Saturday, July 04, 2009

“The End of Darwinism”

“The End of Darwinism” would have disappeared as another self published creationist screed had not Pat Buchanan puffed it on WingNutDaily. There have been a half dozen science bloggers who have taken Buchanan’s piece apart, but I waited until I could read Mr. Windchy’s book myself.

Windchy states that he had worked on this book since 1993. I found this very strange as he makes basic errors of fact that could be corrected with a few minutes of internet search. The errors begin immediately and they range from minor factual mistakes to gross mistakes in fact and scholarship.

One example of a minor error of fact is on page 14 when Windchy claimed that, “The German Darwin (Ernst Haeckel, gh) was convicted of fraud by a faculty court at the University of Jena, his employer in Prussia …” This is not true. In fact, there was never a “faculty court” in the first place. This particular creationist lie has been repeated in their echo chamber so often that it occasionally has appeared in the popular press. This has been pointed out by

Haeckel was accused of publishing drawings of embryos that were fraudulently presented, or altered to make his theoretical argument appear better supported. In only one instance did Haeckel need to issue a retraction. This was in his illustration of the “sandal stage” of “dog, chicken, and turtle” embryos in his first edition (1868) of “Natürlich Schöpfungsgeschlichte.” These were actually the same woodcut, apparently of the chicken embryo at this stage of development, that had been repeated. (To see the illustration in question, look at Fig. 7.12 of “The Tragic Sense of Life” by Robert J. Richards, 2008). This particularly outraged Ludwig Rütimeyer, and Wilhelm His.

Haeckel corrected this in the second and later editions. The point he had been making was that embryologists could not tell one species from another at that early stage of development, which was certainly true at the time, and had been earlier remarked on by other scientists such as von Baer well before Darwin ever wrote about evolution. In another instance it was the accuser, Arnold Brass, who had to retract his false claims of fraud in 1908-1909.

Haeckel’s pet theory of “recapitulation” or “biogenesis” was totally wrong and forms no part of evolutionary theory. He proposed that as organisms underwent embryonic development, the stages of the embryos replicated each of the adult forms of their evolutionary predecessors. However, his observations that embryonic development is more similar the more closely the species are related, and that the earlier development of vertebrate embryos are all very similar, were substantially correct. With our new ability to track the fate of individual cells in embryos, these observations are even stronger today than they were in 1870. Windchy has obviously not bothered to become informed about Haeckel, or his contributions to science, or what modern embryology is about. After supposedly spending 16 years, one would expect better. Instead, he regurgitates creationist lies and slanders- using century old controversies to try and obscure that science of evolution is the most successful explanation of life available.

Robert J. Richards
2008 “The Tragic Sense of Life” University of Chicago Press

Troy Britian
2001 Haeckel's Embryos

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