Fraudulent embryo drawings (like Ernst Haeckel’s) wrongly claimed as evidence for evolution

by Rocky Smart

Figure 1: The exam question. Text reads: The diagram shows different vertebrate embryos at the same stage of development. How do the embryos provide evidence for evolution? (A) The embryos have different shaped eyes. (B) Different adults evolve from the embryos. (C) The embryos have structures that look similar. (D) Divergent evolution results in common characteristics in the embryos.

A government education institution recently provided a textbook example of how evolutionary dogma blinds the eyes of educators, crushes the ability of students to think critically and hinders the progress of true science.

The biology paper in the Higher School Certificate exam on 19 October 2012, a major public matriculation exam in New South Wales, Australia, contained a question featuring Haeckel’s fraudulent embryo drawings.1

Ernst Haeckel’s peers, well over 100 years ago, knew his embryo drawings were fraudulent, and this has been widely publicised, even by notable evolutionists such as Stephen Jay Gould.2 Yet they are still widely used in education, as the NSW exam question reveals, although some professional evolutionists claim that they are not.

Note that the drawings on the exam paper are simply labelled “fish”, “amphibian”, “bird” and “human”. This seems to be deliberately vague. Apart from the human, there is no indication of which species the drawings were supposed to represent. In reality there are substantial differences within a class. Nor is there any indication of the stage of development. In this way the students are left with the impression that embryos are far more similar than they really are, and the authors seem to be more protected against criticism for inaccurate drawing.

It would appear that whoever wrote or reviewed this question was unable (or unwilling) to see the problematic philosophical assumptions behind the question, quite apart from the problem of perpetuating and ignoring their fraudulent nature:

  1. It assumes that the embryos in fact do provide evidence for evolution—blatant question-begging.
  2. It makes unspoken assumptions about the nature of evidence. Presumably the students are being examined on how well they have learnt the knowledge they have been taught. However they are apparently not expected to be able to think critically about matters, such as:
    • how closely the data matches a prediction of the theory
    • whether there are alternative explanations that provide a better explanation of the data
    • whether any hypothetical but plausible data could falsify a theory
    • whether a theory is experimentally testable, and when this criteria is appropriate
    • human bias—for instance (hypothetically assuming that they are genuine, which they are not), if no-one had ever compared different embryos at the same stage of development before, would they have expected this level of similarity based on the evolutionary model, or was the data merely co-opted to bolster the theory after the (alleged) similarity was noticed?….