Where Science and Faith Converge
Average Joe's Corner

Are Gorillas Closer Human Relatives than Chimps?

By Joe Aguirre - March 15, 2012

“It was beauty killed the beast.”

One might invoke the last line from King Kong after hearing about a recent discovery asserting a closer connection between gorillas and humans. Does evidence from the study imply shared evolutionary ancestry? In this podcast, biochemist Fuz Rana explains what the “closer connection” means from a genetic perspective. Here are some summary points:

  • Gorillas (from an evolutionary perspective) diverged from the human-chimp lineage about ten million years ago and humans and chimps diverged about five million years ago.
  • The “99 percent” genetic similarity between chimps and humans or “98 percent” similarity between gorillas and humans—though eye-catching for laypeople—is virtually meaningless. Selective comparisons can yield such favorable results, but they do not constitute meaningful comparisons.
  • Molecular clock analysis (which says gorillas diverged from the human-chimp lineage about 5.95 million years ago [mya]; humans and chimps diverged about 3.7 mya) is in direct conflict with the fossil record (10 mya and 6–7 mya, respectively).
  • Depending on the region of the genome compared, humans can appear closer to either chimps or gorillas, thus confounding the standard evolutionary paradigm.
  • Two evolutionary mechanisms to account for the apparent conflict, gene flow and incomplete lineage sorting, fall short of providing explanatory power.
  • Genetic similarity between humans, gorillas, chimps, orangutans, macaques, Neanderthals, and Denisovans can be seen as the work of a Creator employing common blueprints, building blocks, designs, patterns, and archetypes to fashion “similar,” though very different creatures (all made from the “dust of the Earth”).
  • Biology separates humans from all other creatures, but the image of God uniquely distinguishes humans from all others.

From the standpoint of human origins models (evolution or creation) and their predictions, Fuz cites the esteemed evolutionary biologist Morris Goodman, who wrote:

If the biblical account of creation were true, then independent features of morphology, proteins, and DNA sequences would not be expected to be congruent with each other. Chaotic patterns, with different proteins and different DNA sequences failing to indicate any consistent set of species relationships, would contradict the theory of evolution.

DNA evidence seems to confirm the failure “to indicate any consistent set of species relationships,” thereby bolstering the case for biblical creation.

Why would God create gorillas? Experts probably have some idea. But laypeople like me (and perhaps you) can be content to enjoy their presence on this biologically rich, diverse planet. Whether in their natural habitat (preferred), behind glass at a zoo, or on the wide screen, gorillas are powerful, sometimes frightening, yet awe-inspiring animals that command attention and rouse wonder about the Creator’s design and purpose for these majestic creatures.  

  • Humans vs. Chimps
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