Darwin knew that all paleontologists of his day noticed sudden appearance and stasis as the most salient facts of the entire fossil record. Thus it seemed to him that the fossil record did not support his theory as conclusively as embryology. Darwin wrote in Origin, “the leading facts in embryology, which are second to none in importance, are explained on the principle of variation in many descendents from one ancient progenitor.”
Darwin was not an embryologist, so he relied on the works of German biologist Ernst Haeckel. Haeckel’s most famous drawings were taken from various classes of vertebrates to show that they are virtually identical in their earliest stages, becoming noticeably different only as they develop. Supposedly, this demonstrated that “embryological development repeats evolutionary history.”.
Drawings of Haeckel’s embryos seem to provide such powerful evidence for Darwin’s theory that some version of them can be found in almost every modern high school and college text book dealing with evolution. Yet biologists have known for more than a century that Haeckel faked his drawings; vertebrate embryos never look as similar as Haeckel made them out to be. He especially failed to illustrate the striking differences in the critical early stages of development. In some cases, Haeckel used the same woodcut to paint embryos that were supposedly from different classes. In others, he doctored his drawings to make embryos more alike.
In 1995, British embryologist Michael Richardson concluded, “These images are inaccurate and give a misleading view of embryonic development”. In 1997, Richardson and an international team of experts compared Haeckel’s embryos with photographs of actual embryos from all seven classes of vertebrates, showing clearly that Haeckel’s drawings misrepresent the truth.
Darwinist Stephen J. Gould wrote in the New York Times on August 13, 1999, “Haeckel had exaggerated the similarities by idealization and omissions. He also, in some cases – in a procedure that can only be called fraudulent- simply copied the same figure over and over again.” Gould continued, “Tales of scientific fraud excite the imagination for good reason. Getting away with this academic equivalent of murder and then being outed a century after your misdeeds makes even better copy.”
In February 2000, textbook-writer Douglas Futuyma gave a response to a critic who accused him of lying by using Haeckel’s embryos in his 1990 textbook, Evolutionary Biology. In his defense, Futuyma explained that he had been unaware of the discrepancies – a confession of ignorance not likely to inspire much confidence in the quality of our biology textbooks, but now he knows that Haeckel was “inaccurate and misleading.”
A high school in Southbury, CT used the textbook, Modern Biology by Holt, Reinhart and Winston (copyright 1999) in which the faked Haeckel’s drawings are shown on page 291. In fine print under the drawing, it says that Haeckel exaggerated some features of the drawings, but it does not mention that an international team of experts exposed them as fraudulent, and, as Darwinist Gould said, represented “the academic equivalent of murder.”
What does this do to the minds of honest high school biology teachers and their students, who are caught in this cross-fire of deception?