Do ecosystems exhibit functions? Do geological cycles in Earth history exhibit directional patterns on different spatial and temporal scales? Although opinions on these questions vary, joint conceptual and empirical attention to key assumptions and methodological prerequisites promises to move the debate in fruitful directions. Interdisciplinary teams of philosophers, ecologists, geologists, and evolutionary biologists provide unique resources for scrutinizing the coherence of these claims and how they can be tested with special attention to specific theoretical resources and simulation strategies. The outcomes of these investigations suggest possible revisions in how we think about agency and directionality in higher-level, large-scale system configurations in nature.