Thursday, July 3, 2008

Ernst Haeckel's "recapitulation theory"

"One of the most popular and familiar pieces of evidence used to bolster the theory of evolution – reproduced for decades in most high school and college biology textbooks – is fraudulent, and has been known to be fraudulent for nearly 100 years.

Most people have seen those drawings of developing human embryos next to developing animal embryos, and they look virtually indistinguishable. (The Haeckel embryo sequence shown purported to show – left to right – a hog, calf, rabbit and human). This has long been said to demonstrate that humans share a common ancestry with these animals and thus prove the theory of evolution.

These pictures were designed by German zoologist Ernst Haeckel."

"At Jena, the university where he taught, Haeckel was charged with fraud by five professors and convicted by a university court. His deceit was exposed in "Haeckel’s Frauds and Forgeries," a 1915 book by J. Assmuth and Ernest R. Hull, who quoted 19 leading authorities of the day."

"Yet, despite Haeckel’s fraud conviction and early exposure, Western educators continued using the pictures for decades as proof of the theory of evolution.

(See my brief but humorous Jan. 4th post, where my former boss told me, "Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny...It took me 4 years of college to learn those 3 words.")

The matter was settled with finality by Dr.. Michael Richardson, an embryologist at St. George’s Medical School in London. He found there was no record that anyone ever actually checked Haeckel’s claims by systematically comparing human and other fetuses during development. So Richardson assembled a scientific team that did just that – photographing the growing embryos of 39 different species.

In a 1997 interview in The Times of London, Dr. Richardson stated: "This is one of the worst cases of scientific fraud. It’s shocking to find that somebody one thought was a great scientist was deliberately misleading. It makes me angry. ... What he [Haeckel] did was to take a human embryo and copy it, pretending that the salamander and the pig and all the others looked the same at the same stage of development. They don’t. ... These are fakes."

Today – believe it or not – Haeckel’s drawings still appear in many high school and college textbooks. (Among them are "Evolutionary Biology" by Douglas J. Futuyma (Third Edition, Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates, 1998), and also the bedrock text, "Molecular Biology of the Cell" (third edition), whose authors include biochemist Dr. Bruce Alberts, president of the National Academy of Sciences."


thekingpin68 said...

What he [Haeckel] did was to take a human embryo and copy it, pretending that the salamander and the pig and all the others looked the same at the same stage of development. They don’t. ... These are fakes."

Good job to present these Jeff. Good education.

Jeff said...

Thanks, Russ.
I remember in Biology class, seeing this chart in our textbook, and at the time, I thought it was indisputable proof of Darwinian Evolution.

Jeff said...

Right now I own "Fundamental Concepts of Modern Biology," (Paperback Edition, Sebastian Haskel and David Sygoda, Copyright 1972 by Amsco School Publications, Inc., 315 Hudson Street, New York, N.Y. 10013), and in Chapter 35, pp. 713-714, the section heading says, "HOW EMBRYOLOGY INDICATES EVOLUTION," and reads (and I am typing this by hand, directly from the physical book, not copying it from any website):

"Embryology, the study of the development of embryos, provides some clues concerning the course of evolution. From these clues we can conclude that the genes of ancestral forms still operate in the early stages of an organism’s development. For example, when the early embryos of members of different classes of vertebrates are compared, the embryos appear so similar in both internal structure and external appearance that it is difficult to tell one organism from another. As Fig.l 35-2 shows, slitlike openings, called gill slits, and a tail are present in all the embryos.

In fishes, the gill slits become functional. Water entering the fish’s mouth passes over the gills, which are respiratory organs, and out through the gill slits. However, in reptilian, bird, and mammalian embryos, the gill slits never function in respiration and gradually disappear. By the time the animals hatch or are born, some of the slits and the tissues between them develop into parts of the ear, pharynx, and certain glands.

The presence of structures, such as gill slits, even in organisms that breathe by means of lungs, is readily understood when we realize that land forms evolved from an aquatic ancestor. We can now understand, too, that many of the genes for gills and other structures that were present in the ancestor are still present in its descendants. It is these genes that account for the similarities in the embryos of the descendants. However, many genes of the ancestor mutated, thus giving rise to the various types of vertebrates. It is these mutated genes that account for the obvious differences between ancestors and their descendants.”

Note: Fig. 35-2, which the paragraph alludes to, has the caption, “Comparison of embryos of vertebrates,” and shows the embryos of a fish, salamander, tortoise, chicken, pig and human, showing 3 developmental stages for each.

Interestingly, on the next page of the book, p. 715, under the section heading, “HOW VESTIGIAL ORGANS INDICATE EVOLUTION,” it begins, “Vestigial organs are structures in the body of an organism that are of no apparent use to the organism.” Further, it reads, “As a result of mutations and new adaptations in the older forms, new species arose in which some organs became vestigial.” Then, toward the end, it says, “Examples of vestigial organs in other animals include leg bones in snakes…” This makes me think of the account in Genesis where it says, "And the LORD God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life." (Genesis 3:14) On the next page of the book, p. 716, it even shows an illustration which it labels, “Leg bones in snake.”