Embryology played a pivotal role in the development of Charles Darwin’s nineteenth century theory of evolution. In a letter to Asa Gray in September 1860, Darwin argued that “embryology is to me by far the strongest single class of facts in favor” of the theory. Embryology was advanced as preeminent evidence to support his theory of evolution by means of natural selection.
“Thus, as it seems to me,” Darwin wrote in The Origin of Species, “the leading facts in embryology… are second to none in importance.” Darwin’s declaration launched a 150 year long fishy fiction saga.
In Chapter VI of The Origin of Species entitled “Difficulties on the Theory,” for the purpose of dismissing widespread criticism of his theory, Darwin made an argument from human embryo drawings with gills from German embryologist Ernst Haeckel’s as evidence for evolution:
To give one instance,—there are fish with gills… might readily be modified and perfected… during the progress of modification [evolution].
The “progress of modification” that was illustrated in Haeckel’s drawings gave rise to a popular concept the human embryo was thought to start as a microbe then change through consecutive evolutionary stages from fish to man.
Haeckel summarized his theory with the phrase “ontology recapitulates phylogeny”. “Ontology” is derived from the Greek word onto that means being linked with logy that means to study. “Recapitulates” simply means to repeat or replay. “Phylogeny” is derived from the Greek term phylon that means tribe, race, or species.
Haeckel promoted that the embryo developed through stages of evolution; ; a replay through a succession of evolutionary tribes, races, and species−“ontology recapitulates phylogeny.” Haeckel coined his new theory the “Biogenetic Law.”
Darwin sanctioned Haeckel’s theory to advance his own theory: “If they [different species] pass through closely similar embryonic stages, we may feel assured that they all are descended from one parent-form.”
“The structure of the embryo,” Darwin resolved, “is even more important for classification than that of the adult.” Darwin, however, was not an embryologist and the state of embryological research was limited by the crude technologies of the nineteenth century.
Since the publication of The Origin of Species in 1859, the evolution industry has used Haeckel’s Biogenic Law as pivotal evidence in promoting evolution “as a fact.” In the 1977 book “Ontogeny and Phylogeny”, the prominent evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould underscored the importance of Haeckel’s Biogenic Law for evolution. Carl Sagan in the book “The Dragons of Eden” mentions human gill slits as evidence for evolution.
In 2001 the University of Chicago published the following statement appeared in the article “Gill Slits in Humans“: “All mammals have gill slits in their very early fetal development”.
Even on the current University of California at Berkley state sponsored website “Understanding Evolution” claim that “both chick and human embryos go through a stage where they have slits and arches in their necks like the gill slits and gill arches of fish.”
When underwater, the animals pushed water past their gills while simultaneously pushing the glottis down. We [humans] descendants of these animals were left with vestiges of their history.
Embryologists, however, have long known that the Biogenic Law was defunct. In fact, in 1909, Haeckel finally confessed after continuously challenged that his drawings had been deliberately fabricated.
By 2000, Gould turned on Haeckel’s recapitulation theory as having “utterly collapsed” as “proof” of evolution. Gould continued in an article in Natural History entitled Abscheulich! (Atrocious!) Haeckel’s Distortions Did Not Help Darwin
We should not therefore be surprised that Haeckel’s drawings entered nineteenth-century textbooks. But we do, I think, have the right to be both astonished and ashamed by the century of mindless recycling that has led to the persistence of those drawings in a large number, if not a majority, of modern textbooks.
In the WIKIPEDIA article entitled “Recapitulation Theory” entitled “Modern Status” summarizes the prevailing evolution industry position:
The Haeckelian form of recapitulation theory is now considered defunct.
Since the publication of The Origin of Species, this fishy evolution fiction tale has created chaos and confusion within the highest ranks of the evolution industry lasting for more than 150 years.
Evolution is a theory long beyond a state of crisis.