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"Have you seen the cover of the latest National Geographic issue?"

In recent weeks, this question came to me in countless phone messages and e-mails, not to mention a dozen personal encounters. A campus worker in Berlin sent an urgent e-mail after spotting the German edition. My friends and academic colleagues are curious what I—a speaker and writer on the debate between Darwinism and intelligent design theory—thought about the magazine's provocative cover story, which boldly asks, "Was Darwin Wrong?"

Readers were jolted around the world that such a question should leap from the cover of National Geographic. Hopes surged for a few seconds among skeptics of evolution, until they turned to David Quammen's article, which answers with a loud, triumphal "No!" Quammen's piece unfolds as a glittering showcase for Darwinism, a reassuring mini-museum in print. Ten pages of text—more in the genre of high school cheerleading than sober analysis—are embedded in a lush gallery of 22 pages of glossy pictures, including an amazing array of nine separate "sidebar" mini-articles.

If we imagine the "clash of two theories"—the older notion of "separate creations" by a supremely wise designer, versus Darwin's "common ancestry" of all life, driven by natural selection—it appears here that the younger system has utterly crushed the older. Sketched in terms of a basketball tourney, Quammen paints a complete rout—a 118-0 shutout.

One triumphal paragraph, which serves as an opening sketch of Quammen's thrust, refers to Darwinian macroevolution as "deeply persuasive—a theory you can take to the bank. The essential points are slightly more complicated than most people assume, but not so complicated that they can't ...

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November 2004

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