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A Newly Discovered Textbook Example Refuting NYT and NCSE’s False Claims About Haeckel’s Bogus Embryo Drawings

Recently I documented ten examples of textbooks refuting the NCSE-scripted misinformation printed in the New York Times claiming that Ernst Haeckel’s faked embryo drawings haven’t been used in textbooks since “20 years ago.” In fact, just last week while browsing through some science textbooks at a local thrift store, I discovered another textbook that includes Ernst Haeckel’s bogus embryo drawings.

In 1998, Judith Goodenough, Robert A. Wallace, and Betty McGuire published Human Biology: Personal, Environmental, and Social Concerns with Harcourt College Publishers. Some Darwinists (like Randy Olson) have claimed that if Haeckel’s drawings are used, it’s only to provide historical background on the history of evolutionary thought. Not so with this textbook:

Chapter 20, “Evolution: Basic Principles and Our Heritage” contains a section titled “Evidence of Evolution.” A subsection of the “Evidence of Evolution” section, titled “Comparative Anatomy and Embrylogy,” states that “comparative embryology, the comparative study of development, can be a useful evolutionary tool because common embryological origins can be considered evidence of common descent.” It goes on to explain, “For example, 4-week old human embryos closely resemble embryos of other vertebrates, including fish with a tail and gill pouches (Figure 20-15).”

Can you guess what Figure 20-15 is? If you guessed a colorized version of Haeckel’s embryo drawings that explicitly promotes evolution without any indication that the drawing is fraudulent, you’re correct! The textbook’s Figure 20-15 is reprinted below:

(From Judith Goodenough, Robert A. Wallace, and Betty McGuire, Human Biology: Personal, Environmental, and Social Concerns, pg. 582 (Harcourt College Publishers, 1998). Click for full size.)

The Embryonic Hourglass Figure
An additional glaring error in last Sunday’s New York Times / NCSE rebuttal on Haeckel’s embryos states that “early stages (if not the earliest) of vertebrate embryos are more similar than later ones.” Why is the caveat “if not the earliest” necessary? It’s necessary because in the earliest stages of real vertebrate embryos, the embryos of different vertebrate classes are actually highly dissimilar:

The Embryonic Hourglass According to Richardson et al., “There is no highly conserved embryonic stage in the vertebrates: implications for current theories of evolution and development,” Anatomy and Embryology, (1997) 196:91–106. The Embryonic Hourglass According to Jonathan Wells, Icons of Evolution: Why Much of What We Teach about Evolution is Wrong (Regnery, 2000).
EmbryonicHourglassRichardson.JPG Wells-Hourglass.JPG

These “embryonic hourglass” diagrams show how vertebrate embryos start development very different.

The left-hand diagram is from a paper published by leading embryologists in the journal Anatomy and Embryology. In this diagram, the bottom shows how embryos begin differently, and then temporarily converge during development, only to diverge again. In fact, the whole point of the “hourglass” diagram is to show the fact that vertebrate embryos start development differently, briefly converge, and then again diverge.

The right-hand diagram shows the same thing, except the highly dissimilar forms of early embryos appear at the top, rather than the bottom. This diagram also highlights the fact that even during their “similar” pharyngular stage mid-way through development, vertebrate embryos still have important differences. More documentation can be found, here.

As can be seen, vertebrate embryos start off very differently–again making the NCSE’s statement incomplete, highly misleading, and wrong.


Casey Luskin

Associate Director, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.



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