Ken Miller Rewrites his Textbooks, then Rewrites History: Miller's Evolving Position on Haeckel and Evolution - Evolution News & Views

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Ken Miller Rewrites his Textbooks, then Rewrites History: Miller's Evolving Position on Haeckel and Evolution

Last year I wrote about some memory lapses that Brown University biologist and textbook author Ken Miller apparently had while testifying during the Kitzmiller trial regarding his own textbooks. Ken Miller has authored many biology textbooks, and his first textbooks (from the early 1990's) used Haeckel's fraudulent embryo drawings and blatantly promoted the idea that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny. To his credit, Miller fixed later editions of his textbooks--he took out Haeckel's drawings and replaced them with real embryo photographs, and he also stopped promoting recapitulation theory. Like many Darwinists, however, Miller then tried to rewrite history and pretend that these mistakes had not been promoted by biologists for many decades. First, read what Miller & Levine's 1994 version of Biology: The Living Science stated:

Darwin and his contemporaries knew that early embryos of many animals look nearly identical and that the earliest stages of development in "lower" animals seem to be repeated in the development of "higher" animals such as ourselves (Fig. 8.15). Darwin realized that the similar developmental paths followed by animal embryos make sense if all of us evolved long ago from common ancestors through a series of lengthy evolutionary changes.

These striking embryological similarities led some of Darwin's contemporaries (though apparently not Darwin himself) to believe that the embryological development of an individual repeats its species' evolutionary history.

Why, then, should the embryos of related organisms retain similar features when adults of their species look quite different? The cells and tissues of the earliest embryological stages of any organism are like the bottom levels in a house of cards. The final form of the organism is built upon them, and even a small change in their character can result in disaster later. It would hardly be adaptive for a bird to grow a longer beak, for example, if it lost its tongue in the process.

The earliest stages of the embryos life, therefore, are essentially "locked in," whereas cells and tissues that are produced later can change more freely without harming the organism. As species with common ancestors evolve over time, divergent sets of successful evolutionary changes accumulate as development proceeds, but early embryos stick more closely to their original appearance.

(Joseph S. LeVine & Kenneth R. Miller, Biology: Discovering Life, pg. 162 (2nd Ed., D.C. Heath, 1994), emphasis added)

The caption on Haeckel's drawings further implies recapitulation theory, reading: "During the earliest stages of development, all these embryos have gill pouches and a tail--remnants of structures needed by our aquatic ancestors." (pg. 162) Clearly Miller was promoting Haeckel's famous idea that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny, because he argues that "the embryological development of an individual repeats its species' evolutionary history," and that animals evolve by simply tacking on new stages of development to old ones, which are locked in.

Before Darwinists object by claiming that Miller is merely discussing the history of evolutionary thought, I point out two important facts:

(1) The quoted text comes from a section titled "DATA SUPPORTING THE FACT OF EVOLUTIONARY CHANGE" (emphasis in original) and a sub-section titled "Similarities in Anatomy and Development." (pg. 162)

(2) There is no indication whatsoever, anywhere in the text that any of these ideas are wrong or that they are no longer believed. The reader is left with the clear impression that this is how vertebrate development works.

Finally, keep in mind that during the Dover trial, Miller testified that at its peak usage, students in "more than 200 colleges and universities around the country" read this text. (Day 1 am testimony, pg. 41)

Rewriting History
As noted, Miller later rewrote and corrected his textbook. But now he has also tried to rewrite history by implying that biologists have not promoted these ideas for decades. As his website states:

Haeckel noticed that vertebrate embryos pass through a series of similar stages in early development, and argued that there was a good reason for this. As an organism evolves, he reasoned, it does so by tacking on new stages to its process of embryonic development. Therefore, as an organism passes through embryonic development it actually re-traces every stage of its evolutionary ancestry. This idea became known as "Ontogeny recapitulates Phylogeny," which literally means "Development is a replay of Ancestry." ... As you read this, you may wonder why evolution should be limited to changes tacked on at the end of the process of development. So did evolutionary biologists, and Haeckel's idea was quickly discarded."

(Ken Miller, Haeckel and his Embryos, emphasis added)

But if Haeckel's ideas were "quickly discarded" by "evolutionary biologists," then how is it that Miller was promoting them? Indeed, by saying that "the embryological development of an individual repeats its species' evolutionary history" because "[t]he cells and tissues of the earliest embryological stages of any organism are like the bottom levels in a house of cards. The final form of the organism is built upon them, and even a small change in their character can result in disaster later," Miller directly promoted the idea that evolution proceeds "by tacking on new stages to its process of embryonic development"--the precise model of development that he claims was "quickly discarded" by biologists.

Ken Miller should be commended for rewriting his textbooks. But he should be exposed for trying to rewrite history by implying that Haeckel's false ideas have not been promoted by biologists in the present day. Perhaps some biologists did abandon Haeckel long ago, but Miller's own textbooks provide a counterexample which refutes his blatantly false history.