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Fake Science: “About 99 Percent of Our DNA Is Identical to That of Chimpanzees”


Over at National Review Online, recent commentary by the writer Kevin Williamson includes an article advocating good manners…while, perhaps paradoxically, taking this as an occasion to characterize the President-elect and his wife as “cretins,” “American Psycho extras,” and “genuinely bad human beings,” comparing the couple with Saddam Hussein’s sons Uday and Qusay, and more.

Since Evolution News is a non-political information source, I leave it to others to evaluate the wit and wisdom of these remarks. What caught my attention is Williamson’s gesture to the mythical equation of “99 percent” shared DNA between humans and chimps. In fact the whole article is organized around that notion:

About 97 percent of the human genome is identical to that of orangutans, which are solitary and pacifistic. But about 99 percent of our DNA is identical to that of chimpanzees — which are intensely social and fierce. The genetic difference between orangutan and chimpanzee is relatively small, and the genetic difference between chimpanzee and H. sap. is tiny indeed. (“My brother, Esau, is a hairy man.”) Every day presents a struggle between the better angels of our nature and the inner chimp.

The inner chimp is always there, and, sometimes, he wins. [Emphasis added.]

Williamson’s idea is that since man and chimp are nearly indistinguishable, it requires a constant struggle not to be “chimpy.” He congratulates himself on this point:

What should I do when I see a Subaru pulling into the Whole Foods parking lot with an “I’m With Her” bumper sticker? Should I lecture the driver? Scream at him? Yell at his kids? Kick in his headlights? Run down his address and send him a gift subscription to National Review?

No. That would be bonkers.

That would be chimpy.

It would be far better and far more human (and we Christians should be thinking this time of year about what it means to be human, in the flesh) to do the opposite, to pull past that coveted parking space and let him have it rather than let him have it.

Man, this is a piece of fake science that, in the popular media, has taken on a life of its own. With fine timing, our colleague Sarah Chaffee has lately offered a four-part interview with Discovery Institute biologist Ann Gauger on the 99 percent myth. The series for ID the Future is here, here, here, and here.

Are humans and chimps effectively identical in our respective DNA? The short answer is no, no way: not in our DNA, coding and non-coding, not in the way our genes are expressed, how chimps splice their DNA, the existence of human-specific genes, and more, not to mention how this all cashes out in terms of anatomy and behavior. To understand this takes a little sketching in of the relevant scientific background, as Dr. Gauger does, from the basics on up.

This is very helpful, vindicating common sense that tells us there’s no genuine mistaking of the creature in the zoo or jungle with you or me, no matter how gross the manner in which we act, speak, or write. I recommend it to Mr. Williamson.

Photo: Chimp and keeper, Beijing Zoo, by Snowyowls via Wikicommons.

I’m on Twitter. Follow me @d_klinghoffer.

David Klinghoffer

Senior Fellow and Editor, Evolution News
David Klinghoffer is a Senior Fellow at Discovery Institute and the editor of Evolution News & Science Today, the daily voice of Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture, reporting on intelligent design, evolution, and the intersection of science and culture. Klinghoffer is also the author of six books, a former senior editor and literary editor at National Review magazine, and has written for the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Seattle Times, Commentary, and other publications. Born in Santa Monica, California, he graduated from Brown University in 1987 with an A.B. magna cum laude in comparative literature and religious studies. David lives near Seattle, Washington, with his wife and children.