Ernst Haeckel

Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919) was the German scientist who coined the phrase “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny” and the terms “Darwinism” and “ecology.”

He was first to postulate a “missing link” between ape and man and was proven correct when Java man was found in 1891.

A staunch evolutionary biologist, Haeckel put Darwin on the world map.

His books and monographs, placing Darwin in a broad social and philosophical context, were circulated internationally; they outsold On the Origin of Species by a large margin.

Haeckel studied medicine in Berlin, and then Wurzburg, finally attaining a doctorate in medicine in 1957.

His medical practice was short-lived, as Haeckel returned to university, this time the University of Jena, in order to study zoology under Karl Gegenbaur.

After completing his doctorate Haeckel became a professor of comparative anatomy at the University of Jena, where he remained from 1962 until 1909.

During this period of his life Haeckel made countless expeditions to the Canary Islands, the Mediterranean, especially, Turkey, Greece and Egypt, and Norway.

Also during this period he met Charles Darwin, Thomas Huxley and Charles Lyell.

Haeckel’s monism, first articulated in General Morphology (1866), argued that there is no fundamental difference between organic and inorganic nature, that is, life differed from inorganic nature only in virtue of the degree of its organization.

Haeckel also proposed that substance united spirit and matter resorting to the image of ‘crystal minds’ to convey the linkage between the two.

In this work Haeckel proposed the two fundamental laws of substance, namely, the constancy of energy and material, and the law of the evolution from unformed to fully formed.

For Haeckel, all mental capacity was derived from movement and sensitivity, while all morality was sourced from, and a development of, the social instincts of animals.

Haeckel’s theories regarding biology found extension in his politics.

Christianity, especially Roman Catholicism, was strongly condemned by Haeckel, who considered it nothing more than primitive superstition, in virtue of its deploration of nature.

He proposed that instead of Christianity, it should be monism that becomes the basis of education and civic life.

A dispute arose between Haeckel and Virchow on this account; while Virchow considered Darwinism to be but a hypothesis, Haeckel considered it to be nothing short of a law, and consequently, was led to reject modern liberal notions of free will.

Haeckel was ultimately scientifically isolated, in virtue of disputes he had with others in the field, over the process of development and heredity.

At the same time as his scientific isolation Haeckel’s public popularity continued to increase.

This popularity was on account of the contribution his ideas had for nineteenth century sociology, psychology and the early developments in psychoanalysis.

Near the end of his productive life, Haeckel founded the Monist League (1909), in which he nonetheless encountered opposition to his pantheism.

Haeckel married Agnes Huschke in 1867.

The couple had two daughters named Emma and Elizabeth, and a son named Walter.

After the death of his wife in 1915, Haeckel became mentally frail. In 1918, Haeckel sold his Medusa mansion to the Carl Zeiss foundation.

Haeckel passed away on August 9, 1919, in Germany.