Kupiec's idea is that there is a stochastic element to development which dominates over determinism:
In the standard view, development is controlled by the binding of protein transcription factors to promoters that activate genes in the DNA. These genes in turn generate proteins, including other transcription factors and signalling molecules that activate yet more genes. A cascade of gene activation results, leading to the proliferation and differentiation of cells that ultimately generates the organism. Assuming that molecular interactions and gene activation are predictable, the development process should be deterministic. [My emphasis.]Kupiec disagrees. Rather, the inherent stochasticity at the level of molecules implies, to him, that cell differentiation (= cellular development) is also stochastic:
Kupiec argues that this picture is wrong. Gene activation is inherently stochastic, he says, and, therefore, cell differentiation must also be stochastic. Transcription factors attach with certain probabilities to many binding sites in gene promoters, implying that chance plays a dominant role in gene activation and expression. Similarly, cell signalling pathways, and thereby cell interactions, are stochastic, as proteins may bind promiscuously to many partners with various odds. Many interactions and pathways are possible. [My emphasis.]What he is saying here is that since the processes that activate the expression of genes - which in turn make proteins for the different parts of the cell - have a random element (imagine a soup with different molecules bouncing around in a stochastic fashion, turning expression on and off when they come into contact with promoters and enhancers), then the outcome of that cell must also be random. And this is fundamentally wrong.
The big lesson from thermodynamics is that when you put a lot of molecules together, each will be controlled by random (i.e. non-deterministic) effects, but the properties of the gas or liquid are deterministic. There is a transition between stochasticity and determinism when random critters are joined to form a mob. This will surprise no one who has taken high school physics (and listened).
In fact, if we take Kupiecs argument seriously, then all higher level processes are also therefore stochastic. When you play baseball, whether you hit the ball or not must also a random process. Whether you get to have offspring or not must be a random process. This is clearly absurd to the nth degree.
Thus, Kupiec bases his whole book (at least according to Werner's review) on a totally wrong assertion. Had he been better informed from the beginning, so much time could have been saved. And if you think that a year or two to write a book with a provocative idea isn't that much, then consider that Kupiec has had this idea for at least 26 years:
Kupiec Jean-Jacques, A probabilist theory for cell differentiation, embryonic mortality and DNA C-value paradox, Specul Sci Technol, 1983;6:471-478.
A second minor quip with the review (I'm not sure if this is due to Werner or Kupiec) is a very common mischaracterization of what constitutes evolution:
Put simply, evolution requires two processes — variation and selection. An organism's offspring each varies slightly; natural selection picks out those that survive to generate more such organisms, again with their own subtle variations.That wouldn't be how to put it simply. That would be how to put it wrong. Evolution requires variation and heritability. Selection is not required. Random effects will lead to evolution, too, by changing the frequencies of traits within the population. Selection is sort of an added bonus, really, which makes things a lot more interesting. But it isn't required.