The future of inquiry: Charles Peirce, naturalism, and the symbols of the Christian eschaton
For Christian communities influenced by scientific naturalism and contemporary worldviews, the Christian eschaton—traditionally the end times in which God judges everyone and establishes Christ's reign—is particularly difficult to interpret. Can these traditional eschatological symbols, which were vital in the formation of the early church's texts and traditions, remain meaningful when separated from the supernatural worldview of the earliest Christians? This study argues that a plausible, naturalistic, and Christian interpretation of eschatological symbols is possible, and uses the semiotic pragmatism of American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce (1839–1914) to generate and defend one such interpretation. Peirce is ideally suited for this task because his pragmatic philosophical approach to inquiry is almost uniquely sensitive to concepts of time and the future. Peirce's semiotic pragmatism also furnishes the interpretive scheme that allows for the comparison of diverse treatments of eschatological symbols in different contexts.
In the modern period Christian thinkers such as Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Wolfhart Pannenberg, and Jürgen Moltmann have struggled to find strategies for interpreting eschatological symbols that reduce reliance on supernaturalism without eliminating it entirely. Part I of this study demonstrates that these efforts continue to run up against contemporary naturalistic standards of plausibility, and argues that a more thoroughgoing naturalistic approach is required. Using Peirce's semiotic theory and philosophy of inquiry, Part II of this study presents a convergent theory of truth and inquiry, along with a philosophy of time and real possibilities. These philosophical tools provide the basis for a fully naturalist reinterpretation of Christian eschatological symbols, which is presented in Part M. The key referents of eschatological symbols shift from supernatural events to the indeterminacy of the future, the ubiquity of inquiry, and the finitude of any determinate perspective. This pragmatic strategy allows for a Christian eschatology that is both faithful to the developing tradition and plausible to contemporary Christians with naturalistic worldviews.