The Tragic Sense of Life: Ernst Haeckel and the Struggle over Evolutionary Thought

The Tragic Sense of Life: Ernst Haeckel and the Struggle over Evolutionary Thought

Robert J. Richards

Language: English

Pages: 576

ISBN: 0226712168

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

Prior to the First World War, more people learned of evolutionary theory from the voluminous writings of Charles Darwin’s foremost champion in Germany, Ernst Haeckel (1834–1919), than from any other source, including the writings of Darwin himself. But, with detractors ranging from paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould to modern-day creationists and advocates of intelligent design, Haeckel is better known as a divisive figure than as a pioneering biologist. Robert J. Richards’s intellectual biography rehabilitates Haeckel, providing the most accurate measure of his science and art yet written, as well as a moving account of Haeckel’s eventful life.





















personality of magnetic proportions—with one pole pulling the best biological students to his little redoubt in Jena and the other repulsing the orthodox all over the world. His energy and combativeness derived, I believe, from the tragedy that haunted him most of his days. That searing experience explains, at least in part, both his pulsing creativity and his incessant struggles. For any historian or philosopher of biology, Haeckel offers an irresistible subject of investigation. My own interest

chapter three he thought would empirically demonstrate Darwin’s original conception, as well as lead to further important theoretical articulations. His appetite for this endeavor was fi rst sharpened by his radiolarian work. In Die Radiolarien, Haeckel boldly sided with the English scientist. He argued that the radiolaria provided the desired empirical support for the new theory of evolution, since the relatedness of species within families bespoke genealogy and the transitional species joining

Scientific Results of the Voyage of H.M.S. Challenger during the Years 1873–1876, prepared under the superintendence of the late Sir C. Wyville Thomson (London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1887). See also Ernst Haeckel, Report on the Deep-Sea Medusae dredged by H.M.S. Challenger, vol. 14 of Report on the Scientific Results of the Voyage of H.M.S. Challenger (London: Longmans & Co., 1882); Report on the Siphonorae collected by H.M.S. Challenger during the Years 1873–76, vol. 28 of Report on

colleagues adopted both. On the fi rst page of his initial transmutation notebook, “Notebook B,” Charles Darwin proposed that new adaptations sequentially acquired by a species over a long period would be preserved in the embryo: “An originality is given (& power of adaptation) is given by true generation, through means of every step of progressive increase of organization being imitated in the womb, which has been passed through to form that species.—(Man is derived from Monad).” 105 Through his

“cenogenesis,” that is, respectively, a rather faithful preservation of the phylogenetic sequence in the embryo and a distorted representation due to adaptations occurring during embryonic or larval development.119 Throughout his career, the biogenetic law would govern the vital pulse of Haeckel’s many evolutionary studies. It would also provide an inviting target for the attacks of his enemies. Human Evolution During the 1865–66 university term, when Haeckel worked feverishly on the composition

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