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The Recapitulation Misconception












 The Recapitulation Misconception

What used to be called the "recapitulation theory" has long been eliminated from scientific literature, but it is still being presented as a scientific reality by some evolutionist publications. The term "recapitulation" is a condensation of the dictum "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny," put forward by the evolutionary biologist Ernst Haeckel at the end of the nineteenth century.

This theory of Haeckel's postulates that living embryos re-experience the evolutionary process that their pseudo-ancestors underwent. He theorized that during its development in its mother's womb, the human embryo first displayed the characteristics of a fish, and then those of a reptile, and finally those of a human.

It has since been proven that this theory is completely bogus. It is now known that the "gills" that supposedly appear in the early stages of the human embryo are in fact the initial phases of the middle-ear canal, parathyroid, and thymus. That part of the embryo that was likened to the "egg yolk pouch" turns out to be a pouch that produces blood for the infant. The part that was identified as a "tail" by Haeckel and his followers is in fact the backbone, which resembles a tail only because it takes shape before the legs do.

These are universally acknowledged facts in the scientific world, and are accepted even by evolutionists themselves. Two leading neo-Darwinists, George Gaylord Simpson and W. Beck have admitted:

Haeckel misstated the evolutionary principle involved. It is now firmly established that ontogeny does not repeat phylogeny.319


With his faked embryo drawings, Ernst Haeckel deceived the world of science for a century.

The following was written in an article in New Scientist dated October 16, 1999:

[Haeckel] called this the biogenetic law, and the idea became popularly known as recapitulation. In fact Haeckel's strict law was soon shown to be incorrect. For instance, the early human embryo never has functioning gills like a fish, and never passes through stages that look like an adult reptile or monkey.320

In an article published in American Scientist, we read:

Surely the biogenetic law is as dead as a doornail. It was finally exorcised from biology textbooks in the fifties. As a topic of serious theoretical inquiry it was extinct in the twenties…321

Another interesting aspect of "recapitulation" was Ernst Haeckel himself, a faker who falsified his drawings in order to support the theory he advanced. Haeckel's forgeries purported to show that fish and human embryos resembled one another. When he was caught out, the only defense he offered was that other evolutionists had committed similar offences:

After this compromising confession of 'forgery' I should be obliged to consider myself condemned and annihilated if I had not the consolation of seeing side by side with me in the prisoner's dock hundreds of fellow - culprits, among them many of the most trusted observers and most esteemed biologists. 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.322


Haeckel's fake drawings.

In the September 5, 1997, edition of the well-known scientific journal Science, an article was published revealing that Haeckel's embryo drawings were the product of a deception. The article, called "Haeckel's Embryos: Fraud Rediscovered," had this to say:

The impression they [Haeckel's drawings] give, that the embryos are exactly alike, is wrong, says Michael Richardson, an embryologist at St. George's Hospital Medical School in London… So he and his colleagues did their own comparative study, reexamining and photographing embryos roughly matched by species and age with those Haeckel drew. Lo and behold, the embryos "often looked surprisingly different," Richardson reports in the August issue of Anatomy and Embryology.323


In its September 5, 1997, issue, the famous journal Science published an article revealing that Haeckel's embryo drawings had been falsified. The article described how the embryos were in fact very different from one another.


Observations in recent years have revealed that embryos of different species do not resemble each other, as Haeckel had attempted to show. The great differences between the mammal, reptile and bat embryos above are a clear instance of this.

Science explained that, in order to be able to show the embryos as similar, Haeckel deliberately removed some organs from his drawings or else added imaginary ones. Later in this same article, the following information was revealed:

Not only did Haeckel add or omit features, Richardson and his colleagues report, but he also fudged the scale to exaggerate similarities among species, even when there were 10-fold differences in size. Haeckel further blurred differences by neglecting to name the species in most cases, as if one representative was accurate for an entire group of animals. In reality, Richardson and his colleagues note, even closely related embryos such as those of fish vary quite a bit in their appearance and developmental pathway. "It (Haeckel's drawings) looks like it's turning out to be one of the most famous fakes in biology," Richardson concludes.324

The Science article goes on to discuss how Haeckel's confessions on this subject were covered up from the beginning of the last century, and how the fake drawings began to be presented in textbooks as scientific fact:

Haeckel's confession got lost after his drawings were subsequently used in a 1901 book called Darwin and After Darwin and reproduced widely in English language biology texts.325

In short, the fact that Haeckel's drawings were falsified had already emerged in 1901, but the whole world of science continued to be deceived by them for a century.

The Origin of Plants

319 G. G. Simpson, W. Beck, An Introduction to Biology, Harcourt Brace and World, New York, 1965, p. 241.
320 Ken McNamara, "Embryos and Evolution," New Scientist, vol. 12416, 16 October 1999. (emphasis added)
321 Keith S. Thomson, "Ontogeny and Phylogeny Recapitulated," American Scientist, vol. 76, May/June 1988, p. 273.
322 Francis Hitching, The Neck of the Giraffe: Where Darwin Went Wrong, Ticknor and Fields, New York, 1982, p. 204.
323 Elizabeth Pennisi, "Haeckel's Embryos: Fraud Rediscovered," Science, 5 September, 1997. (emphasis added)
324 Elizabeth Pennisi, "Haeckel's Embryos: Fraud Rediscovered," Science, 5 September, 1997. (emphasis added)
325 Elizabeth Pennisi, "Haeckel's Embryos: Fraud Rediscovered," Science, 5 September, 1997. (emphasis added)