Are Chimps 98.5% Human?

The rate of change of knowledge in the field of biology has been incredible during the past several years. Rarely a day goes by when we do not have an article in our local newspaper on cloning, the human genome project, a new use or technique in genetics, or some new ailment of humans that is shown to be genetically based. One of the facts that appears in the media with great regularity is that when the DNA from humans and chimps are compared, 98.5% of the DNA is identical. The media likes to use data like this to claim that chimps are nearly human and that humans are just smart chimps.

 There are so many errors in this kind of suggestion that it is difficult to know where to start. Nearly 75% of human genes have some counterpart in nematodes--a soil-dwelling worm that is about four thousandths of an inch long. Does that mean that a nematode is 75% human? Obviously not! Having a lot of similarities is also misleading. Chimps have 24 pairs of chromosomes, and humans have 23. Of these pairs, 18 are pretty much the same, but the rest have been reorganized with some chunks of DNA in radically different positions. In simple terms, you could have two piles of building materials that were exactly the same--right down to the last nail, but two very different houses could result from those same materials. How the intelligence that actually builds the houses uses these materials is what makes the houses what they are.

 Those who maintain that it is the differences in the brain that control all of this are faced with an evidence problem. Chimps do well when tested for their IQ with numbers well into the human intelligence range. Human brains are larger, but brain size has little to do with intelligence. Men have larger brains than women, but few would suggest that men are more intelligent than women. The right and left halves of chimps are better connected than in humans which ought to be reflected in some way in abilities.

 From a scientific standpoint, this question has barely been touched. Neither the human nor the chimp genome has been completed to the point where any meaningful comparisons can be made. Obviously statements attempting to assign humanness to chimps or visa versa are media propagandizing and not science.

 From a biblical standpoint, there is a much clearer picture and much better evidence. The biblical picture of man is that man is created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). This does not mean we look physically like God because God is a Spirit (John 4:24) and not a flesh-and-blood being. Our makeup is spiritual in nature and has nothing to do with our genes.

 This is seen physically in our ability to be creative. Man's capacity to create art, to express himself in music, and to be able to be taught to think in these areas is not a product of our intelligence. Severely retarded humans frequently demonstrate extraordinary ability in these areas. In spite of enormous anthropomorphism, no evidence of a convincing nature exists to show chimps have this ability. Man's capacity to worship God and to have self-awareness that is a part of that worship is another characteristic that is not intelligence based and makes man unique. Man's capacity to feel guilt, to be sympathetic, and to forgive are other characteristics that are not related to IQ and which chimps do not have in any degree.

 It is important to notice that we have not listed anger, threat, submission, joy, or grief in our discussion. These emotions do seem to show up in animals, but they can also be seen to be survival devices. All of them are functional in the social structure of a pack of wolves to maintain order and enable the pack to hunt efficiently. Similar advantages are seen in most animals that scientists have studied extensively. The characteristics we have listed as unique to humans do not help survival and, in fact, may threaten it. How many people have died because of their desire to express worship to God in a particular way?

 The biblical perspective is that man does these things and has his uniqueness because of his spiritual makeup. Our creation in God's image is what makes us human. We have a zero relationship to chimps because our uniqueness is found in our soul--not in our genes. (Data from "The Greatest Apes, New Scientist," May 15, 1999, page 26.

--John N. Clayton

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