Series - "Icons of Evolution, Haeckel's Embryos"

Darwin knew that the Cambrian fossil record was a serious problem for his theory.

"It seems to me,"

Darwin wrote in The Origin of Species,

"the leading facts in embryology, which are second to none in importance, are explained on the principle of variations in the many descendants from some one ancient progenitor."

Similarities in early embryos not only demonstrate that they are descended from a common ancestor, but also reveal what that ancestor looked like. Darwin considered this

"by far the strongest single class of facts in favor of"

his theory. Darwin was not an embryologist, so he relied for his evidence on the work of others. One of those was German biologist Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919). Darwin wrote in The Origin of Species that Professor Haeckel

"brought his great knowledge and abilities to bear on what he calls phylogeny, or the lines of descent of all organic beings. In drawing up the several series he trusts chiefly to embryological characters."

Haeckel made many drawings, but his most famous were of early vertebrate embryos. Haeckel drew embryos from various classes of vertebrates to show that they are virtually identical in their earliest stages, and become noticeably different only as they develop.

Haeckel's embryos seem to provide such powerful evidence for Darwin's theory that some version of them can be found in almost every modern textbook dealing with evolution.

Yet biologists have known for over a century that Haeckel faked his drawings;

vertebrate embryos never look as similar as he made them out to be. Furthermore, the stage Haeckel labeled the "first" is actually midway through development; the similarities he exaggerated are preceded by striking differences in earlier stages of development. Although you might never know it from reading biology textbooks, Darwin's "strongest single class of facts"

is a classic example of how evidence can be twisted to fit a theory


Haeckel produced many drawings of vertebrate embryos to illustrate his biogenetic law. The drawings show vertebrate embryos that look very much alike at their earliest stage. In fact, the embryos look too much alike. According to historian Jane Oppenheimer, Haeckel's

"hand as an artist altered what he saw with what should have been the eye of a more accurate beholder. He was more than once, often justifiably, accused of scientific falsification, by Wilhelm His and many others."

In some cases,

Haeckel used the same woodcut to print embryos

that were supposedly from different classes. In others, he doctored his drawings to make the embryos appear more alike than they really were. Haeckel's contemporaries repeatedly criticized him for these misrepresentations, and charges of fraud abounded in his lifetime. 


So why is it still in biology text books? Just one more example of how evolution is forced down our throats with so much evidence showing something else. Don't be misled, find the truth for yourself and remember...

Have an Intelligent Faith!!

- Nelis