The Life of Ernst Haeckel
- Grady McMurtry
- April 04, 2020
Even with all of my background in the topic of Origins, the Evolution versus Creation Debate, I have never thought of Charles Darwin as truly evil or wicked. Yes, he was wrong, deceived and deceiving, self-centered, tormented, diseased and the list goes on. He knew that what he was doing was anti-God and he went ahead and did it anyway. But, much as I might want to, I cannot picture the man as truly sold out evil or wicked. I picture him as pathetic and a person to be pitied. On-the-other-hand, some of those who were his friends, colleagues and disciples were evil and wicked men. In Europe Darwin influenced and discipled one man in particular, Prof. Ernst Heinrich Philipp August Haeckel (1834-1919). He became known as "Darwin's Bulldog on the Continent" and "the Huxley of Germany," the last in reference to Dr. Thomas Huxley who was called "Darwin's Bulldog" in England.
Haeckel was raised ostensibly as a Christian in Prussia. He studied medicine and science at Wurtzburg and Berlin. He was also a very good artist. He held a prestigious teaching position as professor of zoology at Jena University from 1865 until his forced retirement in 1909. Darwin published Origins in 1859. It was translated into German in 1860 and Haeckel read it immediately. He wrote a letter to one of his many mistresses in which he described how Darwin's book had changed him into a freethinking pantheist. Darwin gave Haeckel full credit for the wholesale acceptance of his evolutionary thoughts in Europe.
In his book In The Minds Of Men, Ian Taylor wrote of Haeckel: "He became Darwin's chief European apostle proclaiming the gospel of evolution with evangelistic fervor, not only to the university intelligentsia but to the common man by popular books and to the working man by lectures in rented halls." Haeckel would rent halls and charge blue-collar workers a small entrance fee to attend his great lectures. He would use large visuals and elaborate props to show how evolution was true. His presentations were so grandiose that they were called "Darwinian passion plays." Haeckel was more than that; he was a "scientist" who perpetrated fraud after fraud in his zeal to promote the theory of evolution. In spite of facts to the contrary; in spite of stealing and altering other peoples' work; and, in spite of openly being shown to be wrong: he persisted in preaching his frauds and showing his forgeries to anyone who was willing to be deceived.
Haeckel is best known for his three greatest frauds: the Monera, or supposedly first single-celled life form to have evolved in the primordial seas; the Pithecanthropus alalus, or the Speechless Ape-man, presented as the missing link between pre-humans and humans living in Europe; and, his greatest fraud, the "Biogenetic Law" or the "Law of Recapitulation" or often described as "ontogeny begets (recapitulates) phylogeny," the concept that the human embryo repeats all the stages of its evolutionary history while in its mother's womb.
As an evolutionary zealot, Haeckel was more than willing to simply makeup any evidence needed to support his embraced worldview. He was the first person to draw an alleged evolutionary "family tree," illustrating how non-living materials had become alive and then had evolved upward and branched outward to higher and higher levels of complexity until man had appeared.
In response to Darwin publishing his evolutionary theories in 1859, the preeminent Creation Scientist, Louis Pasteur, had shown by simple empirical experiment in 1861, that life did not, and could not, arise from non-living matter. Some of his original experimental apparatus are still on display at the Louis Pasteur Museum and remain "germ" free after over 139 years on the shelf. Louis Pasteur proved that it was the "Law of Biogenesis" (the Law of Life Beginnings) and not the abiogenesis view (the evolutionary view that life comes from non-living material by random chance) that was correct. The Law of Biogenesis states that life only comes from life and reproduces only after its own kind.
In spite of this proven fact, Haeckel proposed in 1866 that the first life forms on earth had come about at the bottom of sea floors when various chemicals had come together in fortuitous combinations. He labeled these first hypothetical single-celled creatures Monera (plural for Moneron). He did not stop there. In 1876, he published a book, The History of Creation, which included an entire series of drawings showing the eating habits and reproductive cycle of his alleged Moneron, one of which he gave the scientific name of Protomyxa aurantiaca. Haeckel described his creations this way, they are "not composed of any organs at all, but consist entirely of shapeless, simple homogeneous matter . . . nothing more than a shapeless, mobile, little lump of mucus or slime, consisting of albuminous combinations of carbon."
In 1868, a duped, but prestigious, German scientific journal published 73 pages of his speculations showing 30 drawings of Haeckel's "life particles." He invented more names to describe these nonexistent creatures, including Protamoeba primitivia.
The vessel HMS Challenger did oceanographic research from 1873 to 1876. Sea floor samples were dredged up and placed in bottles of alcohol for later study of life forms that might exist at great depths. When these samples were analyzed under the optical microscopes of that day, structures were seen which Thomas Huxley immediately identified as Monera. Huxley proclaimed that this vindicated Haeckel as a great prophet and named one of these findings in his honor, Bathybius haeckelii. But, no creature has ever been found which resembles Haeckel's drawings. Unfortunately, for Huxley and Haeckel, the chemist assigned to the Challenger proved in 1875 that the structures, which Huxley had so quickly declared to be Haeckel's Monera, were in fact nothing more than an amorphous precipitate of sulphate of lime (gypsum - like wallboard), which had formed when the sea water was dropped into the alcohol of the sample containers. Unfortunately, for us all, this evolutionary fiasco was never disseminated to the general public.
Yet Haeckel was so zealous concerning his fiction, that even though his fraud had been found out in 1875, he still had it published in his book, The History of Creation in 1876. He further insisted that revised drawings of his Monera be included in subsequent reprints until the final edition in 1923, four years after his death. To Haeckel, as well as most evolutionists today, the desire for evolution to be true is more important than any fact or evidence. For example, to him there was basically only one distinct difference between apes and people, the ability to speak. If this were so, then there must have been a missing link between speechless ape and speaking man. In order to fill this void he invented the Pithecanthropus alalus, the Speechless Ape-men. He hired an artist, Gabriel Max, to draw what Speechless Ape-man, Ape-woman and Ape-baby had looked like. The male looked like the cross between a gorilla and a mustached German man with a slightly dumb look on his face. The woman looked like the cross between a gorilla and a woman with a long face, big lips and long wavy hair. The baby basically looked human with a lot of fur. This whole episode so angered Professor Rudolf Virchow, President of the Berlin Academy of Anthropology and founder of the field of cellular pathology, to declare that Haeckel had no right to give a zoological name to a creature for which no evidence existed. Virchow only ridiculed Haeckel for making a mockery of science.
To this day not one shred of evidence has ever been found to support the existence of Pithecanthropus alalus. It remains, as it always was, the evidence only of Haeckel's fervent imagination and his desire for evolution to be true. But, these two frauds were only the rehearsal for his greatest and most infamous fraud, the Biogenetic Law. He promulgated the idea that the human embryo is identical to all other mammals and develops with stages that include gills like a fish, a tail like a monkey, etc.
The fraudulent "Biogenetic Law" of Ernst Haeckel may be summarized as "ontogeny recapitulates (begets) phylogeny." The idea being expressed is that the embryonic stages in the development of an individual organism (its ontogeny) repeat, or recapitulate, the evolutionary history of its ancestors (its phylogeny). To Ernst Haeckel, the development of a vertebrate embryo in its mothers' womb would be like watching an animated cartoon in which you would see it move along as it passed through the various adult forms of its ancestors in the sequence in which they had evolved. Thus, a human embryo was envisioned to start, as all life does to any evolutionist, as an initial single simple cell that then develops to look like a fish. The series would then continue, as the fish-like stage would become more like an amphibian, the amphibian stage more like a reptile, and finally the reptilian stage more like a mammal, until the embryo was only born a human. A corollary of this false concept would be the idea that as new evolutionary features were being added, they would be added on to at the end of the development of a creature. In turn, as these new features were incorporated into the adult, and then as the creature was evolving into the next new kind of creature, these "terminal" stages would gradually be compressed back into progressively earlier and earlier stages of embryonic development, until they were seen only for a brief time, or were eliminated all together. We might look at this as similar in appearance to an accordion being squeezed together.
Haeckel had no anatomical evidence to support his outlandish theory. But, when had that ever stopped him from pressing forward his evolutionary beliefs? His solution was as simple as any of his other frauds, only this time he would also become a thief! Haeckel stole the drawings of genuine embryologists in order to manufacture fraudulent evidence. He stole the drawing of a 25-day-old dog embryo originally published by T. L. W. Bischoff in 1845, and the drawing of a 28-day-old human embryo published by A. Ecker in 1851. He also altered drawings by other scientists, Selenka and Wilhelm His, Sr. He then altered the drawings, not just slightly, but in major ways and incorporated "the new and improved" versions in his book, The History of Creation, published in German in 1868, and in English in 1876.
Were his "changes" all that important, or is this rhetoric too much? You be the judge. Haeckel did the following: He added 3.5 mm to the head of Bischoff's dog embryo. Well, maybe this detail isn't all that big a deal. Let's go on. Concerning the drawing of a Macaque (short-tailed monkey) embryo he cut off the arms, legs, heart, navel, and yolk-sac in order to make it look like as much like a fish embryo as possible. He then labeled the drawing as that of an "Embryo of a Gibbon in the fish-stage." When he was confronted with the differences between the original Macaque rendering and his modified final drawing he excused himself by pretending that the omitted parts were "not essential." His piece de resistance was his manipulation of the drawing of a human embryo by Ecker. He changed the details of the human eye significantly, made the human posterior twice its actual length, took 2 mm off the head, and like the Macaque, removed the arms, legs and heart. Well, now maybe we are getting to the point of essential differences!
Haeckel was not one to hold back in doing the same thing to his closest colleagues either, when it suited his purposes. Dr. Thomas Huxley, Darwin's salesman, published a drawing in which he was attempting to show (as a good evolutionist) that various monkeys, apes and people were a heterogeneous group - they look similar in form but are different in the details. Huxley did believe that man had evolved from apes, but his illustration clearly showed their differences, i.e., arched feet in apes versus flat feet in man, hunched over knuckle-walking in apes versus upright walking in man. Haeckel stole Huxley's drawing and adapted it for his own use. Haeckel removed the figures of the Chimpanzee and Orangutan all together and replaced them with new figures of equal size to that of the Gorilla and man. He drew all the apes walking upright with flat feet, and cut off parts of the neck bones of the Gorilla.
The fact that Haeckel had stolen, drawn and used fraudulent illustrations to make a case in support of his invention, the "Biogenetic Law," was known early and well. The aforementioned Dr. Wilhelm His, Sr., was the first to expose Haeckel's fraud. His was a professor of anatomy at the University of Leipzig, and a world famous comparative embryologist. In 1874, His declared that anyone who perpetuated such blatant fraud was not worthy of respect, had forfeited his credentials as a research scientist and should eliminate himself from the ranks of his teaching colleagues. To make the matter worse, His pointed out that Jena, the city of Haeckel's residence, had produced the finest optical microscopes available and so Haeckel had no excuse for his actions. Yet Haeckel survived this assault on his integrity with only a modest confession in which he blamed the draftsman for having blundered. But, Haeckel was the draftsman! Most people quietly forgot his initial confession.
Some German scientists, however, would not let his indiscretions persist forever. Finally, in 1909, Haeckel was forced to break his self-imposed silence over authenticity of his drawings and made a public confession. On January 9, 1909, Haeckel published an open letter in a German scientific magazine. His letter stated in part: ". . . a small portion of my embryo-pictures (possibly 6 or 8 in a hundred) are really (in Dr. Brass's [one of his critics] sense of the word) 'falsified' - all those, namely, in which the disclosed material for inspection is so incomplete or insufficient that one is compelled in a restoration of a connected development series to fill up the gaps through hypotheses, and to reconstruct the missing members through comparative syntheses. What difficulties this task encounters, and how easily the draughtsman may blunder in it, the embryologist alone can judge." Excuse me. This is an apology? This is his confession? No, it is a rationale for fraud. Haeckel died ten years later.
Haeckel's problem was that his scientific endeavors were intimately in lock step with his evolutionary philosophy and his actions were inseparable from his attitude.
Many of his scientific contemporaries were critical of him. J. Reinke, Professor of Botany, University of Kiel, wrote a pamphlet in 1908, The Latest about Haeckelism. Reinke wrote seven pages of double columns entitled "What Haeckel Says" and "What is the Truth." He noted 24 specific instances of misrepresentations by Haeckel. He added: "These are samples taken at random. It would be possible to multiply their number many times." In 1915, J. Assmuth and Ernest R. Hull wrote Haeckel's Frauds and Forgeries. Only six years after his final "confession" they were able to write: "Hardly any scientist of note will be found today  who accepts the law as it stands. The convincing reason is because recent research has clearly proved that the exceptions to this law are far more frequent than the realizations of it. The majority of the stages through which the individual embryos of different animals pass, do not for the most part correspond to the gradations which, according to the evolutionary theory, make up the history of the development of life." In 1956, the Canadian evolutionary biologist, W. R. Thompson, wrote an introduction to an edition of Origin of Species. He noted: "When the 'convergence' of embryos was not entirely satisfactory, Haeckel altered the illustrations of them to fit his theory. The alterations were slight but significant. The 'biogenetic law' as a proof of evolution is valueless."
[You will have, no doubt, noted that this evolutionist was ready to choke before he would admit that Haeckel's changes were gross; yet he is forced by the weight of the evidence to admit that the idea of recapitulation was "valueless."]
Do the frauds perpetuated by Ernst Haeckel have long-term implications that still affect us today? Are his teachings still being taught in various schools around the world? Yes, Ernst Haeckel's teachings do affect us today! Haeckel's frauds were well known in his day, as I have written. A more thorough examination and condemnation of his "Biogenetic Law" by evolutionists has occurred recently. Dr. Michael Richardson, St. George's Hospital Medical School, London, England, has exposed the fraud completely in the journal Anatomy and Embryology, 1997. Richardson is an evolutionist, but he was deeply disturbed by Haeckel's drawings. He determined to work collectively with a distinguished group of experts and examine "the external form of embryos from a wide range of vertebrate species, at a stage comparable to that depicted by Haeckel." The group compared 39 embryos from different parts of the world and representing different animal types. They found that the embryo of each species was significantly different from all others. They concluded that Haeckel could not have used real specimens when making his drawings. In an interview for The Times, London, Richardson described Haeckel as "An embryonic liar." He continued: "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 . . . 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 species in most cases, as if one representative was accurate for an entire group of animals . . . 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."
Haeckel was deceived and a deceiver. He was an apostle of deceit and an evangelist for evolution. His fraudulent ideas would influence many who came after him. In the March, 2000, Natural History, even Stephen J. Gould was forced to write about Haeckel that: "No character in the early days of Darwinianism can match Haeckel for enigmatic contrast of the admirable and the dubious. . . . no major figure took so much consistent liberty in imposing his theoretical beliefs upon nature's observable factuality. . . . his technical monograph on the taxonomy of radiolarians often 'enhanced' the actual appearances by inventing structures with perfect geometric regularity."
Despite a hundred years in which many scientists have documented Haeckel's fraud, there are currently 50 or more science textbooks that have reproduced his drawings and continue to teach his ideas. Why? Textbook publishers simply copy from previous textbooks! Once wrong information appears in textbooks it can easily become a permanent fixture as one publisher borrows and repeats what another has done.
What has this mindless recycling done to influence our culture? In his book, The Long War Against God, Dr. Henry Morris wrote: "We can justifiably charge this evolutionary nonsense of recapitulation with responsibility for the slaughter of millions of helpless, prenatal children - or at least for giving it a pseudo-scientific rationale." But, there is more, so much more. Haeckel deceived the German people wholesale. His ideas became entrenched as scientific truths concerning the origin of people. In Germany he would become deified. He would greatly influence men like Nietzche (He coined the phrase, "God is dead." He died insane.) and Adolf Hitler.
Daniel Gasman wrote The Scientific Origins of National Socialism: Social Darwinism in Ernst Haeckel and the German Monist League. His commented upon Haeckel: "Along with his social Darwinist followers, he set about to demonstrate the 'aristocratic' and non-democratic character of the laws of nature . . . up to his death in 1919, Haeckel contributed to that special variety of German thought which served as the seedbed for National Socialism [Nazi party]. He became one of Germany's major ideologists for racism, nationalism, and imperialism." Haeckelism fostered the idea that the Germans were a superior race. His concepts catapulted the Germans into World War l, World War ll and the Holocaust.
Haeckel founded the Monist [Atheist] League. In his 1988 work, Biological Sciences and the Roots of Nazism, George Stein summarized Haeckel's sociological ideas: "The basic outline of German social Darwinianism as developed by Haeckel and his colleagues is clear. It was argued that, on scientific grounds, man was merely a part of nature with no special transcendent qualities of special humanness. On the other hand, the Germans were members of a biologically superior community. German social Darwinism, contrary to Anglo-American social Darwinism, rejected the liberal individualistic state in favor of a natural, organic, folkish state of blood and soil. It attacked the alienation and atomization of individualistic modern civilization in the name of a psychological fulfillment resulting from union with the natural processes of evolution seen as a collective struggle for existence. And, of course, it argued that politics was merely the straightforward application of the laws of biology."
Sir Arthur Keith was an ardent evolutionary anthropologist. Although he was a victim of Hitler's Blitz of London, he wrote a book after World War ll in which he honored Hitler, one evolutionist to another. In Evolution and Ethics he wrote: "To see evolutionary measures and tribal morality being applied rigorously to the affairs of a great modern nation, we must turn again to Germany of 1942. We see Hitler devoutly convinced that evolution produces the only real basis for a national policy. The German Fuhrer, as I have consistently maintained, is an evolutionist; he has consciously sought to make the practices of Germany conform to the theory of evolution."
George Stein also commented on this: "There really was very little left for national socialism to invent. The foundations of a biopolicy of ethnocentrism, racism and xenophobic nationalism had already been established within German life and culture by many of the leading scientists of Germany well before World War l. . . . It is simply true historically that German academics and scientists did, in fact, contribute to the development and eventual successes of national socialism, both directly through their efforts as scientists and indirectly through the popularization or vulgarization of their scientific work."
Make no mistake, Hitler was raised on a diet of Haeckel and Darwin from his youth. Hitler wrote Mein Kampf (My Struggle). He believed in the concept of survival of the fittest in the struggle for existence. In Mein Kampf, Hitler wrote: "He who would live must fight, he who does not wish to fight in this world where permanent struggle is the law of life, has not the right to exist."
Even at the end of his life Hitler continued his staunch belief in evolution. In 1979, P. Hoffman wrote in Hitler's Personal Security: "Hitler believed in struggle as a Darwinian principle of human life that forced every people to try to dominate all others; without struggle they would rot and perish. . . . Even in his own defeat in April 1945 Hitler expressed his faith in the survival of the stronger and declared the Slavic [Russian] peoples to have proved themselves the stronger."
In 1985, L. H. Gann wrote Adolf Hitler: The Complete Totalitarian. He observed: "As Hitler saw it, Germany would be forever lost if the war were lost. Germany, having shown herself too weak for her historical mission, must therefore abdicate to the stronger nation from the East."
At the end Hitler did not see his defeat as coming from America and England, but from the Russians. He believed that it must be their time to dominate world history.