Edward Feser on Teleology

At Edward Feser's blog, he talks about the relations between algorithms, information theory, and teleology. He is addressing the question of whether the algorithm-like behavior that we can observe in the natural world means there is purpose in the natural world. This is addressed in Feser's book, the Last Superstition.

A commenter objected that the regularity of nature cannot be identified with purpose because we do not that the regularity of the seasons, or the shape of planetary orbits serves any identifiable purpose at all, thus we cannot claim this demonstrates teleology in nature.

However, this is something that Feser, like Aquinas before him, actually agrees with. It is not that we can figure out the purpose of creating elliptical orbits, it is rather that orbits are always elliptical that manifests teleology in nature. The very regularity of nature bespeaks a tendency of a certain cause to produce a certain result, more or less frequently. That almost everyone implicitly believes this is one of the strengths of the Aristotelian and Thomist traditions.

To extend the argument further, Jim Franklin argues in his article, The Formal Sciences Discover the Philosophers' Stone,that the modern methods of sciences like information theory and cybernetics work in the broad way that they do because they actually work by isolating formal causes, and reasoning from them. This allows us to achieve deductive certainty about real things simply by considering the kinds of relations that arise from form. Feser complains in his article that there is a tendency today to use in-principle explanatory talk of information theory and computer science to explain things like the mind in a materialistic fashion that obscure critical details and make it plausible to believe that the mind is just matter organized in a certain fashion.

This complaint is largely correct, but I think it maybe possible to turn this tendency upon itself, much like the very success of modern science belies the naturalistic interpretations of it,  the reliance upon formal arguments of this kind belie the naturalistic interpretation of science that modern science deals only with material observables, when in fact is extremely common for science to deal with entirely formal, immaterial constructs such as "information" that can be abstracted entirely from the particular material things they are found in. To even speak of information theory is to resurrect essence.

Cross-posted to Dead Philosophers Society