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Ernst Haeckel

Ernst Haeckel

BornFebruary 16 1834(1834-02-16)
DiedAugust 9 1919 (aged 85)

  Ernst Heinrich Philipp August Haeckel (February 16, 1834 — August 9, 1919),[1] also written von Haeckel, was an eminent German biologist, naturalist, philosopher, physician, professor and artist. Ernst Haeckel named thousands of new species (see below), mapped a genealogical tree relating all life forms, and coined many terms in biology, including phylum, phylogeny, ecology and the kingdom Protista (details below). Haeckel promoted Charles Darwin's work in Germany and developed the controversial "recapitulation theory" claiming that an individual organism's biological development, or ontogeny, parallels and summarizes its species' entire evolutionary development, or phylogeny: "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny" (see below).

The published artwork of Haeckel includes over 100 detailed, multi-colour illustrations of animals and sea creatures (see: Kunstformen der Natur, "Artforms of Nature"). As a philosopher, Ernst Haeckel wrote Die Welträthsel (1895-1899, in English, The Riddle of the Universe, 1901), the genesis for the term "world riddle" (Welträthsel); and Freedom in Science and Teaching[2] to support teaching evolution.

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 honor, as are another Mount Haeckel, a 2,941-m (9,649-ft) summit in New Zealand; and the asteroid 12323 Häckel.

The Ernst Haeckel house ("Villa Medusa") in Jena, Germany contains a historic library.



    Ernst Haeckel was born on February 16, 1834, in Potsdam (then part of Prussia). [3] In 1852, Haeckel completed studies at Cathedral High School (Domgymnasium) of Mersburg.[3] He then studied medicine in Berlin, particularly with Albert von Kölliker, Franz Leydig, Rudolf Virchow (with whom he later worked briefly as assistant), and with anatomist-physiologist Johannes Peter Müller (1801-1858).[3] In 1857, Haeckel attained a doctorate in medicine (M.D.), and afterwards he received a license to practice medicine. The occupation of physician appeared less worthwhile to Haeckel, after contact with suffering patients.[3]

Haeckel studied under Carl Gegenbaur at the University of Jena for three years, earning a doctorate in zoology,[3] before becoming a professor of comparative anatomy at the University of Jena, where he remained 47 years, from 1862-1909. Between 1859 and 1866, Haeckel worked on many invertebrate groups, including radiolarians, poriferans (sponges) and annelids (segmented worms).[4] During a trip to the Mediterranean, Haeckel named nearly 150 new species of radiolarians.[4] [4] Haeckel named thousands of new species from 1859 to 1887. [5]

From 1866 to 1867, Haeckel made an extended journey to the Canary Islands and during this time, Haeckel met with Charles Darwin, Thomas Huxley and Charles Lyell.[3] In 1867, he married Agnes Huschke. Their son Walter was born in 1868, their daughters Elizabeth in 1871 and Emma in 1873.[3] In 1869, he traveled as a researcher to Norway, in 1871 to Dalmatia, and in 1873 to Egypt, Turkey, and to Greece.[3] Haeckel retired from teaching in 1909, and in 1910 he withdrew from the Evangelical church.[3] Haeckel's wife, Agnes, died in 1915, and Ernst Haeckel became substantially more frail, with a broken leg (thigh) and broken arm.[3] He sold the mansion Medusa ("Villa Medusa") in 1918 to the Carl Zeiss foundation.[3] Ernst Haeckel died on August 9, 1919.


Haeckel's writings and lectures were later used to provide scientific justifications for racism, nationalism, and social Darwinism.

Haeckel's statement that "politics is applied biology", has been quoted in support of various Nazi philosophies. The Nazi party used not only Haeckel's quotations, but also Haeckel's broader philosophy of "Monism," which they used as justification for racism, nationalism and social Darwinism.[4]

Haeckel extrapolated a new religion or philosophy called "monism" from evolutionary science. In his monism, which postulates that all aspects of the world form an essential unity, all economics, politics, and ethics are reduced to "applied biology." He also suggested that the development of races paralleled the development of individuals. He advocated the idea that primitive races were in their infancies and needed the supervision and protection of more mature societies.

"First World War"

Haeckel was the first person known to coin the term First World War. Shortly after the start of World War I, Haeckel wrote:

There is no doubt that the course and character of the feared "European War"...will become the first world war the full sense of the word.

Indianapolis Star September 20, 1914[6]

This is the first known instance of the term First World War, which had previously been recorded as 1931 for the earliest usage.


  Haeckel was a zoologist, an accomplished artist and illustrator, and later a professor of comparative anatomy. Although Haeckel's ideas are important to the history of evolutionary theory, and he was a competent invertebrate anatomist most famous for his work on radiolaria, many speculative concepts that he championed are now considered incorrect. For example, Haeckel described and named hypothetical ancestral microorganisms that have never been found.

He was one of the first to consider psychology as a branch of physiology. He also proposed many now ubiquitous terms including "phylum", "phylogeny", "ecology" ("oekologie"),[5] and proposed the kingdom Protista[3] in 1866. His chief interests lay in evolution and life development processes in general, including development of nonrandom form, which culminated in the beautifully illustrated Kunstformen der Natur (Art forms of nature). Haeckel did not support natural selection, rather believing in a Lamarckian inheritance of acquired characteristics (Lamarckism). [7]

Haeckel advanced the "recapitulation theory" which proposed a link between ontogeny (development of form) and phylogeny (evolutionary descent), summed up in the phrase "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny". His concept of recapitulation has been disputed in the form he gave it (now called "strong recapitulation").[8] He supported the theory with embryo drawings that have since been shown to be oversimplified and in part inaccurate, and the theory is now considered an oversimplification of quite complicated relationships. Haeckel introduced the concept of "heterochrony", which is the change in timing of embryonic development over the course of evolution.

Haeckel was a flamboyant figure. He sometimes took great (and non-scientific) leaps from available evidence. For example, at the time that Darwin first published On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (1859), no remains of human ancestors had yet been found. Haeckel postulated that evidence of human evolution would be found in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), and described these theoretical remains in great detail. He even named the as-of-yet unfound species, Pithecanthropus alalus, and charged his students to go find it. (Richard and Oskar Hertwig were two of Haeckel's many important students.)

One student did find the remains: a young Dutchman named Eugene Dubois went to the East Indies and dug up the remains of Java Man, the first human ancestral remains ever found. These remains originally carried Haeckel's Pithecanthropus label, though they were later reclassified as Homo erectus.  

"Infamous" embryo drawings

It has been claimed (Richardson 1998, Richardson and Keuck 2002) that some of Haeckel's embryo drawings of 1874 were fabricated.[9] [10] There were multiple versions of the embryo drawings, and Haeckel rejected the claims of fraud but did admit one error which he corrected. It was later said that "there is evidence of sleight of hand" on both sides of the feud between Haeckel and Wilhelm His, Sr..[11] The controversy involves several different issues (see more details at: recapitulation theory).

Some creationists have claimed that Darwin relied on Haeckel's embryo drawings as proof of evolution[12] [13] [14] to support their argument that Darwin's theory is therefore illegitimate and possibly fraudulent. This claim ignores the fact that the Darwin published the "Origin of the Species" in 1859, and "The Descent of Man" in 1871, whereas Haeckel's famous embryo drawings did not appear until 1874 (8 species). In "The Descent of Man" (1871) Darwin used only two embryo drawings, neither taken from Haeckel.[15][16]

It has been claimed that Ernst Haeckel sent a letter to the January 9 1909 publication of "Münchener Allgemeine Zeitung" (translated: "Munich general newspaper") which reads, translated: "a small portion of my embryo-pictures (possibly 6 or 8 in a hundred) are really (in Dr Brass’s sense of the word) “falsified” — all those, namely, in which the disclosed material for inspection is so incomplete or insufficient that one is compelled in a restoration of a connected development series to fill up the gaps through hypotheses, and to reconstruct the missing members through comparative syntheses. What difficulties this task encounters, and how easily the draughts- man may blunder in it, the embryologist alone can judge."



Haeckel's 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 sixtieth birthday at Jena in 1894, Haeckel had produced 42 works with nearly 13,000 pages, besides numerous scientific memoirs and illustrations. [17]

Haeckel's monographs include: Radiolaria (1862), Siphonophora (1869), Monera (1870) and Calcareous Sponges (1872), as well as several Challenger reports: Deep-Sea Medusae (1881), Siphonophora (1888), Deep-Sea Keratosa (1889), and another Radiolaria (1887), the last being illustrated with 140 plates and enumerating over four thousand (4000) new species.[17]

Among his many books, Ernst Haeckel wrote General Morphology (1866); Natürliche Schöpfungsgeschichte (1868, in English, The Natural History of Creation reprinted 1883); Freie Wissenschaft und freie Lehre (1877, in English, Freedom in Science and Teaching) in reply to a speech in which Virchow objected to the teaching of evolution in schools, on the grounds that evolution was an unproven hypothesis;[17] Die systematische Phylogenie (1894, "Systematic Phylogeny"), which has been considered as his best book,[17] Anthropogenie (1874, 5th and enlarged edition 1903), dealing with the evolution of man; Die Welträthsel (1895-1899, also spelled Die Welträtsel ("world-riddle"), in English The Riddle of the Universe, 1901);[17] Über unsere gegenwärtige Kenntnis vom Ursprung des Menschen (1898, translated into English as The Last Link, 1808); Der Kampf um den Entwickelungsgedanken (1905, English version, Last Words on Evolution, 1906); Die Lebenswunder (1904, "Wonder of Life"), a supplement to the Riddle of the Universe; also books of travel, such as Indische Reisebriefe (1882, "Travel notes of India") and Aus Insulinde: Malayische Reisebriefe (1901, "Travel notes of Malaysia"), the fruits of journeys to Ceylon and to Java; Kunstformen der Natur (1904, Artforms of Nature), with plates representing detailed marine animal forms; and Wanderbilder (1905, "travel images"), with reproductions of his oil-paintings and water-color landscapes.[17]

See also

  • Francis Galton
  • Alfred Ploetz - on eugenics and racial hygiene.
  • embryology


  1. ^ "Ernst Haeckel - Britannica Concise" (biography), Encyclopædia Britannica Concise, 2006, Concise. webpage: CBritannica-Haeckel.
  2. ^ 1877, English 1879, ISBN 1410211754.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "Ernst Haeckel" (article), German Wikipedia, October 26, 2006, webpage: DE-Wiki-Ernst-Haeckel: last paragraph of "Leben" (Life) section.
  4. ^ a b c d "Ernst Haeckel" (biography), UC Berkeley, 2004, webpage: BerkeleyEdu-Haeckel.
  5. ^ a b "Rudolf Steiner and Ernst Haeckel" (colleagues), Daniel Hindes, 2005, webpage: Steiner-Haeckel.
  6. ^ "The Yale Book of Quotations" (2006) Yale University Press, edited by Fred R. Shapiro
  7. ^ Ruse, M. 1979. The Darwinian Revolution. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  8. ^ Richardson and Keuck, (Biol. Review (2002), 77, pp. 495-528) show that it is a simplification to suppose that Haeckel held the recapitualtion 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 vertebarte animals (e.g. some Anthozoa and Vermes) where we are authorised to interpret each embrylogical 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)"
  9. ^ Michael K. Richardson. 1998. "Haeckel's embryos continued." Science 281:1289, quoted in webpage Re: Ontogeny and phylogeny: A Letter from Richard Bassetti; Editor's note.
  10. ^ "While some criticisms of the drawings are legitimate, others are more tenditious", Richardson and Keuck "Haeckel's ABC of evolution and development", Biol. Rev. (2002), 77, pp. 495-528. Quoted from p. 495.
  11. ^ 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 famous drawing]. Thus they do not inform the debate and may themselves be disingenuous.", p. 518.
  12. ^ "Darwin relied on the work of German biologist Ernst Haeckel ... Darwin based his inference of common ancestry on the belief that the earliest stages of embryo development are the most similar. Haeckel's drawings, however, entirely omit the earliest stages ...", Jonathan Wells, Survival of the Fakest, The American Spectator, Dec 2000-Jan 2001. Note however, Darwin (1871) credits Huxley with the idea of comparing the embryos and quoted a statement by T. Huxley, that it is "quite in the later stages of development that the young human being presents marked differences from the young ape ..." (from Huxley's Man’s Place in Nature, 1863, p. 67). Note the subtle difference between Huxley’s claim – the final stages are most different - and what has been said Darwin relied on via Haeckel – that the earliest stages are the most similar.
  13. ^ "The Controversy over Evolution in Biology Textbooks" (Texas, Textbooks and Evolution), Dr. Raymond G. Bohlin (President), Probe Ministries, 2003, webpage: ProbeOrg-Textbook-Controversy: mentions Haeckel drawings.
  14. ^ "Haeckel's embryos" (of drawings, with detailed quotes by Haeckel & others), Tony Britain, 2001, webpage: AE-myths.
  15. ^ Darwin's footnote to Fig. 1 in The Descent of Man (1871) reads "The human embryo (upper fig.) is from Ecker, 'Icones Phys.,' 1851–1859, tab. xxx. fig. 2. This embryo was ten lines in length, so that the drawing is much magnified. The embryo of the dog is from Bischoff, 'Entwicklungsgeschichte des Hunde-Eies,' 1845, tab. xi. fig. 42 B. This drawing is five times magnified, the embryo being 25 days old. The internal viscera have been omitted, and the uterine appendages in both drawings removed. I was directed to these figures by Prof. Huxley, from whose work, 'Man's Place in Nature,' the idea of giving them was taken. Häckel has also given analogous drawings in his 'Schöpfungsgeschichte.' " Note that Darwin mentions the scale of his drawings, whereas Haeckel has been charged with making all his embryos the same size as a deceptive move. Similarly Darwin mentions what is missing (internal viscera and uterine appendages), whereas Haeckel did not.
  16. ^ Kurt M. Pickett; John W. Wenzel and Steven W. Rissing (May 2005). Iconoclasts of Evolution: Haeckel, Behe, Wells and the Ontogeny of a Fraud. The American Biology Teacher. Retrieved on 2007-11-15., text available at Talk Reason.
  17. ^ 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.


  • Charles Darwin (1859). On the Origin of Species (by Means of Natural Selection). London: John Murray. 
  • Charles Darwin (2003 edition). The Origin of Species (with introduction by Julian Huxley). Signet Classics. ISBN 0-451-52906-5. 
  • 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 ("Artforms of Nature"), 1904, (from series published 1899-1904): over 100 detailed, multi-color illustrations of animals and sea creatures.
  • 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.
  • Michael K. Richardson, "Haeckel's embryos continued" (article), Science Volume 281:1289, 1998.
  • 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.

Further reading

  • Art Forms from the Ocean: The Radiolarian Atlas of 1862, by Ernst Haeckel, Prestel Verlag, 2005, ISBN 3-7913-3327-5.
  • Works by Ernst Haeckel at Project Gutenberg.
  • Richardson, Michael K., "Haeckel, embryos, and evolution," Science Vol. 280, no. 5366 (May 15, 1998) p. 983, 985-986.

NAME Haeckel, Ernst Heinrich Philipp August
ALTERNATIVE NAMES von Haeckel, Ernst Heinrich Philipp August; Haeckel, Ernst Heinrich Philipp August von
SHORT DESCRIPTION German biologist and philosopher
DATE OF BIRTH February 16 1834(1834-02-16)
PLACE OF BIRTH Potsdam, Prussia
DATE OF DEATH August 9 1919
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Ernst_Haeckel". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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