If you just connect all the dots, isn’t it easy to see how the first humans could evolve from a shared ancestor with the apes? Illustrated by Brian Weaver
We often see the statistic that human and chimp DNA is 98–99% similar. But is that true?
We’re probably all familiar with the iconic image of man’s supposed evolution from an apelike creature. On the far left is a small chimp that, over the course of millions of years, gets larger, walks upright, loses hair; and on the far right we have man as the final product. On the surface it looks rather simple and straightforward and, to many, believable. But does it reflect reality, or is it just another evolution story?
According to God’s Word, man and chimps were separate creations by God. In Genesis 1:24–25 we read of God creating the land animals by his spoken word “according to their kind” (which would include the kind that chimps belong to). In Genesis 1:26–27 we read of the creation of the first man and woman, Adam and Eve, not only as separate creations from the animals but also as unique creatures because they alone were made in the image of God. So clearly from a biblical perspective, man didn’t evolve from any creature. This is very different from the evolution story, and both cannot be correct.
From TV shows to zoo signs, textbooks, and more, we often hear or read that human and chimp DNA is 98–99% the same, proving our shared ancestry. But is that true?
Surprisingly, even the evolutionists would agree it’s false. In a telling article titled, “Relative Differences: The Myth of 1%,” the author (an evolutionist) wrote, “Genomewise [referring to the DNA inside the nucleus of the cell], humans and chimpanzees are quite similar, but studies are showing that they are not as similar as many tend to believe.”1 So just how similar is human and chimp DNA?
The 98–99% figure comes from comparing only DNA between humans and chimps that “aligns.” This refers to any genetic sequence that is similar enough (although not a 100% match) that a computer program can align them. And within this aligned region there is only one type of difference that evolutionists typically count. These differences are called substitutions. For example, human DNA might have a T but chimp DNA in the same location has a G. Evolutionary ideas propose that the common ancestor of humans and chimps likely had a G in that position but a mutation changed the G to T in the line that eventually led to humans. These types of differences account for the often-touted 1–2% difference between human and chimp DNA.2
What about the other differences within the aligned DNA, such as gaps where whole sections of human DNA have no match to the sequence in chimp DNA (and vice versa)?
What about the DNA that does not align? Millions of DNA bases outside the aligned regions in human DNA have no match in chimp DNA and vice versa. Approximately 4% of human DNA has no alignment to chimp DNA.5 That’s a glaring 20% total difference between human and chimp DNA!
If there are so many other differences besides substitutions, why do scientists typically focus only on the 1–2% difference? Time. Proposed evolutionary processes require slow, random processes. To account for all the other differences in the DNA, there would need to be more time since humans and chimps supposedly shared a common ancestor. The current ape-to-human timeframe of six million years is simply not enough time.
In addition, even if there was more time and those mutations could occur, they don’t do what evolution needs them to do. Mutations don’t cause the gain of novel traits—the gain of genetic information—necessary to change from one kind of organism into another.
DNA is more than just a sequence of bases. It’s a library that encodes the information on how to produce all the proteins necessary for each living organism. Genes are distinct sequences of DNA that encode the information for making the proteins, but a lot of other regulatory information is encoded in the DNA determining when, where, how much, and under what conditions those proteins are produced. Chemical tags modify DNA and influence how the genes express the proteins. These tags are referred to as epigenetic markers because they exist outside of (epi-) the actual sequence of DNA (-genetics).
Let me use an analogy to explain. The following sentence can have two very different meanings, depending on the punctuation: “A woman, without her man, is nothing,” and “A woman: without her, man is nothing.” Perhaps it’s a silly illustration, but it gets the point across.
The words of both sentences are the same, but the meaning is different because of the punctuation. The same is true for DNA and its chemical tags. The sequence of DNA can be identical but produce different results based on the presence or absence of epigenetic markers. So if humans and chimps share a common ancestor and these chemical tags are heritable, they should have similar epigenetic markers, right?
They should (if evolution were true), but they don’t. One study compared human and chimp epigenetic markers in a type of white blood cell called neutrophils.6 Neutrophils were chosen because this cell type is so similar in humans and chimps. The scientists discovered differences in thousands of places. Some epigenetic markers were in humans and not chimps and vice versa.
Another study showed major differences between human and chimp epigenetic markers in brain cells.7 Over 1,000 genes had major differences, and many times those differences led to increased expression of those genes in humans. The research also showed that abnormal patterns of epigenetic markers in humans typically lead to disease. So how could these markers change and evolve over time if so little change is tolerated well?
The biblical account of creation and the evolution story are mutually exclusive when it comes to the origin of man. Genetic evidence confirms that man and chimps do not share a common ancestor and is consistent with the biblical account of creation.
Beyond science overturning the evolutionary story of mankind’s origin, there is a much more significant reason why we need to know the correct version of our origins. Paul shares in Romans 5:15 and 1 Corinthians 15:21–22 that “one man,” Adam, brought death into this world. The punishment for Adam’s sin was suffering and death for all mankind (Romans 5:12) and all of creation (Romans 8:22). That is the bad news from Genesis 3, and it explains why all humans have a sin problem.
But Paul also shares the good news that the solution to sin and our salvation is found in the “one man Jesus Christ.” The sinless, perfect Son of God took the punishment for our sin by dying on the cross in our place. He then resurrected, showing his power over death and Satan (Genesis 3:15; 1 Corinthians 15:3–4). Our origins matter because the gospel is rooted in the history of the historical Adam, recorded in Genesis.
Whenever you read that human and chimp DNA is 98–99% the same, it’s simply not true! The 98–99% refers only to substitutions in aligned regions where human and chimp DNA have different bases (or letters). But there are many other differences as well. There are gaps in the aligned region where there is human DNA but no matching chimp DNA or vice versa. There are also millions of bases outside the aligned regions that do not match at all, but these differences are not counted. If they are all counted, the similarity is only 80%, which equals 600 million differences between human and chimp DNA!
Human DNA on every continent is so similar that geneticists admit we came from a “small population” just a few thousand years ago. Could this be Adam?
“Adam and Eve never existed!” In past decades, you might expect such strong pronouncements from the lips of a vindictive atheist college professor. Sadly, in the current origins climate, these declarations are increasingly emanating from professed Christians. Why?
For over 100 years, the creation-evolution debate focused almost exclusively on three familiar sets of scientific evidence: The sequence of fossils in the earth’s crust, the anatomical and physiological similarity among humans and animals, and the geographic distribution of species around the globe. Using these data, scientists have tried to answer basic questions about our origin: Where did the first humans arise? When? From what ancestor?
For 150 years, evolutionists have insisted on a familiar answer: humans evolved from ape-like creatures in Africa over a timespan of several million years.
The advent of modern genetics introduced a new wrinkle to this narrative. Unlike previous types of data, DNA comparisons have the potential to reveal how many ancestors constitute our family tree—whether two ancestors or a large population. In other words, genetics placed Adam directly on the chopping block.
Would he survive?
Evolutionists have maintained for years that the start of mankind was an apelike creature that gradually and naturalistically evolved into the modern human race. With the help of genetic data, in recent years they have added fine detail to their account. To get to our genetic diversity today, they argue that the human family tree could never be shrunk to just two people—at any point in our past. Hence, modern evolutionists insist that science explicitly rejects a literal Adam and Eve.
But how can DNA reveal the size and scope of our family tree? The central principle involves mathematically accounting for (1) the large number of DNA differences among people around the globe and (2) the distribution among various populations. Evolutionists think that the number of DNA differences is too large to have arisen in just 6,000 years. They also say the DNA isn’t shared widely enough around the globe to have spread from just two ancestors in such a short amount of time. In fact, they insist that our ancestors never dropped below a population size of a few thousand people. Yet hidden assumptions undermine their conclusion.
One critical assumption involves the mechanism by which DNA differences arise. Evolutionists insist that all DNA variety (shown as colored lines in the double helix) is ultimately the result of mutations—DNA copying mistakes. This assumption, combined with the sheer number of DNA differences, forces evolutionists to stretch our genetic heritage over millions of years (shown as a long undulating line).
In contrast, the Bible allows for Adam and Eve to have been created with millions of DNA differences at the start. This fact immediately shrinks the required timescale for human origins down to a few thousand years—and shrinks the population size of our ancestors to two.
A critical difference between creationists and evolutionists involves how DNA differences are defined. Unsurprisingly, evolutionists create their list not only by comparing humans to other humans but also by comparing humans to apes. Consequently, the number of DNA differences that evolutionists attempt to account for is much larger than the number that creationists attempt to account for. Combined with our disagreement on how DNA differences arise (above), this dispute leads to dramatically different pictures of how many ancestors began the human race.
At the root of the church’s modern debate about the existence of a “historical Adam” is a tragic misunderstanding of science.
A contentious debate has intensified in the Christian world since it made the cover of Christianity Today (June 2011): “The Search for the Historical Adam.” The subtitle summarized the ongoing issue well: “Some scholars believe genome science casts doubt on the existence of the first man and woman. Others say the integrity of the faith requires it.”
Since then a slew of books have rolled off the press: Peter Enns, The Evolution of Adam (2012); Matthew Barrett and Ardel B. Caneday, eds., Four Views on the Historical Adam (2013); Hans Madueme and Michael Reeves, eds., Adam, The Fall, and Original Sin (2014); William VanDoodewaard, The Quest for the Historical Adam (2015); John Walton, The Lost World of Adam and Eve (2015); Abner Chou, ed., What Happened in the Garden? (2016); Terry Mortenson, ed., Searching for Adam (2016); and Scot McKnight and Dennis Venema, Adam and the Genome (2017) to name a few. In addition, articles abound in journals and magazines, as well as on the internet.
Many Christians don’t seem to know whether Adam really did exist in history or why they should care. Many Christian leaders deny that he was created supernaturally from literal dust, accepting instead that he evolved from an apelike creature. Others say he was not the first human but that God selected him out of a group of early Homo sapiens.
This is no small issue. The two basic views about Adam are profoundly different. Did he come into existence on the sixth literal day of history about 6,000 years ago (as a literal interpretation of Genesis 1–11 would indicate), or was that event tens or hundreds of thousands of years ago and 13.8 billion years after the big bang?
How did we get to this place of so much confusion and doubt about Adam among professing evangelicals? And does it matter anyway, as long as we believe in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord?
Consider the phrase on the Christianity Today cover: “Genome science casts doubt on the existence of the first man and woman.” This points to the root problem.
The study of the human genome is recent, but the problem of letting scientific claims overturn the clear teaching of God’s Word goes back two centuries. It started in earnest in the early 1800s when most of the church abandoned belief in the Bible’s chronology and the global flood of Noah. In its place they adopted the prevailing scientific idea, developed by atheist and deist geologists, that rock layers and fossils required millions of years to form.
Christians did not understand that this “scientific” idea did not come from the rocks and fossils but from the antibiblical, naturalistic, philosophical assumptions that these scientists used to interpret the rocks. As a result, Christians proposed the gap theory or day-age view of Genesis 1 to accommodate millions of years, and reduced Noah’s flood to a local catastrophe in the Middle East or a myth.8
Most Christians didn’t think it mattered to the basic doctrines of their faith, believing that the Bible is primarily about spiritual things, not the physical world. Having compromised on the history of the flood and the biblical chronology (which reveals that the whole universe is only a little more that 6,000 years old), many in the church subsequently accepted Darwin’s initial claims that plants and animals evolved over these supposed millions of years (Origin of Species, 1859). When Darwin later asserted that man had evolved from some apelike creature (Descent of Man, 1871), the theologically liberal wing of the church quickly accepted that too. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, many evangelicals resisted biological and human evolution but continued to compromise with millions of years and ignore the global flood.9
Even after the resurgence of young-earth creation following the publication of The Genesis Flood (1961), most evangelicals still rejected a young earth and continued to compromise on the age of the universe, saying that it is an insignificant side issue over which Christians can “agree to disagree.” Most reject naturalistic evolution, though theistic (God-initiated) evolution (including belief in the evolution of human beings) continues to gain ground among evangelicals. Without the biblical foundation of the first male and female made in God’s image, we are now witnessing an alarming increase in the number of professing evangelicals who doubt or deny the Bible’s teaching on gender, marriage, and sexuality.
The abandonment of these clear teachings of Genesis 1–11 are the result of accepting the supreme authority of the scientific majority. It may begin only in some disciplines of science, but it eventually spreads to other areas of the culture and life. Consequently, in the formerly Christian Western world, over 60% of young adults are walking away from the church, and polls show that a great many who are staying in the church are doctrinally and morally confused.10 The West is rapidly sinking into spiritual darkness and moral insanity and becoming increasingly closed to the gospel. This is all tied to the rejection of the truth of Genesis 1–11.
Belief in a literal Adam and fall has always been foundational to historic Christian orthodoxy and sound interpretation of the Bible.
As many have argued, Adam is foundational to the gospel and the integrity and authority of the whole Bible.11 Jesus and the New Testament writers clearly believed in and taught the literal truth of Genesis 1–11. And they clearly argued that Jesus (the last Adam) came to solve the problems caused by the rebellion of Adam (the first man). Without Adam, the gospel collapses (Romans 5:12–21, 8:18–25, and 1 Corinthians 15:12–49).
Christians make a catastrophic mistake when they abandon what the Bible says about our first parents.
Christians make a catastrophic mistake when they abandon what the Bible says about our first parents. People who want to understand where we came from and why we need a Savior will not find answers in the shifting sands of evolutionary misinterpretations of fossils and DNA or the ever-changing paintings and sculptures of imaginative evolutionary artists.12
Human evolution is not a scientific fact but a pseudo-scientific myth based on antibiblical assumptions. In contrast, many lines of solid scientific evidence powerfully confirm the literal truth of Genesis about a historical Adam, the ancestor of us all.13
Thus, Christians have no biblical or scientific reasons to doubt the literal, historical truth of God’s holy, inspired, inerrant Word, including everything it teaches about the origin and nature of man in Genesis 1–11.