Darwin’s embryo drawings flawed?

I’m moving this up from comments because it involves a particular interest of mine, embryology as it relates to evolution and the controversies over various embryo illustrations. Here is the comment by “1wmcaw” in full:

Glazius – I may be a lay person. I am not, however, ill-informed.

Darwin disproved: Take a look at his drawings of in utero creatures. He constantly compared the early embryo and fetus’ of human beings to that of pigs and other animals.

I’m here to tell you that medical science has roundly disproved those drawings/pictures/whatever you want to call them. I’ve seen them with my own eyes, as a lay person. Medical professionals, biologists, anthropologists, abortionists, all of them will concede that the embryo and early human fetus looks absolutely nothing like Darwin’s crude drawing and compares nothing to a fetal pig. We were able to distinguish my son’s genitalia at 13 weeks in utero. He did not possess any “tail” as so classically drawn. Many scientists will admit that human beings do not develop a tail at all in the womb, but that it fits the theory of evolution nicely and so it is still promoted in popular scientific literature.

Oh, and plenty of people understand how God’s creation works. Simply because you do not does not make it untrue.

This is the sort of thing I talked about in my page explaining the title of this blog. An antievolutionist presents an argument, which they apparently half-remembered from some creationist web site, that I am going to have to try to reconstruct for them before I can even address it.

1wmcaw: I may be a lay person. I am not, however, ill-informed.

Right of the bat we know we’re probably in trouble. It’s like when someone starts a sentence with “I’m not a racist but…” you know that what is to follow is likely to be racist as hell.

1wmcaw: Darwin disproved: Take a look at his drawings of in utero creatures. He constantly compared the early embryo and fetus’ of human beings to that of pigs and other animals.

“1wmcaw” has apparently confused Darwin with another creationist whipping boy from the history of biology, Ernst Haeckel, who did publish numerous comparative illustrations of various vertebrate embryos (including humans and pigs). Here is his most (in)famous illustration from earlier editions of his book (Anthropogenie AKA The Evolution of Man 1874). These illustrations have been attacked for over a hundred years by creationists (as well as some mainstream scientists) and I could write a short book about that but I won’t right now since this is ostensibly about “Darwin’s” embryo drawings.

The bottom row represents a more or less fetal stage and the different organisms are pretty readily distinguishable compared to the same animals on the rows above (that was sort of the point). Most of the criticisms of Haeckel’s drawing have been applied to the top row in the illustration rather than the middle or bottom row, so I don’t see how “1wmcaw” could be talking about them.

Darwin did publish a comparative illustration of two embryos in his book The Descent of Man (1871), but they are of a human and dog embryo. Here they are (below) next to a photographs of a human (top) at approximately the same stage (perhaps slightly earlier), and a cat embryo (bottom). I couldn’t find picture of a dog at this stage but I would imagine they don’t look all that different (most mammals don’t).

1wmcaw: I’m here to tell you that medical science has roundly disproved those drawings/pictures/whatever you want to call them. I’ve seen them with my own eyes, as a lay person. Medical professionals, biologists, anthropologists, abortionists, all of them will concede that the embryo and early human fetus looks absolutely nothing like Darwin’s crude drawing and compares nothing to a fetal pig.

No, a fetal pig doesn’t look much like a fetal human but then I don’t know of anyone (including Darwin and Haeckel) who ever claimed otherwise. Nor am I aware of any drawings purporting to be of fetuses that attempt to make them look overly similar.

Human and pig embryos, now that’s another story:


Here we have illustrations of two embryos at about the same point in development, one of a pig and the other of a human. Both are taken from embryology texts (by the same author). Who can tell me which is which?

1wmcaw: We were able to distinguish my son’s genitalia at 13 weeks in utero. He did not possess any “tail” as so classically drawn.

That’s because 13 weeks (about 3 months) is much farther into the developmental process than when you’d have to look to see the tail (around the 5th and 6th week). Did your son look something like the illustration below?

Illustration from babycenter.com

1wmcaw: Many scientists will admit that human beings do not develop a tail at all in the womb, but that it fits the theory of evolution nicely and so it is still promoted in popular scientific literature.

To “admit” such a thing would be to express either dishonesty or ignorance of the subject. Humans and all other members of the phylum Chordata have at some point in their lives a post anal tail. In fact it is one of the defining characteristics of chordates.

A stage 13 human embryo with a clear tail. Image from virtualhumanembryo.lsuhsc.edu

While humans normally only have tails as embryos occasionally children are born with tails still intact.

Similar pictures can be found in medical textbooks. Usually the tail is just soft tissue but occasionally children are even born with tails that have extra vertebral bones in them. The re-expression of an ancestral character is known as an atavism. The existence of atavisms is easy to understand under evolutionary theory but difficult to explain under creationism.

So, Darwin not disproved.


23 thoughts on “Darwin’s embryo drawings flawed?

  1. Odd timing, this post. I just started reading “Descent of Man” last night and made it as far as the embryo drawings in the book.

    It seems to me that Darwin’s point was along the lines of “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny.” This embryo comparison is described in the morphology section of the first chapter: he’s comparing anatomical similarities in different species. Here, he’s not saying that a human is a dog (or a fish), but that the embryos of humans, dogs, and fish display similar characteristics early in their development.

    I fail to understand why creationists continue to miss this point. It seems almost deliberate, as though they’re trying to create a controversy that doesn’t exist by making scapegoat of Darwin…oh, w-a-a-a-a-a-i-t…now I get it…


    • Ernst Haeckel

      The problem with Haeckel’s “comparison” of anatomical similarities is that these are supposed to represent the earliest stages of embryos, and they are actually later stages of the embryos represented. I defy you to check it out for yourselves. You won’t like what you find if you’re objective because it blasphemes the sacred tenets your faith.

      Also, Haeckel fudged the drawings to make them look alike when they don’t actually look the same at all. It has been widespread knowledge for some time that these drawings are invalid. Even the director of the National Center for Science Education admitted this. I have video proof. AND along with this admission, she also states that she sees no reason for not keeping the illustrations in text books because they serve a purpose for education. What purpose? To mislead people? Inter-species evolution theory…at least in part…is being taught based on a deception. So the NCSE perpetuates deception rather than teaching the truth. There are other examples I won’t go into here, but they serve to undermine and crumble away at a well established institution that is proving to be wrong. Yep! The one you all harold here at this website.

      This NCSE response, when confronted with a truth about Haeckle’s drawings, turns the Scopes Monkey Trial on its head. Now, instead of religious zelots mindlessly demanding the law be followed and evolution be taken out of the schools in ignorant disregard of what was then thought to be truth…now it’s evolutionist zelots mindlessly demanding the law be followed and the religious be persecuted in ignorant disregard of what is now thought to be truth. And it isn’t even the religous who are disputing some of the icons of evolution. But that is the avowed enemy of people like the designers of this website and many of its contributors and so there is a knee-jerk, ears-plugged response in addressing the religious whom you wish were the people you are arguing with.

      The establishment is being challenged by a growing number of scientists who are questioning misinformation and trying to get truth promoted.

      What I would like to point out here is two things…the first, what do we get if Big-Bang theory is proven correct? At the end of the rainbow there is still a persistent, glaring, and pesky question for Evolutionists: “Where did the matter that became life come from, and why does it appear to have intelligent design behind it?” There’s no escaping this question, and it bugs you. Why else would you be so fervent in arguing down “Creationists”?

      It takes a great deal of belief and faith to accept that this all occurred by chance and that matter, in what ever form, “just happened”. I think it takes a great deal more faith to believe this is all happenstance than it does to believe an intelligence is behind all life and things. Instead of blindly following your god Charles Darwin, maybe you should open your eyes and look into Intelligent Design theory.

      The other thing is this: We all have a system of beliefs we hold to with ardor and faith…in other words we all have a “Religion”. There is nothing that makes your system of beliefs any better than those of people you describe as “Creationists”. Why? Because none of us were there to witness the origins of life and nobody can know with certainty. So let’s stop all the hypocricy right here OK? Stop persecuting people for having a religion, and not acknowledging you have one too!

      Do you really need to have someone to fight in order to have validity? Do you really need to demean people to make your views appear more important or right? Are you so afraid you really aren’t so superior and intelligent as you think you are, that you have to put down your opposition? Are you so sure of yourselves that you can afford to egotistically argue people down without regard to what they’re trying to say? I think you’re really just scared you’re wrong. And rightly so because there is a lot at stake if you are.

      It takes truth people…truth brings validity. I don’t see truth in your remarks.

      You know, String-Theory postulates and the science of physics has proven, that other dimensions exist. If other dimensions exist, than life in those dimensions probably exists too. String Theory scientists agree that understanding these dimensions is too complex for the human brain and human 3D senses.

      So what if a Creator lives in these dimensions? By religiously taking a stand for evolution you miss that fact. You confine your exploration to what you can perceive with your senses, or build devices to detect, or mathematical models to understand. That isn’t everything there is to understand and the truth is NOBODY is smart enough to get their minds around all there is to know. You can only claim…at best…that you are smarter than other people. And what does it prove?

      If you really want to prove your smarts have value, put them to work in industry. If you’re already doing that great! Thanks for your contribution to our economy. If not, you need to.

      So far all I’ve seen this group do is pick at people they can easily argue down. Whether or not the people you choose to represent Creation Theorists have their facts right or not, there is MUCH room for exploration into the possibility of Intelligent Design and Creation theories being real, correct, and a valid explanation for our origins. The fact that life could exist in these other dimensions is a possible explanation for why the Creator is invisible to us. It may also explain why so many of the “Religious” claim to have interaction with the Creator too. Ignorance isn’t the only explanation for people’s behavior…unless you assume it to be the case. Assumptions aren’t facts, and it ain’t good science either.

      Did it ever occur to you people who so smugly proclaim that we who believe in a Creator are ignorant, superstitious, and blind, that if there is a Creator and that person wants to interact with us that they would provide a practical method for that interaction, regardless of a person’s intelligence level? Why assume that a Creator would expect us to strive to get to interaction with them? Maybe he/she/it doesn’t want to be measured scientifically. Maybe they know we can’t get there by science and interaction is more important than measured process and scientific study.

      You need to think outside your own box. Irrationally grouping everyone who believes Intelligent Design and Creation Theory into the same group with other, more superstitious religious people is to ignore Critical Thinking and to deliberately not explore territory that may hold truth.

      In the behavior of people who engage in this website’s intent we see all of the same nomenclature of other religions…faith, belief, blind acceptance of the tenets of the faith, and blind, deliberate ignorance of things that dispute those tenets. Get your act together brothers and sisters, because it’s obvious you don’t have it together.

      We just don’t know everything people, and to throw the baby out with the bath water isn’t good science and it isn’t smart either.

      Here’s a better direction to go…Explain “why” creation theory is invalid instead of picking at what people have to say about it. You’re the (self professed) intelligent and enlightened ones…so go at it! (If you can).

      Locate the DVD titled “Icons of Evolution” from Coldwater Media. It might enlighten you in things you have chosen to deliberately be ignorant in.

      Yours Truly,

      Just a Pigeon…you’re move, (and I’ll bet if you publish this, there will be more mindless, childish, demeaning, warring rethoric aimed at “those ignorant Creationists”).


  2. One thing you have to say about The Old Days on Compuserve: we usually didn’t get creationists who were this ignorant about their own arguments. Ignorant about science, sure, but usually they got the creationist version more-or-less right.

    Sometimes I miss those days. Since the Web got big, it’s damn near impossible to find a C/E discussion in which the C side shows any intelligence at all.

    — JSW


  3. “Since the Web got big, it’s damn near impossible to find a C/E discussion in which the C side shows any intelligence at all.”

    Since the Web got big, it’s damn near impossible to find ANY discussion in which one side or the other shows any intelligence at all!

    But it does seem more and more creationist loonies are connected these days. Wouldn’t it be great if instead of just selectively rejecting science and progress, they rejected all science and progress outright, and we just wouldn’t have to deal with them at all (on line, at least)?


    • Bull crap people like you make uo this bizzare theory of evolution to cover up so u dont hav to answer to God leading a sinful life and saying well we evolved from animals so we dont hav to be accountable and just roam around not having to do anything.
      here is an example lets say that your hiking in a the mountains and you see (your name is peter robinson) a bunch of stone arranged in a pattern saying “WELCOME TO THE MOUNTAINS PETER ROBINSON” you coyuld say that natural forces put that there or you could say that your brother who viseted the mountains a few days ahead of you ut them there. just like how earth is so so complex yeet we say that first there was nothing and it came together and blew u to make infinite amounts of stars and planets, pefectly logical (not)


  4. Sigh! :)

    Every single time, without fail, I see come half-baked creo garbage masquerading not just as fact but as definitive disproof of confirmed, tested evidence, I wait for the inevitable smackdown like a wrestilng fan waiting for the good guy to win. I know exactly what’s going to happen (and to whom) and I’ve seen it a thousand times, but damned if I don’t enjoy it every single time! The enjoyment of seeing someone using their (god-given! *blurg*) mind to quickly & efficiently destroy someone who mindlessly parrots the “work” of someone else never fades. Most of the time, the victim slinks back into whatever corner of the fantasy-based www they came from, comprehensively smacked down (but vowing to return one day with even more Darwin-destroying bombshells: ooh, maybe Charles Darwin Snr once swore in church! That’ll sort out those eggheads). Occasionally they stand and fight, earning both respect for defending themselves and pity because they choose to wield the wet celery of superstition instead of the quarterstaff of reason & forged blade evidence. However, even in those rare, long, drawn-out struggles with Evilutionist Darwinazis, the Creationist only survives because he simply refuses to acknowledge there’s a broadsword sticking out of his chest.

    Perhaps I’m a little like an ancient Roman, chewing my bread & cheering on my favourite at the circus, watching hapless clown after hapless clown be struck dumb, silent or torn to pieces by truth.

    Perhaps my schadenfreude isn’t something I should be drawing attention to either: surely it’s some kind of sin to take pleasure in another’s demise! But I consider the alternatives: a preacher teaching Alchemy to my child instead of chemistry; a cleric teaching him the “truth” of The Flood instead of the reality of our Cambrian cousins; an enrobed, elderly virgin preaching abstinence to my children instead of giving them the skills to use their bodies intelligently and I thank providence there are many more stout fellows poised to blunt these Biblical “science” talking points as there are misguided, miseducated fools to make them.

    Bravo, good sir! A palpable hit!


  5. You state: “The existence of atavisms is easy to understand under evolutionary theory but difficult to explain under creationism.”

    This is not true. Many Creationists readily accept the explanation for genetic “mistakes”. Sure, there are those empassioned zealots who feel they understand what they believe well enough to parrot what they’ve heard, but not everyone you people tend to group together and label “Creationists” are “half-baked” as you say. We just don’t accept the idea that life has its origins in random chance, or that genetic mutation creates viable new species.

    Some “Creationists” may argue that man has not existed for the geologic scales of time that Earth Sciences postulate (emphasis on guessing for both sides of the argument here). Some “Creationists” don’t accept that genetic mutation is a plausible explanation for one species evolving into a different one. And indeed, for Evolutionists, this is a difficult theory to prove having no evidence of the period of time in which rapid mutation and evolution into different species has taken place. “Evolutionists” merely have a “belief” that their theory will some day be proven, which they hold to with ardor and “faith”. Yes, Evolution relies heavily on “faith” and “belief”. It’s a religion…don’t fool yourselves. But I don’t say that religion is a bad thing…that’s a stigma most of your participants attach.

    Radio carbon-dating isn’t even reliable enough to accept as proof of the amount of time we have existed. And if it does turn out that we have existed for eons, what has been proven? Intelligent Design theory would accept this as fact – if proven beyond a doubt. It simply would mean that we were Created in a manner different from what we thought. You allow yourselves the freedom to modify theoretical models, why don’t you allow others the same freedom? Why is it that we are hypocrits for doing the same thing you do and you aren’t hypocritical? Answer: we’re all hypocrits…we’re human and prone to mistake and misunderstanding.

    Some mechanisms of evolution are apparent. Survival of the fittest for example, is obvious to anyone who observes. These common sense forms of evolution are easily accepted. We only butt heads on evolution theories when these things are used as proof of inter-species evolution or offered as proof that creation theory is wrong.

    If by “Creationists” you actually mean “The Religious”, your statement is still incorrect. The Judeo-Christian Scriptures, for example, include a story of a people called “Nephalem”. These people were reportedly the progeny of sexual intercourse between humans and fallen angels. For those atheists (who are agnostics that just don’t know it), and those agnostics out there who haven’t really looked into it, angels are beings that exist in different dimensions with the Creator,(called “Heaven” in Judeo-Christian writings). Some of them have wings, and some of them are considered “fallen” or evil angels which have grotesque body features. In at least one written account the grotesque feature is a tail (e.g., satan). These would have been the angels that procreated with humans. The progeny of such an encounter would have had some human features and some fallen angel features. One possible explanation for humans born with tails could be the residual genetic coding from the two different beings. Or maybe not…maybe it is explained by the introduction of sin and its results in the physical body. Can you disprove it? Even “the religious” do not reject every scientific idea about life. Again, with respect to Evolution Theory, we reject the idea that our origins are random chance, and accept that life has to have intelligent design behind it.

    If by “Creationists” you mean those who accept “Intelligent Design” as a more plausible theory for the origins of life, there is no dispute against genetic mutations such as a tail-like appendage. (BTW, your image evidence of humans born with tails could easily have been Photoshopped, but we’ll just say it is a real picture, since it can easily be proved or disproved…I just want your readers to acknowledge here that just because it says so on this site, doesn’t make it true. Read everything and examine all illustrations with discretion because subtle points are passed over as trivial but make all the difference. Case in point – notice how fuzzy the picture of the alledged human embryo is in comparison to the very clear image of the alledged cat embryo. Aside from the fact that there is a long tail in the cat embryo picture, it is hard to tell how much of the spine is exposed as a tail in the human embryo. Also, the author tries to trivialize the importance of embryo development stage just as Haeckel did in his drawings and then used it against the guy who tried to make a point about Haeckel’s drawings.)

    I don’t claim that this guy had his facts straight when he made his argument, just that you use the fact it is your forum to victimize people you don’t agree with and paint them in an unnecessarily bad light. Anyone can set themselves up as superior in that way. It takes guts to stand up to someone knowing they can do that. It also takes guts to admit wrong and pursue pure truth. We are all supposedly in support of that. It takes audacity and insolence to steamroll someone instead of trying to understand their point…like misbehaving children left alone with no supervision. Polished and seeming calm, methodical explanations that demean people may fool some, but not all…the immaturity is still visible.

    The item in dispute here is simply that genetic mutation is a plausible explanation for inter-species evolution. Some “Creationists” currently reject that explanation, chosing instead to believe that the Creator made each distinct species separately and in harmonic co-existence with one another.

    So you see, it is explained in ways other than evolution as you’ve suggested it can’t be “easily explained”. I know your readers are supposed to draw the conclusion that your explanations are reasonable, heady, and correct; that they contrast well and expose falsity against the rest of the world, which you lump into the category “Creationists”, but it just isn’t so.

    I hope you see my point that you have demonstrated bigotry and hypocracy by grouping everyone who isn’t an evolutionist into one group and labeled us ignorant “Creationists”…without exercising due dilligence in research to learn the truth.

    If you want to believe in Evolution and refuse to look around at other plausible explanations go ahead. The choice is entirely up to you…nobody is forcing you to think a certain way.

    Just don’t spit in the face of those who have enough compassion on mankind to try to bring enlightenment just because you don’t like the way they present it.

    One of your bloggers commented that they hadn’t seen an intelligent argument since the internet “got big”. Could it be they have simply stopped “casting pearls before swine”? If one compassionately tries to share a treasure with someone and they constantly get demeaned instead of being thanked for their thoughtful act, they tend to simply stop sharing their treasures.

    If you want to discuss it like reasonable adults and show some respect for your opposition, I’ll discuss this further, but otherwise you’ve gotten all the treasure out of me you’ll get.


    • RespectAll,

      Could you please keep the comments down to the size of, say a small book? I will respond to your questions but you need to be a bit more concise in the comments. If you want to publish massive missives you might consider starting your own blog.

      Thanks (and I will be responding to your first set of questions shortly).


    • RespectAll: What is “intelligent” about a creature designed by an all-powerful, all-knowing Creator that can choke on food because the trachea and esophagus share an opening? that has nipples on the males? that has an appendix? that has the need to breathe and eat and poop? Etc. Wouldn’t the intelligent choice have been to not create any of that?! Wouldn’t the intelligently designed human be able to scratch the middle of its back, or better yet, not get itchy?! You see where I’m going here, don’t you?! We are flawed and not elegantly made because of a million year plus process called evolution! After all, who would have made us thus if He were of a godly intelligence?!


  6. i ttky agree Haekels drawings were not only faked but lied about
    1-He madew them seem mor simiar thn they were
    2- He said that they were similar at the begining and said that’s when he drew them when in fact he drew thm at the midpoint, when embroys look very similar at the midpoint and very diferent at the begining stage
    3- He excluded certain mamals that were placental used a salamander to represnt amphibians instead of a frog which is much different. so he rigged the deck so to speak for more info on the study of evolution i strongly recomoend Lee Strobels a case 4 a creator.


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  8. Pingback: Hominid fossils and the Evolution Debate - Page 7 - Volconvo Debate Forums

  9. It is so annoying when “lay” people think they have disproved 150 years of scientific work from hundreds of thousands of biologists. Darwin’s theory has NEVER been disproved. It is ever had, we wouldn’t accept it.

    It is has been vigoursouly tested over and over again. Predictions (call them prophecies), have all come true. (For example, that is evolution is true, we should find half-fish, half-amphibians in 375 million year old rock. This was the prediction, tiktaalik the half-fish another of the many transitional fossils was found).

    etc.etc.etc.etc.etc. Read thousands of papers on evolution, read one every day until you are 150 years old.


  10. (Sorry for my English)
    Some people find both Creationism and Evolutionism wrong.
    They say that there are many gaps in Darwin’s theory, even considering new discoveries, but this obviously can’t demonstrate that the world was created in 6 days, that man was created using mud and that Eve was created by one of Adam’s ribs.
    From what I read, the number of scientists contesting/challenging Darwin is increasing in the USA, and in South Korea many people don’t agree with him.
    Note that South Korea is a very advanced country in matter of scientific research.
    Antievolutionism is not necessarily synonym of creationism.
    if creationists think that the world was created, they have to demonstrate it. They cannot just deny macroevolution (they believe in microevolution instead, which is a proven fact with no gaps at all, otherwise all humans would belong to the same ethnic group).
    Jack Horner decided to create a “dino – chicken” modifying a chick’s DNA, creating a chicken with a toothed beak and a long dinosaur – like tail.
    Will he do it?
    In any case, we are here. No matter how, we are here. We must protect life rather than destroy it.

    P.S.:Vern, what do you mean with “we wouldn’t accept it”?


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