Most of all, though, Aquinas would have been entranced by the idea of genes. If ever there were an Aristotle-friendly idea this is it. Genes illustrate both of Aristotle's two fundamental principles. One is that immaterial forms do not exist in some nebulous heaven, as Plato thought, but are embedded in material things themselves. This is exactly what we find in genes. The essence of genes is that they encode information. But you can't encode bits of stuff, only ideas. At the heart of the material we find the immaterial. Aristotle's other big idea is act and potency. Everything is potentially the something else that it is already ordained to be. Bronze becomes statues, not primroses, live humans become dead ones, not alarm clocks. The whole essence of genes is that they are potentially the actual things that they already in some essential sense are. Genes are potentially phenotypes and phenotypes are activated genes.It's been awhile since I've read Aquinas and Aristotle, but what's striking to me is how vague this stuff is when it comes to the natural world. As amazing as Aristotle was, the scientific way of thinking is more powerful. It sounds beautiful to talk about 'act and potency' in living beings, but you can't really do anything with that language - it's fatally vague. How much more concrete and informative is the idea that there are units of heredity, which contribute such and such effects to a particular trait. Mendel and Muller got much farther in biology than Aristotle or Aquinas did - thanks to the scientific way of thinking.
The confusion over language continues:
This question reaches its sharpest apex in genes. How is it that tiny scraps of organic matter can display such powers of determination and agency? So purposeful do genes appear to be that even Dawkins is constrained to talk in the language of purpose, although he hastens to assure us that when he says purposeful what he really means is purposeless (The Selfish Gene p. 196). Just as Darwin did, neo-Darwinians often talk about nature as if it were God. "This is perhaps one reason why natural selection has taken so much trouble to ensure that we recognize human faces" (Helena Cronin), "one such gene is bad enough but evolution could then conjure up another'(Mark Ridley), "the depth of insight to be discovered in one of Mother Nature's creations" (Daniel Dennett), as if the problems of agency provoked by these metaphors could be dispersed by the scare quotes with which they are so frequently garnished. Although, I do have to say, Dennett does have a stab of doubt on page 185 of Darwin's Dangerous Idea, " ...we can see the intelligence of Mother Nature (or is it merely apparent intelligence) as a non-miraculous and non-mysterious – and hence all the more wonderful – feature of this self-creating thing", and even goes so far on page 133 to refer whimsically to natural selection as "perhaps jocularly personified as Mother Nature". I would love to see the serious version. Dennett – thirty one references to Mother Nature in the index - makes medieval herbalists sound like Francis Crick.This is not a new criticism, but the classic mistake here is that the author confuses the limits of language with the implications of logic of evolution. Evolution accomplishes, but is not goal directed; unfortunately there are few words without teleological connotations that we can use, even though the logic behind evolution implies no teleology. That's not to say that evolution refutes teleology; it renders teleology unnecessary to explain the living world.
We get close to the problem here, but swerve away from the answer:
Either you have to think that unintelligent genes behave in the way that they do because they are expressions of a profounder intelligence, or you have to think that they unintelligibly and mechanically just do what they do, but we, committed to intelligence, can only talk about them as if they were intelligent.
Genes may be 'expressions of a profounder intelligence', but again, they don't have to be in order to produce what we observe. The other option is just as mistaken - we talk about genes as if they were intelligent, not because we are somehow "committed to intelligence" (I don't really get what that means), but because our language evolved to describe agents, not evolution.