 Jesus “did not die for my sins in any literal sense,” but if that symbol helps one “engage God and live” despite being “blood-guilty,” then it is true, at least indexically.22 Christ is not really king of the cosmos, but if that helps you feel “at home in this universe,” it counts as indexically true.23

Neville’s claim that theological signs can be “iconically false yet indexically true” is categorically false according to Peirce’s concepts of icons and indices. [End Page 80] The only signs that can be true or false are those, like symbolic propositions and genuine indices, that combine indexical and iconic representations of the same object. Neither an icon alone nor an index alone can be true or false. An icon alone exhibits attributable qualities but cannot select an object to which those qualities might be attributed. An index alone—i.e., a degenerate index— directly indicates its object but communicates nothing about what that object is like. The only potentially true or false signs are those that actually or virtually assert something, and, on Peirce’s analysis, assertion requires an index and an icon.24 Thus, Neville’s claim that signs can be “iconically false yet indexically true” is false for two reasons: (a) because an icon cannot be “iconically false” apart from combination with an index that denotes an object; and (b) because an index cannot be true apart from combination with an icon that represents what the denoted object is like.

A second, related reason why theological signs cannot be iconically-false-yet-indexically-true is that “indexical” truth—or, better, “pragmatic” truth, the kind of living truth that Jesus spoke of in his proto-pragmatic maxim, “By their fruits ye shall know them”25—is not possible apart from iconic representations of the object. An interpretation is pragmatically true if it organizes the interpreter’s feelings, actions, and thoughts so as to adaptively or appropriately comport the interpreter toward the reality and value of the object. However, without an iconic representation of what the object is like, there is no semeiotic basis for organizing a pragmatically true interpretation.

The most unfortunate consequence of Neville’s misconceived index is that it causes him to overlook the need for an explicit account of how any theological sign could possibly indicate or denote God or Ultimate Reality. The closest analogue in Neville’s theological semeiotic is his account of “finite/infinite contrasts”—i.e., contrasts between the contingent, bounded, and finite universe we know thru experience and the indeterminate, unbounded, infinite void that would obtain if the boundary conditions for the universe’s existence were not fulfilled in the ontological creative act.26 Because the discussion is not framed in terms of the problem of indexical theological representation, I am unsure whether Neville regards finite/infinite contrasts as theological indices. My guess is not, since he writes that finite/infinite contrasts constitute the “primary direct or indirect referent [i.e., the object] of religious symbols.”27 Either way, an explicit account is needed. [End Page 81]

III. Creation as Genuine Index of the Creator

Despite the depth and richness of his theological semeiotic, I think Neville lacks a satisfying account of the indexical or denotative significance of theological signs. What Prometheus gifted humankind with theological symbols like “God,” “YHWH,” “Allah,” “One,” “Brahman,” “Dao,” etc. that represent—or purport to represent, which is fully as weird—Ultimate Reality? How on God’s green Earth did mere monkeys ever start talking about God? The answer developed in this section is that the creation itself is a genuine index that, in its contingency, points beyond itself to its Ultimate Cause, and in qualities like its beauty, vastness, variety, and growth, communicates iconic information about the Creator’s beauty, power, prodigality, and ceaseless creative activity. Despite often denying the possibility of iconic theological representation, Neville also clearly states that the Creator is known through creation. Whereas Peirce emphasized the happy qualities above, Neville is also attuned to creation’s darker side, observing that the Creator therein revealed is wild, fierce, and an implacable Destroyer.

Although the following account is developed primarily in relation to Peirce and Neville’s writings, its closest analogue in the extant literature is Michael Raposa’s theosemiotic. Developed in detail in his forthcoming book, Raposa’s theosemiotic was sketched in the closing chapters of Peirce’s Philosophy of Religion:

This is Peirce’s formula, the encounter or acquaintance with a mind through the mediation of its ideas, its works, its signs. If the world is indeed God’s “argument,” God’s “great poem,” then this formula becomes the basic principle of a theological semiotic.28

Universal semiosis is the mechanics, the dynamics of objective mind. In religious terms, then, it is the means by which God relates to and communicates with lesser minds. . . . If all of reality is continuous, then everything is potentially a sign of God’s presence.29

Although Raposa does not classify the universe qua sign as a genuine index, he emphasizes that this divine symbol combines both iconic30 and indexical31 representations of God. Whether or not he would agree with it, the account constructed below is greatly indebted to Raposa’s groundbreaking efforts to understand Peirce’s application of semeiotic to theology. [End Page 82]

Before beginning the constructive phase, let me state briefly why I think icons, symbols, and degenerate indices are insufficient for securing the reference of theological signs. Icons exhibit attributable qualities but cannot select any object to which those qualities might be attributed. Thus, an icon could represent what God is like only if we already knew what God is like via another icon or if we had an independent way of indicating God. Symbolic reference grounded in human conventions depends upon prior collateral experience of the object: I can stipulate that “Vlop” means “God” only if my interpreter and I already share an idea of God. Degenerate indices can only represent objects that they are physically proximate to, and God is not a physical object that can be pointed at or labelled with an “X.” Thus, genuine index is the only class of sign that seems remotely promising for grounding theological reference.

Recall that a genuine index is an effect that indicates or denotes its cause while also communicating positive, iconic information about that cause. Thus, any genuine index capable of representing God must be an effect directly caused by God. What could such a divinely caused effect be? Three obvious candidates suggest themselves: religious experiences, whether direct perceptions of God or other experiences caused by God; miracles wherein God causes an event that would not otherwise occur during nature’s regular course; and prophecies, scriptures, and other verbal revelations, whether directly dictated by God or otherwise composed under divine influence. In fact, all three kinds of effects are commonly believed, in diverse human religions, to be caused by Ultimate Reality and, therefore, to be capable of communicating positive information about what Ultimate Reality is like. The problem with such purportedly divinely caused genuine indices is establishing their genuineness. If God had inspired the writing of more or less the same scripture for every human religion, that would be compelling evidence that these otherwise inexplicably congruent scriptures were truly divinely inspired. But this is not what we find. Given the enormous diversity and obvious inconsistencies between the experiences, events, and verbal revelations purported to be divinely caused by different human religions, the question of genuineness boils down to one person’s and one religion’s word against another. As Peirce observed,

In the eye of good sense, nothing can be more unsatisfactory than a belief based on an inspired deliverance . . . [because when] doctrines . . . are proposed for our acceptance because a small number of men are supposed to have received an inspiration which gives assurance of their truth . . . it is very difficult for a cautious and intelligent mind to satisfy himself that the inspiration was real.32 [End Page 83]

Religious persons and communities will continue believing in the genuineness of those experiences, events, and writings that their traditions’ assert to have been divinely caused. For such believers, those experiences, events, and scriptures will function like genuine indices, both indicating their divine cause while also communicating positive information about what that Ultimate Reality is like. However, for anyone who believes that, generally speaking, the opinions of other people are as valuable as one’s own,33 serious doubts about the genuineness of these purportedly divinely caused effects must arise when considering that, regardless of which experiences, events, and writings one believes divinely caused, most people on Earth are inclined to doubt the genuineness of those purportedly divinely caused effects.

Are there any other candidates for a divinely caused genuine index that are not subject to such widespread disagreement and consequent prima facie doubtfulness?

The Bible’s first sentence suggests another possibility: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.”34 Throughout Jewish, Christian, and Muslim scriptures, God is consistently identified as the universe’s Creator. Moreover, all three scriptures also explicitly assert that the creation is a sign of the Creator:

The heavens are telling the glory of God;  and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.Day to day pours forth speech,  and night to night declares knowledge.There is no speech, nor are there words;  their voice is not heard;yet their voice goes out through all the earth,  and their words to the end of the world.35

Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made.36

It is He who sends down water for you from the sky, from which comes a drink for you, and the shrubs that you feed to your animals. With it He grows for you grain, olives, palms, vines, and all kinds of other crops. There [End Page 84] truly is a sign in this for those who reflect. By His command He has made the night and day, the sun, moon, and stars all of benefit to you. There truly are signs in this for those who use their reason. He has made of benefit to you the many-coloured things He has multiplied on the earth. . . . Can He who creates be compared to one who cannot create?37

All three Abrahamic religions construe God as Creator and they also construe creation as a sign of the Creator. But is this true of other religions? For present purposes, it does not matter whether other religions explicitly construe the universe as a divine sign. If other religions only conceive the universe as caused by Ultimate Reality, this suffices, whether recognized or not, as grounds for classifying the universe as a genuine index.

A serious comparative inquiry into different religious conceptions of Ultimate Reality is obviously not possible here. Fortunately, Neville has orchestrated the most methodologically rigorous such inquiry to date—the Comparative Religious Ideas Project. The conclusion he and Wesley Wildman drew from that three-year inquiry is that “all the traditions suppose that at least human life, if not the cosmos, is contingent and dependent on ultimate causes other than itself.”38 Indeed, the religious scriptures of the world are replete with assertions that all things depend upon some Ultimate Reality, however named and conceived. Consider this tiny sample drawn rapidly from on-hand religious scriptures:

As a spider spins out threads, then draws them into itself; As plants sprout out from the earth; As head and body hair grows from a living man; So from the imperishable all things here spring.39

You should recognize this as a bud that has come out. It cannot be without a root, and what could its root be if not food? Likewise, son, with food as the bud, look to water as the root; with water as the bud, look to heat as the root; and with heat as the bud, look to the existent as the root. The existent, my son, is the root of all these creatures—the existent is their resting place, the existent is their foundation.40 [End Page 85]

You should know that I have a higher nature as well, Arjuna. It is the life-force that sustains this world. It is the womb of all beings. Consider this well, Arjuna. I am the origin of this entire world, and I am its dissolution as well. There is nothing whatsoever beyond me, Arjuna! All this world is strung on me like rows of pearls on a string. . . . Know, Arjuna, that I am the eternal seed in all beings.41

I am woven into all this world, yet my form remains unmanifest. All beings find their support in me, whereas I do not depend on them at all.42

TAO called TAO is not TAO.Names can name no lasting name.Nameless: the origin of heaven and earth.Naming: the mother of ten thousand things.43

TAO is empty—Its use is never exhausted.Bottomless—The origin of all things.44

Similar quotations could be multiplied almost indefinitely. Of course, there are crucial differences in how different religious traditions conceive what is Ultimate, in the metaphors thru which they imagine the relation between Ultimate Reality and the contingent universe, and in those respects in which the universe is conceived to depend upon Ultimate Reality. Nevertheless, the bare positing of such contingency suffices for construing the universe as a genuine index that both indicates and communicates iconic information about God.

Supporting the thesis that the creation is a genuine index representing the Creator requires accounting for both the indexical and iconic aspects of the universe qua divine sign. The indexical aspect is easiest to understand, as it is grounded in the dependency relation purported to hold between the contingent universe and its Ultimate Cause. If the universe is truly caused by something Ultimate, then, in its contingency, it points beyond itself toward its Ultimate Cause. Not only do many religious scriptures posit such contingency, but Neville does also when he claims that everything determinate depends for its being, [End Page 86] form, components, togetherness with other things, and ultimate meaning upon an ontological creative act [OCA]—i.e., Neville’s technical concept of God. Whether expressed in vague, commonsense language like “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth,” or in Neville’s technical concepts, the positing of such contingency is sufficient for grounding the indexical component of the creation qua genuine index.

Before discussing the iconic component of the creation qua genuine index, let me address a predictable objection. The idea that the creation in its contingency “points beyond itself” might seem to require conceiving the Creator crudely as located along with creation in some encompassing context, whether spatial, temporal, or otherwise; and, as Neville cogently argues, if this were true, then That Encompassing Context would be Ultimate, not the creator that context includes together with creation.45 The discussion in section 4 mitigates this problem, showing that, though it is extremely difficult to avoid spatial and temporal metaphors, the preceding account of theological reference does not depend upon any assumptions about how exactly God is related to the world or about how exactly God creates. All we need to understand is the logical process of hypostatic abstraction by which something perceived or conceived to be an effect motivates the conception of something else vaguely and reflexively defined as “that which causes this effect” (see section 4).

While the indexical component of the universe qua genuine index is fairly straightforward, the claim that the creation is an icon of the Creator is more controversial. Neville suggests that the only kind of theological sign that could be “literally” iconically true would be an abstract philosophical theology, like Ultimates, that represents Ultimate Reality indirectly, employing a complex apophatic dialectic to help readers glimpse, if only at the edge of their minds’ periphery, the indeterminate OCA. Like God on Sinai, the OCA can only be glimpsed from the backside and in passing; it cannot be directly iconically represented because all finite icons must falsely represent the OCA as determinate rather than indeterminate, finite rather than infinite.46

I think Neville’s interpretation of iconicity errs in conflating iconicity with literalness, as if all icons were models or maps that imitate their objects part by part. In reality, iconicity occurs across a broad spectrum ranging from identical copies and part-by-part models, to lawful correlations between a genuine index’s varying qualities and the varying qualities of its object (e.g., when astronomers interpret the frequencies of light emitted by a star as a sign conveying information about that star’s chemical composition), to similarities that we feel directly [End Page 87] but cannot adequately describe with words, to say nothing of modelling, such as when we judge that a painting by one artist reflects the influence of another artist. Insofar as the beauty, variety, vastness, growth, and other qualities of creation communicate iconic information about God, the process is surely more analogous to the discernment of artistic influence than to the correspondence between sign and object that occurs in maps and models.

Or so thought C. S. Peirce, who wrote that “the Universe is a vast representamen [i.e., sign], a great symbol of God’s purpose, working out its conclusions in living realities.”47 Specifically, he construed the universe as an argument presented in the form of a great work of art like a poem, symphony, or painting. For Peirce, the cosmos in all its immense vastness and infinitesimal detail is God’s great “impressionist seashore piece.”48 Elsewhere, he compared the knowledge of God gained thru creation to the influence on “one’s whole manner of conduct” of “long acquaintance with a man of great character.”49 One knows the Creator via creation just as one knows Aristotle via his writings: “Just as long study of the works of Aristotle may make him an acquaintance, so if contemplation and study of the physico-psychical universe can imbue a man with principles of conduct analogous to the influence of a great man’s works or conversation, then that analogue of a mind . . . is what [the pragmaticist] means by ‘God.’”50 This last comment calls to mind the peculiar “study of great men” that Peirce conducted with his graduate students at Johns Hopkins. The tentative conclusion he drew from that 1883 study was that judgments concerning even extremely vague and impressionistic qualities like the relative “greatness” of historical figures can be objective in the sense that well-trained and attentive observers will tend to agree in their judgments.51 T. L. Short perceptively suggests that Peirce’s enigmatic “A Neglected Argument for the Reality of God” [NA], especially that essay’s “making much of mere feeling,” should be read in light of Peirce’s “experience in measuring and his investigation of the art of measuring,” including the study of great men.52 In 1883, Peirce demonstrated to his own satisfaction that judgments concerning impressionistic qualities like the “greatness” of historical figures could be “objectively valid”;53 by 1908, he was convinced that, like historical [End Page 88] figures, the universe itself has observable qualities like beauty, vastness, variety, and growth that tend to provoke awe, motivate belief in the reality of God, and inspire adoration and love for God in the hearts of habitual musers.

Peirce’s conviction about the theologically compelling character of the universe qua divine sign is probably what motivated the playful-but-serious wager he makes in NA. After recommending that readers playfully contemplate the universe for forty or fifty minutes daily, Peirce predicts that this habit of “musement,” if kept up regularly for about six or seven years,54 will eventually cause the muser to believe in God’s reality. If true, then regular, playful contemplation of the universe constitutes an “argument” in the sense of a “process of thought reasonably tending to produce a definite belief” in God’s reality.55 Not only is this “argument” for God’s reality available to “all minds, high and low alike, that should earnestly strive to find the truth of the matter,” but Peirce claims that probably the majority of people who have ever believed in God “must bless the radiance of the N.A. for that wealth.”56 While cautioning that musement must not be constrained in topic, Peirce also suggests that some musements are more theologically provocative than others. Specifically, Peirce thinks contemplating “some wonder in one of the Universes . . . with speculation concerning its cause” is especially apt to motivate the hypothesis that God is real.57 The “wonders” Peirce apparently had foremost in mind are the universe’s beauty, variety, vastness, and growth.58 What follows is a small sample of what Peirce wrote about each theologically provocative quality of creation.

First, concerning nature’s beauty Peirce writes,

Darwinians . . . have concocted, and . . . accepted as proved, one explanation for the diverse and delicate beauties of flowers, another for those of butterflies, and so on; but why is all nature—the forms of trees, the compositions of sunsets—suffused with such beauties throughout, and not nature only, but the other two Universes as well?59

I believe that Glory shines out in everything like the sun and that any aesthetic odiousness is merely our Unfeelingness resulting from obscurations due to our own moral and intellectual aberrations.60 [End Page 89]

Second, Peirce suggests that nature’s variety is fodder for theologically fertile musements: in NA he encourages musers to appreciate “in its breadth and depth, the unspeakable variety of each Universe,”61 and he elsewhere writes that,

The manifold diversity or specificalness, in general, which we see whenever and wherever we open our eyes, constitutes [the universe’s] liveliness, or vivacity. The perception of it is a direct, though darkling, perception of God.62

What is the world made of? was the question of Thales and the other Ionian philosophers. “Arche” was their word—the beginning. They sought the First. Inquiry had sprung up out of the wonder of awakening intelligence at the variety, the inexhaustible wealth of manifoldness in the heavens and the earth.63

Third, the universe’s vastness seems especially apt to provoke the hypothesis that God is real:

I have often occasion to walk at night, for about a mile . . . If the sky is clear, I look at the stars in the silence, thinking how each successive increase in the aperture of a telescope makes many more of them visible than all that had been visible before. . . . Let a man drink in such thoughts as come to him in contemplating the physico-psychical universe without any special purpose of his own. . . . The idea of there being a God over it all of course will be often suggested; and the more he considers it, the more he will be enwrapt with Love of this idea.64

Whoever cannot look at the starry heaven without thinking that all this universe must have had an adequate cause, can in my opinion not otherwise think of that cause half so justly than by thinking it is God.65

Lastly, in NA Peirce highlights the growth of the universe as something that, if regularly contemplated, “will inevitably suggest the hypothesis of God’s Reality.”66 Elsewhere, he writes, [End Page 90]

Law together with a ceaseless torrent of miracles, that is to say, of events absolutely uncaused except by the creative act of God, is all that has brought about and is bringing about the whole universe of mind and matter in all its details.67

Were the ends of a person already explicit, there would be no room for development, for growth, for life; and consequently there would be no personality. The mere carrying out of pre-determined purpose is mechanical. This remark has an application to the philosophy of religion. It is that a genuine evolutionary philosophy, that is, one that makes the principle of growth a primordial element of the universe, is so far from being antagonistic to the idea of a personal creator that it is really inseparable from that idea.68

In sum, beauty, variety, vastness, and growth are four of the universe’s qualities that are wonderful and surprising enough to motivate speculations about their Ultimate Cause. On Peirce’s view, these characters or qualities of the universe are what ultimately inspires belief in God’s reality. Creation’s beauty bespeaks the beauty of the Creator, the universe’s vastness displays God’s awesome power, and the universe’s ever-proliferating variety and upwelling growth directly manifest God’s inexhaustible novelty and unceasing creative activity.

Despite Neville’s frequent denial of the possibility of iconic theological representation, many of his writings, especially his sermons, betray his agreement with Peirce that the creation communicates positive iconic information about the Creator. For example, he concludes, based upon the character of creation, that God the Creator is also wild and a Destroyer:

Late-modern science has created new images of the Wild God of infinite blasts, dances of expanding gases, and a cosmic finish more profound than any kings’ imagined tortures of final retribution and fulfilling peace. . . . The creation that reveals God’s nature is wild, untamed, not domestic at all. The domesticated God of Kingship and War against Evil is but a tiny prismatic ray of that great Wild Light, shining on human affairs just because there is a difference between what we can do and what we should do.69

Because we live in time, no harmony lasts forever. Every structure wears out. . . . entropy means that all the achieved harmonies of the world will pass away as the energy is used up. . . . Haggai made his point in reference to the most stable things in his universe; the heavens, the earth, the [End Page 91] seas, and the dry land. God shall shake even them. The Divine Spirit in its destructive mode is as profound and thorough as the Divine Spirit in its harmonizing mode. . . . we would do well to borrow the symbol of God the Destroyer from Hinduism.70

These and many other passages suggest that Neville, despite what he says in his formal theological semeiotic, actually believes that the creation is an icon conveying positive information about the character of the Creator.

Contrary to what Neville sometimes suggests, affirming that the creation is an icon of the Creator does not imply that God is like the universe in a simplistically literal sense. Just as a painting conveys the painter’s aesthetic feelings without suggesting that the painter is composed of oil and canvas, so the beauty, creativity, power, and glory of God is communicated to creatures thru creation without implying that God is composed of galaxies and atoms or that God is located somewhere and somewhen in space-time. Understanding how this can be true requires an account of the logical process by means of which the idea of God arises in response to contemplation of the creation.

IV. The Idea of the Creator as a Hypostatic Abstraction

The preceding section construed the creation as a genuine index that both indicates the Creator via its contingency and communicates positive information about the Creator through qualities like its beauty, vastness, variety, and growth. The present section supplements that account with a hypothesis about how the idea of God arises in human minds, namely, by a process Peirce labelled a hypostatic abstraction. To be clear, Peirce never explicitly claimed that the idea of God arises through hypostatic abstraction. But he mentions hypostatic abstractions in the second to last sentence of one version of NA’s Additament,71 and the following quote is all but explicit: “An infinite God . . . is not absolutely inconceivable, but is conceived just as we conceive in geometry of the plane of infinity, by means of the relations of other concepts.”72

The essence of a hypostatic abstraction is captured in its name: a hypostatic abstraction is a concept that arises thru a process of hypostatization, a process that posits a new entity, when our conception of this new entity is derived thru abstraction from something else we previously thought about. In Peirce’s words, a hypostatic abstraction is “that process whereby we regard a thought as [End Page 92] a thing”;73 “when something, that one has thought about any subject, is itself made a subject of thought”;74 “the term ‘abstraction’ is indispensable for . . . designating the passage from ‘good’ to ‘goodness,’ and the like.”75 Although hypostatic abstraction might seem an unimpressive cognitive achievement, Peirce believed that this subtle quasi-inference supplied “one of [the] chief, if not the chief, explanation of the power of mathematical reasoning.”76

Of the diverse set of cognitive processes Peirce classified as hypostatic abstractions, one type—labelled by T. L. Short a scholastic hypostatic abstraction [SHA]77—is especially important. An SHA occurs in an empirical context wherein we regard an unexplained phenomenon as caused by something else, thereby hypostatizing, based upon the manifest phenomenon, the reality of something vaguely and reflexively conceived as “that which caused this phenomenon.” Peirce’s favorite example of a hypostatic abstraction is an SHA, namely, Molière’s satirical account of a medical student “explaining” that opium causes sleep because it possesses “a dormitive virtue.” Despite appearing to Molière a sham explanation, Peirce saw in the positing of this new entity a small but important advance in inquiry: “Even in this burlesque instance, this operation of hypostatic abstraction is not quite utterly futile. For it does say that there is some peculiarity in the opium to which the sleep must be due; and this is not suggested in merely saying that opium puts people to sleep.”78 As T. L. Short summarizes the virtue of this subtle quasi-inference, “By hypostatic abstraction, an entity can be introduced into discourse independently of direct characterization of it. Only so could we have some idea of what we are referring to, independently of knowing what it is.”79

Via their vagueness and corresponding inclusiveness, SHAs anchor evolving inquiries. In Short’s words,

Molière ridiculed Scholasticism because it was content with a non-explanatory explanation. Peirce’s point was that such an abstraction is nevertheless the beginning, or could be, of an inquiry aimed at explanation. Without supposing a cause, no search for it can be made. The dormitive virtue is that which in opium puts people to sleep. The words “that which” are a [End Page 93] placeholder for further characterization. Empirical inquiry is needed to fill in the blank.80

Via the vagueness of SHAs, communities of inquiry can share common conceptions of what they are investigating, even when they disagree at more specific levels of characterization and theory. To use Short’s example, in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, physicists disagreed about the nature of heat, with one group defining heat as a fluid termed “caloric,” supposed to be contained in all matter, while a second group hypothesized that heat was average molecular motion. Rather than talking past each other, these competing theorists understood their disagreement because they shared an implicit, vague, and commonsense concept of heat as “that which we can feel and [that which] fire produces and [that which] boils water.”81 Though SHAs might seem epistemically unimportant, they are crucial for advancing many scientific inquiries. Before biologists knew anything about the double helix structure of DNA, the term “gene” was vague, meaning roughly “that which grounds the inheritance of traits by offspring from parents.”82 While the contemporary concept of a gene has grown much richer and more specific, the contemporary concept of “dark matter” is little more than a pure SHA, meaning, roughly, “that which causes our estimates of galaxies’ mass based upon relativistic gravitational effects to be higher than estimates based upon electromagnetic radiation.” The concept is vague today, but the quest for a more specific concept began with this SHA’s introduction, and, hopefully, physicists will soon develop a richly detailed and well-tested concept of “dark matter.” [End Page 94]

In summary, an SHA is a concept generated when, based upon something manifest, Y, which we take to be an effect, we hypothesize something unmanifest, X, which is vaguely and reflexively defined as “that which caused or causes Y.”

As might already be apparent, an SHA is the logical complement of a genuine index. A genuine index is an effect that points toward and communicates information about its cause, and an SHA is a vague, reflexively defined conception of that which causes an effect. Thus, an SHA could also be defined as a vague conception of the object represented by a genuine index. Expressed in reverse, whenever we make an SHA, positing some vaguely and reflexively defined cause of an unexplained manifest effect, we simultaneously construe the manifest effect as a genuine index representing the object posited by the SHA. For example, when we posit the reality of “heat” as the cause of the manifest effect of boiling water, we also construe the boiling water as an indication of the presence and influence of heat. When we posit the reality of genes to explain inheritance by offspring of parental traits, we construe the pattern of inheritance as an indication of the influence of underlying genes. Indeed, without any attempt to detect or model the genes themselves, study of the patterns of trait inheritance would suffice for suggesting that both sexes in sexual species possess genes; that there must be something like alleles, or variations in the structure of a gene that lead to variants of the same phenotypic traits, like hair color, eye color, etc.; that perhaps there is a structural reason why inheritance of some traits is linked while inheritance of other traits is not (i.e., localization of genes on the chromosome); etc. Likewise, when physicists posit the reality of dark matter to explain unexpected gravitational effects, those physicists implicitly construe those gravitational effects as genuine indices that communicate information about dark matter, such as what percentage of the universe’s mass consists of dark matter—apparently around 85 percent.

Given this connection between genuine indices and SHAs, the perception of the universe as contingent in some respect—whether in its being, beauty, vastness, variety, growth, or some other respect—is sufficient to motivate the hypothesis that there must be something real that causes or grounds the existence, beauty, variety, etc. of the universe. Insofar as the idea of God arises in this way, that idea can be defined vaguely and reflexively as “That Which Causes the universe,” or “That Which Makes the universe beautiful,” or “That Which Funds the creative growth of the universe,” etc. These definitions of Ultimate Reality are vague enough to include, as specifications of themselves, a great variety of conceptions of Ultimate Reality developed in diverse human religions. And because these vague conceptions of Ultimate Reality are reflexively defined in relation to the surprising fact of the universe’s existence, beauty, vastness, variety, growth, etc., the character or quality of the universe [End Page 95] supplies meaningful iconic content to the idea of God—God is That Which Creates exactly this vast and beautiful universe. In this way, we can meaningfully define Ultimate Reality, without requiring any definite conception about either how Ultimate Reality goes about its creating or about exactly what Ultimate-Reality-qua-Ultimate-Reality is like. To repeat Short’s words, “By hypostatic abstraction, an entity can be introduced into discourse independently of direct characterization of it. Only so could we have some idea of what we are referring to, independently of knowing what it is.”83

If true, this account of how the idea of God arises through hypostatic abstraction shortcuts most of Neville’s worries about erroneously conceiving God as determinate and finite rather than indeterminate and infinite. Perhaps God-in-Godself is cloaked in impenetrable mystery, absolutely and finally beyond the grasp of all human conception. Nevertheless, we can conceptualize God in God’s relation to the contingent creation. In Peirce’s words, God is “really Creator of all three universes of experience.”84 God is the Source of the upwelling novelty, variety, freshness, and creativity that pervades nature. God is That Power Making the immeasurably vast and infinitesimally detailed universe we know thru experience. God is the Good that grounds all goods, the Truth all truths point toward, the Beauty we glimpse thru every beauty. God is “that Glory [which] shines out in everything like the sun.”85 Though vague and reflexive, such definitions of Ultimate Reality remain religiously meaningful because the content of creation gives God the Creator a positive character as the creator of exactly this creation.

According to the preceding account, theological symbols constructed by human hands and uttered by human lips can indeed be about God, because the creation itself points toward and communicates positive information about God. The creation is the primary and definitive representation of God, the sign that all theological treatises depend upon in order to refer to God, the ultimate revelation with respect to which all scriptures are only commentaries. Only via God’s sign of Godself—God’s great argument, symphony, poem, and painting—can human symbols refer to and represent God. The creation qua sign is not mute like a degenerate index. Instead, as a genuine index it bespeaks the power, beauty, and creativity of God. For those with ears to hear, even the rocks cry out, declaring the glory of God! Muse upon the beauty of a sea-shell or sunflower, and you glimpse divine beauty, however dimly. Contemplate the spontaneity of flowing water or flickering flame and you witness ultimate [End Page 96] creativity, however obscurely. Look upon the hundred billion burning galaxies, spewing forth energy and light, funding both life and mind, and you perceive the grandeur of God, however inadequately. To paraphrase Psalm 19:

The heavens are telling the glory of God;  the star-strewn skies display God’s beauty and power.Day by day they pour forth speech,  and night after night they convey knowledge.Wordless, their voice carries to every galaxy,  and reaches to the ends of every earth. [End Page 97]

David Rohr
Boston University
David Rohr

David Rohr is a PhD candidate at Boston University’s Graduate Division of Religious Studies and editor of Most of David’s research is grounded in the philosophy of Charles Sanders Peirce and involves the constructive application of Peirce’s ideas—especially his theory of signs—to issues in philosophy of biology, mind, and religion. He is currently writing his dissertation on Peirce’s enigmatic 1908 essay, “A Neglected Argument for the Reality of God.”

I am deeply grateful to my anonymous reviewers whose detailed, incisive feedback vastly improved this essay.


1. Robert Cummings Neville, Symbols of Jesus: A Christology of Symbolic Engagement (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 15.

2. Charles Sanders Peirce, The Essential Peirce: Selected Philosophical Writings, vol. 2, 1893– 1913, ed. The Peirce Edition Project (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998), 273.

3. See Peirce, Essential Peirce, 163, 171–72, 306–7.

4. Ibid., 163.

5. See ibid., 306–7; Charles Sanders Peirce, The Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce, vols. 1–6, ed. Charles Hartshorne and Paul Weiss; vols. 7–8, ed. Arthur W. Banks (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1931–58), 2.306; and Charles Sanders Peirce Papers, 1849–1914, MS 599, manuscript collection, Houghton Library, Harvard University.

6. Peirce, Essential Peirce, 171–72.

7. Ibid., 306–7.

8. Ibid.

9. Ibid., 455.

10. T. L. Short, Peirce’s Theory of Signs (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), ix.

11. Peirce, Essential Peirce, 394.

12. Robert Cummings Neville, The Truth of Broken Symbols (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996), 37; italics added.

13. Peirce, Essential Peirce, 220, 412, 418–19, 430–31; Peirce Papers, MS 284, 318.

14. Neville, Symbols of Jesus, 15.

15. Robert Cummings Neville, Philosophical Theology, vol. 1, Ultimates (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2013), 71–72; italics added.

16. Peirce, Essential Peirce, 410.

17. Neville, Broken Symbols, ix.

18. Neville, Symbols of Jesus, 93–125.

19. Neville, Ultimates, 282–90.

20. Ibid., 73.

21. Ibid., 72–73.

22. Neville, Symbols of Jesus, 79.

23. Ibid., 124.

24. See Peirce, Essential Peirce, 20–21, 96, 275–83.

25. See Matt. 7:20; Peirce, Essential Peirce, 400–401.

26. See Neville, Broken Symbols, 58.

27. Ibid.; brackets added.

28. Michael Raposa, Peirce’s Philosophy of Religion (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989), 137.

29. Ibid., 146.

30. Ibid., 117.

31. Ibid., 121.

32. Peirce Papers, MS 862; brackets added.

33. See Peirce, Collected Papers, 5.378.

34. Genesis 1:1 KJV.

35. Psalm 19:1–4 NRSV.

36. Romans 1:20 NRSV.

37. The Qur’an, trans. M. A. S. Abdel Haleem (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 16:10–18.

38. Robert Cummings Neville and Wesley Wildman, “Comparative Conclusions about Ultimate Realities,” in Ultimate Realities: A Volume in the Comparative Religious Ideas Project (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2001): 151–85, 171.

39. Patrick Olivelle, ed. and trans., Upanisads, Oxford World Classics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), Mundaka Upanisad 1.1.7.

40. Ibid., Chandogya Upanisad 6.8.3–4.

41. George Thompson, trans., The Bhagavad Gita (New York: North Point Press, 2008), 7:5–10.

42. Ibid., 9:4.

43. Stephen Addiss and Stanley Lombardo, trans., Tao Te Ching (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1993), 1.

44. Ibid., 2.

45. Neville, Ultimates, 173–92.

46. See ibid., 282–89.

47. Peirce, Essential Peirce, 193–94.

48. Ibid.

49. Peirce, Collected Papers, 6.502.

50. Ibid.; brackets added.

51. Ibid., 7.256–66.

52. T. L. Short, “Measurement and Philosophy,” Cognitio, Sau Paulo 9 (2008): 111–24, 123.

53. Peirce, Collected Papers, 7.259.

54. See Peirce Papers, MS 641.

55. Peirce, Essential Peirce, 435.

56. Ibid.

57. Ibid., 436.

58. Ibid., 438–39.

59. Ibid., 438.

60. Peirce Papers, MS 310.

61. Peirce, Essential Peirce, 438.

62. Peirce, Collected Papers, 6.613.

63. Peirce Papers, MS 905.

64. Peirce, Collected Papers, 6.501.

65. Ibid., 5.536.

66. Peirce, Essential Peirce, 439.

67. Peirce Papers, MS 674.

68. Peirce, Collected Papers, 6.157.

69. Neville, Broken Symbols, 188–89.

70. Robert Cummings Neville, Seasons of the Christian Life (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2016), 42–43.

71. See Peirce, Essential Peirce, 450.

72. Peirce Papers, MS 321.

73. Peirce, Essential Peirce, 394.

74. Peirce, Collected Papers, 5.534.

75. Peirce, Essential Peirce, 270n.

76. Peirce, Collected Papers, 5.534; brackets added.

77. Short, Peirce’s Theory of Signs, 263–88.

78. Peirce, Collected Papers, 5.534.

79. Short, Peirce’s Theory of Signs, 264–65.

80. Ibid., 268.

81. Ibid., 272.

82. See Janet Martin Soskice, Metaphor and Religious Language (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1985), 121–22. The account of theological representation Soskice develops is uncannily similar to that sketched above. Despite not relying upon Peirce’s semeiotic, Soskice effectively construes the creation as a genuine index and the Creator as an SHA:

This may seem extremely crude, and in a sense, the realist position is crude because it depends upon the belief that God is causally related to the world, at its origin or perhaps even in specific events and experiences within human history. But where this position is not crude is with respect to the criticism customarily levelled at the theological realist, that he claims to describe God. The agnosticism of our formulations preserves us from this presumption, for we do not claim to describe God but to point through His effects, and beyond His effects, to Him. It is, hence, of the utmost importance to keep in mind the distinction, never remote in the writings of Anselm or of Aquinas, between referring to God and defining Him. This is the fine edge at which negative theology and positive theology meet, for the apophatic insight that we say nothing of God, but only point towards Him, is the basis for the tentative and avowedly inadequate stammerings by which we attempt to speak of God and His acts. . . . In our stammering after a transcendent God we must speak, for the most part, metaphorically or not at all

(140; italics added).

83. Short, Peirce’s Theory of Signs, 264–65.

84. Peirce, Collected Papers, 6.452; capitalization mine.

85. Peirce Papers, MS 310; brackets added.

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