Was Darwin Wrong? A Rebuttal to the November 2004 National Geographic Cover Story


Our authors examine arguments for evolution commonly brought out by evolutionists.  They show these arguments are not as strong as they purport and in many instances make a stronger case for intelligent design.  Every person, especially Christians, should be aware of the information presented in this article.

Over the last few decades more and more scientists from every field of discipline have voiced concerns with Darwinian evolution’s ability to explain the origin and diversity of life on earth. However, you would not know that from reading a recent article in National Geographic. The cover of the November 2004 issue grabs the reader’s attention with the question, “Was Darwin wrong?” To few people’s surprise, upon turning to the first page of the article you see the boldfaced words, “NO. The evidence for Evolution is overwhelming.” But how can this be when so many scientists are in disagreement? Is it possible that the five lines of evidence presented in the article aren’t as indisputable as the reader is led to believe? What if each one of these evidences for evolution is fatally flawed? What would evolution have left to stand upon? It is my opinion, as well as many others’, that this is indeed the case. Let us critically evaluate each of these five lines of evidence (embryology, biogeography, morphology, paleontology, and bacterial resistance to antibiotics) and see what, if anything, we can conclude from them.


First let’s examine the so-called evidence from embryology, which Darwin himself considered to be “by far the strongest single class of facts in favor of” his theory.{1} National Geographic asks the question, “Why does the embryo of a mammal pass through stages resembling stages of the embryo of a reptile?”{2}This, however, is a loaded question.

This line of evidence presented by National Geographic is known as Embryonic Recapitulation, or in other words, as the embryo develops it passes through stages that retrace its evolutionary past. This idea was originally developed in the mid 1800’s by Ernst Haeckel, which he illustrated with drawings of embryos of various species. However, as Jonathan Wells points out in his book Icons of Evolution, this has been known to be false for over 100 years! Not only were Haeckel’s drawings fraudulent but the late Stephen J. Gould called them “the most famous fakes in biology.” Furthermore, embryologist Walter Garstang also stated in 1922 that the various stages of embryo development of different species “afford not the slightest evidence” of similarities with other species supposed to be their ancestors, stating that Haeckel’s proposal is “demonstrably unsound.”{3}In 1894 Adam Sedgwick wrote, “A species is distinct and distinguishable from its allies from the very earliest stages all through the development.”{4}

So how is National Geographic‘s question, “Why does the embryo of a mammal pass through stages resembling stages of the embryo of a reptile?” a loaded question? Because mammalian embryos never pass through such stages in the first place! Darwin’s “strongest” evidence for evolution turns out to be no evidence at all.


Biogeography, as defined by National Geographic, “is the study of geographical distribution of living creatures—that is, which species inhabit which parts of the planet and why.”{5} National Geographic asks, “Why should [such similar] species inhabit neighboring patches of habitat?”{6} Why are there several different species of zebras found in Africa, or dozens of species of honey creepers in Hawaii, or thirteen species of finches in the Galapagos Islands? The answer given is that “similar species occur nearby in space because they have descended from common ancestors.” There is nothing controversial about that. But I don’t believe that this in anyway supports the kind of evolution that National Geographic is trying to promote. Allow me to explain by taking a closer look at the term “evolution.”

There are two different kinds of “evolution” within the biological sciences. The first kind of evolution is macroevolution, or, big change over time. Macroevolution requires a vast amount of new genetic information and describes the kind of evolution required to make a man out of a microbe. It is this kind of evolution that is being propagated by National Geographic.

The second kind of evolution is microevolution which describes small changes or variations within a kind. For example, you may breed a pair of dogs and get another dog which is smaller than both its parents. You may then breed the new smaller dog and get an even smaller dog. However, there are limits to this kind of change.{7} No matter how often you repeat this procedure the dog will only get so small. It is also important to note that the offspring will always be a dog. You will never get a non-dog from a dog through this kind of change. Not to mention this kind of evolution tells us nothing about where the dog came from in the first place.

So what about National Geographic‘s examples? They are all examples of microevolution. Why, for example, are there several species of zebras in Africa? Because they had a common ancestor that probably lived in Africa—a zebra. Or why are there thirteen species of finch on the Galapagos Islands? Because they are all descended from a single pair or group of finches. To use this kind of observation and try to explain where a zebra or finch came from in the first place goes beyond the data and the scientific method, and enters into the realm of imagination.

Evolutionists are still puzzling over the connection between these two forms of evolution, macro and micro. Perhaps the puzzle remains because macroevolution is just wishful thinking.


Morphology is a term referring to “a branch of biology that deals with the form and structure of animals and plants.”{8} It is presented by National Geographic as having been labeled by Darwin the “‘very soul of natural history.” So what is this evidence from morphology that lends itself as “proof” for microbes-to-man evolution? Simply put, it is that similarities in shape and design between different species may indicate that those species have originated from a common ancestor by way of descent with modification. National Geographic gives a few examples such as the “five-digit skeletal structure of the vertebrate hand,” and “the paired bones of our lower legs” which are also seen “in cats and bats and porpoises and lizards and turtles.”{9}

Perhaps an easier to follow illustration concerning this is evolutionist Tim Berra’s famous illustration which he used in his book Evolution and the Myth of Creationism. In it he states the following:

If you look at a 1953 Corvette and compare it to the latest model, only the most general resemblances are evident, but if you compare a 1953 and a 1954 Corvette, side by side, then a 1954 and a 1955 model, and so on, the descent with modification is overwhelmingly obvious. This is what paleontologists do with fossils, and the evidence is so solid and comprehensive that it cannot be denied by reasonable people [emphasis in original].{10}

So why is this illustration famous? It’s because Berra, although an evolutionist, unwittingly demonstrated why similar structures across different species is just as naturally attributed to intelligent design. For what do each of these various Corvette models have in common? They were all designed and manufactured by the same company, General Motors. In fact, the Corvette has many design features in common with other automobiles as well, such as four wheels, a gasoline engine, brakes, a steering wheel, etc. Why do most cars share these things, and many others things, in common? Because they are effective and efficient features designed for the proper operation of the vehicle. Maybe this is the same reason we find commonalities between many different kinds of plants and animals.

It must be granted that if evolution were true, then one would expect to see similarities between closely related species. However, as illustrated above, they could also be explained as the result of a common designer. So how can we tell which it is?

There are at least two ways. First, if similar structures did truly descend from a common ancestor, then those structures should have similar developmental pathways. In other words, they should develop in a similar manner while still in the embryonic stage. However, as early as the late 1800’s scientists observed that this simply isn’t the case. Embryologist Edmund Wilson in 1894 noted that structures which appear similar between adults of different species often differ greatly either in how they form or from where they form, or both.{11}

Secondly, if similar structures are the result of descent with modification, then you would expect the development of those structures to be governed by similar genes. Concerning this very point biologist Gavin de Beer said, “This is where the worst shock of all is encountered . . . the inheritance of homologous structures from a common ancestor . . . cannot be ascribed to identity of genes.”{12} In other words, different genes govern the development of similar structures which runs contrary to what evolution would predict.

It would appear then, that morphology, the “‘very’ soul of natural history,” is more the “ghost” of natural history than supporting evidence for evolution. There are certainly many features of organisms resulting from a common ancestry, such as the beak of the Galapagos finches; but that doesn’t mean that the beaks of all birds are also related by common ancestry. Perhaps applying the perspective of Intelligent Design can help clarify the difference.


Paleontology simply put is the study of the fossil record. So how does the fossil record support the “theory” of evolution? According to National Geographic, Darwin observed that species presumed to be related tend to be found in successive rock layers.{13} National Geographic asks if this is just coincidental. The answer provided, of course, is a firm no. Rather, they say, it is “because they are related through evolutionary descent.”{14} Is this conclusion truly supported by scientific observation?

The biggest problem with identifying a gradual change from one species into another within the fossil record is that by and large no such gradual sequence of fossils exists! With the exception of a few disputed examples, such as the horse and whale, what truly stands out in the fossil record is sudden appearance. The late Stephen J. Gould, a world renowned evolutionist, noted concerning this, “The extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record persists as the trade secret of paleontology. The evolutionary trees that adorn our textbooks have data only at the tips and nodes of their branches; the rest is inference, however reasonable, not the evidence of fossils.”{15} This is especially true within the Cambrian rock layer, dated by evolutionists at over 500 million years old, where complex species appear for the first time with no sign of gradual development from simpler forms.

To illustrate this point, imagine, if you will, that you covered the entire state of Texas with playing cards. If someone were to then go for a walk across Texas and periodically pick up a card at random, what might they begin to think if all they ever picked up were 2s and aces, and never any of the cards in between? He might begin to wonder if those other cards were there at all.

This is precisely what we find within the Cambrian rock layer. We always find fully formed species, like finding just 2s and aces, and never any intermediates, like your 3s, 4s, and so on. In fact, National Geographic even acknowledges this problem when it compares the fossil record in general to a film with 999 out of every 1,000 frames missing.{16} It’s more likely that there are few if any missing frames; rather those frames never existed in the first place.

Darwin himself, observing the lack of transitional forms within the fossil record, noted this problem to be “perhaps the most obvious and serious objection which can be urged against [his theory of evolution].”{17} Today, with nearly 150 years of advancements in the area of paleontology, the fossil record still fails to meet the expectation of Darwin’s theory. This problem goes unaddressed by National Geographic.

Bacterial Resistance to Antibiotics

National Geographic derives a fifth line of evidence from more recent scientific data. They state, “These new forms of knowledge overlap one another seamlessly and intersect with the older forms, strengthening the whole edifice, contributing further to the certainty that Darwin was right.”{18} Is this really the case? The most lauded of these “new forms of knowledge” is from the study of bacteria that acquire resistance to modern medicines. National Geographic states that “there’s no better or more immediate evidence supporting the Darwinian theory than this process of forced transformation among our inimical germs.”{19}

These adaptations are in fact evidence for change over time, but not the kind that would change a microbe into a man. Rather, all examples of bacterial resistance are that of micro-evolution, i.e. change within a kind. For example, a staph infection is caused by a bacterium known as a Staphylococcus or “staph” for short. Whenever a staph bacterium acquires resistance to a particular antibiotic, it still remains a staph. It doesn’t change into a different kind of bacterium altogether. In fact, no matter how much it changes, it always remains a staph.

Secondly, when we take a closer look at how bacteria become resistant to a particular treatment, we find something very interesting. Just like in humans, information on how bacteria grow and survive is stored in the bacteria’s DNA. Therefore, if any change is to take place to turn an organism from one kind to another “more complex” kind, such as a microbe into a man, it must add new information to that organism’s DNA. However, that is not what we observe taking place in bacteria at all. New information is never created. Existing information may be modified, lost, or even exchanged between bacteria, but never created.

Thirdly, and perhaps most significantly, is that nothing which National Geographic presents even begins to explain where the information to make a bacterium came from in the first place. Rather, and to no surprise to the creationists, the study of bacterial resistance testifies to an intelligent Designer who created all living organisms with an ability to adapt to changing environments.


Modern science has indeed offered us great insight into the complexities of life and the inner workings of all living things. Advances in population genetics, biochemistry, molecular biology, and the human genome will surely result in greater understanding of life on our planet. But unlike what National Geographic suggests, it is these advances which have served to convince an increasing number of scientists to abandon Darwin’s theory as an explanation for the origin of life on earth. Rather, these advancements point to the necessity of intelligent design as an added tool in the toolbox.


1. Jonathan Wells, Icons of Evolution (Washington, DC: Regnery Pub., 2000), 82.
2. David Quammen, “Was Darwin Wrong?,” National Geographic November, 2004: 13.
3. Wells, 88.
4. Ibid., 97.
5. Quammen, “Was Darwin Wrong?,” 9.
6. Ibid., 12.
7. Lester, Lane P., Raymond G. Bohlin, and V. Elving Anderson, The Natural Limits to Biological Change (Dallas: Probe Books : Distributed by Word Pub., 1989).
8. Merriam-Webster Inc., Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 10th ed. (Springfield, Mass: Merriam-Webster, 1996).
9. Quammen, “Was Darwin Wrong?,” 13.
10. Tim Berra, Evolution and the Myth of Creationism (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1990), 117.
11. Edmund B. Wilson, “The Embryological Criterion of Homology,” pp.101-124 in Biological Lectures Delivered at the Marine Biological Laboratory of Wood’s Hole in the Summer Session of 1894 (Boston: Ginn & Company, 1895), p. 107.
12. Wells, Icons of Evolution, 73.
13. Quammen, “Was Darwin Wrong?,” 12.
14. Ibid., 13.
15. Stephen J. Gould, “Evolution’s Erratic Pace,” Natural History 85(5).
16. Quammen, “Was Darwin Wrong?,” 25.
17. Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (New York, New York: The New American Library of World Literature, Inc., 1958), 287.
18. Quammen, “Was Darwin Wrong?,” 20.
19. Ibid., 21.

© 2005 Probe Ministries

Dr. Ray Bohlin

Raymond G. Bohlin is Vice President of Vision Outreach at Probe Ministries. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois (B.S., zoology), North Texas State University (M.S., population genetics), and the University of Texas at Dallas (M.S., Ph.D., molecular biology). He is the co-author of the book The Natural Limits to Biological Change, served as general editor of Creation, Evolution and Modern Science, co-author of Basic Questions on Genetics, Stem Cell Research and Cloning (The BioBasics Series), and has published numerous journal articles. Dr. Bohlin was named a Research Fellow of the Discovery Institute's Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture in 1997, 2000 and 2012.

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