Abortion and Evolution

A common argument popularly employed in defense of the theory of evolution—especially in years past—is the “recapitulation” principle. Technically known as “ontogeny [individual development] recapitulates [repeats] phylogeny [evolution of the species],” it suggests that in the growth of the human fetus during the nine-month gestation period, the major stages of evolutionary history are repeated in a miniature fashion.

The argument is quite obsolete, and thus many evolutionists decline to employ it in today’s world of biotechnical sophistication. More than a third of a century ago, George Simpson of Harvard, in concert with his colleagues, conceded that: “It is now firmly established that ontogeny does not repeat phylogeny…” (Simpson, et al., 1957, p. 352, emp. in orig.).

Be that as it may, evolutionists are not above resurrecting this defunct argument whenever they feel it suits their purpose. A case in point is that of the prominent astronomer Carl Sagan, widely known for his PBS television series Cosmos. In April 1990, Dr. Sagan and his wife, Ann Druyan, produced a piece for the weekly Parade magazine. Therein the authors contended for the ethical permissibility of human abortion on the ground that the fetus, growing within a woman’s body for several months following conception, is not a human being. The conclusion drawn, therefore, was this: The killing of this tiny creature is not murder.

What was the basis of this assertion? Without overtly saying so, Sagan and Druyan argued their case by subtly suggesting the concept of embryonic recapitulation. Progressively, they described the development of the fertilized human egg in terms of “a kind of parasite” that eventually begins to look like a “segmented worm.” Further alteration reveals “gill arches” like that of a “fish or amphibian.” Supposedly “reptilian” features become apparent subsequently, which later give way to “mammalian…pig-like” traits. By the end of two months, the creature resembles a “primate but is still not quite human” (1990, p. 6).

The argument thus employed is wholly specious, has long been discredited, and graphically reveals the current desperation of those humanists who disregard the sanctity of human life.


Sagan, Carl and Ann Druyan (1990), “The Question of Abortion,” Parade Magazine, April 22.

Simpson, G.G., C.S. Pittendrigh and L.H. Tiffany (1957), Life: An Introduction to Biology (New York: Harcourt, Brace & Company).

[EDITOR’S NOTE: For more on embryonic recapitulation, see Reason & Revelation, September 1994.]


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