Birth of German Zoologist Ernst Haeckel

Birth of German Zoologist Ernst Haeckel

Ernst Haeckel
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Ernst Haeckel is born in Potsdam, Germany. Haeckel will be an influential zoologist whose work on evolution inspires some of the racist theories of the Nazis. Enst Haeckel will train as a physician, but abandons medicine after reading Charles Darwin's Origin of Species in 1859.

Haeckel will then study zoology and anatomy, earning a position as professor in Jena. He will develop what he calls his "biogenic law," made famous by his own phrase "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny." According to this principle, all creatures develop through the forms of their early evolution while in the fetal stage. It has been shown that such a one-to-one correspondence does not actually exist, but it has also been shown that there is a relationship between ontogeny (development of a fertilized ovum through to maturity) and phylogeny (development of a species over time).

The phylogenetic tree which Ernst Haeckel is the first to create as a reference for relations between species will be very advanced for its time. Ernst Haeckel will be a strong supporter and defender of evolution (especially against attacks from religious leaders), but he will not be a Darwinian and will not accept natural selection as an explantion for how evolution proceeds.

Haeckel will instead argue in favor of a form of of Lamarkism - species acquire characteristics from their environment and pass them along to their children. Haeckel will also try to develop a comprehensive philosophical system based on biological and evolutionary findings and encompassing ethics, theology, psychology and politics.

He is quoted as having said that "politics is applied biology" and some of this work will be appropriated by the Nazis who used it as justification for their racism and nationalism.

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