When my kids were taking high school biology, their (brilliant) teacher’s jocular mantra was, “Nature never sucks.” It meant, first, that Nature is wonderful, beautiful, and so forth – worthy of admiration, study, awe. Second, it was a nod and a prod in the direction of Ockham’s Razor, urging his pupils to adduce no more factors of natural phenomena than are absolutely necessary. But third, and more salient to his honest reductive Ockhamist pedagogical purposes, and most of all, it meant that Nature is not teleological: it neither seeks nor is pulled toward goal states, but rather pushes itself toward certain equilibria, not intentionally, but on the contrary chaotically. The idea is that these equilibria are not themselves somehow attractive, but rather are simply the most stable way that things can be arranged, so that when things happen to blunder into those stable configurations completely by accident, they then tend to stay there until something disturbs them. Things are never falling into place, but are rather only, always, merely falling.
The notion is not new. It goes back to the first Greek atomists, Lucretius and Democritus.
It is Dawkins’ notion that what perdures is only what has not yet failed to perdure: “there are lots more ways to fall apart than to hang together.” It’s true, but as tautological is uninformative.
There are other problems with it.
In the first place, it begs the question it presumes to answer. Equilibria are not explained by reference to the most stable way that things can be arranged, because “the most stable way that things can be arranged” is just a cumbersome way of saying “equilibrium.” What is it that makes equilibria stable? Are they truly stable, or is that just an appearance? If it is only an appearance – if, that is to say, the stability and regularity of Nature are a specious illusion – then there is no matter of science, nothing there that the scientific intellect might possibly grasp.
In the second, if there are no other sorts of causes operating in Nature than efficient causes, it is impossible to explain anything. If things don’t anyhow tend, there is no way we can specify the forms toward which they tend; so that they cannot then be formed at all, but must rather be formless: utterly chaotic. One thing slams into another, and that’s all you can say about it.
In the third, the equilibria in question are not in fact idle. Bodies don’t just fall. They fall *toward* each other, in ordered ways, forming aggregations that don’t then disaggregate all by themselves. If lumping were not attractive, then no lumps would ever form. Matter would fly apart as often as it flies together; there would be no gravity, or (therefore) any cosmos.
Thus it is just wrong to suggest that there is nothing in nature that attracts it to some states of affairs more than others. If that idea were true, bodies would not fall toward each other. Their falling would on the contrary be completely uncoordinated; which is to say, disordered.
In the fourth, the regularities of Nature – the conservation laws, for example, or the charge of various electron shells about a nucleus, or g, or c or any of their transforms, or the fact that those transforms are mathematically formalizable in the first place – are themselves equilibria. Nature tends toward state equilibria in regular ways, and those ways are themselves equilibria: there are infinitely many paths from state A to state B; only a few are lawful; and Nature takes just them. Why?
As a way of understanding Nature, then, “Nature never sucks” has its problems. At the very best, it encourages methodological rigor. At worst, it forestalls method as such.
Nevertheless it is correct.
But not in the way that materialists think. Nature is indeed teleological, and teloi are not superfluous entities subject to excision by Ockham’s Razor, but rather are indispensable to any adequate explanation of natural phenomena: it is logically impossible to account for the fact that things tend if you are going to rule out tendency per se and ab initio.
Nevertheless, it is not Nature herself that sucks Nature into her natural order, but something exogenous to her. It is, i.e., not Nature that is doing the sucking.
Take state A, already achieved, and state B, toward which it tends, and which in due course then comes to pass. As A finishes its procedure of becoming, it is actual, but B is not, yet. From the perspective of A, B is potential. It might come about, but perhaps not; perhaps B’ might come to pass instead, or B’’ or B’’’. Only when B does in fact come about – when it finishes becoming, so that observers can then observe that A gave rise to B – can we say that A has generated B.
A and B can’t have any relations at all, causal or otherwise, until both of them are real.
Now, what is not actual cannot act. Until it actually exists, B can’t do a thing. After all, until B is over and done with, it isn’t yet an actual part of the world. So until it has come to pass, B can’t allure A toward itself. It cannot influence A. It can’t do a blessed thing, because it doesn’t yet actually exist.
So we see that it is not an already achieved state that is attractive to Nature – such states are past, and as such cannot be regained (e.g., there’s no longer any way to get to a state of affairs in which Waterloo has not yet happened) – but rather a state that has not yet ever been achieved. Things want to fall into a configuration that they have not yet achieved. They seek their equilibria; but the particular instance of equilibrium that they seek (as apposite to just exactly their unique circumstances (as opposed to those of other, prior states of affairs)) has never yet appeared in Nature. That configuration is not yet available to them as a datum within the system of Nature: it is not yet an actual thing, that can cause other things. It is something altogether new. It is a potential thing. And potential things are not located in the system of Nature. They are located in the system of Supernature, that includes the system of Nature as a subdomain.
So the materialists are right when they say that Nature never sucks. It doesn’t. Supernature is the allure of Natural becoming, and the source of all novel forms. If it were not for the infinite fecundity of Supernature, Nature would be stuck on one moment, one state of affairs. There would be no becoming, and so there would be no homeostases about any equilibria. There would be, rather, only stasis; or, chaos.