A commentary on the NY Times editorial page on Monday, April 23rd, notes, perhaps with tongue in cheek, that the approximately one percent difference between human and chimp DNA might be a one percent chance that evolution never happened. Well, not quite.
Broadway has a new production of Inherit the Wind, based on the 1925 Scopes monkey trial. And the American Museum of Natural History has a new Hall of Human Origins. A short item on Monday’s New York Times editorial page about the play and exhibit finished by reminding us that chimp DNA is almost 99 percent identical to human DNA. The item then says, perhaps jokingly, that creationists can take heart in the differing one percent, as a one percent chance that evolution didn’t happen. Well, joke or not, people might take this seriously—after all it’s on the editorial page of the New York Times! So let’s straighten this out. In fact, the approximately one percent difference in the DNA sequences of humans and chimps is living documentation of the random genetic mutations that have been selected in the six million or so years since we and chimps split away from our common ancestor. That one percent DNA difference doesn’t represent a small chance that evolution didn’t happen—it’s the record of the evolution that did happen. Or I’m a monkey’s uncle.