Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Trial of Galileo Galilei

In Vatican City’s Holy Palace

August 2nd, 2009

Minutes recorded by Aaron Butler


Summoned to the Holy Palace, in the presence of leaders from major Christian Churches of the world, including Pope Benedict XVI, and the Prosecutor of His Holy Office, Galileo Galilei, son of the late Vincenzio Galilei, having taken a formal oath to tell the truth, was asked the following:

Q: Why have you come to Vatican City? Was it on your own accord or were you summoned?

A: In Florence, the Father Inquisitor ordered me to come to Vatican City and present myself to the Holy Office, and I obeyed.

Q: Do you know the reason you were summoned?

A: I imagine it is a consequence of my recently published book: Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief Creation Theories. When summoned, publication of my book was ordered to be discontinued and the book was ordered to be taken off the shelves of church funded libraries, bookstores, educational institutions, and so forth.

Q: Would you please explain to the court the nature of your book?

A: In my book, I explored the two major theories within Christianity of the creation process: Evolution and Creationism or its predecessor Intelligent Design. The book contains the dialogue between two men, Salviati and Simplicio, debating the legitimacy of each theory. The open minded Sagredo mediated these discussions.

Q: Is this the book? (holds up the book).

A: Yes.

Q: Have you ever discussed the contents of this book with anyone present here today?

A: Yes, before Pope Benedict XVI became the pope, we would discuss extensively the theoretical mechanisms by which the inhabitants of the earth came to be.

Q: What specifically did you discuss with Pope Benedict XVI?

A: At the time, Cardinal Benedict was interested in the theories of Copernicus, the concept of natural selection, the fossil record, evidence of different hominid species, genetics, irreducible complexity, and other things of this nature. Since Copernicus’ writings are difficult to understand for people unfamiliar with biology, and much data has been collected since he first hypothesized the origin of species, he asked me to elaborate on the specifics of these topics and how they related to religious doctrine or contradicted Ptolemy’s theories of creation.

Q: How did the Pope feel about your ideas?

A: He held that man was created in God’s image, that there was no death before Adam, and that mankind had inhabited the earth for less than ten thousand years. Essentially he believed in Ptolemy’s theory of creation. Despite our difference of opinion on these points, he was open to hear me out, and defended his opinions, which I respectfully listened to.

Q: Is it true that the Pope asked you to write your book?

A: He didn’t ask per se, he thought it would help more people to understand both sides of the argument if a book was written like the one I wrote. Since concepts of genetics, the fossil record, and natural selection in general can be hard for the general public to understand in their entirety, we both thought it would be good for a book to be written in the layman’s language.

Q: Are you aware of the church’s position on this matter?

A: When I had my discussions with then Cardinal Benedict, there was no official position that I was aware of, besides the traditionally held concept of a creator, Adam and Eve, and other biblical concepts. Later in our discussions Cardinal Benedict told me that the scriptures contradicted the theory of evolution in regard to humankind’s appearance on the earth. He said the theory of evolution should be held to be suppositional, not absolute. In his own way, he endorsed teaching evolution as a scientific theory.

Q: At what point of time were you convinced of the theory of evolution?

A: I have been convinced of this ever since I began my research in genetics, due to the great amount of evidence contained in our genome.

Q: Is this not in contradiction to what the church allowed you to teach?

A: It must be stated that in science, facts and theories are not used in the same way they are in common language. A theory takes individual facts, observed during experimentation or otherwise in nature, and connects them into a pattern or paradigm that is able to predict the manner in which future facts will be observed. Theories are subject to change, most theories are eventually proven wrong. For me to accept the theory of evolution does not contradict what the church has decreed because I too hold that the theory of evolution is not absolutely true, but the best description we have, given the evidences we have observed in nature. In this way the theory of evolution is useful for scientists.

Q: Did not the church put out an official statement, called The Church’s Official Statement in Regards to Evolutionary Theory, stating that no member shall defend or hold to the theory of evolution in regard to mankind?

A: When I first came to Rome seventeen years ago, I received a proclamation that I was to not defend the theory of evolution.

Q: Would you consider your book in violation of this official church order?

A: No, the intention of my book is not to defend the theory of evolution, but instead to put forth a discussion describing and refuting it.

Q: Did you receive permission to write your book?

A: Because I didn’t think it was against the official statement put out by the church, I did not see a need to seek permission from the church to write or publish my book.

Q: So, you neither received permission to write your book, nor do you consider what you wrote to be in conflict with the guidelines set out by the church?

A: That is correct.

After hearing the testimony of Galileo Galilei, he is ordered to stay in Rome, and to return to this Holy Court to present an argument for his case three days from today.

I, Galileo Galilei, have testified as stated above.


Galileo Galilei has intentionally taught things contrary to the church’s official position. His book, Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief Creation Theories, has obvious bias towards evolution being the truth, something which is blasphemous to be taught. He testified three days ago at his deposition that he has “been convinced of [evolution] ever since [he] began [his] research in genetics, due to the great amount of evidence contained in our genome.” How can he say that his intention was to refute the theory of evolution, when he admits to believing in it himself? More importantly, everyone who has read his book bears witness to the fact that the character defending Ptolemy, Simplicio, is made to be intellectually inferior to the advocator of evolution, Salviati. There is no way that Galileo can say that his book is not in conflict with the official statement put out by the church in regards to defending evolution, for clearly the purpose and result of his book is to defend vehemently the theory of evolution.

Now it is my duty as the Prosecutor of His Holy Office, to set forth the doctrine behind Intelligent Design and Creationism, and the fallacy which is the theory of evolution.

First of all, evolution is an atheistic concept, aimed at taking God out of people’s minds and letting science explain the origin of life. Because of this, evolution must be resisted by all believers of God. Secondly, evolution is fundamentally flawed, since it cannot account for the irreducible complexity seen in nature. Let me take a moment to expound upon this latter point.

Ptolemy taught long ago that complexity requires a designer. This point is intuitive, as Ptolemy illustrates in this story:

“In crossing a heath, suppose I pitched my foot against a stone, and were asked how the stone came to be there, I might possibly answer, that for any thing I knew to the contrary it had lain there for ever; nor would it, perhaps, be very easy to show the absurdity of this answer. But suppose I had found a watch upon the ground, and it should be inquired how the watch happened to be in that place, I should hardly think of the answer which I had before given, that for any thing I knew the watch might have always been there. Yet why should not this answer serve for the watch as well as for the stone; why is it not admissible in the second case as it is in the first? For this reason, and no other, namely, that when we come to inspect the watch, we perceive—what we could not discover in the stone—that its several parts are framed and put together for a purpose, e.g. that they are so formed and adjusted as to produce motion, and that motion so regulated as to point out the hour of the day; that if the different parts had been differently shaped from what they are, or placed after any other manner or in any other order than that in which they are placed, either no motion at all would have been carried on in the machine, or none which would have answered the use that is now served by it.”

In other words, the watch’s mechanism is so complicated it could not have happened by chance. The same is true with many components of living things. We call this irreducible complexity. If you take a look in a cell, you will be amazed by all the intricate machinery contained within. There are mechanisms by which DNA is transcribed into RNA which is then translated into protein. There is machinery that moves the cell around and others that transmit signals to the cell surface to communicate with other complex machines outside the cell. The human eye is a prime example of something that cannot be explained by evolution. Here is an organ that is so complex and magnificent, that its study continues to impress the most devoted student of optics. Without going into detail, the human eye is dependant upon a number of proteins which work together to accomplish the goal of vision. If just one of these proteins is taken away then vision is lost. How then can evolution take credit? If tiny changes over time would yield components of the eye which would not function until the whole eye was finished then evolution wouldn’t work. Small changes giving incomplete eye machinery that cannot function would produce no benefit to the organism and therefore could not be selected for unless an outside source, an intelligent creator, was guiding the process of creation in some way.

Bacterial flagellum is another great example of irreducible complexity. The flagellum is a little motor which a bacteria uses to get around. The flagellum is made up of about thirty proteins, combined in an intricate system. It includes miniature versions of a base anchor, a drive shaft, and a universal joint. All this drives a filament propeller. The whole system is a technological marvel. If any of these thirty proteins is inactivated by genetic mutation then the whole system shuts down, denying the bacteria its ability to propel forward. Just like the human eye, the flagellum would require many small changes over time in order to give function. One small change (or chance mutation) might produce a part of the whole propeller system, but by itself it would serve no function and could not be selected for. Again, evolution alone cannot explain the intricately complex systems seen in living things.

A third point I would like to make in the case against evolution has already been touched on. It is that if evolution can not explain the irreducibly complex systems found in nature, then there must have been an intelligent being to aide in creation. As Christians we know this being to be God, the Almighty Father.

I think it is important to take a moment and clarify which type of evolution we are objecting to here. Evolution has been divided into two parts: microevolution and macroevolution. Microevolution is changes within a species which brings about subtle differences which may create an advantage and be selected for. Copernicus saw evidence of micro evolution when he collected finches on the Galapagos Islands. The church is not opposed to the idea of microevolution, and evidence of it is not disputed here. Macroevolution says that species evolved from each other. There is no evidence for macroevolution, it is speculation and has not been proven with the fossil record. Macroevolution says that men and apes share a common ancestor, a concept obviously antagonistic towards the Christian belief in Adam and Eve, the Fall, and redemption through Jesus Christ.

Now that I have shown holes in evolutionary logic and evidence, let me explain why evolution is incompatible with a belief in the Christian God.

First of all, the story of the creation states that there was no death before the fall. The Lord warned that death would enter the world if Adam and Eve partook of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” Mortality and death came into the world when Adam and Eve partook of the forbidden fruit. If Adam and Eve had not partaken of the fruit, everything would have remained exactly the way God created it, and there would be no death. This means that God created the beasts of the field, the birds of prey, the fish of the sea, and every other creature upon the earth as distinct differentiated species, and that death was not involved in the mechanism of this creation.

Also, according to evolution, man appeared on the earth 100,000 years ago. If this is true, then either Adam was created 100,000 years ago or he was not the “first man” as it states in Genesis. The genealogical records contained in the Bible say that man has been on the earth for approximately 6,000 years. Obviously evolution contradicts the biblical account in one way or the other.

Galileo has deceived this court by denying his book’s real intentions. He has surely defended evolution, which according to The Church’s Official Statement in Regards to Evolutionary Theory, is in violation of the church’s doctrine. He advocates atheistic ideas to be taught in church institutions, and as such, is an enemy to the church. Galileo must be held accountable before the church for his actions.


I Galileo Galilei, would like to first express my great love and devotion to the church. I am a strong believer in God, one who’s greatest desire is to spread the good news for everyone to hear. The accusation that my book is meant to undermine Christianity troubles me. In my defense I will outline some important evidence supporting evolution, and more specifically what the prosecution calls macroevolution. I then would like to discuss the supposed scriptural doctrine of the creation. I would also like to shed light on the conflict that has supposedly arisen between evolution and the church. I content that there is no such conflict, that this conflict thesis is the product of misunderstanding which has led to fear and hate.

Since we last parted, I have taken some time to reread The Church’s Official Statement in Regards to Evolutionary Theory. I hadn’t read that statement since it first came out many years ago and wanted to be sure of what it said exactly. I then proceeded to reread my book, Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief Creation Theories. As I began reading, I felt as if I were reading it for the first time, with new eyes. The book heavily favors the evolutionary theory, probably representative of my own conviction of that theory. I can readily admit to the court that this is in conflict with the Church’s official statement. Having admitted this, I think the question in everyone’s mind is “Why is it that I, as a Christian, am so convinced of evolution?” I will now address this question.

There is no doubt that the theory of evolution is counter intuitive. Seeing the complexity of life around us and the many intricate details contained within that life, one is forced to attribute creation to a grand designer, the prosecution made excellent points in this regard earlier. Copernicus’ writings were so revolutionary because they were so unexpected, they went against intuition. Ptolemy’s metaphor of the watchmaker resonates well inside most people convincing us that there is a creator. I don’t refute the idea of a creator; in fact I embrace that absolute truth. I simply question the mechanism by which many of us believe the creation came about. Things in our genome, the fossil record, and the age of the earth as measured using radioactive dating methods contradict Ptolemy’s theory of creation, and Copernicus’ theory is the best paradigm to explain some of these findings.

The first thing that is hard for people to understand is the extremely long periods of time evolution requires. The fact that we don’t see evolution firsthand makes evolution more difficult to accept. I believe the old age of the earth, and the creatures upon it, is irrefutable. Radioactive dating techniques have been able to predict the age of the earth to be much older than 10,000 years. Sure, radioactive dating may not be perfect, but is it really billions of years off target? To ignore the evidence carbon dating provides is not a luxury I have. As a scientist I must seriously consider all the evidence, and the evidence points towards a very old earth. I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forego their use.

Genes are of great interest in the world today. Since being sequenced in its entirety, the human genome has started to unlock a great many mysteries in regards to our species. Population geneticists have studied various facts about our genome, including only about a 0.1% genetic variation within our species, and concluded that our species has been on the earth for 100,000 years, and originated from a group of about 10,000 individuals. The fossil record supports these conclusions and places the origin of our species in East Africa. Another thing we have found is that if you take our genetic sequence and compare it to those of other species, you can find many similarities and overlaps we call syntenic blocks. Syntenic blocks are large segments of DNA with similar DNA sequences and genes in the same positions when two or more genomes are compared. The presence of syntenic blocks of genes in the human and mouse genomes, for example, is evidence of common ancestry of humans and mice. This evidence implies that genomes have evolved via rearrangements of large chromosomal segments, which are detected as syntenic blocks. Other genetic similarities between species are worth noting. When comparing the Human and the Chimpanzee chromosomes, we discover that human chromosome 2 matches two chimpanzee chromosomes. The centromere, a constriction site where two DNA molecules are attached, in the human chromosome 2 and in the corresponding chimpanzee chromosomes are at the same position in both species and serve their function as centromeres. To sum this up, the similarity between human chromosome 2 and the two chimpanzee chromosomes points to a fusion in a common ancestor of the chromosomes seen in the chimp. The fused version of the genes shows up in modern day humans, while the non-fused two chromosome set remains in many of the great apes. Comparing genetic similarities between species, geneticists have constructed phylogenetic trees showing how interrelated each species is. The branches of these trees show common ancestry and are completely supported by fossil evidence and comparative anatomy. This provides wonderful evidence for Copernicus’ theory of evolution by means of small genetic changes over time via natural selection.

Some people would argue, and convincingly too, that similarities in genetics between species are not evidence of common ancestry but of a common creator. That once God got things right, he used similar genes in all His creations. This argument is easily dismissed using more evidence from genes. Our genome contains many AREs or ancient repetitive elements. These arise from “jumping genes” we call transposons. These genes are mobile, capable or copying themselves and inserting themselves all over the genome. Mammalian genomes are littered with AREs. When the mouse and human genomes parts are lined up, one will usually see that the AREs are in the same places as well. This is especially interesting when these trends continue in our junk DNA. People may argue that what we call junk DNA is really just the result of our lack of understanding, that when our science progresses we will discover that these sequences have use and the similarities observed are attributed to the same creator using a similar blueprint for all his creations. Sure, this explanation can be satisfactory when genes have clear and obvious function, but what about when the process of transposition damages the gene? There are AREs in our genome, and the mouse’s, that were truncated when they landed, left with no opportunity to function. Such defective AREs can be seen in parallel positions on the mouse and human gene as well. Now unless one holds to an idea of a God who puts things in front of us to trick or mislead us, then these defective parallel AREs should provide the evidence and understanding needed to accept the genetic evidence for common ancestry.

It has been mentioned, by my prosecutor, that there is a distinction between micro and macro evolution. This distinction has been seen over the years to be artificial. An example that illustrates this point is seen by the study of stickleback fish. A group at Stanford University has noted that the drastic difference between freshwater stickleback fish and salt water stickleback fish is attributed to mutations in the EDA gene. The EDA gene gives the salt water stickle back fish their armor plates, while mutations in the freshwater fish get rid of these plates, which are unnecessary where predators are fewer. Humans also have the EDA gene, and mutations in that gene can cause abnormal hair, teeth, bone, and sweat gland development. It is not difficult to see how differences between stickleback fish could be extended to explain to great number of differences between other species. Small incremental changes explain both micro and macro evolution, or simply evolution.

A criticism many Christians have about evolution is the holes in the fossil record. This complaint doesn’t seem to me to be an honest scientific inquiry, but rather an attempt to give evolution the appearance of uncertainty, and quench church members’ deep fear of it. This said, it is also a legitimate concern. I think honest inquirers should realize that fossilization is a rare and complicated process. Of all the organisms that live, an extremely small portion will have fossilized remains. This, in addition to the fact that we still have only uncovered a small fraction of the fossils on the earth, explains why there are holes in the fossil record. But, this doesn’t mean that transitional states, predicated by phylogenetic trees and evolutionary processes, don’t exist. There have been quite a few such examples supporting evolution. A great example is the modern day horse. Here is a chart showing the horses evolution with fossil remains.

(Galileo holds up the above poster).

The horse can be traced back to an animal the size of a dog, the dawn horse shown above, which lived fifty million years ago. The dawn horse has several toes on each foot and teeth appropriate for eating tender shoots, twigs and leaves of trees or shrubs. The modern horse is much larger, has one toed feet, and teeth appropriate for eating growing herbage. Many transitional forms between these two species, as well as tangential forms including some which don’t exist at present time due to extinction, are preserved in the fossil record. There are plenty of other examples in the fossil record of transitional creatures.

I think it is interesting to note that the modern skeletons of creatures such a turtles, whales, birds, humans, bats, and horses are strikingly similar. Surely a creator would use vastly different engineering for dramatically different functions. More evidence easily described by evolution.

I have described at length these evidences for evolution to give reason for a scientist to think evolution is how man came to be. The scientific evidence is robust. How anybody thinks they can dismiss it without sacrificing their academic integrity baffles me.

Do the ideas contained within the theory of evolution really conflict with Christian doctrine? The idea of an old earth is accused of being in contradiction with the biblical account of creation. The creation process is divided into seven days, the sun not being created until the third day. Is the account of Genesis to be taken as literal twenty-four hour days, or is this an allegorical account of something that is beyond the scope of Genesis’ purpose? Is the purpose of Genesis to explain the mechanisms of creation or to explain man’s relationship with God? I obviously argue towards the latter. The Hebrew word for day is 'yom.' Yom can be used in various ways, in the bible it is used for a twenty-four hour day, a day in age such as “in Adam’s day,” and for other time periods. Another question is: what is time to God? In 2 Peter 3:8 it says “with the Lord the day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like a day.” God is not bound by time. Einstein taught us that time itself is not constant, but relative to one’s reference frame. So what can we conclude in regards to the biblical statement of the age of the earth? I don’t think we can conclude anything definitively, leaving open the option that the earth is very old, old enough to sustain the evolutionary processes.

For evolution to have occurred there must have been death before the fall. One of the great complaints against this notion is that Christian tradition teaches that there wasn’t death before the Fall. But what do the scriptures really say? I can’t find any place where the Bible says there was no physical death before the Fall. Not only that, the scriptures themselves seem to indicate that there was death before the Fall. For example, where did Cain’s wife come from? She seems to have existed outside of Eden in Nod, mentioned only after Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden. If she existed independent of God’s creation of Adam then maybe Adam wasn’t the first man, and maybe there was death before the Fall. Some say Cain’s wife was a descendent of Adam as well, but this doesn’t seem feasible either, since there is a strict moral code prohibiting incest in the bible, and this interpretation doesn’t fit with a straightforward reading of the text either. I contest that Adam and Eve don’t necessarily represent a single act of miraculous creation, but perhaps a significant couple in Earth’s history. Perhaps they were the first human beings to receive their spirits and thereby the first capable of death, the definition of death here being a separation of body and spirit. This could be where mankind developed the moral law, which is a mysterious characteristic in human experience. Maybe the first few chapters really are allegorical, not to be taken so literally. Again, is the intent of Genesis to explain creation, or is it to represent our relationship with our creator? Most people would argue in favor of the latter.

People are drawn to the ideas of Ptolemy because of tradition, and in a lot of cases, because they fear the alternative. These people consider evolution to be an atheistic or agnostic idea, meant to disprove God. Is this really the case? Copernicus himself was a devout Christian, only losing his faith after the death of a loved one. With all the evidence I have provided in regard to the age of the earth, our DNA, and the fossil record, would God wish us to just ignore these facts and believe blindly? Does this action honor our Heavenly Father, the greatest biologist, chemist, physicist, and scientist of them all? God is the author of the laws of the universe. Is he honored or dishonored by people who arrogantly ignore the rigorously determined science of this earth?

Church member’s strict adherence to their absurdly literal interpretations of the bible are not just harming their scientific understanding, they are harming their own faith. In order to reconcile all the scientific evidences I have described here today, some believers will say that god put certain things here on earth to test our faith. Such a conclusion is absurd, this trickster god is not the god of understanding the Bible talks about, he is not a god worthy of our devotion and worship. We need to stop believing in a God of the gaps, forcing him to fill the voids of any realm of uncertainty. This method is destined to blow up in our faces since eventually scientific discoveries will be made which may then conflict with what we decided god’s words to mean. Augustine stated that “if it happens that the authority of sacred scripture is set in opposition to clear and certain reasoning, this must mean that the person who interprets scripture does not understand it correctly.” How many pits are we going to dig for ourselves before we will start to accept that every Christian tradition is not unquestionably true? We learned this hundreds of years ago when heliocentrism was considered to be atheistic. We are now doing the same thing to evolution. I will have no part in this witch hunt.

(loud chatter erupts in the court)

Pope: Order, Order!

This court will be adjourned and a decision on the matter will be given tomorrow morning. You are dismissed.


After reviewing the evidence against Galileo we find him guilty of an infraction against the statement issued by the church on evolution. This trial has given the church the opportunity to discuss the points made by Galileo. He contends that evolution is not in contention with a belief in God. My predecessor, Pope John Paul II said that “new scientific knowledge has led us to realize that the theory of evolution is no longer a mere hypothesis. It is indeed remarkable that this theory has been progressively accepted by researchers, following a series of discoveries in various fields of knowledge. The convergence, neither sought for nor fabricated, of the results of work that was conducted independently is in itself a significant argument in favor of this theory.” Moreover the Lutheran World Federation has stated that “evolution’s assumptions are as much around us as the air we breathe and no more escapable. At the same time theology’s affirmations are being made as responsible as ever. In this sense, both science and religion are here to stay, and… need to remain in a healthful tension of respect one towards another.” Looking back in history, the church readily admits to mistakes in fighting scientific theories such as heliocentrism. Is today’s debate going to go down in the history books as a similar mistake?

In order to help our church members embrace good science, as well as good faith, we need to support science as well as its theories. Whether or not evolution is true I cannot say, I believe God is the only one who knows for sure. What I can say is that Galileo has every right as a scientist and as a catholic to teach good science. We will not stand in his or any other honest person’s search for truth. We hereby officially retract the church’s previous position in regards to evolution set forth in The Church’s Official Statement in Regards to Evolutionary Theory, and from this day forward allow the teaching, defending, and writing of evolutionary theory in any church sponsored institution. This may be erroneously taken to mean that the church supports the theory. The church has no stance on the matter, let God teach us the mechanisms of creation when the time comes, for now the church’s focus is to teach the principles of salvation.

This court is adjourned.

Significant Characters:

Galileo: a fictional expert geneticist and a catholic of high church standing. Inspired by Francis S. Collins.

Copernicus: Charles Darwin

Ptolemy: William Paley


K. W. Broad said...

Brilliant! Absolutely brilliant. Many excellent points are not only addressed, but much more concise than I often see :)

Aaron said...

Hey thanks Kyle. I did this for a civilizations class, but had fun with it and thought it was worth posting. It is pretty long, but I thought it was concise and am glad to see you think so as well.