Ontogeny Recapitulates Phylogeny

by Dr. David N. Menton, Ph.D.

Copyright 1991 Missouri Association for Creation, Inc.


Students of biology who have gone to the trouble to memorize this impressive sounding phrase will be disheartened to learn that it has been known to be untrue since it was first proposed as "fact" by Ernst Haeckel nearly 100 years ago! The recapitulation myth, better known as the biogenetic "law", claims that each embryo in its development passes through abbreviated stages that resemble developmental stages of its evolutionary ancestors. The fictitious "gill slits" of human embryos discussed in Myth # 1, for example, are supposed to represent the "fish" or "amphibian" stage of man's evolutionary ancestors. Most professional evolutionists no longer believe this myth. The famous evolutionist Dr. Paul Ehrlich, for example, said:

"this interpretation of embryological sequences will not stand close examination. Its' shortcomings have been almost universally pointed out by modern authors, but the idea still has a prominent place in biological mythology." ('The Process of Evolution' 1963, p.66).

In his book 'The Beginnings of Life' (1977, p. 32), embryologist Dr. E. Blechschmidt reveals some of his frustration with the persistence of this myth:

"The so-called basic law of biogenetics is wrong. No buts or ifs can mitigate this fact. It is not even a tiny bit correct or correct in a different form. It is totally wrong."

Yet in a recent (1980) survey of 15 high school biology text books, 9 offered embryological recapitulation as evidence for evolution!