Ernst Haeckel: a hostile witness to the truth of the Bible
Published: 3 March 2011(GMT+10)
History is an interesting subject. Some people naturally love history while others would for instance find all the facts and dates a nuisance to memorize for an exam. To the Christian, the single most important piece of history is that revealed in the Bible, as this is the key to the Christian faith. Furthermore, the history presented in Genesis 1–11 holds many important answers to understand the world around us today.
Sadly, many people in our modern culture, including Christians, think that ‘science’ has disproven the Bible’s clear history given in those early chapters of Genesis, not realizing that science, and especially historical science, is heavily dependent on one’s predetermined worldview and on the many assumptions made. People are often misled to think that they have to choose between ‘hard’ science and the Bible, but an interesting piece of history shows us that the science based on a biblical worldview has been quite accurate in comparison to our modern knowledge, and that an evolutionary worldview has actually done harm in getting closer to the truth.
Some years ago, CMI’s Dr Carl Wieland gave a very important talk to a popular audience called Dynamic Life: changes in living things (available on DVD). Near the end of the talk he made a fascinating statement that would stun many people. It was something like: ‘if science does not agree with the Bible, then it means that science has not caught up with all the facts yet’.
Haeckel: ‘Darwin’s Doberman’
One person in history who made a huge effort to undermine the clear history of the Bible is the German professor of zoology named Ernst Haeckel (1834–1919). Not only is Haeckel largely responsible for turning Germany into an evolution-believing country, he also sought to replace all traditional religion and Christianity with his invented philosophy called Monism.
Ironically, more than a century after Haeckel published many of his popular books that were designed to draw people away from Christianity and the Bible, Haeckel can be used as an excellent example of why it is better to trust science performed under a biblical worldview, than science based on a secular (and often atheistic) worldview.
In the abovementioned talk by Dr Wieland, he makes it clear that the Bible is staunchly anti-racism. This, critics might say (ignoring all the scriptural evidences of course) is just conveniently politically correct. However, Haeckel serves as a very good hostile witness that the Bible was known to be anti-racism even in times when so called ‘racial equality’ was not at all as politically correct as today. In his misnamed book called The History of Creation1 (original German title: Natürliche Schöpfungsgeschichte) which should really be ‘The History of Evolution’, we find that Haeckel rants against the biblical model:
“All these five [speaking of an earlier classification than Haeckel’s own] races of men, according to the Jewish legend of creation, are said to have descended from ‘a single pair’—Adam and Eve, and in accordance with this are said to be varieties of one kind or species. … The excellent paleontologist Quenstedt is right in maintaining that, “if Negroes and Caucasians were snails, zoologists would universally agree that they represented two very distinct species, which could never have originated from one pair by gradual divergence.” pp. 412–413 (Emphasis added)
The rest of the chapter and book where this quote is found is heavily racist, and evolutionists today would be embarrassed about it. Yet today, we know from molecular biology that all the different groups of people are indeed very closely related and only varieties of one species or kind!2 Blood and organ transplants can even take place successfully between members of different so-called ‘races’. The Bible is right and Haeckel’s ‘science’ (based on his evolutionary views) was wrong. This also documents how evolution can be quite a stimulant for racist ideas and thought. It is interesting to note the ‘scientific’ sounding bluff by referring to “the excellent paleontologist Quenstedt” (this was Friedrich August von Quenstedt [1809–1889]). It is also ironic to notice that many evolutionary anthropologists believe the ‘Out of Africa’3 model for evolution today, which also teaches that humans all descended from a very small group of people (in Africa) despite Haeckel’s ridicule of the idea of a single pair. Here Haeckel actually does us a huge favour in trying to ridicule the biblical model, because he shows us that it can easily be seen that the Bible is anti-racism, even when it was not so politically correct as today. Besides the above, the Bible makes it clear that we are all of ‘one man/blood’ (Acts 17:26).
Interestingly enough, none other than Haeckel himself documents for us in the same work Vol II, that there were other anthropologists who strongly disagreed with him in those early times on his views of human ‘races’. He gives one of their arguments:
“ … there can be no doubt that the innumerable races and varieties of our domestic dog differ in a much greater degree from one another than the different genera and species distinguished by the zoologist in his systematic arrangement of the Dog-tribe. And yet they are generally regarded only as varieties of one single species – Canis familiaris. In the same way most anthropologists dogmatically and firmly hold to the so-called ‘unity of species’ for all the races of Men, and unite them into one species, as Homo sapiens. However, the unprejudiced and critical enquirer, when carefully comparing them, cannot rid himself of the conviction that the morphological differences between them are much more important than those by which, for instance, the various species of bears, wolves, or cats are distinguished in the zoological system.” pp. 433–434 (italics in original, bold added.)
So according to Haeckel himself, most anthropologists held firmly and dogmatically to humans being part of only one species. Haeckel divided humans into twelve different species, which are in their turn divided into 36 different races. Haeckel’s books became immensely popular bestsellers. It is far more historically realistic to argue that Haeckel helped to create those much lamented racist times in Germany (and other European countries as well), instead of just being a product of it, as some modern-day romanticizers of Haeckel would want to have us believe. Again, notice the scientific-sounding bluff of Haeckel such as: “However, the unprejudiced and critical enquirer, when carefully comparing them…” (emphasis added). It is not really surprising that many anthropologists did not have Haeckel’s views. Many scientists heavily rejected Darwinism when Darwin’s book first appeared in German (see quote later).
Furthermore, Haeckel documents for us in his work called The Evolution of Man4 (original German title: Anthropogenie oder Entwickelungsgeschichte des Menschen, literally “Anthropogenesis or the evolutionary history of Mankind”) how a professor before Haeckel’s time who based his thinking on the Bible was again right. This time it was about heredity. Haeckel held to the false theory of Lamarckian inheritance (this basically means that characteristics that an individual acquires during his lifetime can be passed on to offspring, which is not true), because he believed Darwin’s theory needed it. In volume II5 of the same work, Haeckel tells us:
“I hold, with Lamarck and Darwin6, that the hereditary transmission of acquired characters is one of the most important phenomena in biology, and it is proved by thousands of morphological and physiological experiences. It is an indispensible foundation of the theory of evolution.”7 (Emphasis added)
In the light of the above statement, it starts to make sense why Trofim Lysenko (1898–1976) for example, an important figure in the Soviet scientific community so staunchly opposed Mendelian genetics. Indeed, it was exactly because he believed the latter to be un-Darwinian. Lysenko used his power as Stalin’s chosen scientist to eliminate his opponents,8 and was ultimately responsible for famines.
Professor Albrecht Haller (1708–1777) from the University of Göttingen made several discoveries in biology with his encyclopedic work called Elementa Physiologiae Corporis Humani (8 vol., 1757–66; “Physiological Elements of the Human Body”). It was a landmark in the history of medicine.9 Haller disagreed with these Lamarckian ideas more than a century earlier and made far more accurate observations with his biblical view of science. Yet Haeckel had other ideas and tells us:
“He [Haller] thus denied that there was any evolution in the proper sense of the word, and even went so far as to say that the beard existed in the new-born child and the antlers in the hornless fawn; all the parts were there in advance and were merely hidden from the eye of man for the time being. Haller even calculated the number of human beings that God must have created on the sixth day and stored away in Eve’s ovary.”10
“Haller maintained all this nonsense, in spite of its ridiculous consequences …”11
But what Haller believed was not nonsensical in the light of modern genetics, and was much closer to the truth than the views of Haeckel (with his Lamarckianism). We know today that all the properties of humans and animals are indeed stored in the DNA, albeit in coded form, and that many like beards are hidden from the human eye at birth.12 We also know that the human genome, even in individuals, is highly heterozygous13 (thus having potential variety in traits and genes, in layman’s terms) and could produce a vast number of different sperm or egg cells, and ultimately combinations of humans. So again, Haller was the ‘more correct’ one, and Haeckel’s evolutionary dogma caused him to be wrong.
This also documents how many scientists for a long time had a biblical worldview without stopping them from doing good and productive science. This is contrary to the cliché that science and medicine need evolution. Haller believed in a young Earth and yet was often called ‘the father of physiology’.14
Haeckel also blamed other scientists for disagreeing with him and his Lamarckian ideas, which he felt were essential for his evolutionary ideas. For instance, Haeckel tells us:
“One of the most distinguished and most narrow-minded of these opponents, Wilhelm His, affirms very positively that ‘characteristics acquired in the life of the individual are not inherited’.”15
But again, Wilhelm His was correct with his assertion, yet Haeckel calls him ‘narrow-minded’. Haeckel even goes as far as to reproach August Weismann (1834–1914), who made breakthroughs with his ‘germ plasm’ theory in embryology and heredity, by saying:
“…he [Weismann] has with great success advanced the opinion that ‘only those characteristics can be transmitted to subsequent generations that were contained in rudimentary form in the embryo.’ However this germ-plasm theory, with its attempt to explain heredity is merely a ‘provisional molecular hypothesis’; it is one of those metaphysical speculations that attribute the evolutionary phenomena exclusively to internal causes, and regard the influence of the environment as insignificant”16
It becomes patently clear how the evolutionary dogma has done harm to sound ideas in science; the latter ideas of Weismann are seen as correct to this day. It is nothing less than astounding that Haeckel calls heredity at the molecular level ‘one of those metaphysical speculations’. The last part reveals how he was driven by the evolutionary dogma, rather than by objectivity. If organisms could not respond to the environment, then evolution could not be driven, he thought. So like today, facts must bow to whatever the prevailing form of the evolutionary ideology.
Multiple (especially German) scientists strongly rejected Darwin’s theory when it was first published. One admiring biographer of Haeckel informs us of the following:
“Darwin’s ominous book [Origin of Species] had been available in Bronn’s translation for two years. The German professional zoologists, botanists and geologists almost all regarded it [Darwin’s theory] as absolute nonsense. Agassiz, Geibel, Keferstein, and so many others, laughed until they were red in the face…”17
Haeckel’s books became immensely popular. To take one example, he was forced by the popularity of his book called The Riddle of the Universe (In German: Die Welträthsel) to write a sequel to the book as it sold more than 100,000 copies in its first year of appearance in Germany.18 Haeckel wrote more than 40 books, dealing mainly with evolution and also his Monism. Sadly, Haeckel was largely responsible for turning Germany into an evolution-believing country with his popular books. Yet we can clearly see that many of the ideas which Haeckel ridiculed were quite correct! This especially includes those ideas derived from a biblical point of view. Besides the above-mentioned examples of false ideas, Haeckel committed fraud with embryo drawings and invented (out of nothing) the first primitive organisms which he called “Monera”. These never existed and were never found. More shocking, versions of Haeckel’s embryo drawings are even found in many biological textbooks of the late 20th and 21st century!19 We can also see how ideas based on the evolutionary worldview actually did harm to science.
The above lesson in history demonstrates to Christians a very important principle: It is better to trust in the infallible Word of God than the corrupt inventions and opinions (or popular ‘science’) of man. People in Haeckel’s days gave up sound ideas for false ideas. Many theistic evolutionists argue that the Bible needs to be adapted and reinterpreted in order to catch up with ‘modern science’ (though in this context they really mean the non-science theory of evolution). In the above examples, we can actually clearly see that it was ‘science’ that eventually had to catch up with the Bible, and ideas based on it.
References and notes
- Haeckel, E. The History of Creation, or the development of the Earth and its inhabitants by the action of natural causes: A popular exposition of the doctrine of evolution in general, and that of Darwin, Goethe, and Lamarck in particular, vol II, English edition translated from the 8th German Edition by Prof. Ray Lankester, Fellow of Exeter College, Oxford, 1909. Return to text.
- Here it is important to point out that we are not implying that a ‘species’ is the same as the biblical ‘kind’, although the variations of humans alive today can be seen as both same species and kind. See also Speciation Questions and Answers. Return to text.
- Indeed, because of the obvious racist implications, it can be argued coherently that expunging some racist ideas is one of the major motivations for pushing the ‘Out of Africa’ model for human evolution as much as it is being done today. Return to text.
- Haeckel, E. The Evolution of Man – A popular scientific study. Vol I Translated from the fifth (enlarged) edition by Joseph McCabe (1867–1955, a vocal apostate and leading atheist campaigner), 1907. Return to text.
- Haeckel, E. The Evolution of Man – A popular scientific study. Vol II Translated from the fifth (enlarged ) edition by Joseph McCabe, 1906. Return to text.
- We must observe however, that Darwin did not believe in direct Lamarckism, but in something called “Pangenesis”. On the other hand it can be noted that his theory was still very close to Lamarckianism, it just had another mechanism for passing on learned characteristics of an individual. For more information see: Bergman, J. A century-and-a-half quest for the source of new genetic information, J. Creation 17(2):20–21, 2003. Return to text.
- Haeckel ref. 5., p. 349. Return to text.
- Weinberger, L., A controversy in a nutshell: A review of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design by Jonathan Wells, J. Creation 22(2):19, 2008; creation.com/pig-darwinism-id. Return to text.
- Encyclopædia Britannica. “Haller, Albrecht von”. Encyclopædia Britannica 2007 Ultimate Reference Suite (CD-ROM version). Return to text.
- Haeckel ref 4 p. 12. Return to text.
- Haeckel ref 4 p. 13. Return to text.
- Haller held to a type of ‘preformationism’, in which all the parts of the mature human were there already in the embryo. He is often ridiculed for believing in a literal homunculus or ‘mini-human’ which just grew larger to become the adult human. But in fact he did not hold to a literal homunculus, holding rather that the parts were there in principle, changing drastically during embryonic development, So his notion is not too far from the notion that they are there in a code or recipe of some sort. Return to text.
- Sarfati, J., Refuting Evolution, Creation Book Publishers, 4th Edition, p. 33, 2008. Return to text.
- Both these latter facts are true according to Haeckel’s own account. Return to text.
- Haeckel ref 5 p. 349. Return to text.
- Haeckel ref 5 p. 349. Return to text.
- Bölsche, W. Haeckel — His life and work, translated by Joseph McCabe, Philadelphia, George W. Jacobs & Co. Publishers, p.138, 1906. Return to text.
- Ojala, P. J. and Leisola, M. Haeckel: Legacy of fraud to popularize evolution, J. Creation 21(3):111–117, 2007; p. 103. Return to text.
- This is also well illustrated and documented by (but not only): Luskin, C. What do modern textbooks really say about Haeckel’s embryos?, Discovery Institute, March 2007, discovery.org, accessed November 2010. Return to text.
It’s important to see evidence that science—a fallible, human construct based on objective physical evidence —can be used for unenlightened arguments. We often see science as entirely objective, and forget that it is just our current best guess about how the world works.
Still, for the subject of this article, I think that in the interests of balance you should have mentioned that at the time Haeckel was writing, many American and European Christians did believe that the Bible proved white supremacy; prior to the Civil War, Christians in the South even believed that slavery was God’s perfect plan. Religion too is a fallible, human-made construct, based on our imperfect interpretation of God’s word. Haeckel’s views on the hierarchical classification of races were not an inevitable expression of his evolutionary views, but a conception he shared with many of his Christian contemporaries who based their similar racist beliefs on the very different foundation of Genesis and the sons of Noah.
Your first paragraph is accurate, but the second is historically anachronistic and also reverses cause and effect.
Haeckel in fact was a regressive—long before, Wilberforce and other evangelical Christians had led the battle to abolish slavery—see Anti-slavery activist William Wilberforce: Christian hero. And between his time and Haeckel’s, the slavery of the American south had also been abolished.
It’s also clear that the slavery in America caused the absurd Scripture-twisting, not vice-versa (i.e. these Christians made the same mistake as the Church in Galileo's day and modern theistic evolutionists—re-interpreting the Bible to fit the fad of its day). It was corrected largely by the correct application of the Bible, as shown in the article above. I.e. the post modern “that’s your interpretation” was rejected in favour of the objective grammatical-historical approach—see for example The Bible and hermeneutics.
It’s important to note that these misinterpretations showed up in America and not in other places with African slaves such as Brazil. This is because America was also founded on “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights ….” But this was a big tension between that ideal and slavery. Some resolved this with the Scripture-twisting that made blacks lesser humans, such as an imaginary curse on Ham that supposedly produced dark skin. Brazil lacked that declaration, so had no need of such Scripture-twisting.
For much more, see our new book One Human Family.
As a historian myself, I would like to congratulate the author for writing one of the best history pieces I have had the pleasure of reading on this subject. How refreshing to note that someone else views history, not as a mass of dull dates learnt by rote, but as an enjoyable, informative excursion into mankind’s past. More of the same please!
Thank you for your efforts in presenting this article! It is easy to see how the type of thinking espoused by Haeckel led to racism and even to Hitler’s ‘master race’, which in turn led to the mass destruction of human life. Thanks for the mind expansion!
Wow! This is a brilliant article! I think Christians should be aware of the information in this article and appeal to it when discussing with those who are inclined towards evolution. One may not be very familiar with all the intricacies and complexities of the theory (or rather hypothesis?) of evolution; showing however what ‘predictions’ of evolutionists proved wrong will be useful. “The unprejudiced and critical enquirer”, to use Haeckel’s words, might understand something about the ‘scientific’ past foundations of this theory.