Ernst Haeckel Lied to Us!

From Issue: Discovery 7/1/2003

In about 1860, there was a man named Ernst Haeckel who believed in evolution. He was a German professor at the University of Jena. During his years of teaching, he tried to convince his students that evolution was true. To “prove” this to his students and fellow teachers, he made up the idea that a human baby goes through different evolutionary stages as it grows. According to Ernst Haeckel, a human embryo (a baby in its early stages) starts out
in a one-celled stage, just as its ancient amoeba-like ancestor. It develops gill slits, just like its ancient fish ancestor. And it even has a tail, just as its ancient ape-like ancestor. Therefore, suggested Dr. Haeckel, if we will just watch a human embryo grow, then we will see the different stages of evolution.

In order to prove his theory, he made several drawings of the different stages. But when he published these drawings, other professors began to question Haeckel’s accuracy. Upon further investigation, it seemed that Dr. Haeckel had not only been inaccurate, but he had even been dishonest. Five of his fellow professors at the University of Jena charged Haeckel with fraud. During his trial, he confessed that he faked some of his drawings. He also took the drawings of other people and changed them to “prove” his theory. And if that were not bad enough, in one case he used the same picture three different times, and labeled one a human, the second a dog, and the third a rabbit. With all this evidence against Dr. Haeckel, he was easily convicted of fraud by the court at the university.

That should be the end of the story, but it is not. Even though Haeckel’s false theory and drawings were disproved almost 150 years ago, they are still being used today in many science textbooks to “prove” evolution. Why are textbook writers still using drawings that were faked, altered, and falsified? That is the real mystery. The next time you see these fake drawings, remember that Ernst Haeckel lied to us about evolution.


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