One of the common arguments from religionists against scientific determinism is that of Free Will. Clearly, we humans possess the capacity for making choices, and have some influence over the direction of our lives. Our cells, too, possess the capacity for choice, as do bacteria and even molecules. For us, our choices are reducible to events in our neural circuitry, and the neurotransmitter kinetics determine the degree of difficulty or ease of our choices or lack thereof, and Free Will is itself an emergent property that is not special to our species.
Enter Howard Berg. In his 1993 book, Random Walks in Biology, Berg presents a terse and simple series of mathematical formulations of the various factors observable in biophysics, ranging from stochastic to deterministic elements. It is very much in the tradition of Shr?¶dinger’s classic What is Life?, where the physicist seeks to formalize basic elements of biology.
It’s a highly recommended read for any student of quantitative models of life processes, in addition to the philosophical point that I made above. Not only does Berg demonstrate the reducibility of choice, but he provides a predictive groundwork for understanding the motility of molecules and cells, and therefore development and disease. It is a continuation of the Newtonian program, where even biology might be subjected to natural laws describable by mathematics.
The full book description:
This book is a lucid, straightforward introduction to the concepts and techniques of statistical physics that students of biology, biochemistry, and biophysics must know. It provides a sound basis for understanding random motions of molecules, subcellular particles, or cells, or of processes that depend on such motion or are markedly affected by it. Readers do not need to understand thermodynamics in order to acquire a knowledge of the physics involved in diffusion, sedimentation, electrophoresis, chromatography, and cell motility–subjects that become lively and immediate when the author discusses them in terms of random walks of individual particles.