Haeckel, embryonic development and homology
On page 283 of the high school biology textbook it says,
” In the late nineteenth century, scientists noticed that the embryos of many different animals looked so similar that it was hard to tell them apart….but why are they so similar?”
Before we take a close look at the ‘amazing similarities’ of the embryos in this modern high school textbook, we need to look at the history of embryology and its founder, Ernst Haeckel. This is particularly important as regards the drawings reprinted in fig. 13-16, because the drawings appear to be exact or very close replicas of those originally done by Haeckel.
Why would this be important? Well, two questions come to mind.. One, why are drawings used instead of modern photos when photographs are available? Two, aren’t these textbook writers aware that Haeckel was tried in court and convicted of fraud in Germany for fraudulent drawings of embryos? As Haeckel himself later admitted, the embryos were not similar enough to supply the necessary support for evolution, so he simply changed them. Haeckel had used these drawings to support what he called ‘embryonic recapitulation’, or the “biogenetic law’. This “law” has long since been found to have so many inconsistencies that Keith Thompson, of Yale and president of the Academy of Natural Sciences, said in The American Scientist, (vol.76, 1988,)
“Surely the “biogenetic law” is as dead as a doornail. It was finally exorcised from biology textbooks in the fifties. As a topic of serious theoretical inquiry, it was extinct in the twenties.”
Unfortunately his faith that it was “exorcised” by the fifties hasn’t played out. Haeckel was accused of fraud by five professors at the University of Jena, Germany, where he taught, and was convicted. In a book titled, “HaeckelsFrauds and Forgeries”, authors Asmuth and Hull quoted nineteen leading authorities of the day. For example, Prof.Rutimeyer of the University of Basle called Haeckel’s distorted drawings, “A sin against scientific truthfulness deeply compromising to the public credit of a scholar“.
In a recent letter to Science, M.K.Richardson wrote,
“The core scientific issue remains unchanged: Haeckel’s drawings of 1874 are substantially fabricated…Sadly, it is the discredited 1874 drawings which are used in so many British and American Textbooks today.” (Aug. 28 98)
Certainly there is no excuse to use drawings that were fraudulent back in 1874 in modern textbooks, particularly when so many excellent photographs are available Unfortunately, this is not the only questionable information used in this particular text. On pg.283 it continues;
“Similarities in early development indicate that similar genes are at work. All genes in an organism are not active at the same time. But those that are active during the early development of fish, birds, humans and related animals are the shared heritage from a common ancestor.”
The text here assumes the evolutionary heritage is a fact, and it’s wise to remember that assuming a theory to be true isn’t the same as proving it to be true. But the real problem is that a student reading the text might get the wrong idea that the genes of the different embryo kinds actually develop along similar patterns during early formation, and that the various structures in the different embryos (i.e. wings, legs, fins, etc.) are in fact controlled by the same genes. This is now known to be false as each embryo develops in a pattern unique to its particular class. Fish embryos develop along different patterns than birds or reptiles, as do all the the different classes. For example, the digits in a frog hand grow out from buds and in the human hand, the fingers are divided out of a solid plate. It is also well known that the gene complexes controlling the wing of the bird, the fin of the whale, the arm of a man, and the leg of the dog, for example, are all different. So despite the fact that textbooks often use these structures as evidence of common ancestry, this is certainly not supported by the genetic evidence. As Dr. Gavin De Beers asked years ago,
“What mechanism can it be that results in the production of homologous organs, the same patterns, in spite of their not being controlled by the same genes?”
Sir Gavin DeBeers is the former director of the British Natural History Museum and is quoted from, Homology, an unsolved Problem, (Oxford University Press, 1971, p.16.) The textbook is guilty not only of using selective data (only examples of homology that seem to support evolution)but also of using forged drawings and outdated material. One has to wonder, if the evidence in favor of evolution is so vast, why resort to such subterfuge?