Are We 99% Chimps?

Not so Fast, Bonzo

Putting myths to rest is always a good thing, and right now it needs to be bedtime for Bonzo.


John Stonestreet

Journalists and science writers endlessly repeat the biological bromide that “humans and chimpanzees are 99% genetically identical,” a factoid that has taken on a life of its own and, pun intended, has evolved into a worldview assumption. If our genes are virtually indistinguishable from those of chimpanzees, the reasoning goes, we must be virtually indistinguishable from chimpanzees!

Kevin Williamson, writing at the National Review of all places, made this leap about Ivanka Trump’s rude welcome by fellow airline passengers recently. If we are, after all, 99% chimps, it’s not surprising our inner apes would make an appearance, say, on a JetBlue flight.

Now, people certainly are capable of acting like animals, and the scientific-sounding assertion that we really are animals at heart seems to explain it. But there’s just one problem: It’s not true. Our DNA is not 99% identical to that of chimpanzees. Even if it were, that wouldn’t make us apes-except-for-one-percent. That’s bad genetic science and reductionist philosophy, to boot.

Writing at Evolution News and Views, David Klinghoffer points out that the “99%” myth is based on hopelessly outdated research. But it got a shot in the arm after researchers at the Genome Consortium announced in 2005 they’d sequenced chimp DNA and compared it with our own.

Newspapers the world over trumpeted the similarity between the two genomes as further proof of our close ancestry. What they neglected to mention was that the project only compared protein-coding segments of the genome, which in humans, account for just 2% of the total! The rest is what Francis Collins once termed “junk DNA.” Except, as scientists have since discovered and Collins has admitted, this “junk” serves regulatory roles that determine how other genes are expressed, particularly in the brain. In other words, “junk DNA,” which makes up the vast majority of our genome, is a vital part of what makes humans, human and chimps, chimps.

Second, it turns out that the “99%” figure resulted from using a complete human genome as the template to sequence that of chimpanzees. That would be like assembling a jigsaw puzzle based on how another puzzle fit together!

The comparison also selected for areas of greater similarity and discarded those that didn’t match. To put it very simply, the two genomes looked similar because researchers expected them to look similar.

Based on what we now know, biologist and Senior Fellow at the Center for Science and Culture, Ann Gauger, estimates that humans and chimps share around 92% of our DNA. To put that in perspective, scientists tell us that we’re 90% identical to cats.

But then it gets more complicated. As Gauger admitted in an interview with the Discovery Institute, recent advances show how differently human and ape bodies put specific genes to work. Special proteins called transcription factors switch certain genes on and off during development, and roughly a third of these are human-specific. Apes don’t even have them.

The differences on the level of gene transcription, splicing, and expression are so profound that Gauger compares the process with an operating system, and protein-specific DNA with lines of code. They may look the same, but the results—a human and a chimp—could hardly be more different.

As former British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli observed indignantly upon reading Darwin, human beings are more like angels than apes. And he was right. No animal speaks, composes symphonies, paints masterpieces, sends probes to Saturn, or more importantly—desires a relationship with God.

Even if the “99%” canard were true, it wouldn’t make us 99% chimps any more than a diamond’s carbon composition makes it 99% coal. We’re not the sum of our genes, and it’s past time that journalists and commentators evolve past this outdated assertion.


Further Reading and Information

Are We 99% Chimps?: Not so Fast, Bonzo

We’re 100% the image-bearers of God, and as John said, we desire a relationship with our Creator. That fact alone demonstrates a vital difference between humans and animals. For more revealing details on this subject, click on the links below.


Fake Science: “About 99% of Our DNA Is Identical to That of Chimpanzees”
David Klinghoffer | | January 2, 2017

How Chimps and Humans are Different, Pt. 1: The Genome
Discovery Institute | November 18, 2016

How Chimps and Humans are Different, Pt. 2: Human-specific Genes
Discovery Institute | November 22, 2016


Available at the online bookstore

Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design
Stephen Meyer | HarperOne Publishers | June 2014

  • mrjama

    Please state the facts correctly. Humans and chimps have approximately 95% of their DNA in common. The percentage is irrelevant. What is relevant is that as you progress up the evolutionary tree, the closer our ancestors are in evolutionary history when compared to our genomes. In other words, we are closer to chimps than cats, closer to cats than birds, closer to birds than reptiles, closer to reptiles than protozoa, etc.

    This is, again, irrefutable evidence for evolution. For example, if you found that a cat was closer to our genome than a chimp, it would go against the theory of evolution. But it doesn’t.

    It is understandable that Christians are worried about evolution. It contradicts nearly everything about our religion from the story of creation to the atonement by Christ. Yet it is true. We either must adapt and evolve (no pun intended), or our religion faces extinction itself. Regardless, the lies and denials by Christians must stop.

    • David Kim

      LOL!! Hoo hoo ha ha. Do some more studying bud…

    • Scott McMahan

      To state that our current and at best incomplete understanding of genetic material is irrefutable evidence of evolution is to state a lie with a closed mind. To give you the benefit of the doubt, if there is irrefutable evidence that our genome is closer to a chimp than a cat (I believe the variation is very subtle at best according to our current understanding) that would lead a scientifically minded person to not jump onto the bandwagon of one theory and proport as you have that it is irrefutable evidence that somehow proves that we are evolved from comps despite mountains of much stronger scientific evidence that we are created as we are, as the Lord has told us in His Word. A scientifically minded person would fight to remain with an open mind despite the winds of culture and examine all the evidence. If you have the courage to do so, I think you will find remarkable evidence that will change your mind and heart.

      • mrjama

        It is mind-boggling that intelligent people continue to deny evolution – the most confirmed biological theory in history. Keep in mind that EVERY discovery since Darwin – and I mean every one, in every field of study, over 150+ years – confirms evolution. Genetics, geology, archeology, anthropology, zoology, astrology, etc. There has not been one piece of contrary evidence. Not one.

        Even the typical and expected adjustments to the theory, as occur with all scientific theories (for example, Newton’s gravity refined by Einstein), have been incredibly small. It truly is remarkable. Yet religious fanatics continue to deny the undeniable.

        I’ve been a Christian my whole life. I know it’s painful to realize you’ve been misled by people you trusted for decades – either on purpose or through ignorance. But we must take our blindfolds off and face reality. If you want to say God used evolution as the mechanism for biological diversity – go ahead.

        The fact of the matter is that Christian leadership refuses to change dogma, even when it is obviously wrong. Consider the Catholic position on evolution: You can subscribe to the theory of evolution in all aspects of life, at all times, except when it contradicts matter of faith. So, for example, evolution says there was no Adam, so therefore there was no original sin, and therefor no reason for Christ’s sacrifice (substitution atonement). If you never made that connection, belief in evolution is fine. But if you DID make that deduction, which many have, then you must renounce evolution or face excommunication.

        Now, some say you can reconcile Christ’s sacrifice in other ways. In fact, there are many atonement theories. This is all well and good, and I welcome discussion on those points. However, as a Catholic, you cannot do so. If your belief in evolution causes you to doubt Catholic dogma, you must renounce it. It is absolutely ridiculous.

        People who deny evolution deny and ignore basic and obvious facts, observations, and deductions. The young and uneducated can be forgiven. But intelligent people should know better. And when intelligent people deny facts and evidence, it is downright scary.

      • mrjama

        Also, to clarify, we did not “evolve from chimps”. Humans and chimps share a common ancestor. At some point in the past our evolutionary trees diverged. The difference in our genome since that divergence is no more than ~5%.