Ontogeny and Phylogeny Reconsidered

Phylogeny and Ontogeny Reconsidered

As I knelt in prayer and worshiped, I thought of the tremendous intricacy of our body, the myriad cells, beautifully arranged, functioning so smoothly and 10 fully integrated systems, self-replicating, self-repairing – a thing of wonder like the spiral galaxies that fill our Universe.

Oh Lord!

Then I thought of those cells, the parietal cells and the Mast cells, the neuroblasts and the embryonic cells migrating through a vast universe all the while transforming those cells around them by their cell products and by genes turning on and off.

How ontogeny, the development of a human from an embryo is a marvel beyond comprehension. As we grow in our knowledge of genetics the marvels only increase and we stare in awe at His brilliance and creativity.

Then I thought of Phylogeny and how from single cells, the human race evolved over several billion years, a marvel every bit as amazing as Ontogeny.

It was said, years ago, that Ontogeny recapitulates Phylogeny and of course we know this is not true.

But how I think, those early thinkers had these two Miracles in mind that they tried to link them– but using the wrong link.

It is not that Ontogeny recapitulations Phylogeny, but
Ontogeny and Phylogeny
are two arms
that call

Ontogeny and Phylogeny
recapitulate Your artistry and brilliance

For before the universe was
The Lord was an artist
and scientist

And have given us these gifts
to marvel even more so that we
can worship


The human body specifically, and evolutionary development in general, is amazing. I’m only dipping my toe into the subject at the moment via the intro text Understanding Evo-Devo by Wallace Arthur. However, what I am reading is amazing and moves me to join you in praise of the wonderful complexity of life and living.

Thanks for allows us to share in the awe and wonder you have for God. That we are still scratching the surface in this area makes it fertile ground for a heart moved to worship.

Thank you for your comment. Your thoughts directed me to look up Evolutionary Development. The complexity here is overwhelming, but a couple of quotes in a wiki article hit me:

The giraffe does not have a gene for a long neck, any more than the elephant has a gene for a big body. Their bodies are patterned by a system of switching which causes development of different features to begin earlier or later, to occur in this or that part of the embryo, and to continue for more or less time.

In that Wikipedia article (Evolutionary developmental biology - Wikipedia) Haeckel’s work is commented on and is interesting:

Two of Haeckel’s other ideas about the evolution of development have fared better than recapitulation: he argued in the 1870s that changes in the timing [heterochrony] and changes in the positioning within the body [heterotopy] of aspects of embryonic development would drive evolution by changing the shape of a descendant’s body compared to an ancestor. It took a century before these ideas were shown to be correct.

Back to Haeckel who coined the term, Ontogeny Recapitulates Phylogeny. It is good to remember this great genius. Wiki has this to say:

Ernst Heinrich Philipp August Haeckel 16 February 1834 – 9 August 1919 was a German zoologist, naturalist, eugenicist, philosopher, physician, professor, marine biologist, and artist. He discovered, described and named thousands of new species, mapped a genealogical tree relating all life forms and coined many terms in biology including ecology phylum, phylogeny and Protista. Haeckel promoted and popularized Charles Darwin’s work in Germany and developed the influential but no longer widely held recapitulation theory "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny claiming that an individual organism’s biological development, or ontogeny parallels and summarizes its species’ evolutionary development, or phylogeny.

When I read his views about God, my mind went to that bus-trip that CS Lewis wrote about in The Great Divorce. Some very great men took that trip from hell to heaven and chose to stay in hell, according to Lewis. I am always wondering why that is and I suspect that it takes a very small mind, or rather a humble spirit, to see something that is quite huge. Scripture affirms that over and over. "For God chose the foolish things of this world to shame the wise (1Cor 1:27) may I remain small by His grace.

But I am so thankful for men like Haeckel and Freud whose vast intellect allows us a glimpse of such a great God.

The network of gene interactions in embryonic development is mind boggling. I have mapped out gene interactions between just a few genes, and it quickly turns into a mass of spaghetti that my mind just can’t comprehend all at once. Our brains may be really good at some tasks, but maps of gene interactions just isn’t one of them, at least in my experience.

One thing that still amazes me is twins and just how identical they are. It shows just how repeatable this extremely complex process is.
[added in edit: leave it to the scientist to be impressed by low standard deviation between biological replicates]

This is one area where I think atheists and theists can find some common ground.

“A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, of the manifestations of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty - it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute the truly religious attitude; in this sense, and in this alone, I am a deeply religious man.” Albert Einstein


I really appreciated your comment and liked the Einstein quote.

Your doxology dovetails nicely with the Jimmy Lin, ‘scientific doxologist’ interview. :+1:

I always think of Paul and Silas in Philippi (Acts 16) when I think of praising God. They were in jail, in chains, had just been beaten and were facing probable death. Paul turns to Silas and says something like, “Let’s sing praises to the Lord” (I am not quoting scripture here, just pretending I’m there). Silas looks at him and thinks, “Paul, your nuts, we are in pain, it is scary, we are probably going to be killed- I don’t feel like praising God, but nevertheless, let’s do it” Paul and Silas sing and an earthquake hits the jail, the result is the chains fall off, the jailer is ready to kill himself but Paul speaks to him and he is converted. How wonderful to praise the Lord, certainly His creation makes it easy to do so, but even more so, we need to praise him when we feel like an abject failure and are being crushed. Then, we know, that this is the work of the Holy Spirit.


It echoes the heart’s desire in the first petition of the Lord’s Prayer, I realized this morning as I awoke. “Hallowed be your name!” The pray·er is asking for and wanting God to be doxologized, not just for themselves, but that too.

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