A Peircean Semiotic Analysis of Time
In Response to an Argument of Richard Swinburne's on God and Time

Ummm, yeah, this piece originally had tons of footnotes. But I discover that this little flight into the ionosphere reads just as well without footnotes as with. Which, in my experience, is usually a hopeful sign.

There's also an interesting little story connected with this paper, which was originally written for a graduate seminar in philosophical theology. I was up in the middle of the night with insomnia, pacing around in the dark in my cockroach-infested apartment in Durham, North Carolina, when the ideas contained in this paper combusted in my mind, instantaneously, as a fully finished Gestalt. Not the only time that's happened to me-- I refer to it, somewhat tongue in cheek, as a "direct semiotic download"...

Can we say that, in some appropriate sense, God is in time? Or shall we say that God is beyond time, even immutable? Either alternative seems to bring with it knotty problems.

For if God is in time, then would he not, like all who dwell in time, forever be losing his present moments into the past? Would this not be a loss of being unbecoming of God? And would not God then have to wait, like the rest of us, for tomorrow to know tomorrow's news and to perform tomorrow's work? For if God, in time, can know and act in advance, then there seems to be an end to human freedom. God's foreknowledge would seem to preclude it. And so if God is in time, it seems that either human freedom would have to go, or else divine omniscience and omnipotence would have to abide by certain temporal restrictions.

And if God is beyond time, then in what sense would God be living and dynamic? How would the interaction between a God beyond time and humans in time be more than just a charade eternally planned and staged for human benefit? Could the timeless truly "get its hands dirty" by dealing with that which is in time? A God who was not only timeless but immutable would seem like a fly trapped in amber, very unlike the living God of the Jewish and Christian faith traditions.

The question of God's relationship to time is an old one in philosophy and theology. In his book The Coherence of Theism, Richard Swinburne wrestles with this question and arrives at some interesting conclusions. Assuming that God is in time in something very like the ordinary-language sense of the term "in time," Swinburne arrives at a strongly temporally restricted concept of divine omniscience and omnipotence.

In this paper we will examine the issues of God and time with which Swinburne struggles. We will bring to bear on the issues a Peircean semiotic analysis of time, in an attempt to see whether temporal assumptions more relaxed than Swinburne's can shed light on these questions. Our conclusion will be that, in fact, lurking in Swinburne's assumptions regarding a God in time is a particular assumption which a person who affirms a God beyond time would probably share. If we reject this hidden assumption, then we can hold coherently both to the position that God is in a strong sense "in time," and to stronger versions of omnipotence and omniscience than Swinburne can allow, versions compatible with human freedom.

Swinburne's Position on God and Time

Swinburne proposes the following definition of omnipotence:
A person P is omnipotent at a time t if and only if he is able to bring about the existence of any logically contingent state of affairs x after t, the description of the occurrence of which does not entail that P did not bring it about at t, given that he does not believe that he has overriding reason for refraining from bringing about x. (CoT, 160)
Swinburne argues to this definition from an initial, much simpler definition: "a person is omnipotent if and only if he is able to do any logically possible action." (CoT, 149) Here he substitutes "logically possible state of affairs" for "logically possible action," since certain individual actions can logically "only be performed by beings of certain kinds, and a being S cannot (logically) be a being of all these kinds at the same time." (CoT, 150) The observation that there are certain "logically possible state[s] of affairs which it is logically impossible for anyone to bring about"-- for example, retroactive influence on the past-- leads to the further qualification that omnipotence at time t involves only those states of affairs after time t which are "logically compatible with all that has happened at and before t." (CoT, 150-51) For the sake of logical coherence, Swinburne makes the additional restrictions that the state of affairs be "logically contingent"-- that is, both it and its negation coherent-- and that it not be required to be an uncaused state of affairs ("the description of which does not entail that P did not bring it about at t"). (CoT, 152) Finally, to take God's freedom into account, Swinburne adds the last proviso, "given that he does not believe that he has overriding reason for refraining from bringing about x." (CoT, 160-61)

Similarly, Swinburne argues for a time-bound definition of omniscience (CoT, 162). Swinburne defines "omniscience at time t" as follows:
A person P is omniscient at a time t if and only if he knows of every true proposition about t or an earlier time that it is true and also he knows of every true proposition about a time later than t, such that what it reports is physically necessitated by some cause at t or earlier, that it is true (CoT, 175)
The reader will notice that this definition omits knowledge of the truth of propositions concerning contingent future states of affairs. Swinburne claims that such a restriction is necessary to preserve God's freedom and to make room for human freedom, unless we are willing either to deny human freedom or to posit a God outside of time (CoT, 176-77).

Both these accounts of omnipotence and omniscience are rooted in Swinburne's assumption that the eternity of God is to be conceived in a manner roughly equivalent to the traditional notion of sempiternity: "God is eternal" means "God has always existed and will go on existing forever." (CoT 210-11) Such an existence in time would differ from the temporal existence of finite creatures by and only by its infinite extension into both past and future. Swinburne rejects the idea of an immutable God who "does not change at all" as incompatible with the affirmation of a free and living God (CoT 211-15). He also rejects the notion of a God beyond time in whom "there is no temporal succession of states," as taught by Augustine, Boethius, Aquinas, and others. Swinburne rejects this notion because timelessness implies immutability and also because timelessness "seems to contain an inner incoherence": simultaneity is ordinarily held to be a transitive property, which would imply the absurd conclusion that in God all instants of time are simultaneous (CoT 220-21).

Our Assumptions in This Paper

In this paper we will grant, for the sake of the argument, three of Swinburne's assumptions: (1) that, in some appropriately qualified sense, God leads a timelike life, and is not timeless or immutable; (2) that it is worthwhile to try to talk of this timelike existence of God in ordinary language; and (3) that a coherent statement is "one such that we can understand what it would be like for it and any statement entailed by it to be true." (CoT, 12) We will also assume the structure of Peircean semiotics which we will introduce in order to be able to carry out a semiotic analysis of time.

A Sketch of Some Aspects of Peircean Semiotics

Any student of the semiotics of C.S. Peirce will realize that any brief description of Peirce's thought must of necessity be incomplete. Peirce's voluminous writings, few of which ever saw print during his own lifetime (1839-1914), have been reduced to something like a state of order in his posthumous Collected Papers; but the result is still rambling, repetitious, and filled with obscurities and inconsistencies, as a result of the growth of Peirce's thought over the years. Fortunately, we will need only a portion of the full Peircean semiotic apparatus for our present purposes.

Semiotics may be understood as the attempt to see all knowledge and experience as a structured system of signs and symbols in interaction with one another. The most familiar example of such a system of signs is human language. But Peircean semiotics is not restricted to this narrow model. In fact, language, thought, emotion, sense perception, formal logic, mathematics, physical action, human existence, and the workings of nature itself are only a few of the processes which can be seen as special cases of the Peircean semiotic sign. Since Peirce's sign is completely general, his semiotic purports to yield an ontology, a philosophical analysis of being: your every thought and experience is a sign; you are a sign; creation as a whole, and each thing which lies or could lie in it, is a sign.

Yet Peirce's semiotic can be trained on any phenomenon as a supple and subtle method of analysis to yield often surprisingly detailed and concrete insights. This "double-barrelled" combination of complete generality and concrete particularity arises out of the correspondingly "double-barrelled" nature of the three universal categories on which Peirce's semiotic is built-- categories which Peirce called Firstness, Secondness, and Thirdness.

A universal category is something which is found to be present in every phenomenon, "one [category] being perhaps more prominent in one aspect of that phenomenon than another but all of them belonging to every phenomenon." (CP 5.43) Thus, Peirce's claim is that his categories of Firstness, Secondness, and Thirdness, in one way or another and to one degree or another, appear in every phenomenon which we could possibly encounter.

The "double-barrelled" nature of the categories derives from the fact that each category can be described both from a formal, combinatoric, logical viewpoint, and from a material, descriptive, phenomenological perspective. These logical and phenomenological aspects can, so to speak, be taken as two sides of the same coin.

Firstness, in its logical aspect, is monadic. It is whatever is what it is by itself, without comparison or interaction or relationship to anything else; independent of any "other," pure, spontaneous, original, sui generis. Phenomenologically, Firstness is any possible quality of feeling taken by itself, whether "the color of magenta, the odor of attar, the sound of a railway whistle, the taste of quinine, the quality of the emotion upon contemplating a fine mathematical demonstration, the quality of the feeling of love, etc." (1.304)

Imagine that state which sometimes comes over a person on the brink of sleep, when on the edge of consciousness a quality springs unbidden into the fading awareness and fills it without division or distinction: "nothing at all but a violet color," or "an eternally sounding and unvarying" musical note. Such a quality-- or rather, the possibility of such a quality-- is a near approach to sheer Firstness (1.304). As embodied in experience, an instance of Firstness may be very broad and general-- for example, the entire Gestalt, sensory and mental, which an entire landscape or story or historical period evokes in one-- or it may be very particular-- for example, the quality pertaining to that fifth rung on the bannister of your staircase, with the funny little horsehead-shaped chip out of the paint on one side of it.

Secondness, in its logical aspect, is dyadic. It is a First as it stands over against a Second, regardless of any Third; being in relationship to an Other; the action of cause and effect, stimulus and response, action and reaction. In its phenomenological aspect, Secondness presents itself as brute fact, as struggle and opposition, shock, surprise, effort and resistance. It is the hard, uncontrolled givenness which we encounter in experience.

Peirce's favorite example of Secondness is that of trying to open a door that is stuck:
Standing on the outside of a door that is slightly ajar, you put your hand upon the knob to open and enter it. You experience an unseen, silent resistance. You put your shoulder against the door and, gathering your forces, put forth a tremendous effort. (1.320)
Or imagine the steady tone of a musical note, which is suddenly cut short: the tone is an instance of Firstness, as is the silence which follows. But the transition between them is a moment of Secondness. (1.332) Secondness is the hard, here-and-now facticity which makes an object an actual individual and not just a bundle of potential qualities. A vision of the cosmos, à la nineteenth-century physics, as a mere collection of hard billiard ball atoms bouncing and colliding mechanically with one another, is a vision of a world of sheer Secondness.

Thirdness, in its logical aspect, is triadic. It is a First bound together in relationship with a Second by the mediation of a Third: "The beginning is first, the end second, the middle third." (1.337) It is combination, pattern, structure, mediation, continuity. A monad can form no combination with another; two dyads can join only to form another dyad (think of two lengths of pipe screwed together); but triads can combine in arbitrarily complex combination (think of a tinkertoy set, or of the colored plastic beads in a chemistry class which can snap together to form models of molecules).

In its phenomenological aspect, Thirdness is continuity, process, growth, and development; it is any manifestation of law, regularity, generality. It is rationality, intelligibility, predictability, habit; most importantly, it is representation and signification: "A sign stands for something to the idea which it produces or modifies... That for which it stands is called its object; that which it conveys, its meaning (the sign itself); and the idea to which it gives rise, its interpretant." (1.339) Each sign which comprises knowledge and experience is such a semiotic triad, composed of object, sign, and interpretant.

Each sign, as an instance of Thirdness, has to it a hypothetical, "if-then" status: Firstness is potential, Secondness actual, Thirdness conditional; Firstness can be, Secondness is, Thirdness would be (given appropriate conditions).

A sign is a continuous, dynamic process, since the interpretant to which a sign interprets an object is ipso facto itself a further sign of the same object. Peirce spells this out precisely in a formal definition:
A Sign... is a First which stands in such a genuine triadic relation to a Second, called its Object, as to be capable of determining a Third, called its Interpretant, to assume the triadic relation to its Object in which it stands itself to the same Object. (2.242)
This formal definition, which embodies a logical structure known as direct recursion, has an interesting implication: (1) in any sequence of related signs and interpretants, each element serves as both sign to interpretants following and interpretant of signs preceding, but there can be no first or last element to the sequence; (2) as applied to any finite span in a sequence, statement (1) and direct recursion iterated infinitely many times imply that elements of the sequence converge (as an infinite subsequence) to either endpoint of the finite span; (3) applying statement (2) to every possible span traversed by the sequence implies that the semiotic sequence is in fact a linear continuum, and thus that the semiotic process can be seen, in the ideal, as a mathematically continuous progression from a selected sign to a selected interpretant along a mediating temporal continuum.

The reader can perhaps here see our semiotic analysis of time already lumbering into view around the bend. Indeed, Peirce sees time as built out of Thirdness, just as space can be (largely) constructed out of Secondness. But several more remarks are necessary before we meet our analysis of time head on.

The first remark involves the vagueness of Peirce's three categories. Firstness and Thirdness can be more or less vague; Secondness alone is always totally precise.

Firstness is vague inasmuch as one can compare two qualities only more or less approximately. Walking down a garden path, you see a red flower, and then a minute later you encounter another red flower. How close is the redness of the first flower to the redness of the second? You may be able to form a fairly good offhand judgment-- but by the nature of things it cannot be altogether precise. You might increase its precision by holding the two flowers up together for comparison; you might make your judgment very nearly precise by subjecting the colors to a spectrographic analysis. But notice how each increase in precision is bought by introducing Secondness more and more prominently into the situation; and, in the final case, Secondness has come to predominate very nearly to the exclusion, or at least irrelevance, of Firstness!

Likewise, Thirdness is more or less vague inasmuch as meaning must be at least slightly indeterminate in order to function at all. For example, the word "chair" is of the nature of a general law, instantiated in each object which is capable of being rightly termed a "chair." The word must have some free play in it-- must be applicable to a more or less broad and fuzzy-boundaried class of entities-- if it is to be meaningful. And the same holds true of any more complex sign, be it a statement, an argument, a ritual, a belief system, a human being, or the wide world itself.

Indeed, the more common or important a sign, the more vague it will tend to be. Thus, as Peirce often remarks,(cf. 6.494), one's deepest feelings, one's deepest beliefs, one's concept of God will all tend to be very vague indeed. This vagueness is not to be confused with the inchoate: for such signs to become more finely articulated by becoming richer in semiotic structure is one thing, but for them to become precise by the simple abolition of vagueness would be to suck them empty of meaning. In the former case, one might end up with the Apocalypse of St John as read by the person in the pew if vagueness grew faster than structure, or with Barth's Church Dogmatics as read by a theologian if structure outpaced vagueness. But mere abolition of vagueness would bring one in the end to the state of those philosophers in Gulliver's Travels who made their language perfectly precise by pointing mutely to objects carried about in sacks on their backs: language reduced to sheer Secondness!

The human being as a sign stripped of all vagueness would be, under a Peircean view, no longer a sign, but a mere algorithm: an object, a thing of mere Secondness, an "It." For Secondness alone is never vague, its precision the precision of a world of billiard-ball atoms in mechanical collision.

We must also note the approximativeness of the categories. Due both to the hypothetical nature of thought, and to the obstreperousness of reality, Peirce stresses that his three categories are to be seen as only an approximation to reality as experienced, a model subject to growth and revision, though, thought Peirce, a relatively good model as is.

Not unconnected with this approximativeness are what Peirce calls the degenerate categories. In addition to genuine Firstness, Secondness, and Thirdness, Peircean semiotics works with a degenerate Secondness and two degrees of degenerate Thirdness.

Degenerate Secondness is, logically speaking, a dyad more or less decomposed into a pair of monads, or instances of Firstness. Phenomenologically speaking, one can think of a less than fully dynamic existence of one item relative to another.

The first degree of degenerate Thirdness ("first-degenerate Thirdness") is, logically speaking, a triad more or less fully decomposed into a congeries of dyads. This decomposition is in practice usually only approximate: most first-degenerate signs will fall somewhere on a graded continuum between the ideal endpoints of fully genuine Thirdness and fully first-degenerate Thirdness. Phenomenological examples vary as widely as an object which one has selected by pointing it out, a remark uttered without further explanation, or an individual instance of a sign. In the limit, a pure world of first-degenerate signs would approximate to, for example, a stream of consciousness composed of sheer events and brute facts: think of the rapid-fire barrage of sound bites, remarks, and incidents on the evening news!

The second degree of degenerate Thirdness ("second-degenerate Thirdness") is, logically speaking, a triad more or less fully decomposed into a congeries of monads. Again, this usually only approximate condition can be thought of as continuously variable between genuine Thirdness and full decomposition. Some phenomenological examples would be a photograph, the possibility of red as a warning of danger, or the idea of schematic diagrams. In the extreme, a pure world of second-degenerate signs would approximate to, for example, a stream of consciousness made up of a montage of images, feelings, and sounds: imagine the experience of watching a rock video on MTV!

This brief exposition of several of the basic elements of Peircean semiotics will supply the tools for our semiotic analysis of time. We will begin by considering briefly the options available to us under Peircean semiotics. Then we will subject the selected option to a semiotic analysis. Finally, we will explore the implications of our analysis for Swinburne's views on God and time.

Peircean Semiotic Options Relevant to Our Discussion

Discussions direct and indirect of God, time, and divine attributes can be found throughout Peirce's Collected Papers. Unfortunately, on these points even more than on many others, Peirce was not of a single mind. Out of the welter of Peirce's remarks emerge four not necessarily reconcilable approaches, the first and fourth of which Peirce himself seems to have embraced:

(1) We may assume that language regarding God is semantically too vague for us to get a useful direct handle on the attributes of God. This seems to be the gist of Peirce's essay, "Answers to Questions Concerning My Belief in God," (6.494-521) in which he says of omniscience:
"Do you believe [God] to be omniscient?" Yes, in a vague sense. Of course, God's knowledge is something so utterly unlike our own that it is much more like willing... [But] we cannot so much as frame any notion of what the phrase "the performance of God's mind" means. Not the faintest! The question is gabble. (6.508)
Peirce's recourse here is instead to something like a semiotically justified argument from the consensus gentium! (6.497-502) This indirect alternative, though clever, is not in line with the second of the assumptions which we have granted to Swinburne.

(2) We may assume that God can be spoken of as being, in some sense, "Pure Self-Consciousness": Peirce illustrates this (5.71) with the example of an infinitely detailed map of a country held over the soil of the country. Somewhere on the map lies a copy of the map itself, and somewhere on the copy an even smaller copy of the copy, and so on, in infinite regression. The limit point of the sequence of copies, which is second-degenerately triadic, of course contains no copy, but stands directly over the point which it itself represents!

This alternative would seem to yield a temporal analogue to the characterization of God's spatial omnipresence as being like the presence of a sphere with center everywhere and radius nowhere! But such a temporality would seem quite timeless, contra the first of our assumptions.

(3) We may assume that God is "Absolute Idea," that is, that God's time is to be characterized by a perfect unity and continuity covering and unifying all time (8.125). Although, as Peirce points out, this conception lies at the opposite end of the scale from that of pure self-consciousness, it leads by another route to a similarly timeless notion of God's time as an instantaneous eternal moment.

(4) Peirce also affirms-- without explanation, and sometimes in the same breath (8.124, 8.312)-- both that God is in time, and that Augustine and the others were essentially correct in their "atemporal" arguments reconciling foreknowledge and free will!

Although this sounds incoherent on the face of it, and although Peirce leaves it for us to put the pieces together, our semiotic analysis of time will lead to the conclusion that Peirce is speaking here coherently, and that Swinburne's approach to the issue is consequently too narrow.

A Peircean Semiotic Analysis of Time

The flow of time is, as we have already seen, for Peirce altogether a matter of Thirdness, that is, a matter of signs. The continuity of signs is constitutive of the temporal flow. Everything we can experience, we experience as a complex of signs. Thus everything we experience has temporality, belongs to our experience of the flow of time, by virtue of the continuity which, as a sign, everything experienceable possesses.

It would thus be tempting for us to think of our experience of time as if it were perfectly modelled by the mathematical continuity of a line-- a perfect "time line." Indeed, Swinburne seems to do precisely this, with his talk of time "at time t" or before or after "time t." And for most practical purposes, this "time line" does provide a fairly good model for our experience of time, which after all does seem superficially to flow much like a continuous line. Indeed, in those human contexts such as the physical sciences where Firstness and Thirdness can in principle be very nearly bracketed out of the picture, a mathematical time line will do for all practical purposes, due to the precision of Secondness.

But from a Peircean semiotic viewpoint, this confusion of the "time line" as a sign with the object which it represents may be disastrous. Time as we actually experience it-- what Peirce calls "real time"-- is also of the nature of a sign, but it is subtly different, and far richer, than what Peirce calls "mathematical time." Our modern tendency may be to assume that the mathematical time of science is somehow more "real" than time as we experience it. But Peirce, though he holds both kinds of time to be signs representing time itself, argues as an objective idealist (cf. 6.24-25) that our real experience of time is a hypothesis closer in important ways to the common object of both models of time than is the somewhat idealized abstraction of mathematical time (6.325).

Peirce illustrates the semiotic difference between mathematical time and real time by imagining a straight, instantaneous river "whose water should be perfectly homogeneous and not composed of molecules, supposing however that we quite disregard the dimensions of depth and breadth of the river." (6.325) If this "Heraclitan river" is flowing at a uniform and constant rate, then it is nothing other than an image of mathematical time. Peirce converts this river to a model of real time:
Now then, I might imagine that this flowing water comes into existence at a certain section of the stream, and is annihilated at another section... I might even imagine that the water never comes into complete existence, but is instantly annihilated at the very instant of its instantaneous creation, so that it consists of a series of lengthless cross sections... We can suppose those limits [between cross sections] to be at some cross sections without saying which ones, nor even saying that it would be possible exactly to define them. But with mathematical Time all this is quite different... (6.325)
Although Peirce is writing very densely here, he is claiming that real time differs from mathematical time in at least two ways: (1) real time has a measure of that vagueness which inheres in Firstness and Thirdness, a feature abstracted from mathematical time; and (2) real time is less than absolutely continuous, a not altogether uniform mixture of points and segments more or less tightly and more or less indefinitely bound together in a discontinuous approximation to a linear continuum.

This second feature we will recognize as nothing other than that which defines the approximate state which lies between genuine Thirdness on the one hand and the two degrees of degenerate Thirdness on the other. In other words, Peirce's claim is that real time is Thirdness, not altogether pure genuine Thirdness, but rather a complicated structure of partially degenerate instances of Thirdness-- congeries of instances of Secondness and instances of Firstness-- bound together into a broader, somewhat "lumpy" Thirdness. In terms of the purely logical side of Peirce's semiotic, the triads composing real time are themselves many of them more or less loose combinations of dyads and monads, and are built up as elements of larger triads in a manner perhaps itself partially degenerate.

Can all this be made less abstract? We turn to a more phenomenological analysis of time (1.488-504, 6.110, 6.126-143, etc.), wherein again we meet with the contention that time is approximately, but not fully, continuous. Time as we experience it is, due to the vagueness of Thirdness, made up not of instantaneous points in time (like mathematical time), but rather of moments of small but positive duration (6.110, 6.126). The duration of a moment may vary. At their briefest, experienced moments merge like the separate images on a film blending together into a motion picture: "It is of no consequence... whether we are only conscious in a series of detached instants, like the separate pictures of a zoötrope." (8.113) At the broadest, our image of the past several seconds "is almost or quite of the nature of a percept." (8.123, fn.20) Think of the experience of hearing a short remark or a phrase of music as a Gestalt: one can focus one's attention on shorter intervals in the span, but the point is that one does not always do so.

Given any two such moments, one comes before the other "unless they are independent of one another, or contemporaneous." (1.495) Such contemporaneity or simultaneity, unlike that of mathematical time, is not necessarily transitive: while sitting in the kitchen, you hear your teakettle start to whistle on the stove. Suddenly, you hear two knocks on the front door in rapid succession. The sound of each knock is simultaneous with the sound of the teakettle, but the sounds of the two knocks are not simultaneous with one another. Similarly, one moment can be contained within another: while you glance momentarily toward the camera, the flashbulb goes off.

Our real timeline is now beginning to look something like a row of overlapping shingles, a jumble of fuzzy-boundaried bits and fragments of various lengths-- just like Peirce's real-time modification of his "Heraclitan river." The next observation to make is that, if two elements distinguished in the temporal flow of one's experience are simultaneous, they must differ in respect of some instance of Secondness or of Firstness.

For example, if you are looking at two books on your bookshelf at once, then those two books, even if otherwise identical, must differ from one another by their relative spatial location-- that is, by Secondness-- though if you are simply taking in the whole bookshelf at a glance, this relationship between these two books need not stand out, and likewise if you focus in upon the two books you may make even finer simultaneous distinctions regarding them in terms of Firstness and/or Secondness.

Or if, in looking at a single book, you notice two of its qualities at once-- for example, that the book is red and that the book is duodecimo-- then even if those two qualities occupy the same extent in space and time, they differ by being distinct qualities-- that is, by Firstness-- though you may just as well experience the quality of feeling associated with the book as a Gestalt, or you may make even finer distinctions regarding a quality of the book-- for example, that the book is a faded scarlet red just tending to orange.

One's flow of temporal experience, decomposed according to these distinctions, yields a flow of fuzzy, overlapping moments, each moment further decomposed into something like a living jigsaw puzzle each "piece" of which is distinguished by spatial or existential relationships (Secondness) and/or by qualities of feeling (Firstness) which are not experienced as being further subdivided. Of course, this jigsaw puzzle includes both one's experience of the outer world and one's inner experience. "Puzzle pieces" distinguished by Firstness will have relative to those distinctions more or less indeterminate "boundaries." Two pieces simultaneous with a third are not necessarily simultaneous with each other.

Each piece of this puzzle is a semiotic sign, and all these signs assembled into the jigsaw puzzle constitute one's experience of the flow of time. The sometimes somewhat fuzzy boundaries between these pieces are nothing other than the discontinuities, the partial decomposition into dyads or monads, characteristic of the two degrees of degenerate Thirdness. Clearly, according to our analysis, it is the formal pattern of these boundaries among the "pieces"-- that is, the complicated structure of partially degenerate instances of Thirdness-- which constitutes the contours of one's experience in time, the discontinuities in Peirce's "Heraclitan river."

Our analysis has broken real time down into its constituent signs. But we could just as well proceed in reverse and build real time up from the individual (perhaps vague) signs into more and more complex and inclusive structures in time. Phenomenologically speaking, the contours of real time would more or less strongly mark off one episode or incident in one's experience from another. Think of the more or less indefinite boundaries which separate the various acts which make up an activity, the various activities and incidents which make up the events of a person's daily life. Each incident is built up in a contoured way out of smaller incidents, and is itself included along with other incidents within the contours of incidents still more complex.

Logically speaking, this is equivalent to saying that real time can be built up according to a type of structure which mathematicians refer to as a "tree." The contouring of events would be structurally equivalent to the branching of the tree.

"A Thousand Years Is as a Single Day..."

"Now a consciousness whose time-span was a thousandth of a second or a thousand years would not ordinarily be recognized by us... as being a consciousness at all." (8.124) So Peirce cryptically remarks in one of the obscure passages where he asserts both that God is in time and that "the time-span of the All-seeing must cover all time." Now that we have carried out our Peircean semiotic analysis of time, we are in a position to try to make sense of this fourth of our Peircean options regarding God and time.

Let us refer to the model of real time developed in our analysis as time1. Time1 is a model of time as human beings live through time. There are several clearly identifiable features to time1: the vague-boundaried moments which range in duration from a fraction of a second up to a few seconds; the relational and qualitative "jigsaw" of signs and signs-within-signs into which each moment can be decomposed, and out of which the moments themselves are built up into larger events; and the contours which our experience within time possesses due to the structure among these signs. Note that each of these features ranges over a limited scale of magnitude. In time1, moments are only so brief or so long, experiential distinctions subdivide the world only into so fine a "jigsaw" and integrate it into unities only so large, and the contours of experience are only so rich and so dense.

"Now a consciousness whose time-span was a thousandth of a second or a thousand years..." Peirce's remark suggests the following revision of time1: let time2 be that model of real time which results when we remove the restrictions on the magnitude of the features of time1 and let those parameters vary without bound.

The contours of experience under time2 would in their general structure resemble those under time1, but whereas time1 contours are comparatively sparse, time2 contours would be arbitrarily dense, and incomparably richer and more detailed than time1 contours. Think of the dense weave and design of a fine Persian carpet versus the open weave of a fishing net. Likewise, the dyadic/monadic jigsaw of signs under time2 would be incomparably more finely subdivided, and incomparably more broadly unified and integrated, than that under time1. Think of a view, not merely of a head of hair, but of each hair on the head (and on every head).

Most important for our present considerations, any given point in time would be included, under time2, in moments briefer than any assigned interval, as well as in moments as long in duration as any span of time one cares to name. This would imply moments of time2 (perhaps a great many moments) which would embrace the entirety of time.

We would have to broaden the notion of simultaneity for time2. In the case of time1, all moments are of nearly enough the same order of magnitude that, although time1 simultaneity is not strictly transitive, it is still very close to the precise simultaneity of mathematical time. Two moments are either "simultaneous" or "not simultaneous." In the case of time2, with the duration of moments varying across a broad spectrum from the very, very brief to the very, very long, two moments would be "simultaneous" less as the discrete two-value comparison of two points on a line ("identical/not identical") and more as the continuous two-parameter comparison of two line segments on a line ("coincident/partially coincident/not coincident" and "commensurate/less commensurate").

Temporal flow under the time2 model would be even more "dynamic" and "timelike" than under time1 (consider the greatly more detailed contour density). There would be moments before and after other moments, as under time1; but there would be at any moment m2 no "waiting" for any subsequent moment m3 and no "loss" of any previous moment m1 in that there would be a more comprehensive moment m0 which would embrace m1, m2, and m3 by being simultaneous with each of them. The time2 model would, as duration of moments decreased without bound, approach in the limit to the totally second-degenerate Thirdness of Peirce's semiotic "pure self-consciousness." Conversely time2 would, as duration of moments increased without bound, approach in the limit to the uncontoured, fully continuous genuine Thirdness of Peirce's semiotic "absolute idea." Between these two ideal limits would "stretch" the entire finely articulated time2 structure as already described.

The analog to knowledge under time2 would be as preserving of freedom as knowledge under time1, and time2 simultaneity would imply that at any moment m1 there would be knowledge of states of affairs at a later moment m2 in the sense that there would be a more comprehensive moment m0 simultaneous with m1 and simultaneous with m2, and knowledge at m0 would embrace both knowledge at m1 and knowledge at m2. Due to the arbitrarily detailed contouring and subdivision of time2, knowledge under time2 would be arbitrarily comprehensive, detailed, and integrated knowledge.

The analog to intentionality under time2 would, as under time1, involve an event a1 at m1 producing a second event a2 at m2 later than m1, as a means to the production of a third event a3 at m3 later than m2, such that a1 is a sign of a purported object b to interpretant a2 and such that, if object b obtains, then a2 will be an effective means to a3 from a1. However, since under time2 there is always a moment m0 embracing m1, m2, and m3, then by knowledge under time2, event a2 would always be capable of being an effective means for producing a3 from a1 whenever a3 is a semiotically possible outcome of the state of affairs at m1.

The reader will notice that our entire account of "time2" is a semiotic construct-- what Peirce referred to as a semiotic "diagram" (cf. 2.148), and what many of us would call a "thought experiment." Taking the model of time2 purely as a "diagram" in this sense, and bracketing any questions regarding the possibility of its actual existence, there seems according to the third of our assumptions nothing any less logically coherent about time2 than about time1.

The reader may note that, unlike Swinburne, we have been very careful not to attribute to God the structure we have developed. We would claim for it nothing more than the status of a Peircean semiotic "diagram"-- though the reader may also notice that the features of time2 bear quite a striking resemblance to what many of us may inwardly imagine when we try to conceptualize the life of God as a "timelike" life!

For the contours and subdivisions of the structure of time2 would offer a structure of temporal experience both arbitrarily more integrated and more unified, than that of time1. The temporal flow of time2 would be even more dynamic and timelike than that of time1, and yet under time2 no moment would ever have to be either awaited or lost. Knowledge under time2 would be arbitrarily finely detailed and arbitrarily well integrated in such a way as to accommodate something very much like comprehensive foreknowledge while preserving freedom-- precisely what Swinburne cannot allow under his account of omniscience. Intentionality under time2 would be capable of embracing an entire course of events simultaneously so as to be capable of shaping that course of events unfailingly to any desired result which is a semiotically possible outcome of the initial state of that course of events-- which is not precisely either traditional or Swinburnian omnipotence, but which perhaps bears an even closer resemblance to the scriptural images of God as "the Almighty" or "the Pantocrator."

The reader who has thoroughly assimilated Peirce's semiotic-- especially its phenomenological aspect-- may find it instructive to meditate on as much of the phenomenological aspect of time2 as the reader can encompass. Does the reader imagine the timelike life of God as anything less than this?

We have been very careful not to impute to God this structure: finitum non capax infiniti. Nonetheless, if this time2 structure is coherent-- and it would seem to be, if time1 is coherent-- then, whatever can be affirmed regarding the semiotic "diagram" of time2, we must a fortiori affirm at least as much regarding God, on the grounds that if God exists, then God is the One quo maius cogitare non potest. (You will glimpse here my own interpretation of Anselm's ontological argument, not as a proof of God's existence, but rather as a proof that, if God exists, then God cannot be in any wise less than any coherent conceptualization which we can arrive at.) On these grounds, we can affirm a God who is at least even more thoroughly timelike and dynamic than we are, yet to whom all of time is ever simultaneously present; who is omniscient in a strong sense which at least accommodates both foreknowledge and human freedom; who is almighty at least in a sense consonant with the use of that term in the scriptural traditions. To be precise, we can affirm a God who is in all ways at least whatever we could appropriately affirm of a being who was living its life under what we have in some detail modelled as time2.

Among other points, this would include the affirmation that, in some sense, God arbitrarily approaches simultaneously both to something analogous to Peircean "pure self-consciousness" and to something analogous to Peircean "absolute idea," while being utterly distinct and different from either. The timefulness of God can, in some sense, be spoken of as "big enough" to include even timelessness. Which leads on to our closing observations...

Concluding Remarks

The ancient Greek philosopher Zeno is well-known for his classical arrow paradox, one account of which begins, "The arrow could not move in the place in which it is not. But neither could it move in the place in which it is..." Zeno's conclusion is that the arrow must always be at rest. Before Newton and Leibniz discovered the differential calculus, the only alternative in the face of Zeno's paradox was the flat assertion that the arrow is in fact in flight. But such an assertion may well embody the same assumption as the paradox which it denies, namely, that time is to be identified with mathematical time, and hence is to be dealt with either as a collection of punctiliar instants or as a undivided and unstructured continuum. An application of calculus can resolve this paradox by showing that one can speak meaningfully of motion only by considering that motion over a small but positive interval-- a moment-- and taking the limit as the moment becomes arbitrarily brief.

One can hardly avoid the impression that, on the question of God and time, Richard Swinburne is really in the same camp as Augustine and those others with whom he disagrees. A Swinburnian assumption that time is "really" like simple mathematical time locks one either into a temporal analog of the arrow paradox, or into its flat denial. On the one hand, one may conclude that God is timeless, whether in the sense that for God all time is an instantaneous and eternal moment, or in the sense that in time as in space God is like a sphere with center everywhere and radius nowhere. On the other hand, one may conclude as does Swinburne that God, like humanity, lives in a simple mathematical time; in which case something like Swinburne's positions on omnipotence and omniscience do follow.

But, as we have argued in this paper, there is no good reason to lock ourselves into this false dichotomy. Certainly there is an aspect of time-- the aspect one abstracts and deals with in the natural sciences-- of which mathematical time is an arbitrarily good model, at least on the macroscopic level and in situations where relativistic considerations can be disregarded. But time as human beings experience it is more complicated than mathematical time. Under a Peircean view, there is no reason to believe that humanly experienced time is "less real" than mathematical time. And once we grant that, and think it over in detail, we may well conclude that there is more in heaven and earth than is dreamt of in Swinburne's philosophy.