Rawlings School of Divinity
Doctor of Philosophy in Theology and Apologetics (PhD)
Joshua D. Chatraw
Semeiotic, C. S. Peirce, Panentheism, Christian Natural Theology, Theosemiotic, Robert C. Neville
Christianity | Religion | Religious Thought, Theology and Philosophy of Religion
Wheeler, Nathan G., "Semeiotic and the Problem of Panentheism for Christian Natural Theology" (2021). Doctoral Dissertations and Projects. 2899.
This dissertation considers the theological suitability of Charles S. Peirce’s philosophy of signs (semeiotic) for use in theories respecting the great Christian tradition. As a case-study, this dissertation examines panentheism as a problem for a Christian approach to natural theology utilizing semeiotic, as proposed by Alister McGrath. Leading interpreters of Peirce’s philosophy of religion, Michael Raposa and Robert Corrington, hold that Peirce’s semeiotic entails a panentheist ontology. If that is the case, then a fully developed use of semeiotic by McGrath may inad-vertently risk the coherence of his theory. The present study takes a systematic theology approach combined with an empirical method inspired by Peirce’s distinct form of pragmatism. Chapter one introduces the problematic, the methodology, and the plan for the work of this dissertation. Chapter two defines three characteristic discrepancies that any authentic form of panentheism will have vis-à-vis a traditional Christian theology of the Creator-creature relation. Chapter three explores the relationship of Peirce’s thought to panentheist ontology as defined in chapter two. It finds that Peirce’s semeiotic is not inherently panentheist but that some of its aspects understandably lend themselves to panentheist perspectives in the thought of some interpreters of Peirce. Chapter four tests for the persistence of this relation of Peirce’s semeiotic to panentheism by constructing a robustly semeiotic form of McGrath’s theory (via Raposa’s theosemiotic), identifying Robert Neville as an exemplar of such a Christian theosemiotic, and sampling Neville’s work for evidence of panentheism. This dissertation concludes that Neville’s prior ontological commitments, rather than semeiotic, are the primary factors in his positive relation to panentheism. Therefore, semeiotic appears to be susceptible to panentheist perspectives held by interpreters, but semeiotic itself does not seem to entail panentheism. Consequently, there is reason to expect that a robust semeiotic theory applied to the task of Christian natural theology will not stumble over panentheism as long as it holds to a traditional Christian ontology. This result bears positive implications for the use of semeiotic in theological endeavors in many other forms of cultural engagement beyond the religion and science dialogue that situates McGrath’s proposal.