Home » Intelligent Design » Textbook watch: Why pretend that textbooks have not gone well beyond the evidence in promoting Darwin’s theory?

Textbook watch: Why pretend that textbooks have not gone well beyond the evidence in promoting Darwin’s theory?

Recently, a comment by a Lance Duval appeared in the combox for the Post-Darwinist’s “Marsupial frogs: Another reason to check out of Darwinism”. Duval trashed ID embryologist Jonathan Wells, arguing that Darwin never really believed in recapitulation of embryos and that it has not been taught in textbooks since the 1920s.

Now, a little background: Jonathan Wells is possibly the most hated of the ID guys because his books, Icons of Evolution and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design, catalogue many unsubstantiable claims made in recent textbooks in support of Darwinian evolution. So I asked Wells for a response, and here it is:

Lance Duval really should do his homework … here are some quotes you might find useful (all of them in Icons of Evolution, 2000):

(a) Lance Duval: “that is not Darwinism, but Haeckelism.”

Charles Darwin: “It seems to me,” Darwin wrote in The Origin of Species, “the leading facts in embryology, which are second to none in importance, are explained on the principle of variations in the many descendants from some one ancient progenitor.” And those leading facts, according to him, were that “the embryos of the most distinct species belonging to the same class are closely similar, but become, when fully developed, widely dissimilar.” Reasoning that “community in embryonic structure reveals community of descent,” Darwin concluded: “it is probable, from what we know of the embryos of mammals, birds, fishes and reptiles, that these animals are the modified descendants of some ancient progenitor,” and that early embryos “show us, more or less completely, the condition of the progenitor of the whole group in its adult state.” In The Descent of Man, Darwin extended the inference to humans: “The [human] embryo itself at a very early period can hardly be distinguished from that of other members of the vertebrate kingdom.” Since humans and other vertebrates “pass through the same early stages of development,… we ought frankly to admit their community of descent.” (Origin of Species, Chapter XIV; Descent of Man, Chapter I)

(b) Lance Duval: “This nonsense was never considered mainstream biological science and has not appeared in any textbooks since the 1920s.”

B. I. Balinsky, An Introduction to Embryology (1975), pp. 7-8: “Features of ancient origin develop early in ontogeny; features of newer origin develop late. Hence, the ontogenetic development presents the various features of the animal’s organization in the same sequence as they evolved during the phylogenetic development. Ontogeny is a recapitulation of phylogeny.” [emphasis in original]

Bruce Alberts, et al., Molecular Biology of the Cell (1994), pp. 32-33: “Embryos of different species so often resemble each other in their early stages and, as they develop, seem sometimes to replay the steps of evolution.”

Peter Raven & George Johnson, Biology (1999), p. 416: “Some of the strongest anatomical evidence supporting evolution comes from comparisons of how organisms develop. In many cases, the evolutionary history of an organism can be seen to unfold during its development, with the embryo exhibiting characteristics of the embryos of its ancestors.”

Will the real “poor scholar” please stand up…

This exchange reminds me of a similar claim by Flock of Dodos filmmaker Randy Olson that Haeckel’s fraudulent series of vertebrate embryos d not appear in modern textbooks. As Discovery Institute’s John West and Casey Luskin note,

Were Ernst Haeckel’s bogus embryo diagrams ever used in modern textbooks to prove evolution? Not according to filmmaker Randy Olson, who in his film Flock of Dodos portrays biologist Jonathan Wells as a fraud for claiming in the book Icons of Evolution (2000) that modern biology textbooks continued to reprint Haeckel-based drawings.

But it turns out that Olson is the one who is promoting a fraud. The diagrams in question were unquestionably used in modern textbooks, and Olson himself knows that fact.

[ ... ]

Olson’s botched coverage of Haeckel’s embryo drawings may have been due initially to ignorance and sloppiness. Although in his film Olson claims to have read Wells’ book Icons of Evolution, he shows little indication of having actually done so. Since Wells’ book provides extensive documentation of the textbooks that have recycled Haeckel’s diagrams, it would have been easy for Olson to have checked the relevant textbooks if he doubted Wells’ account. But the excuse of ignorance no longer applies. At a pre-release screening of Olson’s film at the Scripps Institution for Oceanography in San Diego in April, 2006, Discovery Institute’s Casey Luskin confronted Olson with copies of recent textbooks that reused Haeckel’s drawings. Later Jonathan Wells sent Olson an e-mail providing a list of recent textbooks that have included the diagrams. Olson has been informed of the facts, but he has chosen to keep hoaxing his audiences.

The question that has always puzzled me is why, exactly? Why this cognitive dissonance about something that is so easy for others to discover the truth about? Clearly, these people themselves need to believe that the textbooks do not mislead, even when they clearly and obviously do.

Most doctors who have been in practice for more than 25 years probably studied from textbooks that are considered dated today. Think of “hormone replacement therapy” for example. Do doctors insist that the previous generation’s protocols never at any time advocated it? Of course not. Medical science learns from its mistakes and moves on.

But Darwinists and their friends, as I have frequently had occasion to observe, are not defending a science, as the doctors are; they are defending a religion – the Book of Genesis of materialism. It is for precisely that reason that the textbooks that promote Darwinism must be holy writ, free of vulgar error (or the vulgar error must have been committed so long ago that no one alive is likely to be misled by it). And if that’s not factually true, the faith position must be maintained anyway as an act of faith.

No wonder there is an intelligent design controversy.

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6 Responses to Textbook watch: Why pretend that textbooks have not gone well beyond the evidence in promoting Darwin’s theory?

  1. I’ve noticed this tendency in a lot of people, during just about any debate, no matter which side is being taken. People have some sort of innate fear that if they admit they’re in the wrong about a single point, that their whole argument comes crashing down. Why cling to things so ideologically? It’s taken me years to appreciate, but life is much more surprising and nuanced than most of us are willing to admit, and if not everything perfectly fits your theory, it doesn’t necessarily mean the theory is wrong, it might just mean we don’t understand things as well as we could.

  2. Haeckel’s embryos were taught as late as last year in my daughter’s University Biology class, and my son’s high school Biology class.
    I wrote letters to both.
    My son said his teacher wouldn’t even look at the letter until he found out I was a doctor, and then had nothing to say.
    My daughter said the instructor told her he wouldn’t teach the “ontogony recapitulates” fable any more. One small skirmish won…

  3. The following sounds like a project for a summer intern at the Discovery Institute.

    What is in the most frequently used textbooks in terms of examples of evolution or as proof for evolution? We all speculate what is being used currently but what do the actual textbooks actually say. For example, what is in the 6th and 7th editions of Campbell or in Ken Miller’s high school textbook.

    For example, how often are Darwin’s finches and the ever-changing moths used as examples of evolution? What other examples are used? Are they all trivial micro-evolution examples?

    What is used to illustrate ool life issues and what is the language used in terms of assessing the problems with this issue.

    Are there other bogus illustrations such as the embryos used anymore or have they mostly been purged?

    This would be a strong resource for the DI to have when making presentations. It would also show how ID has helped clean up some of the nonsense in biology textbooks.

  4. 4

    Although Haeckel was known to be a charlatan long before he won the Darwin Medal in 1900, and Assmuth and Hall published Haeckel’s Frauds and Forgeries more than 90 years ago, all this has had little effect. In the Shelton-Dewar debate, published in 1947 (Is Evolution Proved?), There is an entire chapter, beginning on pg. 199, called “Embryology and Evolution” where Shelton wheels out the haeckelology. So if someone says that haeckelology is no consequence to darwinians, or that haeckelology was confined to the 1920′s, that person is not telling the truth. Dewar sums up his objections thus:

    Dr. de Beer, who is an evolutionist, shows (Embryology and Evolution, pp. 86, 90, 104) there is no logical justification in regarding an embryological stage as dvidence of such a stage representing an adult ancestor. Equally well might a present adult stage represent an embryological stage of an ancestor.

    It is insightful to see what Boelsche, Haeckel’s protege, wrote about the “fish stage” of human embryos. This is from Boelsche’s Evolution of Man, 1904, pg. 97-99:

    should not the embryo of mammals, reptiles and birds show at least traces of a tadpole or fish stage in the mother’s womb, or in the egg? It is the most remarkable proof of the reliability of the biogenetic law that this is actually the case… The embryo of human being at a certain stage is likewise provided with traces of gills on its neck and with fin-like disks in the places where arms and legs develop later on. This is as universally accepted as the fact first stated by Copernicus that the earth revolves around the sun. No man who has the least respect for truth can deny this fact. Nevertheless, there are people who find this very plain fact of embryology very little to their liking, and who therefore frequently attempt to brand it as a “falsification.” But every university text-book in the hands of every student of medicine, which is used as a basis for the state examinations, contains a statement of this simple fact, and if any student were to deny it during his examination he would be severely reprimanded by the state examiner. People who still refer to such undeniable and scientifically recognized facts as falsifications place themselves outside the pale of all moral premises and scientific research.

    As you can see, the general attitude of darwinian fanatics back then is the same as it is today.

  5. Thanks much, Vladimir, for the valuable historical references. One thng I had NOT expected to discover when I first began researching my book By Design or by Chance? (Augsburg 2004) was either the extent of the misrepresentations or their crucial nature.

    As I have said on several occasions, I had not expected to come to the conclusion that Darwinism was at heart a sort of cult phenomenon, but I can now see no other conclusion as possible.

    The fact that the phenomenon displayed itself in a science venue adds to its psychological interest.

  6. 6
    Vladimir Krondan

    O’leary – concerning cultism. The introduction to the Shelton-Dewar debate quotes Yves Delange (1903) as saying

    ‘I am thoroughly persuaded that one is or is not a transformist not so much for motives deduced from natural history, as for motives based on personal philosophic opinions.’

    What are these personal philosophic opinions? I’m sure there are many. But T.H. Huxley gives a revealing glimpse into them, in his 1871 essay Darwin’s Critics:

    Thus far the contradiction between Catholic verity and Scientific verity is complete and absolute, quite independently of the truth or falsehood of the doctrine of evolution. But, for those who hold the doctrine of evolution, all the Catholic verities about the creation of living beings must be no less false… In addition to the truth of the doctrine of evolution, indeed, one of its greatest merits in my eyes, is the fact that it occupies a position of complete and irreconcilable antagonism to that vigorous and consistent enemy of the highest intellectual, moral, and social life of mankind – the Catholic Church.

    That quote should be framed and posted up in every biology classroom, so that people can know, up front, what this is all about. And darwinians shouldn’t complain. It is, after all, Huxley speaking.

    A.C. Seward, in the introduction to Darwin and Modern Science (essays in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Origin, 1909) cites
    Huxley saying that Origin of Species serves as a vehicle to propagate some other kind of philosophical dogma:

    It is clearly impossible to express adequately in a single volume of Essays the influence of Darwin’s contributions to knowledge on the subsequent progress of scientific inquiry. As Huxley said in 1885: “Whatever be the ultimate verdict of posterity upon this or that opinion which Mr Darwin has propounded; whatever adumbrations or anticipations of his doctrines may be found in the writings of his predecessors; the broad fact remains that, since the publication and by reason of the publication of “The Origin of Species” the fundamental conceptions and the aims of the students of living Nature have been completely changed…But the impulse thus given to scientific thought rapidly spread beyond the ordinarily recognised limits of Biology. Psychology, Ethics, Cosmology were stirred to their foundations, and ‘The Origin of Species’ proved itself to be the fixed point which the general doctrine needed in order to move the world.”

    Darwinism is rapidly approaching the
    niche occupied by phenomena like marxism and Randism. Few people still bother trying to explain the difference between logical validity and soundness to a Randian. Rather, the critic of Rand writes expository essays documenting the frauds, crimes, and intellectual impostures of Randians. No sensible scholar bothers debating a marxist about anything. I don’t even remember the last time I saw such a debate. Certainly no modern critic of marxism approaches the problem by wading through dreary rubbish like ‘Scientific Atheism: the Theoretical
    basis of Marxist Methodology applied to German Criticism of Religion’, in the hopes of finding something intelligent to refute. Rather, the
    reaction against marxism has taken a different turn. It has become a forensic discipline, chronicling and exposing not only the crimes of marxists, but their whole history of polluting academia with intellectual noise.

    Darwinism awaits the same treatment. There is lots to uncover and expose – scientific fraud, the eugenics movement, and entire fields of intellectual gibberish (sociobiology, ev psych, etc.) wherever darwinism has been the predominant influence.

    Concerning Haeckel.

    Haeckel’s influence is far greater than any darwinian of today would likely admit. The whole molecules-to-man, goo-to-you vision
    of history is due to Haeckel. G. Schwalbe writes, in Darwin and Modern Science,

    But above all it was Haeckel who, in energy, eagerness for battle, and knowledge may be placed side by side with Huxley, who took over the leadership in the controversy over the new conception of the universe… It was Haeckel’s genealogical trees that formed the basis of the special discussion of the relationships of man, in the sixth chapter of Darwin’s “Descent of Man”… Haeckel has contributed more than any one else to the spread of the Darwinian doctrine.

    What doctrine is that? Haeckel contributed his own essay to Darwin and Modern Science, called Charles Darwin as an Anthropologist. I think this essay should be required reading. Here are a few excerpts, much of which will seem oddly familiar to you…

    In all this I worked from a strictly monistic standpoint, and sought to explain all biological phenomena on the mechanical and naturalistic lines that had long been recognised in the study of inorganic nature. Then (1866), as now, being convinced of the unity of nature, the fundamental identity of the agencies at work in the inorganic and the organic worlds, I discarded vitalism, teleology, and all hypotheses of a mystic character.

    To appreciate fully the immortal merit of Darwin in connection with anthropology, we must remember that not only did his chief work, “The Origin of Species”, which opened up a new era in natural history in 1859, sustain the most virulent and widespread opposition for a lengthy period, but even thirty years later, when its principles were generally recognised and adopted, the application of them to man was energetically contested by many high scientific authorities. Even Alfred Russel Wallace, who discovered the principle of natural selection independently in 1858, did not concede that it was applicable to the higher mental and moral qualities of man. Dr Wallace still holds a spiritualist and dualist view of the nature of man, contending that he is composed of a material frame (descended from the apes) and an immortal immaterial soul (infused by a higher power).

    In strict contradiction to this mystical dualism, which is generally connected with teleology and vitalism, Darwin always maintained the complete unity of human nature, and showed convincingly that the psychological side of man was developed, in the same way as the body, from the less advanced soul of the anthropoid ape…

    In the fifty years that have elapsed since that time the science of the origin and nature of man has made astonishing progress, and we are now fairly agreed in a monistic conception of nature that regards the whole universe, including man, as a wonderful unity, governed by unalterable and eternal laws… I haveendeavoured to show that this pure monism is securely established, and that the admission of the all-powerful rule of the same principle of evolution throughout the universe compels us to formulate a single supreme law–the all-embracing “Law of Substance,” or the united laws of the constancy of
    matter and the conservation of energy. We should never have reached this supreme general conception if Charles Darwin–a “monistic philosopher” in the true sense of the word–had not prepared the way by his theory of descent by natural selection, and crowned the great work of his life by the association of this theory with a naturalistic anthropology.

    Concerning Haeckel’s recapitulation.

    Darwinians have by no means discarded recapitulation. They usually admit that Haeckel’s ideas were unsound, perhaps completely unsound. And then they will present the same recapitulation nonsense, under a different name, like “embryonic adaptation”, or whatever, and argue that it still proves something. In this they do not differ from William Scott, who wrote, in 1917 (The Theory of Evolution)

    It was stated above that several distinguished naturalists altogether reject the recapitulation theory as a means of interpreting the facts of embryology… however, it is important to note that these objectors are staunch evolutionists and find in the community of mode in ontogeny between different classes of organisms one of the strongest arguments in support of the evolutionary doctrine.

    Or from Thomas Morgan, who wrote,

    Four great branches of study have furnished the evidence of organic evolution. They are: Comparative anatomy. Embryology…. Accepting this view [embryonic adaptation],
    let us ask, does the evidence from embryology favor the theory of evolution? I think that it does very strongly. The embryos of the mammal, bird, and lizard have gill slits today because gill slits were present in the embryos of their ancestors. There is no other view that explains so well their presence
    in the higher forms. – A Critique of the Theory of Evolution, 1916.

    In 1909 a bronze bust of Darwin was presented to the American Museum of Natural History. There was also a Darwin Memorial exhibit. Exhibit K illustrated “The general principle of development is that an embryonic series of stages exhibited by any animal is a brief review or recapitulation of the ancestral history of its kind. Illustrations 1. Models and specimens displaying the gill-slits of chick embryos, and their correspondence with the gill-slits of fishes.”

    No one can deny that Haeckelology was one of the principal tools of propaganda used by darwinians to sell their 19th century dog-eat-dog’ philosophy to the public. They relied on it heavily to gain ‘converts’ [Huxley's term]. George Romanes writes in his Scientific
    Evidences for Organic Evolution
    , 1882,

    …if the theory of descent by inheritance is true, the life history of the individual ought to constitute a sort of condensed epitome of the whole history of its descent. But taking this anticipation for granted, as it is fully realised by the facts of embryology, it follows that the science of embryology affords perhaps the strongest of all the strong arguments in favour of evolution.

    Thus, for instance, to take the case of the highest animal, man, his development begins from a speck of living matter similar to that from which the development of a plant begins. And, when his animality becomes established, he exhibits the fundamental anatomical qualities which characterise such lowly animals as the jelly-fish. Next he is marked off as a vertebrate, but it cannot be said whether he is to be a fish, a snake, a bird or a beast. Later on it is evident that he is to be a mammal; not till still later can it be said to which order of mammals he belongs.

    Romanes is no doubt hoping that the reader, lulled into stupor by the previous 65 pages of specious arguments, will pass over this silently, without asking an irritating question like ‘is it really true that scientists cannot distinguish between a human zygote and a chicken egg?’. Romanes concludes that the argument of Haeckelology, this “strongest of all arguments” is fatal to theology,

    Now this progressive inheritance by higher types of embryological characters common to lower types is a fact which tells greatly in favour of the theory of descent, whilst it seems almost fatal to the theory of design… Who, for instance, would have the courage to affirm that the Deity had any such motive in providing… the unborn young of specially created man, with the essential anatomical features of gills?

    And so we see, again, what this is really all about… “motives based
    on personal philosophic opinions”.

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