I posted below about research into the differences in human and chimp genomes. The human – chimpanzee comparison is a favorite rhetorical game on both sides of the creation-evolution debate. One side uses a method of comparison that shows that chimpanzees and human genomes have a remarkable similarity. The other responds that the data is skewed and the comparison is not really so close. The debate, in truth, is irrelevant. As the article points out, exactly what the difference between human and ape genomes’ is depends on what you are measuring. Humans’ and chimpanzees’ bodies are 100% identical if you list the elements that make them up. Their genomes are also 100% identical if you consider what base pairs make up their DNA. Counting genes, again, you get somewhere upwards of 90% similarity.
But what does that really tell us? It’s use as an objection to belief in a Creator comes from the repugnance some feel towards the idea that the human body could have been descended from earlier forms of life. One of the greatest lines in the movie Gettysburg comes when a group of Southern officers are arguing about Darwin’s “new” theories. “Perhaps you were descended from an ape,” says one officer, “And perhaps I was descended from an ape. But I challenge the man here to say that General Robert E. Lee was descended from an ape.” Hear, hear. It seems, at first glance, an idea that insults our dignity.
However, this doesn’t seem to be the message received from the Faith, in which we are reminded that we are dust, and to dust we shall return. Scripture compares man variously to worms, grass, rags, and dirt. To relate physical aspects of our nature to “lower” things — perhaps even evolutionarily — does no insult to the dignity of man, judging by the Bible and tradition. For along with the acknowledgment of man’s pettiness stands an insistence on man’s dignity and unique place in God’s plan for nature.
Remember that the Genesis story — that story that reminds us that God made man from dust — notes that dust is brought to life by the breath of God. To accept that man’s body was made in the same fashion as the animals, and even as part of the same physical process, does not mean rejecting this higher, divinely-called nature. To focus solely on the similarities is just as much an error as to focus solely on the differences. Scientists are often blind to that higher nature in man, seeing only the details rather than the whole picture. However similar they may be physically, the difference between men and apes is nevertheless clear to anyone who has eyes to see. After all, the chimpanzees don’t sit around and debate with one another about how insulted they are to be so closely related to man.