Quick post with a word of thanks to National Geographic magazine. Though I smacked them around a little in the past about the whole “human embryo” vs “embryonic human” twist in a post long ago (which eventually became a commentary on the Tomorrow’s World website), I do enjoy the magazine when I have the time to read it.
The most recent edition (April 2008) has a fascinating article on some chimpanzees who seem to have learned how to use pointed sticks as spear-like tools for getting at yummy bushbabies (yummy from the chimp’s point of view, of course). It makes the usual stretches (which the title, “Almost Human,” foreshadows well), but it is still fascinating.
But one of the statements I liked most in the article had little to do with the substance of the article itself. The author, Mary Roach, reminds her readers of the “Monkey Gene Thing” — the often stated similarity in human and chimpanzee DNA — telling us that they are “around 95 to 98 percent the same.” But then she helpfully adds a parenthetical qualifier:
This is less meaningful than it sounds. Humans share more than 80 percent of their gene sequence with mice, and maybe 40 percent with lettuce.
Yes, indeed. For many of us this is not new news, but for many others it might be. Although the article makes it clear where Mrs. Roach stands concerning beliefs about human “ancestry” and though I clearly do not agree with that stand, I appreciate her qualifying that “95 to 98 percent” comment, as most evolutionists fail to put the comment in perspective in any way at all.
It is not that the genetic similarity is not meaningful at all — but it is “less meaningful than it sounds.” Yet when it shows up during evolutionist/creationist yelling matches (hard to call them debates), how it “sounds” is left unqualified, because how it “sounds” makes more of an impact when it is unqualified. Young Earth Creationists often make the same misstep, such as when they tout a scientific finding that is at odds with the understanding suggested by the vast majority of related findings and then fail to mention the rarity or uniqueness of the finding they are advertising. Why? Because the “sound” of what they are saying is more convincing if it is left unqualified.
Now, I don’t mean to call the kettle black while avoiding my own pottish nature. I make the same mistake, myself, however on guard against it I might be. (Troll around this blog for a while and you might see some examples, I am sure.) It is a part of human nature and a seemingly inherent tendency of our horribly human Jeremiah 17:9 heart.
All the more, then, it is nice for once to see the Monkey Gene Thing properly qualified in print.