Darwin's theory of natural selection (NS) continues to get dissed by scientists disillusioned by the failure of NS to account for the enormous diversity of living things. The latest outrage is occuring in England at a conference of over 300 biologists, chemists, philosophers and other scholars who are trying to come up with an alternative or a supplement to NS.
The story quickly offers its obligatory dismissal of any nonsense about intelligent agency behind life, but then buried in the text are passages like these:
Prof Mark Bedau of Reed College in Portland, Oregon, will argue at this week's meeting - the 11th International Conference on Artificial Life - that .... although natural selection is necessary for life, something is missing in our understanding of how evolution produced complex creatures. By this, he doesn't mean intelligent design - the claim that only God can light the blue touch paper of life - but some other concept. "I don't know what it is, nor do I think anyone else does, contrary to the claims you hear asserted," he says. But he believes ALife (artificial life) will be crucial in discovering the missing mechanism.
Dr Richard Watson of Southampton University, the co-organiser of the conference, echoes his concerns. "Although Darwin gave us an essential component for the evolution of complexity, it is not a sufficient theory," he says. "There are other essential components that are missing."
"Evolution on its own doesn't look like it can make the creative leaps that have occurred in the history of life," says Dr Seth Bullock, another of the conference's organisers. "It's a great process for refining, tinkering, and so on. But self-organisation is the process that is needed alongside natural selection before you get the kind of creative power that we see around us.
The more we learn about the complexity of life the more inadequate purely material processes seem to be in explaining it. Living things certainly appear to be engineered, and it is, I think, just a matter of time before scientists can no longer evade the inference.