Of all the alleged facts in The Origin of Species, for Charles Darwin embryology stands out as the most important “fact”. In a letter to Asa Gray in September 1860, Darwin wrote – “embryology is to me by far the strongest single class of facts in favor” of the theory.
Darwin was influenced by German embryologist Ernst Haeckel, who coined the now-famous phrase “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny”. In other words, in the embryo the ontology (development) of the new offspring retraces (recapitulates) all stages representing its alleged evolutionary ancestors (phylogeny) from the microbe to man. Haeckel called the theory the “biogenetic law”.
In The Origin of Species, Darwin gave credit for this theory to Haeckel. “Professor Haeckel in his “Generelle Morphologie” and in [other] works has recently 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 [to establish evolutionary sequences].”
According to Haeckel, in the embryo is a silent movie of our alleged ancestral history—evolution in action. Through his polished and widely publicized drawings, Haeckel attempted to show that all embryos are identical in the earliest stages followed by progressive “slight, successive” changes of increasing differential complexity—the alleged retracing of evolution.
Much has happened since 1859, however. This week, ScienceDaily featured an article entitled “Similarities in the Embryonic Development of Various Animal Species Are Also Found at Molecular Level”. The article was referring two research papers published in the journal Nature, December. 9, 2010 by the Max Planck Institute that challenge the basic tenets of Haeckel’s theory of “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny”.
In these two studies headed by the Max Planck Institute scientists Alex T. Kalinka and Tomislav Domazet, did not find progressive “slight, successive” changes of “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny” as proposed by Haeckel. Rather, at mid-point in development in a range of species studied, the embryos develop to be similar—not progressively different.
Jennifer Viegas at Discovery News ran the coverage of the two papers as “Embryos Show All Animals Share Ancient Genes” noting “embryos for humans and other animals often look alike at certain developmental stages” slamming, once again, Haeckel’s concept of “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny”.
These two groups of scientists, including researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Genetics in Dresden and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology in Plön, discovered similar morphological appearance and gene expression—rather than “slight, successive” evolutionary changes in the embryo.
In the range of different species studied, the researchers found that the same genes were expressed during the middle phase, known as the “phylotypic period,” producing a classic “hour-glass model” appearance in all the species investigated.
Haeckels’ theory of “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny” has always been a rocky road. As early as 1894, embryologist Adam Sedgwick recognized that Haeckel’s theory was “not in accordance with the facts of development.” Sedgwick explained in 1909 – “The recapitulation theory originated as a deduction from the evolutionary theory and as a deduction it still remains.” In other words, in the world of evolution, the importance of the theory supersedes the evidence.
By 1909, with the handwriting on the wall, Haeckel made the following confession published as a letter in the Munchener Allegemeine Zeitung, an international weekly publication for the sciences and arts –
After this compromising confession of ‘forgery’ I should be obliged to consider.… The great majority of all the diagrams in the best biological textbooks, treatises, and journals would incur in the same degree – the charge of ‘forgery,’ for all of them are inexact, and are more or less doctored, schematised, and constructed.
For Haeckel, Darwin and the emerging evolution industry, the theory of evolution dominated the intereptation of the evidence—a fundamental violation of the Scientific Method. Eminent evolutionist Stephen Gould in the March 2000 issue of Natural History declared Haeckel’s drawings as “outright falsification”. Writing for Jerry Coyne’s “Why Evolution is True” blog, even Matthew Cobb professor at the University of Manchester even agrees.
The Max Planck Institute discovery slams the theroretical evolutionary concept of “slight, successive” changes—the evidence contradicts the theory. Evidence for evolution is not found in morphology or molecules. “At a molecular level,” Australian molecular biologist Michael Denton, explains, “there is no trace of the evolutionary transition from fish to amphibian to reptile to mammal.”
“The more one approaches the molecular level in the study of living things,” Richard Dickerson, as director of molecular biology at the University of Minnesota pointed out, “the more similar they appear, and the less important the differences.”
As technological advances continue, the evolution industry is finding the relevance of the neo-Darwinian classic “slight, successive” genetic changes as an evolutionary mechanism pushed ever closer to the edge of extinction. A theoretical mechanism for evolution is more elusive in the twenty-first century than in the nineteenth century.
The neo-Darwinian theory of evolution by “slight, successive” changes occuring through mutation and natural selection is no longer sufficient. Incredibly, even the National Science Teachers Association [NSTA], the vanguard of evolution in public education, has now been forced to cautiously approach the now obvious reality –
There is considerable debate about how evolution has taken place.
Pushing the popular neo-Darwinian theory of evolution off the edge, cytogeneticist Antonio Lima-de-Faria, decorated by the Swedish king as “Knight of the Order of the North Star” for his discoveries on the molecular organization of the chromosome, declared -
There has never been a theory of evolution.
Haeckel is slammed, once again, this time by the Max Planck Institute. Evolution, once a theory in crisis, is now in crisis without a theory. Evolution continues only a “fact” in the realm of philosophy.