As Science Frauds Go, Haeckel Beats Piltdown Man — Lord Buckbeak

by David Klinghoffer@d_klinghoffer November 9, 2020, 4:13 PM – for Evolution News & Science Today My cmnt: see my post Ernst Haeckel: Social Darwinist, Racist & Fraud. Ecologist Jeremy Fox at the University of Calgary offers a list of scientific frauds, with Piltdown Man at the top of the list. Writing at his blog Dynamic […]

As Science Frauds Go, Haeckel Beats Piltdown Man — Lord Buckbeak

This piece basically rehashes the legend that Haeckel’s notions about embryo development are wrong, and that no one has corrected his illustrations because to do so would poke holes on Darwinian evolution.

I wound up writing a comment on this piece referencing rebuttals from the Talk Origins website, just to present the other side of the discussion.

The owner of the blog rejected my comment, as is his perfect right.

However, I have the perfect right to link to his piece and post my comment here.

You might find this to be interesting reading:

And from the same site:

1) Haeckel’s pictures are irrelevant to the question of whether the embryos are similar. What matters are the embryos themselves. Within a group, early embryos do show many similarities. For example, all vertebrates develop a notochord, body segments, pharyngeal gill pouches, and a post-anal tail. These fundamental similarities indicate a common evolutionary history. Other embryological similarities are found in other lineages, such as mollusks, arthropods, and annelids. These similarities have been long known. Professor Agassiz in 1849, for example, said, “We find, too, that the young bat, or bird, or the young serpent, in certain periods of their growth, resemble one another so much that he would defy any one to tell one from the other–or distinguish between a bat and a snake.” (Scientific American 1849)

2) The embryos also show some differences, which Haeckel glossed over. However, differences should also be expected, since the animals are not all equally related. It is the pattern of both similarities and differences that displays patterns of descent. Organisms that are less closely related are expected to look less similar.

3) When Haeckel’s inaccuracies were exposed, authors started using corrected versions. Science tends to be self-correcting.

A longer response can be found here. One brief excerpt:

Wells is particularly incensed at the authors of introductory textbooks who, he claims, are misleading their students. I agree that he can reasonably argue that textbooks should not use the obsolete and inaccurate drawings done after Haeckel’s work, but, in what I consider the most amusing line in this entire chapter, Wells expresses indignation that “Some textbooks, instead of reproducing or redrawing Haeckel’s embryos, use actual photos.” How dare those nefarious textbook authors use photographic data to support their ideas!

Note: not drawings, but photographs. So if the photographs show what Haeckel was trying to illustrate in his drawings, maybe there’s something there after all.

Anyway, in response to his email, I added the following:


I’ve actually read quite a bit of the Creationist material, including exhibits from the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial in which it was shown that “Of Pandas and People”, one of the major books supporting Intelligent Design, was originally a book supporting “Scientific Creationism”, after having been run through a search-and-replace function to replace “Scientific Creationism” with “Intelligent Design”.  

One recurring theme I’ve noticed in the Creationist literature is the casual assumption that the objections raised to evolution are items biologists have never considered, nor ever tried to answer. For example, in Darwin’s Black Box, Michael Behe raises numerous alleged problems with evolution. He spends a lot of time on the blood clotting cascade, describing it as an example of “irreducible complexity”. Despite having consulted with biologists in the field, he somehow manages to miss the fact that the evolutionary pathway of this cascade has been traced from simple, and not “irreducibly complex” origins. 

In a similar fashion, the Haeckel illustrations are presented as if they have been enshrined as Holy Writ, never to be questioned once they were revealed. The text and links I provided were intended to show that’s not the case. The illustrations are not treated as needing to be shielded from all possibility of contradiction, and in fact have been refuted by scientists. This is in contradistinction with people like Wells who have their story and will stick to it, no matter what contrary facts may come their way.