My name is not Ernst Haeckel


It’s also not “Meyers”. As promised, Kent Hovind has uploaded his “Whack An Atheist – PZ Meyers” video to YouTube, and I’m so disappointed, since he didn’t whack me at all. He spends the whole time ranting and raving about Ernst Haeckel’s Biogenetic Law, insisting that any mention of pharyngeal structures in embryos is a lie, and that embryology does not support evolution. There are more than a few problems with his argument.

  • I am not Ernst Haeckel. He died before I was born.
  • I do not accept the Biogenetic Law, and no biologists do anymore.
  • The only way I teach the Biogenetic Law is as an example of theory that was shown to be wrong. I try to get them to understand that labeling something “theory” does not mean it’s infallible.
  • Conflating “gill slits”, a colloquial term for the non-respiratory pharyngeal structures of the embryo, with “gills”, is Hovind’s error, not that of any biologist. I’ll agree that “gill slit” is confusing term, but I haven’t seen it used in the scientific literature lately, so who cares.
  • That Haeckel’s explanatory theory is wrong does not invalidate the embryological observations of homologous structure in the pharynx of embryos. They’re there. Accept it.
  • The similarities in embryos are real, and constantly having to deal with creationists who think that they aren’t because one 19th century embryologist exaggerated and misinterpreted them is tiresome.
  • The similarities do constitute evidence in support of evolution. Again, interpreting them to imply a sequential, linear pattern of progressive change is erroneous. That would be a creationist flavor of historical change, rather than an evolutionary one.

Throughout, Hovind repeatedly challenges me and others to a debate. There’s a reason I’m not going to do that: Hovind relies entirely on strawmanning me, and I’d have to spend most of the “debate” trying to explain how he doesn’t understand evolution, embryology, or me.

Also, charmer that he is, references the fact that evolutionary biology is taught at Kent State, says “we all know what happened there”, and explains it away as thanks to the students being taught that “they were animals”. That would be the moment in any debate where I’d have to dither, trying to decide between walking off the stage or kicking Hovind in the balls first, then walking off the stage. It’s the eternal dilemma when engaging someone as vile as Hovind.

If he wants to debate anyone, apparently he really wants to engage Ernst Haeckel. Go to Jena, Germany, where he died in 1919. Bring a shovel.

Comments

  1. Owlmirror says

    If he wants to debate anyone, apparently he really wants to engage Ernst Haeckel. Go to Jena, Germany, where he died in 1919. Bring a shovel.

    And a necromancer! Or the Witch of Endor. Or Jesus Christ himself.

    Who am I kidding? Hovind doesn’t actually want to debate Haeckel’s revenant, or ghost, or even his resurrected self. Hovind wants to win! He’ll basically yell at Haeckel’s remains, and puppet them into miming abject dismay and submission.

  2. lafinjack says

    “He spends the whole time ranting and raving about Ernst Haeckel’s Biogenetic Law, insisting that any mention of pharyngeal structures in embryos is a lie, and that embryology does not support evolution.”

    I know this is your career and specialty and everything but all I can think at him is this.

  3. doubter says

    Also, charmer that he is, references the fact that evolutionary biology is taught at Kent State, says “we all know what happened there”, and explains it away as thanks to the students being taught that “they were animals”.

    I didn’t know he had such a strong opinion about the formation of DEVO.

  4. Alt-X says

    So his “evidence” was some BS he made up while having shower. How predictable are these people haha.

  5. leerudolph says

    So, his parents named (and presumably baptized) him “Kent”? I guess “we all know what happened there”!

  6. haslar53 says

    Over the past few years a number of us have warned churches at which Hovind was booked to speak of his criminal, immoral and dishonest behaviour. As a result, in a filing in court two days ago in which Hovind is futiley and stupidly seeking to sue all the officials in his 2006 trial including his own attorney, he claims that churches no longer invite him to visit.

    It looks like we are winning the argument.

  7. Owlmirror says

    Also, charmer that he is, references the fact that evolutionary biology is taught at Kent State, says “we all know what happened there”

    Do we, I wonder? I suspect that Hovind is as confused about this as he is about everything else.

    , and explains it away as thanks to the students being taught that “they were animals”.

    What were the National Guardsmen supposed to have been taught?

  8. nomdeplume says

    What an ignorant fool the man is, and yet numbers of people follow him and believe every word he says. Good thing someone like him isn’t President of the United States.

  9. hemidactylus says

    Might want to bring Mayr back from the dead to explain Haeckel wasn’t entirely off the mark if you look at stages being permanent and not simplistically adult. Of course this was so Mayr could place his imprimatur on Haeckel to spin his own concept of the “somatic program”.

    In a more political than conceptual frame I had read Gasman years ago and given the impression Haeckel was the root of all evil in the early 20th century, but Robert Richards seemed to have a somewhat different take.

    A bit of a hot mess (this Haeckel guy):

    http://home.uchicago.edu/~rjr6/Reviews/Weikart's%20review.pdf

  10. unclefrogy says

    you know it is not surprising that someone who is fixed on a world view that is a distortion of a mythology thousands of years old would be arguing with scientific ideas that have long been discarded.
    calling him a fool is generous.
    uncle frogy

  11. hemidactylus says

    Forgot to add to the point where Mayr kinda beat the hell outta the recapitulation notion to make it more palatable in retrospect in how he was also instrumental in G&E’s punctuated equilibrium because peripatry.

    Anyway Haeckel became the rage in late 90s because his drawings were given the fine tooth combing by Michael Richardson. Been quite a while since I cared. But here is someone who went beast mode on that all too esoteric topic:

    https://repository.asu.edu/attachments/134940/content/Wellner_asu_0010E_13836.pdf

  12. nomdeplume says

    @13 Interesting, I didn’t know anything about Harckel. But to say he was in sympathy with Nazi ideology in Germany before the war just means he was part of a big club.

    I don’t really get why creationists have suddenly latched on to Haeckel. Embryos of vertebrates reflect their evolutionary history, how could they not? But I guess it would be off for a designer to give Mammalian embryos pharyngeal slits and then convert them into other structures, so they have to attack Haeckel. And they attack him for inaccuracies in drawings that were done using nineteenth century equipment – they weren’t faked. I have yet to see a creationist produce a photo of a vertebrate embryo to show how Haeckel “got it wrong”..

  13. leerudolph says

    As a child, I don’t think I ever was able to distinguish Haeckel from Jaeckel.

  14. John Morales says

    nomdeplume, nothing sudden about it; creationists have been using him as a putative example of the flaws of evolutionary theory since his theory of recapitulation was scientifically shown to be incorrect by mid-C20.

    PZ has mentioned it in his critiques of creationism since I’ve been reading his blog (i.e. since at least 2005). As he mentions in this very post, it was the inferences he drew that were flawed, moreso than what he literally drew.

  15. John Morales says

    [well, his advocacy thereof, he was not the originator.
    But he did coin the wonderful phrase “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny”]

  16. nomdeplume says

    @17 John, I seem to remember from the Dark Ages (way back in the early 60s) when I was being taught embryology our lecturer had modified the phrase to “Ontogeny recapitulates Phylogeny, with variations” which to the extent it doesn’t completely negate Haeckel’s hypothesis (it never attained the status of a theory) is more or less right. But I hadn’t come across the creationist use of Haeckel until the last year or so on youtube, I obviously wasn’t paying attention.

  17. says

    Kent is just so completely and staggeringly ignorant of science it beggars belief. Trotting our Haeckel again? Is that still the best he can do? Hovind has made a career out of lying baldly about everything and then jizzing his pants when his captive, brainwashed audience guffaws along. Hovind is perhaps the only man in existence whom, if I met him in the street (unlikely, I live half a world away), would gladly punch him in the nose and damn the consequences.

  18. microraptor says

    nomdeplume @14:

    I don’t really get why creationists have suddenly latched on to Haeckel.

    Because he’s someone who was proven “wrong” (nevermind that they don’t have the slightest idea about the topic he was wrong on or what was wrong about his idea) and he’s conveniently dead which means that he can’t defend himself.

  19. KG says

    charmer that he is, references the fact that evolutionary biology is taught at Kent State, says “we all know what happened there”

    Yes, four students were murdered by the National Guard. I don’t get Hovind’s point, even in his own bizarre frame of reference.

  20. gijoel says

    @24 Yeah I thought that was the reference, though it’s a pretty long draw to link that to evil-ultion.

  21. lumipuna says

    Ernst Haeckel, Ernst Mayr, PZ Mayrs… Who can tell them apart?

    (sorry)

  22. UnknownEric the Apostate says

    Ah yes, I fondly remember Jessi Colter’s mix 70s country smash “I’m Not Ernst Haeckel.”

  23. Heather Shawver says

    I’m such a nerd that I wrote a poem about Haeckel and the concept of “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny.”

    Higgle and piggle, and scientist wiggle,
    When laypeople think that they know how it goes.
    Though he’s dead, Haeckel said,
    “Fetus Repeatus.”
    But ontogenetically, it just ain’t so!

    (Long-time reader/lurker out.)

  24. mnb0 says

    “My name is not Ernst Haeckel” sounds like a good title for an anticreacrap video.

  25. Pierce R. Butler says

    nomdeplume @ # 14: …Harckel… was in sympathy with Nazi ideology in Germany …

    For somebody who died in 1919 (at the age of ~85) to have sympathized with an ideology then barely expressed beyond “yay for us/to hell with them!” would seem much more prescient than any of EH’s actual observations.

  26. hemidactylus says

    @27- lumipuna
    Hats off to ya. In the classic pastime of haeckeling PZ that wins the prize.

    In the same mode of evaluating stuff I rate Haeckel’s beard a 7.895 on the Andrew Weil scale.

    @29- Heather Shawver
    “Though he’s dead, Haeckel said,
    “Fetus Repeatus.”
    But ontogenetically, it just ain’t so!”

    That’s awesome verse right there! Thanks.

  27. brightmoon says

    I’m not gonna watch Hovind’s video. 1 he’s an ignoramus and 2 he gets money if people watch or comment on his videos. He ain’t gettin a dime from me

  28. says

    Not only was Haeckel dead before Naziism was a thing, but he was also a fervent anti-militarist and anti-nationalist. He had a son die in WWI, which made him a strong pacifist.

  29. dstatton says

    I believe that his “point” about Kent State was that the students brought it on themselves by burning the ROTC building. He is a monster, in other words.

  30. nomdeplume says

    Well, ok, I stand admonished, but I actually read the link hemidactylus provided (http://home.uchicago.edu/~rjr6/Reviews/Weikart's%20review.pdf) which does show Haeckel’s philosophy was part of the ferment in German political thought that led to Nazism, and that Nazis did refer to him as being sympatico. Maybe that’s wrong, though it sounds convincing. So I shouldn’t have phrased it the way I did, but I stand by the proposition in general. Would it worry anyone if I said that the composer Wagner’s philosophy and ideology were in sympathy with Nazi ideology?

  31. hemidactylus says

    @36- nomdeplume

    In retrospect I find my posting that link at least slightly problematic. The review is by Richard Weikart who has Discovery Institute affiliation and his own axe to grind given his publication of a relevant book.

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Weikart

    Now I wouldn’t invoke genetic fallacy here and his partisan position isn’t necessarily damning. He does come down somewhere between Gasman and Richards based on that review.

    And yeah one could look to Wagner as a distant precursor to the Third Reich. There is an arc from his son-in-law Houston Chamberlain toward Alfred Rosenberg.

    Even Nietzsche had the sense to rethink his connection to Wagner. And he has been labeled a precursor which doesn’t seem quite fair.

  32. Ichthyic says

    I’d have to dither, trying to decide between walking off the stage or kicking Hovind in the balls first, then walking off the stage.

    if more people would just kick him in the balls instead of pretending he had anything honest or legitimate to debate, none of these grifters would be… grifting.

    it’s the tolerance of grifters that allows them to grift. there was a time in the US where the people of a town, upon realizing there was a known grifter there, would literally tar and feather them.

    I think tar and feathering might not be as effective these days as a public kick in the balls, but we could debate that, and it would be a far more honest debate.

  33. Ichthyic says

    For somebody who died in 1919 (at the age of ~85) to have sympathized with an ideology then barely expressed beyond “yay for us/to hell with them!”

    this is pure ignorance. the essentials behind the Nazi “philosophy” were well established in Europe, especially France, well before this, going back to the end of the previous century.

    I highly suggest reading the history series: “The coming of the Third Reich” by historian Richard J Evans.

    the manipulation of authoritarianism was proceeding apace in Europe long before the Nazis came to power. In fact, it was what ENABLED the Nazis to come to power.

  34. Ichthyic says

    What an ignorant fool the man is, and yet numbers of people follow him and believe every word he says. Good thing someone like him isn’t President of the United States.

    reminds me of an old Cheech and Chong sketch, based on an even older joke.

    pretty much a good description of america now.

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