“Isn’t the 99% genetic similarity between humans and chimps evidence for evolution?”
When I speak on science-faith issues, I am almost always asked this question. The inquiry rarely takes me by surprise, but my reply often catches people a bit off-guard. “The biblical creation accounts readily accommodate the human-chimpanzee genetic likenesses. In fact, they predict them.”
This unexpected agreement comes from an examination of relevant scriptural passages and from recent studies showing the genetic basis for the differences between human and chimpanzee brains. First, the biblical data.
Genesis 2:7 describes the creation of Adam and states that God “formed the man from the dust of the ground.” The verb “formed” is translated from the original Hebrew verb yasar, which means “to form,” “to fashion,” or “to produce.” Genesis 2:19 uses yasar to describe God’s work to form “out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air.” Together, these verses indicate that both man and animals were fashioned by the Creator from the same substance. It follows, then, that anatomical, physiological, biochemical, and genetic similarities should exist between humans and other animals, including the “99% genetic similarity” between humans and chimpanzees.
And yet, according to Genesis 2:7, only Adam was animated with the divine breath, implying that there is something distinct about humans. Genesis 1:26-27 (and 5:12) teach that human beings alone were made in God’s image. As a result, humans display unique nonphysical characteristics that reflect that image.
It stands to reason that significant physical differences will also exist between humans and other animals—variations that provide the biological support for humanity’s likeness to God. Many of these qualities stem from the brain’s structure and activities. Despite substantial genetic similarities, Scripture anticipates significant differences between the brains of humans and those of the great apes.
Increasing scientific evidence reveals that genetic similarity has no bearing on the biological and behavioral disparity between humans and chimpanzees. Instead, what matters is the way genes are used (gene expression).
One study demonstrated that the co-expression patterns of genes for humans and chimpanzees differ considerably in the cerebral cortex but are largely similar in subcortical regions. 2 Another study indicates that human and chimp genomes vary in microRNA (molecules that regulate gene expression) content.3 The way genes are regulated and expressed corresponds to the profound dissimilarities in human and chimpanzee brain structures and cognitive abilities (behavior), thereby explaining the crucial differences between humans and the great apes.
These biological discoveries indicate that—in accord with Genesis 1 and 2—the Creator used the same materials (genes) to construct both humans and chimpanzees but employed these resources in such a way to generate radically different kinds of creatures, one of which uniquely bears God’s image.
- R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, eds.,Theological Word Book of the Old Testament (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1980), Volume I, 396.
- Michael C. Oldham, Steve Horvath, and Daniel H. Geschwind, “Conservation and Evolution of Gene Coexpression Networks in Human and Chimpanzee Brains,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA 103 (2006): 17973-78.
- Eugene Berezikov et al., “Diversity of MicroRNAs in Human and Chimpanzee Brain,” Nature Genetics 38 (2006): 1375-77.