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Panentheism and Peirce's God Theology Guided by Philosophy and Cosmology



As Charles Peirce developed his pragmatic methodology and metaphysical cosmology, he also explored philosophical views about religion and God. Religion and science could be reconciled, he judged, if inquiries into God applied his scientific philosophy. Peirce died before clarifying what a Peircean God is like, but cooperation between theology, philosophy, and cosmology should pursue this effort. Core components of Peirce's system are used to formulate theistic, pantheistic, and panentheistic candidates for a Peircean God. These candidates are evaluated by the demands of his philosophical system, and then compared against contemporary science's understanding of the universe. Panentheism best fulfills Peircean expectations that God has complete creative and design control over the universe's entire development.
Authors e-offprint with publisher’s permission.
Mohr Siebeck
Volume 
No. 
John R. Shook
Panentheism and Peirces God: Theology Guided by
Philosophy and Cosmology
Adam Pryor
The Body of Christ and Phenomenology
of the Body
Jan-Olav Henriksen
Panentheism Without the Supernatural: On a Perichoretic
Trinitarian Conception of Reality
Kenneth A. Reynhout
Moving Beyond Epistemology: Exploring Hermeneutics as
an Alternative Framework for the Religion and Science
Book Reviews
Andrew Robinson. God and the World of Signs: Trinity,
Evolution, and the Metaphysical Semiotics of C. S. Peirce
(Johanne Stubbe Teglbjærg Kristensen)
Markus Mühling. Resonances: Neurobiology, Evolution
and Theology (Andreas Losch)
Thomas Jay Oord. The Uncontrolling Love of God:
An Open and Relational Account of Providence
(Jacob R. Lett)
Ernest L. Simmons. The Entangled Trinity: Quantum
Physics and Theology (Kirk Wegter-McNelly)
Authors e-offprint with publisher’s permission.
John R. Shook
Panentheism and Peirce’s God
Theology Guided by Philosophy and Cosmology
As Charles Peirce developed his pragmatic methodology and metaphysical cosmol‑
ogy, he also explored philosophical views about religion and God. Religion and sci‑
ence could be reconciled, he judged, if inquiries into God applied his scientific phi‑
losophy. Peirce died before clarifying what a Peircean God is like, but cooperation
between theology, philosophy, and cosmology should pursue this effort. Core com
ponents of Peirce’s system are used to formulate theistic, pantheistic, and panenthe‑
istic candidates for a Peircean God. These candidates are evaluated by the demands
of his philosophical system, and then compared against contemporary science’s
understanding of the universe. Panentheism best fulfills Peircean expectations that
God has complete creative and design control over the universe’s entire develop
1. Introduction
Charles Peirce judged that his philosophy could reconcile religion and sci-
ence, and his reconciliation included a scientific inquiry into God1. After
two decades of intense speculation on metaphysics and cosmology, he pub-
lished A Neglected Argument for the Reality of God in 1908. Only this essay
and some further cosmological speculations vaguely suggest what Peirce’s
God must be like. Tenets from other parts of his philosophy, from logic
and phenomenology to metaphysics and semiotics, must be consulted. This
essay first describes Peirce’s hopes for discerning God in the universe’s evo-
lution, and lists all of the attributes that Peirce explicitly assigned to God.
Next, core features of Peirce’s system are applied to formulate four primary
types of pantheistic and panentheistic candidates for God. After these philo-
sophical criteria are applied, these candidate Gods must also be able to effec-
tively control the universe as cosmology can comprehend it. A dynamically
1 Most of Peirce’s writings relevant to religion were published in Vol. 1 and 6 of The Col-
lected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce (Peirce 1931–58). Citations to this edition are
given by CP followed by volume and paragraph numbers.
PTSc 3 (2016), 8–31 DOI 10.1628/219597716X14563962631575
ISSN 2195‑9773 © 2016 Mohr Siebeck
Authors e-offprint with publisher’s permission.
Panentheism and Peirce’s God 9
panentheistic God can best fulfill Peirce’s expectations for the most exten-
sive divine creativity possible and the most divine control over the universe’s
entire development.
2. The Three Peircean Categories
Peirce’s Neglected Argument for God’s reality is the place to begin on this
subject. Detailed analyses of this ‘neglected argument’ are available2 so we
can proceed efficiently towards the cosmological and metaphysical issues
surrounding God. Peirce writes, “a latent tendency toward belief in God is
a fundamental ingredient of the soul, and that, far from being a vicious or
superstitious ingredient, it is simply a natural precipitate of meditation upon
the origin of the Three Universes” (CP 6.487). Following the Neglected Argu-
ment, one is led to appreciate how a deeper dynamic pattern runs through all
three fundamental categories of firstness, secondness, and thirdness.
Peirce describes the three universes of firstness, secondness, and third-
ness in this way:
Of the three Universes of Experience familiar to us all, the first comprises all mere Ideas,
those airy nothings to which the mind of poet, pure mathematician, or another might
give local habitation and a name within that mind. Their very airy-nothingness, the fact
that their Being consists in mere capability of getting thought, not in anybody’s Actually
thinking them, saves their Reality. The second Universe is that of the Brute Actuality
of things and facts. I am confident that their Being consists in reactions against Brute
forces, notwithstanding objections redoubtable until they are closely and fairly exam-
ined. The third Universe comprises everything whose being consists in active power to
establish connections between different objects, especially between objects in different
Universes (CP 6.455).
Peirce finds firstness, secondness, and thirdness in phenomenological expe-
rience, the categories prepared from his logical and mathematical studies.
Expressed as relations, these three categories are defined as follows:
Careful analysis shows that to the three grades of valency of indecomposable concepts
correspond three classes of characters or predicates. Firstly come ‘firstnesses,’ or positive
internal characters of the subject in itself; secondly come ‘s econdnesses,’ or brute actions
of one subject or substance on another, regardless of law or of any third subject; thirdly
come ‘thirdnesses,’ or the mental or quasi-mental influence of one subject on another
relatively to a third (CP 5.469).
2 In chronological order, these discussions of the Neglected Argument are highly use-
ful: Smith 1952; Pfeifer 1981; Orange 1984; Raposa 1989; Corrington 1993, 167–217;
Anderson 1995, 135–86; Potter 1996b; Ejsing 2006.
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John R. Shook10
Since thirdness plays the crucial role for Peirce’s conceptions of God, one
more description of the three categories expanding on thirdness is useful:
We have here a first, a second, and a third. The first is a positive qualitative possibility,
in itself nothing more. The second is an existent thing without any mode of being less
than existence, but determined by that first. A third has a mode of being which consists
in the Secondnesses that it determines, the mode of being of a law, or concept. Do not
confound this with the ideal being of a quality in itself. A quality is something capable
of being completely embodied. A law never can be embodied in its character as a law
except by determining a habit. A quality is how something may or might have been. A
law is how an endless future must continue to be.
Now in genuine Thirdness, the first, the second, and the third are all three of the
nature of thirds, or thought, while in respect to one another they are first, second, and
third. … The third is thought in its role as governing Secondness. It brings the informa-
tion into the mind, or determines the idea and gives it body. It is informing thought,
or cognition. But take away the psychological or accidental human element, and in this
genuine Thirdness we see the operation of a sign (CP 1.536–37).
In several places across his voluminous writings, including the Neglected
Argument, Peirce attempts to demonstrate how thirdness is responsible for
crucial natural processes, especially the habits of nature and the special work
of semiosis, the activity of signs. Thirdness is essential to Peirce’s philosophi-
cal and metaphysical theorizing, and we shall see why thirdness is probably
the decisive factor for determining what Peirce’s system can indicate about
Peirce’s cosmological speculations during the 1880s and 1890s relate a
speculative narrative of nature evolving from sheer chance through inter-
locking reactions and on to the emergence of growing and evolving habits.
These speculations, especially concerning the ‘Evolutionary Love’ postulated
by “an evolutionary philosophy, which teaches that growth comes only from
love” (CP 6.289), led Peirce towards thoughts of God. The Neglected Argu-
ment asks the ‘Muser,’ after contemplating the three universes and their con-
nections, to take a closer look at the special phenomenon of growth:
From speculations on the homogeneities of each Universe, the Muser will naturally pass
to the consideration of homogeneities and connections between two different Universes,
or all three. Especially in them all we find one type of occurrence, that of growth, itself
consisting in the homogeneities of small parts. This is evident in the growth of motion
into displacement, and the growth of force into motion. In growth, too, we find that the
three Universes conspire; and a universal feature of it is provision for later stages in ear-
lier ones. This is a specimen of certain lines of reflection which will inevitably suggest
the hypothesis of God’s Reality (CP 6.465).
Peirce had linked growth to mind, and linked universal mind to God, in his
1892 article The Law of Mind:
Authors e-offprint with publisher’s permission.
11Panentheism and Peirce’s God
This reference to the future is an essential element of personality. Were the ends of a per-
son 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 predetermined
purposes 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; while a necessitarian religion
is in an altogether false position and is destined to become disintegrated. But a pseudo-
evolutionism which enthrones mechanical law above the principle of growth, is at once
scientifically unsatisfactory, as giving no possible hint of how the universe has come
about, and hostile to all hopes of personal relations to God (CP 6.157).
Peirce regarded the universal phenomena of evolutionary growth as the key
to unlocking both the nature of God’s reality and the intimate relations we
may have with the divine. What sort of God is implicated by this evolution-
ary and cosmological philosophy?
Locating Peirce’s God won’t be fully accomplished through just one aspect
or another of Peirce’s vast philosophical system. His discernment of catego-
ries through phaneroscopy, his phenomenological insights, his pragmatic
abductions, his panpsychist tendencies, and his semiotic theorizing can be
illuminatingly compared or experimentally synthesized with the gods of
faith traditions3. However, our inquiry here applies only Peirce’s system to
see which God hypotheses can do the most for expanding humanity’s com-
prehension of everything intelligence can explore. This Peircean inquiry
must ask how God works with science as well as metaphysics and other
philosophical inquiries, since Peirce expected scientific philosophy, in the
broadest sense, to be the surest way to increase comprehension. Peirce is
not doing natural theology, following up on just what the natural sciences
discover. That is why Peirce could speak of the “religion of science” (CP
6.433)– an informed religiosity which would flow from inquiry undertaken
in the broadest sense. Experimental science, even in some hypothetically
completed sense, cannot yield a religion even if all facts were catalogued–
religiosity itself is intuitive and instinctive (CP 6.493). There remains a more
general inquiry into the comprehensible development of everything, which
3 Peirce’s three phenomenal categories suggest the Christian trinity; Deuser even tries
to discern German Lutheran Trinitarianism in Peirce (Deuser 1993). On Peirce and
phenomenologies about direct religious experience, consult Niemoczynski (2011).
Peirce himself repeatedly resisted William James’s harnessing of pragmatism to per-
sonally salvific over-beliefs (see Anderson 2012, 149–65). Peirce was enlisted as a fel-
low panpsychist by Hartshorne (1984, 9, 259). Applying Peircean semiotics to Jewish
scripture is explored by Ochs (2005). Selectively reading Peirce for defending traditional
Christian theism is the project of Slater (2014, 80–107).
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John R. Shook12
can wisely guide the religion steadfastly oriented towards God. What is this
religion? Peirce says,
it is a religion, so true to itself, that it becomes animated by the scientific spirit, confi-
dent that all the conquests of science will be triumphs of its own, and accepting all the
results of science, as scientific men themselves accept them, as steps toward the truth
(CP 6.433).
Peirce did require that any religion of science, for all its philosophical and
theological sophistications, not only cohere with cosmology, but rely on all
of the best cosmological knowledge available. No argumentation for God
could ever be finished and final for Peirce, as fallible inquiry is endless, sci-
ence grows continually, and cosmology keeps surprising us. His admiration
for science hardly meant any denigration of religion (Parker 1990; Cantens
2006; Sims 2008), yet he was intent upon their cohesion. Peirce decided
against placing religion in the hands of either metaphysics or cosmology
separately, and he distrusted theology’s manner of picking through their
theories to select out just the right support for religious dogmas. Where does
all available evidence of God reasonably point?
3. Candidates for Peirce’s God
Peirce can be selectively read to sound somewhat like a classical theist or
even a deist. Peirce does not acknowledge the theology of panentheism in his
writings. He clearly did not approve of pantheism or polytheism (CP 8.262;
see also Alexander 1987; Raposa 1989, 50). Nevertheless, these theological
options may all be provisionally considered, as we start from the firmest
expectations that Peirce had for God.
Peirce formulated a few propositions about God that his philosophy
could, in his own view, reasonably support. He retained some traditional
theological ideas about of God, but his own philosophy forced him towards
novel views as well, and perhaps led him into a few contradictions (Hart-
shorne 1941a, 1941b, 1995). Peirce’s traditional ideas include God’s attrib-
utes of infinity, necessity, creativity, eternality, and mentality. For Peirce, God
must be infinite (CP 8.262) and must be that “necessary being” which is the
“creator of all three Universes of Experience” (CP 6.452), and he addition-
ally claimed that “all reality is due to the creative power of God” (CP 6.505).
God has “its being out of time” and God creates time (CP 6.490; CP 4.67).
Peirce described God as a “disembodied spirit, or pure mind” (CP 6.490)
and God “probably has no consciousness” (CP 6.489). Peirce attributes to
Authors e-offprint with publisher’s permission.
13Panentheism and Peirce’s God
God more perfections, such as omnipotence (CP 6.509) and omniscience
(CP 6.508, CP 6.510).
Peirce also assigned attributes to God which can be considered incom-
patible with static perfection. Peirce wanted to believe in an anthropomor-
phic and personal God (CP 5.47, CP 5.496, CP 5.536; CP 6.162, CP 6.436,
CP 6.502), or, if God is far more than personality, at least a God conceived
as personal in our relations with God. An attribution of personality implies
further expected characteristics, yet Peirce hesitated. Peirce was tempted
to deny that God could have purposes or growth, but he admitted that it
is ‘less false’ to represent God with those attributions (CP 6.466). Peirce
denied that God’s creative act was long ago, because God is “now creating
the universe” and exemplifies “Creative Activity” (CP 6.505–06). Peirce’s
God is “One Incomprehensible but Personal God, not immanent in but
creating the universe” (CP 5.496). Peirce repeatedly denied that we could
understand God’s mind, but also said that a pragmaticist means by ‘God’
an analogue of a mind that inspires worthy principles of conduct (CP
. Peirce says that God is love, exemplifying the agapic love that he
finds in the evolution of the world (CP 6.157, CP 6.287, CP 6.302–04). Yet
God is also entirely responsible for the creation and continued existence of
the disorder, decay, tragedy, and evil (CP 6.479) that must attend the pos-
sibility of growth for the universe in general and the fighting goodness of
humanity in particular.
Peirce personally held some theistic views of God, but the sort of God
most compatible with his philosophical system is quite another matter. This
system sets two critical restraints. First, God should not be conceived as
mysteriously eluding all human conception. Peirce showed no interest in
encouraging philosophy or theology to treat God in an apophatic man-
ner, or forbidding God from having any conceivable attributes or powers.
Furthermore, Peirce expressly argued for the reality of God, and anything
possessing reality in Peirce’s terminology requires that it share in thirdness,
whatever else it may be like. Second, God’s creative activity and control of
creation must be explicable using the three categories. Peirce’s philosophy
cannot legitimate utter transcendence because there is no way to justify
the existence of an entity that shares nothing, not even a ‘creatio ex nihilo
relationship, with the universes of firstness, secondness, or thirdness. The
deity available to religion and philosophy must be conceived as “a Deity
4 Raposa recounts several passages where Peirce endorses God’s purposive thoughtful-
ness (Raposa 1989, 65–66). Vincent Potter explores Peirce’s anthropomorphic theism
(Potter 1996a).
Authors e-offprint with publisher’s permission.
John R. Shook14
relatively to us” (CP 5.107). God may be fairly mysterious, not surprisingly,
but a Peircean God must have some contact and / or continuity with nature,
and some sort of positive cognition of God must be possible. Peirce’s God is
supposed to be a creating and controlling God, so we must have some lim-
ited way of cognizing God in creation. Speaking of God as generic ‘being’
(or as the ‘ground’ of being, and the like) in order to keep God unintelligi-
ble couldn’t have Peirce’s approval: “[C]ognizability (in its widest sense) and
being are not merely metaphysically the same, but are synonymous terms
(CP 5.257). A completely transcendent, metaphysically uncategorizable, and
entirely empty conception of God is no God at all (CP 6.492). Peirce’s own
claims about God and his philosophical commitments tend to rule out a
completely transcendent God, a deistic God who creates just once and then
abstains from control, and an entirely mysterious God.
Some sort of acquaintance and even modest knowledge of God who con-
tinually creates within nature is possibly accessible for human experience
and intelligence. This requirement of continual creation must therefore be
coordinated with Peirce’s grand evolutionary narrative of our universe. No
single essay recounts this narrative; important segments appear in A Guess at
the Riddle (1887–88), The Architecture of Theories (1891), Evolutionary Love
(1893), and The Origin of the Universe (1898). A single paragraph among
Peirce’s published writings encapsulates his evolutionary cosmology:
[I]n the beginning– infinitely remote– there was a chaos of unpersonalized feeling,
which being without connection or regularity would properly be without existence. This
feeling, sporting here and there in pure arbitrariness, would have started the germ of a
generalizing tendency. Its other sportings would be evanescent, but this would have a
growing virtue. Thus, the tendency to habit would be started; and from this, with the
other principles of evolution, all the regularities of the universe would be evolved. At
any time, however, an element of pure chance survives and will remain until the world
becomes an absolutely perfect, rational, and symmetrical system, in which mind is at
last crystallized in the infinitely distant future (CP 6.33).
In his cosmological speculations Peirce is anxious to emphasize the ‘sport-
ings’ of chance’s firstness and the way that nature’s habits (the laws of nature)
retain some degree of random variation (the role of ‘tychism’) throughout
the universe’s evolution. That variation accounts for the flexibility of law,
but it cannot by itself explain evolving growth. In the operations of third-
ness “advance takes place by virtue of a positive sympathy among the created
springing from continuity of mind” (CP 6.304).
Peirce labeled his own view as ‘agapasticism,’ that philosophy which
admits the operations of tychastic chance (firstness, quality, feeling) and
anancastic mechanism (secondness, necessity, reaction) but prioritizes
Authors e-offprint with publisher’s permission.
15Panentheism and Peirce’s God
the work of agapic mind (thirdness, teleology, semiotics). The thirdness
of mind, in Peirce’s evolutionary cosmology, is embodied in nature’s laws.
Those parts of the universe strictly controlled by the near-necessities of
strictly rigid habit appear to us as material objects in their lawful energies
as studied by the natural sciences. Those parts only gradually coming into
lawful habit appear to us as intelligent organisms in their teleological pur-
poses as studied by the biological, social, and semiotic sciences. Mere mat-
ter blindly moves to lower-energy equilibriums with its environment; an
organism applies synthetic chemistry upon its environment to sustain a
higher-energy disequilibrium within an internal structure. Sustaining this
metabolic disequilibrium permits an organism to expend extra energy for
selective interactions with its environment. Those interactions rise from the
level of mere chemical affinity to organic selectivity. This selectivity (sen-
sitivity, discrimination, reaction), functioning to maintain its characteristic
metabolism, is an organism’s mentality. Teleological functioning is exhib-
ited where habitual selectivity attains similar results (incorporation of use-
ful external energy) despite dissimilar conditions (varying external environ-
ments) during much of organism’s existence.
Peirce’s broadened this naturalistic understanding of teleological men-
tality out to a cosmological scale, discerning signs of habitual selectivity
and deliberate guidance in the universe’s evolutionary growth. For Peirce,
there could be little of the universe where mind is entirely absent. Peirce’s
agapasticism is a novel kind of objective idealism. “The one intelligible the-
ory of the universe is that of objective idealism, that matter is effete mind,
inveterate habits becoming physical laws” (CP 6.25). Peirce acknowledged
his debts to Hegel but preferred to associate with “a Schelling-fashioned
idealism which holds matter to be mere specialized and partially deadened
mind” (CP 6.102). This idealism also offered a deeply aesthetic and organic
worldview congenial to Peirce’s admiration of the Stoic ethical life, which
also requires divine involvement (Shook 2011).
In his Neglected Argument, Peirce tries to show that our observed universe
is a fully evolutionary system, with plenty of opportunity for a creative God
to interactively guide the universe’s evolution. His overall philosophy indi-
cates that a God must, in order to be so intimately involved with the crea-
tion and evolution of the universe, have a far closer relationship than just a
traditional ‘creatio ex nihilo’ theory. A Peircean God would have attributes
and powers that are identical to, and overlap with, those of creation. Peirce’s
philosophy points away from classical theism, but what sort of God could
his philosophy point towards?
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John R. Shook16
4. God in Nature, Nature in God
There are three terms that must be coordinated when considering kinds
of divinity: God, creation, and primordial nothingness. In his late writ-
ings, Peirce added a ‘zeroness’ to his categories of firstness, secondness and
thirdness. The primordial nothingness is “prior to every first” and is a “pure
zero” of “unlimited possibility” and “boundless freedom” (CP 6.217). Peirce
decided that his cosmology demanded an account of the origin of firstness.
The chaotic realm of firstness is a kind of nothingness for Peirce, since pure
firstness enjoys neither the existence of secondness nor the reality of third-
ness. He then appealed to more fundamental nothingness prior to the noth-
ingness of firstness.
Even this nothingness, though it antecedes the infinitely distant absolute beginning of
time, is traced back to a nothingness more rudimentary still, in which there is no variety,
but only an indefinite specificability, which is nothing but a tendency to the diversifica-
tion of the nothing, while leaving it as nothing as it was before (CP 6.612).
We may rule out the idea that Peirces God should be entirely identified
with this primordial nothingness. Although Peirce does find God involved
with this extraordinary potentiality, his philosophy could not limit God to
just this mode of creativity. Attributes expected of Peirce’s God, especially
the requirement that God is a mediator possessing definite reality, requires
that God must be much more than just this primordial potentiality of noth-
ingness. However, as noted already, it may be convenient to locate some of
God’s creativity at this primordial stage, otherwise firsts would spontane-
ously emerge without any divine assistance or guidance. Peirce himself lends
support to this divine role (CP 6.199).
Philosophically, there are three possibilities. If God is in the primordial
nothingness so that its eruptions into the diversity of firsts are God’s respon-
sibility, then God is involved in the creativity of firstness. Alternatively, if
God is not identifiable with the primordial nothingness yet has the capac-
ity to elicit firsts and then manipulate them, God can control the develop-
ment of emerging firsts into reacting seconds and on to regular thirds so
that God can control the universe’s evolution. Finally, if God has powers
neither over the primordial nothingness nor the origin of firsts, and has no
capacity to elicit chosen firsts, God can still selectively control the media-
tion of interacting seconds and then regular thirds so that God can control
the universe’s evolution.
Before going further, the reader should be prepared to leave behind tra-
ditional ‘creatio ex nihilo’ schemes for exploring where this inquiry must
Authors e-offprint with publisher’s permission.
17Panentheism and Peirce’s God
proceed. Peirce’s God, in all remaining scenarios under consideration here,
essentially participates in creation from some sort of ‘nothingness,’ and
either encompasses nothingness within itself or grapples with a kind of
nothingness that it isn’t responsible for. Furthermore, both the primordial
nothingness and the relative nonbeing of firstness continue to have influence
over how creation develops into the ultimate future, despite the way that
Peirce categorically denies existence to them both (Mayorga 2007, 115–20).
Both God and the created world must participate somehow with nonex-
istence to some degree. The dialogical contrast inherited from the Greeks
between being and nonbeing does not function in Peirce’s cosmological sys-
tem. It is just as wrong to say that Peirce still approved of creation ex nihilo
as it is to suppose that Peirce abandoned it. Presumptions about creation ex
nihilo do deserve re-examination (Keller 2003; Robson 2008; Soskice 2013;
Oord 2014). Peirce says that the only positive conception of nothingness
from which the universe originated is “boundless possibility” (CP 6.217).
What sort of God can creatively manage such a thing?
Four options now start to diverge and distinguish themselves: two types
of panentheisms (all is in God), and two types of pantheisms (God is in
all), permitting four basic options to start from. The first option holds that
some of God’s reality is beyond nature, and God is entirely involved with
the universe because all of creation and primordial nothingness is part of
God. This simple panentheism is pantheism plus a partially transnatural
God. The second option holds that some of God’s reality is beyond nature,
and God is entirely involved with the universe because all of creation (but
not the primordial nothingness) is part of God. This emergent panentheism
locates God’s participation with nature mostly in the operations of thirdness.
Admittedly, these are crude versions of panentheisms, not to be confused
with sophisticated definitions. However, elaborating complex varieties of
panentheism is not useful here, because Peirce’s philosophy barely admits
a consideration of basic panentheisms, much less anything more sophisti-
cated. The third option is pantheism, holding that nature (including the pri-
mordial nothingness) is entirely identical with God and there is nothing of
God beyond nature. The fourth option is emergent pantheism, holding that
all of God’s being is within nature (but not within the primordial nothing-
ness), so that God has to come into existence along with creation5.
For detailed discussions of panentheisms see Clayton (2004), Towne (2005), and
Cooper (2006). Gregersen distinguishes a Christian panentheism reconciling creation
ex nihilo with divine immanence from other types of panentheism, although he omits
the Peircean approach (Gregersen 2004). See also Harris (1992) and Clayton (2008).
Levine discusses systematic varieties of pantheism (Levine 1994).
Authors e-offprint with publisher’s permission.
John R. Shook18
All four of these kinds of gods are compatible with Peirce’s basic insist-
ence that God’s creativity is intimately involved with every phase of the uni-
verse’s development, from the earliest stages of nature’s development where
primordial eruptions of firstness becomes connected through secondness,
all the way to the final stage of the universe’s static rigidity. Let’s examine the
respective merits of panentheism, emergent panentheism, pantheism, and
emergent pantheism in relation to Peirce’s philosophy.
5. Panentheism
Peirce’s philosophy, upon a cursory examination, can easily appear to sup-
port straightforward panentheism. A panentheistic God would presumably
have maximal creativity since God is both more than nature, within nature,
and before nature in the primordial source of creativity. It is no objection to
be troubled by the notion of divinity within the nothingness of potentiality;
Peirce’s nothingness is still a mode or manner of creativity. The difficulty
lies more in the way that he separately credits both God and the primordial
nothingness with plenty of creativity, sufficient to create a universe without
the other. However, merely creating some universe is not enough. For Peirce,
as well as for us, the more intriguing question is why our own universe was
created in particular, and not merely any universe in the abstract. After all,
it is the universe that we do know that requires explanation. If God has full
control and responsibility for creation in every possible way, explaining this
actual universe may be easier.
If God is in everything, why should some of God be beyond nature? Panen-
theism can have more explanatory power than pantheism. We have noticed
that if God is manipulating pure potentiality to create firsts during the pri-
mordial alpha-stage, that divine creative activity must be the manifestation of
some unnaturally divine influence since nothing natural exists yet. That tran-
scending influence could be some unknown divine power beyond firstness,
secondness, or thirdness, but consistency with Peirce’s philosophy indicates
that such power would be some sort of creative thirdness that pre-exists the
origin of our universe. It is wise for Peirce to attribute at least thirdness to
God, and God’s necessity seems to fit well with the lawfulness of thirdness.
If none of the three categories really apply to God, then God’s relationship
with creation is utterly mysterious, and worse, Peirce’s philosophy would be
utterly unable to say anything about God. For God to have a creative rela-
tionship with creation, God’s own thirdness (God’s mediation with creation)
ought to be involved, yet thirdness itself is supposed to be created by God.
Authors e-offprint with publisher’s permission.
19Panentheism and Peirce’s God
Peirce claims that God creates all three universes, yet he adds that “they, or
at any rate two of the three, have a Creator independent of them” (CP 6.483).
This is likely Peirce’s manner of reminding us that God cannot be entirely
independent of thirdness, because thirdness must be an attribute of God, a
crucial mode of God’s creative activity. God’s transcending thirdness may be
sufficient to account for God’s participation in every stage of the universe’s
development. A transcending thirdness also can account for the notion that if
God is working out the universe according to a pre-thought design, that plan
(a schema of thirdness) has to exist in some sense before nature.
Peirce appears to indicate his preference for this view of God’s plans for
the universe. God is “pure mind” and “has its being out of time” but any
enaction of this pure mind would be manifested as dynamic thirdness. “Pure
mind, as creative of thought, must, so far as it is manifested in time, appear
as having a character related to the habit-taking capacity” (CP 6.490). Peirce
himself inclined towards viewing God as that necessary being. Furthermore,
if God is a necessary being, and if nature is contingent, some of God’s reality
must necessarily be beyond nature. If thirdness is already among the attrib-
utes of God, then God doesn’t create all thirdness. Some uncreated necessary
thirdness therefore transcends nature.
What sort of necessity would this panentheistic God possess? Nature’s
contingency can raise deep puzzles for a panentheistic God. God’s close
involvement with all of nature was held by traditional theology to be incom-
patible with an absolutely necessary God. If God is entirely responsible for
the creation with which it is entangled, and nature has entirely contingent
features, then God must necessarily have contingent features. Peirce con-
sistently attributes degrees of contingency to God, and his philosophy must
confirm this contingency. Since the universe’s evolutionary growth includes
(and indeed requires) a degree of real chance, and God’s creativity is inti-
mately involved with this growth, then God’s reality should include con-
tingency. Put another way, an attempt to insulate God from all contingency
implies that God is not intimately involved with the chanciness powering
evolutionary growth. This contradicts Peirce’s claim that God is involved
with all three universes, limits God’s supposedly infinite powers, and denies
God complete responsibility for the universe. For Peirce, creativity implies
contingency. A panentheistic God should possess some contingency in addi-
tion to uncreated necessary thirdness, if we expect this Peircean God to be
It is not enough to locate the needed divine contingency in the primor-
dial nothingness; contingency must be involved with God’s transcending
thirdness as well. If God is creative, and God has necessary transcending
Authors e-offprint with publisher’s permission.
John R. Shook20
thirdness, we have to return to the necessity-contingency puzzle. A puzzle
now arises for the nature of God’s necessary thirdness. Is God’s transcend-
ing necessary thirdness dynamic or static? An entirely static thirdness could
be dynamic just in the minimal sense that it is responsible for changes to
creation without itself changing. This view would be similar to a traditional
theological view of God motivated by concerns over attributing contingent
change to a necessary being. On the other hand, Peirce’s understanding of
thirdness indicates that God’s thirdness must not be entirely static, since
thirdness is supposed to be essentially dynamic through its own operations
and its effects. Furthermore, Peirce is clear that all thirdness involves some
small element of chance. So we return to the heart of the puzzle of panen-
theism: How can the transcending portion of God be both necessary and
contingent? If Peirce were tempted to solve these puzzles with traditional
theological options, he could view the transcending thirdness of God as
necessary in reality, necessary in fixity, and necessary in operations. If the
transcending portion of God is some rigid perfection of mind that creates
without changing, necessarily creates, and necessarily creates what it does
create, then nature would be quite contingently dependent on an entirely
necessary God. This is a panentheistic God, but it can be criticized for the
same problems that have been raised for a transcendent God and an omega-
stage final God. It is hard to understand how transcending rigid necessity
can creatively influence dynamic nature.
Furthermore, an entirely necessary creator God makes it hard to account
for any contingencies of nature: that creation did get created, how it was cre-
ated, why this creation has certain contingent features, and why this crea-
tion evolves contingency in the way it does. Locating divinity within the
extreme contingency of primordial nothingness does not help answer these
questions by itself, since crediting pure chance does little to explain our own
particular universe. God’s transcending necessary thirdness must remain
under scrutiny. Genuine contingency in the creation seems to reflect back
on the Creator. Contingency can be explained by contingency, and neces-
sary law can explain contingency, but rejecting an infinite regress (even for
God’s decisions, laws, and plans) may tempt us to resort back to contingency
again even at the divine level. This explanatory track leads many theologians
to the conclusion that only a decision of a deity makes a sufficient explana-
tion for such questions about creation. However, the simple question of why
God made one decision rather than another (was this decision necessary or
contingent?) returns us to the familiar track of explanation all over again.
We may appreciate Peirce’s theory of spontaneous inexplicable creativity of
pure possibility from nothingness as an effort to throw a third term into the
Authors e-offprint with publisher’s permission.
21Panentheism and Peirce’s God
endless two-term cycle. If God is in the primordial nothingness, then God
can be responsible for chance possibility, be responsible for controlling the
regulation of possibility into habit, be responsible for the overall plan for
the universe, and hence be fully responsible for creation. However, locating
a rigid and static necessary God behind the divinely random nothingness
to explain creation from that nothingness only erodes any utility for adding
the third term of nothingness.
Regarding the transcending necessary thirdness of God as dynamic has
additional advantages for understanding its relation to the rest of creation.
On Peirce’s philosophy, God cannot externally provoke the primordial
potentiality to produce firsts. There can be no causal relations with such a
pure potentiality and it is capable of plenty of diversification all on its own.
God transcending thirdness has a role to play with that source of creativity,
however. The way that erupting firsts regularly connect through patterns
of seconds involves a simplistic sort of mediating thirdness, according to
Peirce. Peirce’s God has a primary task of controlling the thirdness, and
hence the evolutionary growth, of the universe. Fulfilling that task is pre-
cisely the answer to the question of why our own particular universe was cre-
ated rather than just any sort of universe. Peirce clearly says that “all reality
is due to the creative power of God” (CP 6.505), and reality (as opposed to
the mere possibility of firsts or the material existence of seconds) is entirely
a matter of thirdness in Peirce’s terminology. If the transcending portion
of God is responsible for managing the organization of creation from first-
ness through secondness to thirdness, that transcending thirdness must be
extremely dynamic, since it must creatively react to whatever emerges from
the primordial nothingness in order to pursue the divine plan. Even if some
of God is in that primordial nothingness, that presence is not the origin of
God’s control over the universe. The transcending thirdness of God must
necessarily be, but it must also contingently operate.
On this view of God’s dynamic nature, this panentheism offers another
option besides viewing God as excessively necessary or too contingent. Per-
haps God utilizes both necessary and contingent features or modes of activ-
ity. If God’s transcending thirdness is necessary in reality, dynamic in flux,
and contingent in operation, and it functions in conjunction with God’s
presence in the primordial nothingness, then God is responsible for both the
form and substance of our particular universe. God has two primary ways
of transcending creation: by being the transcending design of thirdness and
the transcending potentiality of nothingness. In the dynamic cooperation of
these dual transcending aspects of God, of law and chance, the evolution of
our actual universe is explainable.
Authors e-offprint with publisher’s permission.
John R. Shook22
An open question for this panentheism is whether the God’s plan for
the evolution of our universe is entirely predetermined for every last detail.
Creatio ex nihilo’ theologies can be quite compatible with firmly determin-
istic views on creation, as an all-powerful God can presumably plan and
guarantee every event in the entire universe. God may plan every detail in
advance, or may forge the details as creation proceeds. For an entirely trans-
cendent eternal God, of course, there is no difference between an advance
plan and an evolving plan; God doesn’t have to react to what the universe
does, and any course the universe takes must be in God’s unique plan. Peirce
preferred a timeless God, but the God called for by his philosophy has to
deal with genuine chance and requires real time to deal with it, even if God
is in the primordial potentiality. These factors are not tight limitations on
God’s infinite powers, since God can still guide the universe to any out-
come desired. God’s transcending plan may be general, vague, or incom-
plete, much in the way that an architect’s model only anticipates the actual
constructed building, after the engineering, construction, and decorative
phases are completed. A model for this proposed sort of creativity is artistic
creativity. Peirce does attribute artistry to God (Anderson 1987, 90–99) and
appeals to artistry and aesthetics:
The universe is a vast representamen, a great symbol of God’s purpose, working out its
conclusions in living realities. … In the little bit that you or I can make out of this huge
demonstration, our perceptual judgments are the premises for us. The Universe as an
argument is necessarily a great work of art, a great poem– for every fine argument is a
poem and a symphony– just as every true poem is a sound argument (CP 5.119).
While artists typically create while referring back to some planned schema,
it is also typical for an artist’s plan to change, in details or even essentials,
during the creation of the artwork. The artist in a certain sense creates what
she intended to create, to a degree, but it is also just as correct to say that the
artist usually creates far more than what was intended from the start.
While a panentheistic God can create according to some transcending
plan, Peirce’s philosophy suggests that this plan is itself a dynamic process
that grapples with the emerging creation. There is no need to regard God’s
transcending thirdness as so rigid and detailed that God cannot create the
way that an artist creates. This implies that the transcending nature of God
undergoes some sort of evolution right along with creation. While Peirce
himself may have preferred to refrain from attributing evolution, change,
or temporality to his God, a simple panentheism consisted with Peirce’s
philosophy has many incentives to accept such a dynamic God. If part of
God’s being is in creation as it undergoes evolution, then it is far easier to
understand the relationships between God beyond nature and God within
Authors e-offprint with publisher’s permission.
23Panentheism and Peirce’s God
nature if both aspects have the attributes of dynamic thirdness and evolu-
tionary change.
Peirce’s philosophy can better support a dynamic panentheism. God’s
reality demands explanation as much as the universe’s reality. Put another
way, if God is making the universe, what was making God? We have a ver-
sion of the regress problem confronting traditional theistic theology. Recall
how firmly Peirce insisted that evolution is the finest mode of explanation,
so we can infer that God evolves as well. Now we are confronted with a
pragmatic choice: Should we come up with two separate evolutionary sto-
ries, one for God and one for the world, or should we prefer the simpler
hypothesis? A natural God that evolves right along with reality is, all other
things being equal, the much simpler hypothesis. Also note that nowhere
does Peirce even hint at an explanation, or even the need for an explanation,
of God’s separate reality. Now, traditional theology does offer a response to
the regress problem by defining God as the ‘necessary being’ that needs no
origin explanation. This ontological assertion is highly controversial, even in
theology. Does Peirce’s logic authorize concretizing a definition into a real-
ity? Is there some pragmaticist argumentation waiting to serve as a coun-
terpart to theology’s ontological argument? There does not seem to be any
such thing available in Peirce’s system.
Let us turn to the second option of emergent panentheism. Although
locating divinity within the primordial nothingness ensures that God has
maximal responsibility for creation’s form and substance, the second option
of emergent panentheism has other advantages. An emergent panentheism
does not locate the primordial nothingness within God; it would not locate
such a nothingness anywhere. It is simply not part of creation and God does
not have to be responsible for it in any way. An emergent panentheist can
locate pure potentiality beyond God, or take an agnostic stance towards
Peirce’s nothingness hypothesis. Refusing to locate God within this noth-
ingness is no denial of God’s infinite extent, since God cannot be limited
by nothingness and God cannot be determined by complete indeterminacy.
After all, Peirce’s philosophy is quite clear that this nothingness has no real-
ity or being; technically, it is not part of the universe at all and it is not one
of the three universes created by God. Connecting this nothingness with
creativity is hard enough in any case. We have mentioned the difficulty of
trying to comprehend how God could cause the primordial nothingness to
produce firsts. Although Peirce was driven to postulate this nothingness to
account for the origin of firsts and everything else, the emergence of our uni-
verse from firsts could simply begin with an account of these chaotic firsts.
So long as this emergent panentheism holds that God is involved with first-
Authors e-offprint with publisher’s permission.
John R. Shook24
ness and the creation of everything else, God remains both the reality and
structure of the universe.
For this emergent panentheism, the transcending thirdness of God would
be dynamically creative and interactively evolutionary, just as straightfor-
ward panentheism is, for the same reasons described already. The opera-
tions of thirdness in our universe, developing it from chaotic firstness into
the planned divine design, are simultaneously the reality of God in the world
and the working out of the transcending divine plan. Indeed, this emergent
panentheism has the easiest time portraying a close continuity between the
thirdness of nature and the thirdness of God– these are not two different
things, but rather two aspects of the same divine reality. The evolution-
ary creativity of God is present everywhere within creation, since thirdness
is everywhere in creation. This emergent panentheism, by excluding pure
potentiality and pure firstness from God’s being, is not limiting God or God’s
powers. To say that only nothingness or sheer possibility is beyond God could
be just another way of saying that God is infinite since there is nothing out-
side of God. Remember too that Peirce did not attribute existence or reality
to pure potentiality or pure firstness. All actual firstness is already clashing
and contrasting into the relation of secondness, and that process involves
the mediation of thirdness as habits of contrast begin to form. A subtype of
emergent panentheism locates God’s mediation especially in the emergence
of life, life’s semiotic processes, and divine-human communication. Semiot-
ics may be the key to understanding both the mode of human appreciation of
God and the mode of God’s involvement in the world (Raposa 1989, 142–54;
Ochs 1992; Corrington 1993, 206–10; Robinson 2010).
6. Pantheism
Turning to the third option of pantheism, which factors in Peirce’s system
and especially his evolutionary cosmology support a natural God? There is
no direct approval for this natural God in Peirce’s writings. However, Peirce
talks about God at the beginning, middle, and end of the universe: “The
starting-point of the universe, God the Creator, is the Absolute first; the
terminus of the universe, God completely revealed, is the Absolute Second;
every state of the universe at a measurable point of time is the third” (CP
1.362). This compressed statement permits one to view God as thoroughly
equivalent with the universe, rather than transcending it.
There are additional factors in Peirce’s thought favoring a natural God.
Must God influence the eruption of firsts from some transcending realm?
Authors e-offprint with publisher’s permission.
25Panentheism and Peirce’s God
We have already discussed how Peirce’s own account of general potentiality
and the initial firsts requires no external factor, influence, or prior design.
Also, Peirce points out how teleological creativity need not and should not
be considered as conforming the created thing precisely as a planned design
dictates. According to Peirce’s understanding of creativity, God can pro-
ductively create like an artist without knowing every detail in advance (CP
6.508). So long as the artist has sufficient control, there need be no arbitrary
limitation on the artist’s capacity to create an intended design. Does the
choice of materials limit the artist’s creativity? While God can only create
through chance eruptions of unpredictable novelty, in enough infinities of
time any and all potentialities can emerge from the perspective of divine
eternality. While our visible universe appears to have a definite point of ori-
gin in the big bang, this does not mean that God only had that much time to
form creation. For all we know, the big bang required preparations and our
universe may only be a part of a much bigger and older creation.
Pantheism also can resolve the same necessity-contingency problem that
arose for panentheism. There is no identifiable point of a ‘first time’ or a
decision choice at which God must ‘create’ all the contingencies as well as
necessities of creation. God the creator must necessarily create, but what
God creates need not be necessary. God as pantheistic creator can have both
necessary and contingent modes of divine activity, and this dual aspect of
God can be consistent with God’s partial transcendence of, but thorough
involvement with, all of creation.
Coming to the fourth option of emergent pantheism, God has no involve-
ment with the original eruptions of firsts at all and God must gradually come
into existence along with nature6. In Peirce’s system, God could influence
further firsts by binding them into secondness once God already exists in the
course of the universe’s development. On this hypothesis of a natural God,
God would have the creative power to create and connect more firsts after
the primordial alpha-stage. Does this natural God exist ‘at the beginning’?
Almost– so long as we do not identify God with the nothingness of gen-
eral potentiality, God is almost at the beginning. However, this hypothesis
does not deny that God was real at the beginning. As soon as there could
be any time, existence, and reality (remembering that Peirce’s system denies
that either general potentiality or pure firsts have existence or reality), there
could be God. To deny that God was real at the very origins of Peirce’s cos-
mological narrative is just a corollary of his definitions of general potential-
6 A Peircean emergent pantheism is explored in Corrington (1993, 173, 187, 200–04).
While Anderson does not distinguish between emergent panentheism and emergent
pantheism, Anderson’s creative God could be entirely within nature (Anderson 1987).
Authors e-offprint with publisher’s permission.
John R. Shook26
ity and chaotic firstness. A natural God could be quite real as soon as there
was any reality at all to speak of.
How would an emerging God control the universe? In order to form some
particular universe over time, God does not have to be directly responsible
for that primordial potentiality from which firsts erupt. God need only be
responsible for the effect of novel firsts on the evolution of creation, which
may be sufficient to permit God to control the universe’s evolution to any
degree God requires. This is a kind of ‘creatio ex nihilo,’ not in the sense that
God directly creates something from nothing, but rather that God creates
from what does come from nothingness. The very opposite of kenosis, a
divine withdrawal of absolute infinity so a contingent nature is left behind,
God’s management of nothingness is rather a divine embrace of absolute
chance so a constructed nature is advanced. Furthermore, Peirce’s evolution-
ary metaphysics suggests that the prior origins of our universe and the future
destiny of the universe are infinitely past and infinitely future, respectively
(Raposa 1989, 65–66). If Peirce’s guess turns out to be accurate– if what-
ever produced our universe has its own beginningless past and our universe
never ends in the future– then God would have an infinite amount of cre-
ated time to manipulate and manage all eruptions of novelty.
Emerging pantheism, by denying that God transcends nature or that God
is in the primordial nothingness, has fewer resources to deal with the neces-
sity-contingency issue. While an emerging God may be able to handle all
contingencies, the harder problem for emerging pantheism is God’s own
necessity and teleology. Why does nature need any God, and what destiny
would an emerging God intend? Peirce does say that he intends by ‘God’ to
refer to a necessary being. However, we should consider what Peirce’s sys-
tem would mean by ‘necessary.’ Peirce tended to equate the necessary with
the rational and with whatever is derivable from reason. But mathematical
necessity is a necessity of form, while metaphysical necessity is a necessity of
being. For Peirce, metaphysical principles are logical principles considered
as “truths of being” (CP 5.487). Peirce’s metaphysics concerns the actual
universe, so it is incorrect to assume that Peirce’s system holds that nature
must be thoroughly contingent in whole or in part. Aspects of nature can be
metaphysically necessary, and it is premature to assume that nature must be
thoroughly contingent in whole or part. Peirce preferred a ‘hyperbolic’ uni-
verse whose origins lie in the infinitely far past and whose destiny lies in the
infinitely far future. His understanding of the universe does not give it the
sort of definite beginning and ending that traditional theology preferred so
that nature must be contingent. Contrasted with theology’s notion of contin-
gent nature, Peirce’s nature can be quite necessary. If nature can be in some
Authors e-offprint with publisher’s permission.
27Panentheism and Peirce’s God
sense necessary, Peirce’s definition of God as a necessary being does not
prevent God from being partly or wholly natural. If God is some portion of
nature, God can still be metaphysically necessary. But what metaphysically
necessary portion of nature might God be?
This concern for the necessity of God is especially acute for emergent
pantheism, in which the creative influence of natural thirdness influences
the whole development of the universe, including itself. Peirce regarded the
agapastic evolution of the universe as firmly established. If thirdness is meta-
physically necessary in our universe, and the reality of God is located among
that realm of thirdness, then a natural God may be viewed as metaphysi-
cally necessary. Going further, Peirce sometimes referred to God’s agapic
creativity as a semiotic and intelligent process. God’s creativity would have
a naturally fitting home within the universe’s necessary thirdness. In short,
if semiosis is necessary in our universe, then God’s creative semiosis is nec-
essary, and God is a necessary being. Put differently, if semiosis is involved
with all reality, in Peirce’s special sense of ‘reality,’ then God’s supreme semi-
osis would be responsible for all reality, and hence we arrive at Peirce’s claim
that “all reality is due to the creative power of God” (CP 6.505). There could
have been no coherent, growing, and evolving universe without some crea-
tively unifying factor distributed throughout the universe.
7. Scientific Panentheism
Peirce’s personal convictions about God tend towards a fairly transcend-
ent God, but his philosophical system makes a good fit with a panentheistic
God, and it cannot rule out a pantheistic God. Peirce also required that a
scientific theology tests conceptions of God against current cosmology. Big
bang theory, relativity, and quantum mechanics provide additional tests to
see how a panentheistic God and a pantheistic God fit with the actual evo-
lution of this universe.
That cosmic evolution includes our world, where the planet’s surface
stays far from thermodynamic equilibrium. Organic life can emerge and
survive in dynamic disequilibrium in that soupy surplus of energy. Biology
now grasps how cooperation and communication is the rule rather than the
exception. Evolutionary success depends on playing ever-developing non-
zero sum games at every level from the genetic to the ecological. Biosemiot-
ics, inspired partly by Peirce, is revealing information’s essential role at the
smallest dimensions of organic processes (Sebeok and Umiker-Sebeok 1992;
Hoffmeyer 2008). Natural selection frequently favors kinds of symbiosis
Authors e-offprint with publisher’s permission.
John R. Shook28
such as colonies, multicellularity, and sexuality, so communal love is a cor-
ollary law of life. Could such love also prevail over the rest of the universe,
where thermodynamic conditions are not so favorable for life? The universe
nearly everywhere only plays host to stray cosmic radiation, charged parti-
cles, hydrogen gas, and atomic dust. Where did the universe as a whole come
from, and what is its destiny?
Peirce’s idea of spontaneous creativity from a primordial nothingness
has similarities with quantum mechanical explanations for the big bang.
Neither Peirce nor physics means by ‘nothingness’ an absolute absence of
everything. For Peirce, a genuine nothingness is one of which nothing can
be predicated– but many facts can be predicated upon an absolute absence,
such as ‘it is never like X, or Y’– so the true nothingness is that which any
and everything could potentially be predicated (CP 6.490, CP 6.612, CP
6.622; CP 8.317). Peirce therefore expected that some positive differences,
some non-symmetric contrasting bits of something, would spontaneously
emerge and get into habit relations, and then increase as any tendency to
growth must (CP 6.490). In this three stage process, from a nothingness of
potentiality to tiny variations to a growing pattern, Peirce envisioned the
origin of a physical universe.
Frank Wilczek, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, has pointed out that an
energy interpretation of an empty vacuum of absolute nothingness, accord-
ing to quantum field theory, must admit the possibility of quantum devia-
tions from nothingness. A physical nothingness must be a state of quantum
chaos which has a very low entropy since the total quantity of disorder
would still be very small. Intriguingly, Wilczek’s version has three stages of
creation that resemble Peirce’s three stages:
[T]he most symmetric phase of the universe generally turns out to be unstable. One can
speculate that the universe began in the most symmetrical state possible and that in such
a state no matter existed: the universe was a very empty vacuum, devoid both of particles
and of background fields. A second state of lower energy is available, however, in which
background fields permeate space. Eventually, a patch of the less symmetric phase will
appear– arising, if for no other reason, as a quantum fluctuation– and, driven by the
favorable energetics, start to grow. The energy released by the transition finds form in
the creation of particles. This event might be identified with the big bang. … Our answer
to Leibniz’s great question ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?’ then becomes
‘‘Nothing’ is unstable’ (Wilczek and Devine 1987, 275).
Cosmology has continued to see quantum field effects involved with the big
bang, even as newer theories postulate many (infinite?) universes also aris-
ing this way (Carr 2009; Gleiser 2014), as well as from contingent events like
collisions of universes or black holes generating new universes. Naturalists
may take the unlimited quantum ‘nothingness’ to be eternal (requiring no
Authors e-offprint with publisher’s permission.
29Panentheism and Peirce’s God
creation) or regard the ‘multiverse’ of infinite universes as always existing,
so no godly creative act would ever be needed.
All the same, Peirce would point out that the eruption and formation of
all these universes still requires an evolutionary explanation. His argument
for godly action could be taken up to the multiverse level: Whatever man-
ner by which universes are born, and the particular way they evolve, are
matters that still require explanation. Pantheism leaves all this unexplained
and leaves God to the mercy of whatever fate the multiverse may have. A
dynamic panentheistic God, in contrast, is consistent with the overall crea-
tion and evolution of the eternal multiverse. Pantheism also has great dif-
ficulty explaining how God could guide a single universe’s expansion and
evolution. The total universe produced by the big bang may consist of mil-
lions or even billions of regions unable to affect any but its overlapping
neighbors. So long as faster-than-light communication and causal guid-
ance within the universe remains forbidden by fundamental cosmological
law, a God’s capacity for cosmic control must be based on powers extend-
ing beyond the natural universe, and only a panentheistic God could have
such powers. The universe’s accelerating expansion presents insurmount-
able problems for a pantheistic God, as does the possibility of another uni-
verse intersecting or destroying our universe in the future, or our universe’s
complete collapse at some far future point. If Peirce’s God is a transcending
panentheistic God, control over the universe’s development would remain
possible under future scenarios.
In summary, a dynamic panentheist God finds that God’s creativity in
nature, the growth of nature, and our own growth are co-responding, co-
operating, co-evolving, and communicating processes. This Peircean God
would have every opportunity to sustain life eternally, if not in this universe,
then in other universes. An emergent panentheistic God and a pantheis-
tic God would have a far greater difficulties controlling universes, and be
unable to guarantee that life survives indefinitely. Peircean panentheism is
the best candidate for the sort of God that the Neglected Argument would
attempt to demonstrate in concert with current cosmology.
Alexander, Gary. 1987. “The Hypothesized God of C. S. Peirce and William James.Jour-
nal of Religion 67:304–21.
Anderson, Douglas R. 1987. Creativity and the Philosophy of C. S. Peirce. Dordrecht;
Boston: Kluwer.
–. 1995. Strands of System: The Philosophy of Charles Peirce. West Lafayette, IN: Purdue
University Press.
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John R. Shook30
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John R. Shook
University at Buffalo (Buffalo, NY, USA)
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This chapter analyzes how Charles Sanders Peirce's theism is “sound pragmatism,” and this is not likely to attract positivists who have adopted its maxim as an expression of their own views concerning verification. His theism, he says, is a consequence of anthropomorphism—a claim not likely to enthuse either traditional theists or hard-headed scientists. Moreover, Peirce's theism is intrinsically infected with vagueness, a disease which surely will be diagnosed as fatal by many analysts and logicians. The chapter also shows how Peirce's theism is supported by a form of the ontological argument, and aims to understand the precise import of these shocking claims and perhaps suggest at least that they are not so bad even if unusual and/or distasteful.
Charles S. Peirce occupies a secure and significant position in the annals of American intellectual history. His impact on contemporary philosophy, logic, semiotic, literary theory and communication studies has been enormous. Nevertheless, only a handful of theologians and philosophers of religion have looked to his writings as an important resource; very few of his commentators have paid to the religious dimension of his thought the attention that it deserves.^ The purpose of this dissertation is to underscore the role that religious ideas played in shaping Peirce's philosophy, and to provide a systematic account of his philosophy of religion. There is a hermeneutical difficulty here; very few of Peirce's writings are devoted explicitly to religious topics. I contend, however, that Peirce's interest in and perspective on such topics are manifested throughout his corpus, in scientific and mathematical papers, as well as in his writings on metaphysics, cosmology and the normative sciences. I conclude that Peirce's religious ideas are continuous with and integral to his reflections on these other issues, so that they must be identified and understood if his work as a whole is to be interpreted properly. And I suggest that his writings ought to be considered an important resource for contemporary scholars of religion, briefly indicating at the end of my study those of his ideas that might be most fruitfully entertained and developed.^ Peirce's most famous essay in the philosophy of religion, "A Neglected Argument for the Reality of God," provides a useful sketch of his general religious perspective. I use the argument there to organize my study; an extended commentary on that essay comprises my fifth, penultimate chapter.
Recent developments in cosmology and particle physics, such as the string landscape picture, have led to the remarkable realization that our universe - rather than being unique - could be just one of many universes. The multiverse proposal helps to explain the origin of the universe and some of its observational features. Since the physical constants can be different in other universes, the fine-tunings which appear necessary for the emergence of life may also be explained. Nevertheless, many physicists remain uncomfortable with the multiverse proposal, since it is highly speculative and perhaps untestable. In this volume, a number of active and eminent researchers in the field - mainly cosmologists and particle physicists but also some philosophers - address these issues and describe recent developments. The articles represent the full spectrum of views, providing for the first time an overview of the subject. They are written at different academic levels, engaging lay-readers and researchers alike.
Humans have long wondered about the origin of the universe. And such questions are especially alive today as physicists offer metaphysical theories to account for the emergence of creation.Theists have attributed the universe’s origin to divine activity, and many have said God created something from absolute nothingness. The venerable doctrine of creatio ex nihilo especially emphasizes God’s initial creating activity. Some contributors to this book explore new reasonscreatio ex nihilo should continue to be embraced today. But other contributors question the viability of creation from nothing and offer alternative initial creation options in its place. These new alternatives explore a variety of options in light of recent scientific work, new biblical scholarship, and both new and old theological traditions.
In this book, Michael Slater provides a new assessment of pragmatist views in the philosophy of religion. Focusing on the tension between naturalist and anti-naturalist versions of pragmatism, he argues that the anti-naturalist religious views of philosophers such as William James and Charles Peirce provide a powerful alternative to the naturalism and secularism of later pragmatists such as John Dewey and Richard Rorty. Slater first examines the writings of the ‘classical pragmatists’ – James, Peirce, and Dewey – and argues for the relevance of their views for thinking about such topics as the nature of religion and the viability of natural theology. His final three chapters engage with the religious views of later pragmatists such as Rorty and Philip Kitcher, and with current philosophical debates over metaphysical realism, naturalism, and evidentialism. His book will be of particular interest to philosophers of religion, theologians, and specialists in American philosophy.