The German biologist Ernst Haeckel was the founder of Darwinist embryology.
Once, It Was Believed that There Was "Embryological Evidence for Evolution"
In his most popular book The Descent of Man, Charles Darwin explained the proofs he thought he had found to support his theory of human origins. The only illustration in this book, right in the first chapter, is a drawing of two embryos: one of a human being and the other of a dog. In the chapter, "The Evidence of the Descent of Man from Some Lower Form," Darwin writes:
But Darwin was no embryologist. Never once did he investigate embryos in a comprehensive way. Therefore, in developing his arguments, he quoted individuals whom he regarded as authorities on this matter. In his footnotes, one name was particularly noticeable: the German biologist, Ernst Haeckel, whose book Naturliche Schopfungsgeschichte (The Natural History of Creation) contained various drawings of embryos, together with his comments on them.
A short time later, Haeckel was to go down in history as the original author of evolutionist interpretation of embryology. He read The Origin of the Species (1859) with great excitement, accepted what Darwin wrote, and became a more avid evolutionist than Darwin himself. To make his own contribution to the theory, he conducted a series of experiments and published Naturliche Schopfungsgeschichte in 1868. In it, he advanced his theory of embryology that was to win him fame. From the beginning, he proposed that the embryos of human beings and certain animals developed in the same way. The drawings of the embryos of a human being, an ape and a dog on page 242 were proof of this. The drawings were apparently identical and, according to Haeckel, these creatures came from a common root.
In fact, it was the drawings, not these creatures, that came from a common root. Haeckel made a drawing of one embryo and then, after making slight changes to it, presented them together as embryos of a human being, an ape and a dog. When the same drawings were printed side by side, naturally they looked the same.55
This was the "work" that Darwin used as a source in The Descent of Man. However, even before Darwin wrote his book, some noticed a major distortion in Haeckel's "work" and wrote about it. In 1868, L. Rutimeyer published an article in the science periodical Archiv für Anthropologie (Archives of Anthropology) that revealed Haeckel's falsifications. Rutimeyer, professor of zoology and comparative anatomy at Basle University, examined the embryo drawings in Naturlische Schopfungsgeschichte and Über die Entstehung und den Stammbaum des Menschengeschlechts and demonstrated that the drawings in both books had nothing to do with reality. As Rutimeyer wrote:
Despite this, Darwin and other biologists who supported him continued to accept Haeckel's drawings as a reference. And this encouraged Haeckel to try to make embryology a strong support for Darwinism. His observations produced no such support, but he regarded his drawings as more important than his observations. In following years, he made a series of comparative drawings of embryos and composed charts comparing the embryos of fish, salamanders, frogs, chickens, rabbits and human beings. The interesting thing about these side-by-side charts was that the embryos of these various creatures closely resembled one another, at first, but slowly began to differentiate in the course of their development. Particularly striking was the similarity between the embryos of a fish and a human being; so much so that in the drawings, the human embryo had what looked like gills. On the so-called scientific basis of these drawings, Haeckel proclaimed his theory that "Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny." This slogan represented his belief that in the course of its development, either in the egg or in its mother's womb, every creature repeats the history of its own species, from the beginning. For example, a human embryo first resembles a fish, in later weeks a salamander, then it passes through the reptilian and mammalian stages before "evolving" into a recognizable human being.
The concept conveyed in the slogan "Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny" quickly became known as the "recapitulation theory," and in a very short time this myth became one of the most important proofs for evolution. Throughout the 20th century, countless students saw the chart of the human embryo's imaginary progress from fish, through salamander, chicken and rabbit; and the myth that the human embryo had gills for a while became an accepted fact. Even today, many supporters of the theory of evolution, if asked, would cite this as one of its proofs.
However, this is pure fabrication. In fact, the embryos of various creatures did not at all resemble one another. Haeckel's drawings made all sorts of misrepresentations. To some embryos, he added imaginary organs, removed organs from others, and showed larger and smaller embryos as all the same size.
In the human embryo, the slits that Haeckel represented as gills were really the beginning of the middle ear canal, the parathyroid, and the thymus glands. Haeckel's other comparisons are also now known to be deceptions; what he made look like a "yolk sac" in the embryo is actually a sac that produces blood for the baby. The structure that Haeckel and his followers called the "tail" was actually the human spine, which resembled a tail only because it formed before the legs did.
At the beginning of the 20th century, it came to light that Haeckel had falsified his drawings and he openly confessed to this, saying:
But despite his avowal, Darwinists liked his propaganda material and refused to give up using it. They ignored the fact that the drawings were false and for decades, textbooks and much evolutionist literature presented them as authentic.
The fact that Haeckel's drawings were falsifications was loudly expressed only in the second half of the 1990s. The September 5, 1997 edition of the Science magazine published "Haeckel's Embryos: Fraud Rediscovered," an article by Elizabeth Pennisi explaining that his drawings were fabrications. As she wrote:
Science reported that, in order to show the similarity among the embryos, Haeckel deliberately removed some organs from the drawings or added imaginary ones. The article continues:
Not only did Haeckel add or omit features, Richardson and his colleagues report, but he also fudged the scale to exaggerate similarities among species, even when there were 10-fold differences in size. Haeckel further blurred differences by neglecting to name the species in most cases, as if one representative was accurate for an entire group of animals. In reality, Richardson and his colleagues note, even closely related embryos such as those of fish vary quite a bit in their appearance and developmental pathway. "It looks like it's turning out to be one of the most famous fakes in biology," Richardson concludes. 59
The article says that somehow, Haeckel's admissions were kept under cover since the beginning of this century and his drawings continued to be studied in textbooks as if they were authentic. The magazine says:
Haeckel's confession got lost after his drawings were subsequently used in a 1901 book called Darwin and After Darwin and reproduced widely in English-language biology texts.60
An article in the October 16, 1999 edition of New Scientist brought Haeckel's embryology myth completely out into the open:
[Haeckel] called this the biogenetic law, and the idea became popularly known as recapitulation. In fact Haeckel's strict law was soon shown to be incorrect. For instance, the early human embryo never has functioning gills like a fish, and never passes through stages that look like an adult reptile or monkey.61
Thus, what could be called the most popular supposed proof of all time for evolution—the "recapitulation" theory—was invalidated.
But even while Haeckel's fabrications came to light, another falsification close to that of Haeckel continued to go unnoticed: namely, Darwinism.
As we saw earlier, Darwin discounted other scientists' negative views of Haeckel's interpretative drawings at the time and used them to bolster his own theory. But this was not the only point where Darwinism diverged from the truth. Much more striking is that he presented the views of Karl Ernst von Baer—reputedly the most noted embryologist of the time—as distorted. Jonathan Wells' Icons of Evolution explains in detail that von Baer did not accept Darwin's theory and harshly refuted it. He was also firmly against evolutionist interpretations of embryology, formulating the rule that "the embryo of a higher form never resembles any other form, but only its embryo."62 He also said that Darwinists dogmatically "accepted the Darwinian evolutionary hypothesis as true before they set to the task of observing embryos."63 But, after the third edition of The Origin of the Species, Darwin distorted von Baer's interpretations and conclusions and used them to bolster his own theory. As Wells explains:
In short, Darwin exploited his time's primitive scientific conditions to make false and prejudiced deductions; and took advantage of the limitations in communications in order to distort other scientists' findings.
This fact's coming to light—late though it is—is doubtlessly a major blow to Darwinism. Darwin received help from Haeckel's falsifications and portrayed embryology as in favor of his theory.65 Many people were deceived by this myth and in their naïve ignorance, accepted that they once had gills.
But that was then. Now it is known that embryology does not prove Darwinism. Now the same slogan must be reiterated in the field of embryology.
Once upon a time, there was Darwinism!
53- Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species & The Descent of Man, The Modern Library, New York, s. 398
54- Charles Darwin, Letter to Asa Gray, Sept. 10, 1860, in Francis Darwin (editor), The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin , Vol. II (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1896), s.131
55- "HAECKEL'S FRAUDULENT CHARTS"; http://www.pathlights.com/ce_encyclopedia/17rec03.htm
56- L. Rutimeyer, "Referate," Archiv fur Anthropologie, 1868
57- Francis Hitching, The Neck of the Giraffe: Where Darwin Went Wrong, New York: Ticknor and Fields 1982, s. 204
58- Science, 5 Eylül 1997
59- Science, 5 Eylül 1997
60- Elizabeth Pennisi, "Haeckel's Embryos: Fraud Rediscovered", Science, 5 Eylül 1997
61- Ken McNamara, "Embryos and Evolution", New Scientist, 16 Ekim 1999
onathan Wells, Icons of Evolution: Science or Myth?, s. 84
63- Jonathan Wells, Icons of Evolution: Science or Myth?, s. 85
64- Jonathan Wells, Icons of Evolution: Science or Myth?, s. 86
65- Charles Darwin, Letter to Asa Gray, Sept. 10, 1860, in Francis Darwin (editor), The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin , Vol. II (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1896), s.131