Ernst Haeckel

Ernst Haeckel

e a key figure in social darwinism and leading proponent of scientific racism, stating for instance:[14]

The Caucasian, or Mediterranean man (Homo Mediterraneus), has from time immemorial been placed at the head of all the races of men, as the most highly developed and perfect. It is generally called the Caucasian race, but as, among all the varieties of the species, the Caucasian branch is the least important, we prefer the much more suitable appellation proposed by Friedrich Müller, namely, that of Mediterranese. For the most important varieties of this species, which are moreover the most eminent actors in what is called "Universal History," first rose to a flourishing condition on the shores of the Mediterranean.… This species alone (with the exception of the Mongolian) has had an actual history; it alone has attained to that degree of civilisation which seems to raise men above the rest of nature.

Haeckel divided human beings into ten races, of which the Caucasian was the highest and the primitives were doomed to extinction.[15] Haeckel claimed that Negros have stronger and more freely movable toes than any other race which is evidence that Negros are related to apes because when apes stop climbing in trees they hold on to the trees with their toes, Haeckel compared Negros to “four-handed” apes. Haeckel also believed Negros were savages and that Whites were the most civilised.[16]

However, Robert J. Richards notes: "Haeckel, on his travels to Ceylon and Indonesia, often formed closer and more intimate relations with natives, even members of the untouchable classes, than with the European colonials."[17]

In his Ontology and Phylogeny Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould wrote: "[Haekel's] evolutionary racism; his call to the German people for racial purity and unflinching devotion to a "just" state; his belief that harsh, inexorable laws of evolution ruled human civilization and nature alike, conferring upon favored races the right to dominate others . . . all contributed to the rise of Nazism."

In the same line of thought, historian Daniel Gasman states that Haeckel's ideology stimulated the birth of Fascist ideology in Italy and France.[18]

Asia hypothesis

Haeckel claimed the origin of humanity was to be found in Asia: he believed that Hindustan (South Asia) was the actual location where the first humans had evolved. Haeckel argued that humans were closely related to the primates of Southeast Asia and rejected Darwin's hypothesis of Africa.[19][20]

Haeckel later claimed that the missing link was to be found on the lost continent of Lemuria located in the Indian Ocean, he believed that Lemuria was the home of the first humans and that Asia was the home of many of the earliest primates, he thus supported that Asia was the cradle of hominid evolution. Haeckel also claimed that Lemuria connected Asia and Africa which allowed the migration of humans to the rest of the world.[21][22]

In Haeckel’s book The History of Creation (1884) he included migration routes which he thought the first humans had used outside of Lemuria.

Embryology and recapitulation theory

Illustrations of dog and human embryos, looking almost identical at 4 weeks then differing at 6 weeks, shown above a 6-week turtle embryo and 8-day hen embryo, presented by Haeckel in 1868 as convincing proof of evolution. The pictures of the earliest embryonic stages are now considered inaccurate.[23]

When Haeckel was a student in the 1850s he showed great interest in linear chain of being, and Karl Ernst von Baer's opposing view that the early general forms diverged into four major groups of specialised forms without ever resembling the adult of another species, showing affinity to an archetype but no relation to other types or any transmutation of species. By the time Haeckel was teaching he was able to use a textbook with woodcut illustrations written by his own teacher Albert von Kölliker, which purported to explain human development while also using other mammalian embryos to claim a coherent sequence. Despite the significance to ideas of transformism, this was not really polite enough for the new popular science writing, and was a matter for medical institutions and for experts who could make their own comparisons.[24]:264–267[25]

Darwin, Naturphilosophie and Lamarck

Darwin's [26] Haeckel disregarded such caution, and in a year wrote his massive and ambitious Generelle Morphologie, published in 1866, presenting a revolutionary new synthesis of Darwin's ideas with the German tradition of Naturphilosophie going back to Goethe and with the progressive evolutionism of Lamarck in what he called Darwinismus. He used morphology to reconstruct the evolutionary history of life, in the absence of fossil evidence using embryology as evidence of ancestral relationships. He invented new terms, including ontogeny and phylogeny, to present his evolutionised recapitulation theory that "ontogeny recapitulated phylogeny". The two massive volumes sold poorly, and were heavy going: with his limited understanding of German, Darwin found them impossible to read. Haeckel's publisher turned down a proposal for a “strictly scholarly and objective” second edition.[24]:269–270

Embryological drawings

Haeckel's aim was a reformed morphology with evolution as the organising principle of a cosmic synthesis unifying science, religion, and art. He was giving successful "popular lectures" on his ideas to students and townspeople in Jena, in an approach pioneered by his teacher Rudolf Virchow. To meet his publisher's need for a popular work he used a student's transcript of his lectures as the basis of his Natürliche Schöpfungsgeschichte of 1868, presenting a comprehensive presentation of evolution. In the Spring of that year he drew figures for the book, synthesising his views of specimens in Jena and published pictures to represent types. After publication he told a colleague that the images “are completely exact, partly copied from nature, partly assembled from all illustrations of these early stages that have hitherto become known.” There were various styles of embryological drawings at that time, ranging from more schematic representations to "naturalistic" illustrations of specific specimens. Haeckel believed privately that his figures were both exact and synthetic, and in public asserted that they were schematic like most figures used in teaching. The images were reworked to match in size and orientation, and though displaying Haeckel's own views of essential features, they support von Baer's concept that vertebrate embryos begin similarly and then diverge. Relating different images on a grid conveyed a powerful evolutionary message. As a book for the general public, it followed the common practice of not citing sources.[24]:270–274

In 1868 Haeckel illustrated von Baer's observation that early embryos of different species could not be told apart by using the same woodcut three times as dog, chick and turtle embryos: he changed this in the next edition.

The book sold very well, and while some anatomical experts hostile to Haeckel's evolutionary views expressed some private concerns that certain figures had been drawn rather freely, the figures showed what they already knew about similarities in embryos. The first published concerns came from Ludwig Rütimeyer, a professor of zoology and comparative anatomy at the University of Basel who had placed fossil mammals in an evolutionary lineage early in the 1860s and had been sent a complimentary copy. At the end of 1868 his review in the Archiv für Anthropologie wondered about the claim that the work was "popular and scholarly", doubting whether the second was true, and expressed horror about such public discussion of man's place in nature with illustrations such as the evolutionary trees being shown to non-experts. Though he made no suggestion that embryo illustrations should be directly based on specimens, to him the subject demanded the utmost "scrupulosity and conscientiousness" and an artist must "not arbitrarily model or generalise his originals for speculative purposes" which he considered proved by comparison with works by other authors. In particular, "one and the same, moreover incorrectly interpreted woodcut, is presented to the reader three times in a row and with three different captions as [the] embryo of the dog, the chick, [and] the turtle." He accused Haeckel of "playing fast and loose with the public and with science", and failing to live up to the obligation to the truth of every serious researcher. Haeckel responded with angry accusations of bowing to religious prejudice, but in the second (1870) edition changed the duplicated embryo images to a single image captioned "embryo of a mammal or bird". Duplication using galvanoplastic stereotypes (clichés) was a common technique in textbooks, but not on the same page to represent different eggs or embryos. In 1891 Haeckel made the excuse that this "extremely rash foolishness" had occurred in undue haste but was "bona fide", and since repetition of incidental details was obvious on close inspection, it is unlikely to have been intentional deception.[24]:275–276;282–286

The revised 1870 second edition of 1,500 copies attracted more attention, being quickly followed by further revised editions with larger print runs as the book became a prominent part of the optimistic, nationalist, anticlerical "culture of progress" in Otto von Bismarck's new German Empire. The similarity of early vertebrate embryos became common knowledge, and the illustrations were praised by experts such as Michael Foster of the University of Cambridge. In the introduction to his 1871 The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex, Darwin gave particular praise to Haeckel, writing that if Natürliche Schöpfungsgeschichte "had appeared before my essay had been written, I should probably never have completed it." The first chapter included an illustration: "As some of my readers may never have seen a drawing of an embryo, I have given one of man and another of a dog, at about the same early stage of development, carefully copied from two works of undoubted accuracy" with a footnote citing the sources and noting that "Häckel has also given analogous drawings in his Schöpfungsgeschichte." The fifth edition of Haeckel's book appeared in 1874, with its frontispiece a heroic portrait of Haeckel himself, replacing the previous controversial image of the heads of apes and humans.[24]:285–288[27]

1874 illustration from Anthropogenie showing "very early", "somewhat later" and "still later" stages of embryos of fish (F), salamander (A), turtle (T), chick (H), pig (S), cow (R), rabbit (K), and human (M)


Later in 1874, Haeckel's simplified embryology textbook Anthropogenie made the subject into a battleground over Darwinism aligned with Bismarck's Kulturkampf ("culture struggle") against the Catholic Church. Haeckel took particular care over the illustrations, changing to the leading zoological publisher Wilhelm Engelmann of Leipzig and obtaining from them use of illustrations from their other textbooks as well as preparing his own drawings including a dramatic double page illustration showing "early", "somewhat later" and "still later" stages of 8 different vertebrates. Though Haeckel's views had attracted continuing controversy, there had been little dispute about the embryos and he had many expert supporters, but Wilhelm His revived the earlier criticisms and introduced new attacks on the 1874 illustrations.[28] Others joined in, both expert anatomists and Catholic priests and supporters were politically opposed to Haeckel's views.[24]:288–296

While it has been widely claimed that Haeckel was charged with fraud by five professors and convicted by a university court at Jena, there does not appear to be an independently verifiable source for this claim.[29] Recent analyses (Richardson 1998, Richardson and Keuck 2002) have found that some of the criticisms of Haeckel's embryo drawings were legitimate, but others were unfounded.[30][31] There were multiple versions of the embryo drawings, and Haeckel rejected the claims of fraud. It was later said that "there is evidence of sleight of hand" on both sides of the feud between Haeckel and Wilhelm His.[32] Robert J. Richards, in a paper published in 2008, defends the case for Haeckel, shedding doubt against the fraud accusations based on the material used for comparison with what Haeckel could access at the time.[33] The controversy involves several different issues (see more details at: recapitulation theory).

Awards and honours

He was awarded the title of Excellency by Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1907[34] and the Linnean Society of London's prestigious Darwin-Wallace Medal in 1908. In the United States, Mount Haeckel, a 13,418 ft (4,090 m) summit in the Eastern Sierra Nevada, overlooking the Evolution Basin, is named in his honour, as is another Mount Haeckel, a summit in New Zealand; and the asteroid 12323 Haeckel.


Kunstformen — plate 72: Muscinae
Kunstformen — plate 96: Chaetopoda
Medusa of Aeginura grimaldii (bottom view)

Darwin's 1859 book On the Origin of Species had immense popular influence, but although its sales exceeded its publisher's hopes it was a technical book rather than a work of popular science: long, difficult and with few illustrations. One of Haeckel's books did a great deal to explain his version of "Darwinism" to the world. It was a bestselling, provocatively illustrated book in German, titled Natürliche Schöpfungsgeschichte, published in Berlin in 1868, and translated into English as The History of Creation in 1876. It was frequently reprinted until 1926.

Haeckel argued that human evolution consisted of precisely 22 phases, the 21st – the "missing link" — being a halfway step between apes and humans. He even formally named this missing link Pithecanthropus alalus, translated as "ape man without speech."

Haeckel's entire literary output was extensive, working as a professor at the University of Jena for 47 years, and even at the time of the celebration of his 60th birthday at Jena in 1894, Haeckel had produced 42 works with nearly 13,000 pages, besides numerous scientific memoirs and illustrations.[35] Haeckel's monographs include:

  • Radiolaria (1862)
  • Siphonophora (1869)
  • Monera (1870)
  • Calcareous Sponges (1872)

As well as several Challenger reports:

  • Deep-Sea Medusae (1881)
  • Siphonophora (1888)
  • Deep-Sea Keratosa (1889)
  • Radiolaria (1887) — illustrated with 140 plates and enumerating over four thousand (4000) new species.[35]

Among his many books, Ernst Haeckel wrote:

  • Generelle Morphologie der Organismen : allgemeine Grundzüge der organischen Formen-Wissenschaft, mechanisch begründet durch die von C. Darwin reformirte Decendenz-Theorie. (1866) Berlin
    'Monophyletischer Stambaum der Organismen' from 'Generelle Morphologie der Organismen' (1866) with the three branches Plantae, Protista, Animalia.
  • Natürliche Schöpfungsgeschichte (1868); in English The History of Creation (1876; 6th ed.: New York, D. Appleton and Co., 1914, 2 volumes)
  • Freie Wissenschaft und freie Lehre (1877), in English, Freedom in Science and Teaching, a reply to a speech in which Rudolf Virchow objected to the teaching of evolution in schools, on the grounds that evolution was an unproven hypothesis.[35]
  • Die systematische Phylogenie (1894) — "Systematic Phylogeny", which has been considered as his best book[35]
  • Anthropogenie: oder, Entwickelungsgeschichte des Menschen ("Anthropogeny: Or, the Evolutionary History of Man", 1874, 5th and enlarged edition 1903)
  • Die Welträthsel (1895–1899), also spelled Die Welträtsel ("world-riddle") — in English The Riddle of the Universe, 1901[35]
  • Über unsere gegenwärtige Kenntnis vom Ursprung des Menschen (1898) — translated into English as The Last Link, 1898
  • Der Kampf um den Entwickelungsgedanken (1905) — English version, Last Words on Evolution, 1906
  • Die Lebenswunder (1904) — English The Wonders of Life[36] a supplement to the Riddle of the Universe
  • Kristallseelen : Studien über das anorganische Leben (1917) Digital edition by the University and State Library Düsseldorf

Books of travel:

  • Indische Reisebriefe (1882) — "Travel notes of India"
  • Aus Insulinde: Malayische Reisebriefe (1901) — "Travel notes of Malaysia", the fruits of journeys to Ceylon and to Java
  • Kunstformen der Natur (1904) — Art forms of Nature, with plates representing detailed marine animal forms Digital Edition (1924) 2. Aufl. of the University and State Library Düsseldorf.
  • Wanderbilder (1905) — "Travel Images", with reproductions of his oil-paintings and water-color landscapes.[35]
  • A visit to Ceylon

See also


  1. ^ "Ernst Haeckel – Britannica Concise" (biography) Encyclopædia Britannica Concise, 2006, Concise. webpage: CBritannica-Haeckel.
  2. ^ Freedom in Science and Teaching. German 1877, English 1879, ISBN 1-4102-1175-4.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "Ernst Haeckel" (article),German WorldHeritage, October 26, 2006, webpage: DE-Wiki-Ernst-Haeckel: last paragraph of "Leben" (Life) section.
  4. ^ a b c "Ernst Haeckel" (biography), UC Berkeley, 2004, webpage: BerkeleyEdu-Haeckel.
  5. ^ New York Times Haeckel Again Honored in Spite of Himself on his 80th Birthday, published: February 22, 1914
  6. ^ Health, Race and German Politics Between National Unification and Nazism by Paul Weindling, Cambridge University Press, 1993.,pgs. 46, 250
  7. ^ Fred R. Shapiro, ed. (2006). The Yale Book of Quotations.  
  8. ^ Ruse, M. 1979. The Darwinian Revolution. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  9. ^ Desmond 1989, pp. 53–53, 86–88, 337–340
  10. ^ Richardson and Keuck, (Biol. Review (2002), 77, pp. 495–528) show that it is a simplification to suppose that Haeckel held the recapitulation theory in its strong form. They quote Haeckel as saying "If [recapitulation] was always complete, it would be a very easy task to construct whole phylogeny on the basis of ontogeny. ... There is certainly, even now, a number of lower vertebrate animals (e.g. some Anthozoa and Vermes) where we are authorised to interpret each embryological form directly as the historical representation or portrait-like silhouette of an extinct ancestral form. But in a great majority of animals, including man, this is not possible because the infinitely varied conditions of existence have led the embryonic forms themselves to be changed and to partly lose their original condition (Haeckel, 1903: pp. 435–436)"
  11. ^ The red ape: orang-utans and human origins, Jeffrey H. Schwartz
  12. ^
  13. ^ Natürliche Schöpfungsgeschichte (1868), p. 511; quoted after Robert J. Richards, "The linguistic creation of man: Charles Darwin, August Schleicher, Ernst Haeckel, and the Missing Link in Nineteenth-Century Evolutionary Theory".[1]
  14. ^ The History of Creation, 6th edition (1914), volume 2, page 429.
  15. ^ John P. Jackson, Nadine M. Weidman Race, Racism, and science: social impact and interaction, Rutgers University Press, 2005, p. 87
  16. ^ Gustav Jahoda, Images of savages: ancients [sic] roots of modern prejudice in Western culture, 1999, p. 83
  17. ^ Robert J. Richards, "Myth 19: That Darwin and Haeckel Were Complicit in Nazi Biology," in Ronald L. Numbers, ed., Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths About Science and Religioin, Harvard University Press, 2009, p. 174.,
  18. ^ Daniel Gasman (1998). Haeckel's Monism and the Birth of Fascist Ideology. Volume 33 of Studies in Modern European History. Peter Lang Pub Incorporated. ISSN 0893-6897. ISBN 9780820441085
  19. ^ Prehistoric past: The four billion year history of life on earth, Douglas Palmer, p. 43
  20. ^ Human evolution, a guide to the debates, Brian Regal, p. 73-75
  21. ^ Asian Paleoanthropology: From Africa to China and beyond, Christopher J Norton, David R Braun, p. 4
  22. ^ From here to Eternity: Ernst Haeckel and the scientific faith, Mario A. Di Gregorio p. 480
  23. ^ Richardson MK, Hanken J, Selwood L, Wright GM, Richards RJ, Pieau C, Raynaud A (1998). "Letters". Science 280 (5366): 983, 985–6.  
  24. ^ a b c d e f Hopwood, N (June 2006). "Pictures of evolution and charges of fraud: Ernst Haeckel's embryological illustrations.". Isis; an international review devoted to the history of science and its cultural influences 97 (2): 260–301.  
  25. ^ Darwin & Costa 2009, p. 450
  26. ^ Darwin 1859, pp. 439–450
    Darwin & Costa 2009, pp. 439–450
  27. ^ Darwin 1871, pp. 4, 14–17
  28. ^ Wilhelm His: Unsere Körperform und das physiologische Problem ihrer Entstehung. F.C.W. Vogel, Leipzig 1875.
  29. ^ "Ernst Haeckel and the Struggles over Evolution and Religion" Robert J. Richards Annals of the History and Philosophy of Biology, Vol. 10 (2005): 89–115
  30. ^ Michael K. Richardson. 1998. "Haeckel's embryos continued." Science 281:1289, quoted in webpage Ontogeny and phylogenyRe: : A Letter from Richard Bassetti; Editor's note.
  31. ^ "While some criticisms of the drawings are legitimate, others are more tendentious", Richardson and Keuck "Haeckel's ABC of evolution and development", Biol. Rev. (2002), 77, pp. 495–528. Quoted from p. 495.
  32. ^ Richardson & Keuck 2001. See for example, their Fig. 7, showing His's drawing of the forelimb of a deer embryo developing a clef, compared with a similar drawing (Sakurai, 1906) showing the forelimb initially developing as a digital plate with rays. Richardson & Keuck say "Unfortunately His's embryos are mostly at later stages than the nearly identical early stage embryos illustrated by Haeckel [top row of Haeckel's drawing]. Thus they do not inform the debate and may themselves be disingenuous.", p. 518.
  33. ^ "Haeckel's embryos: fraud not proven",Robert J. Richards, Biol Philos (2009) 24:147–154 DOI 10.1007/s10539-008-9140-z [2]
  34. ^ "Kaiser Honors Haeckel". The New York Times. March 9, 1907. Retrieved July 15, 2012. 
  35. ^ a b c d e f "Biography of Ernst Heinrich Haeckel, 1834–1919" (article), Missouri Association for Creation, Inc., based on 1911 Britannica, webpage: Gennet-Haeckel: life, career & beliefs.
  36. ^ (London, 1904, Watts & Co.)The Wonders of Life: A Popular Study of Biological PhilosophyErnst Haeckel,
  37. ^ "'"Author Query for 'Haeckel.  


  • Charles Darwin (1859). On the Origin of Species (by Means of Natural Selection). London: John Murray.  
  • Charles Darwin (2003). The Origin of Species (with introduction by  
  • Ernst Haeckel, Freedom in Science and Teaching (1879), reprint edition, University Press of the Pacific, February 2004, paperback, 156 pages, ISBN 1-4102-1175-4.
  • Ernst Haeckel, The History of Creation (1868), translated by E. Ray Lankester, Kegan Paul, Trench & Co., London, 1883, 3rd edition, Volume 1.
  • Ernst Haeckel, Kunstformen der Natur ("Art forms of Nature"), 1904, (from series published 1899–1904): over 100 detailed, multi-color illustrations of animals and sea creatures.
  • Ernst Haeckel, Lebenswunder, Stuttgart, 1904.
  • Ernst Haeckel, The Riddle of the Universe (Die Weltraetsel, 1895–1899), Publisher: Prometheus Books, Buffalo, NY, 1992, reprint edition, paperback, 405 pages, illustrated, ISBN 0-87975-746-9.
  • Richard Milner, The Encyclopedia of Evolution: Humanity's Search for Its Origins, Henry Holt, 1993.
  • Robert J. Richards, The Tragic Sense of Life: Ernst Haeckel and the Struggle over Evolutionary Thought, University of Chicago Press, 2008.
  • Richardson, Michael K. (1998). "Haeckel's embryos continued". Science 281 (5381): 1285–9.  
  • Richardson, M. K. & Keuck, G. (2001) "A question of intent: when is a 'schematic' illustration a fraud?," Nature 410:144 (vol. 410, no. 6825, page 144), March 8, 2001.
  • Richardson, M. K. & Keuck, G. (2002) Haeckel's ABC of evolution and development Biological Reviews (2002), 77: 495–528
  • M. Ruse, The Darwinian Revolution. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979.
  • Newman, H.H., 1932, 3rd edition, Evolution, Genetics, and Eugenics, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, p. 30
  • G.G. Simpson and W. Beck, An Introduction to Biology (New York: Harcourt Brace and World, 1965), p. 241
  • New Scientist, 9/6/97, p. 23
  • W. Bock, Book Review Science, May 1969, pp. 684–685

Further reading

  • Di Gregorio, Mario A. From here to eternity: Ernst Haeckel and Scientific Faith, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2005, ISBN 3-525-56972-6
  • Haeckel, Ernst. (1900). The Riddle of the Universe at the Close of the Nineteenth Century. Harper (reissued by Cambridge University Press, 2009; ISBN 978-1-108-00089-5)
  • Haeckel, Ernst, Art Forms from the Ocean: The Radiolarian Atlas of 1862, Prestel Verlag, 2005, ISBN 3-7913-3327-5.
  • Works by Ernst Haeckel at Project Gutenberg.
  • Hopwood, Nick (2014). Haeckel's Embryos: Images, Evolution, and Fraud. University of Chicago Press.  
  • Richardson, Michael K., "Haeckel, embryos, and evolution," Science Vol. 280, no. 5366 (May 15, 1998) p. 983, 985–986.
  • Spiro, Jonathan P. (2009). Defending the Master Race: Conservation, Eugenics, and the Legacy of Madison Grant. Univ. of Vermont Press.  

External links

  • E. Haeckel: Natürliche Schöpfungsgeschichte 1868 (front page of the first edition, German)
  • E. Haeckel: Die Welträthsel 1899 (front page of the first edition, German)
  • University of California, Berkeley — Ernst Haeckel biography
  • Ernst Haeckel – Evolution's controversial artist. A slide-show essay about Ernst Haeckel.
  • , Wikimedia Commons: over 100 detailed animal drawings.
  • , scannedKunstformen der Natur (from Stuebers Online Library)
  • PNG alpha-transparencies of Haeckel's "Kustformen der natur"
  • Proteus — An animated documentary film on the life and work of Ernst Haeckel
  • Ernst Haeckel Haus and Ernst Haeckel Museum in Jena
  • View works by Ernst Heinrich Philipp August Haeckel online at the Biodiversity Heritage Library.
  • aDiatomea: an artificial life experiment with highly detailed 3d generated diatoms, influenced by the aesthetic of Ernst Haeckel
  • Ernst Haeckel at the Internet Archive
  • Anthropogenie, oder, Entwickelungsgeschichte des menschenImages from From The College of Physicians of Philadelphia Digital Library