The reasonable ineffectiveness of Mathematics in the Biological Sciences

Professor Seymour Garte’s post makes a very interesting contribution to our thread on maths, science and scripture, especially bearing in mind the Book of Genesis.

The Book of Works

(With apologies to Wigner)

The fact that biology is not rich in theory is well known. Of the theories that do exist (such as Darwin’s theory of evolution), many have never been formulated into mathematical laws. Physics envy is a well-known propensity of those biologists who desire to be working on a more general understanding of whole fields (like cellular biophysics or regulation of gene expression) rather than on uncovering details of particular subsystems.

I used to be certain that the lack of mathematical rigor in biology was the fault of biologists, who generally are unable to grasp the fundamentals of even simple math. But that canard may be less true than it used to be (if it ever really was). With the explosion of systems biology and the development of algorithms for data mining, there are plenty of biologists around who are perfectly familiar with the manipulation of equations…

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