Reasons to Believe

DNA Comparisons between Humans and Chimps: A Response to the Venema Critique of the RTB Human Origins Model, Part 4

For the last several weeks, I have been responding to biologist Dennis Venema’s criticisms of the RTB human origins model. (Go here, here, and here to read my previous responses.) Venema’s critique has centered on our views on the genetic similarity between humans and chimpanzees.

As part of our assessment of human evolution, we at RTB question whether there is as strong a genetic connection between humans and chimps as is commonly communicated to the general public. Most people are familiar with the claim that humans and chimps share a 99 percent DNA similarity. Our assertion, however, is that the genetic commonality between these two primates is closer to 90 percent.

We also maintain that “percent genetic comparisons” have no biological meaning. In fact, we believe that the emphasis on percent genetic similarity actually hinders our comprehension of the genetic basis for the biological and behavioral differences between humans and chimpanzees, which, as Hugh Ross and I discuss in Who Was Adam?, scientists are beginning to understand. These differences have little to do with which genes are present in the human and chimpanzee genomes or the similarity of their DNA sequences. Instead, these two species’ biological and behavioral distinctions stem from differences in gene expression. (Gene expression describes which genes are used in a particular tissue and at a particular time during the course of growth and development.)

I’ve also discussed the human-chimp genetic differences in several articles on our website.

When using gene expression as a barometer, there is a significant and meaningful genetic difference between humans and chimpanzees. And when it comes to discussing the validity of human evolution, the focus should be on whether or not changes in gene expression patterns can take place in a coherent manner through time in such a way as to account for the emergence of human beings from an ancestral ape-like creature. In my view, percent genetic similarity really has no place in the discussion.


Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

Subjects: Humans vs. Chimps

Dr. Fazale Rana

In 1999, I left my position in R&D at a Fortune 500 company to join Reasons to Believe because I felt the most important thing I could do as a scientist is to communicate to skeptics and believers alike the powerful scientific evidence—evidence that is being uncovered day after day—for God’s existence and the reliability of Scripture. Read more about Dr. Fazale Rana