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Texas Hold ‘Em: Calling Evolutionist Julie Berwald’s Bluffs in her Report on the Texas Science Standards Hearing

Julie Berwald, a freelance textbook writer who testified against critical thinking on evolution last week before the Texas State Board of Education (TSBOE), has written an inaccurate and unhappy report at the highly partisan Wired Magazine website about the Texas Science Standards hearing on March 25. According to Berwald’s account, she stated:

“It’s really hard to come up with scientifically based weaknesses to evolution.” The intelligent-design supporters exploded in protest.

The chairman banged his gavel repeatedly. “I will not have that kind of outburst in this room. If it happens again, I’ll clear the room and we’ll only have the testifiers in here. I’ll do it!”

This was Berwald’s first bluff. The problem is that Berwald, whose attention during her testimony was apparently fixed on the Board and not the audience, is completely wrong about who was actually responsible for the outburst. What she heard was in fact no “protest,” but the evolution lobby cooing in support of her statement. I was sitting (totally quietly) at the back of the room observing what happened and clearly saw that the evolution lobby (which was congregated in a section directly to my right) was loudly praising her testimony–it was no outburst from the “intelligent-design supporters.” To verify my memory, I checked with one of the professional biologists who testified in favor of teaching weaknesses in evolution, who was sitting near the evolution lobby. He confirmed that the outburst came from “all the green shirted evolutionists” who were sitting all around him (the evolution lobby wore green shirts as a little PR stunt).

Berwald’s Bluff #2: Does Virtually All Biology Research Require Evolution?

That wasn’t the only misrepresentation from Berwald. She neglected to mention the part of her testimony where she asserted that “evolution plays a fundamental role in understanding all biological processes … further, very little in biology is testable except in the light of evolution.” This bluff was difficult to take seriously, because even if you’re an evolutionist, it should be pretty obvious that it’s easy to do a lot of biology research without considerations of evolution.

Berwald’s second bluff was not lost on other members of the TSBOE, who then proceeded to ask some of the Ph.D. biologists who testified in favor of teaching the weaknesses in evolution about whether evolution was necessary to do biology research. Ray Bohlin, who spent years studying evolution in graduate school, was pressed with this question:

Terri Leo (board member): “We heard testimony that it’s very hard to find evidence that doesn’t support Darwin’s theory, and … We have also heard the comment that very little in biology is testable except for in the light of evolution. Do you feel that evolution is necessary for all of your research? …”

Dr. Bohlin: “I’d be willing to say that virtually 90, 95% of all molecular and cell biology, which is where my Ph.D. is in, does not require evolution whatsoever. The research I did on a complex in the electron transport chain in mitochondria, didn’t require evolutionary background to do that research and to do that project. I think that when you go into areas of evolutionary biology when we’re looking for how things change over time, there’s a lot of what we could call evolution. Natural selection and mutat[ion]–those things are necessary and those processes need to be understood. But when we’re trying to discover how things work, what is the genome about, how does the genome function, what’s this junk DNA stuff, we don’t need the evolutionary hypothesis to investigate that. We might look to see how it impacts evolution, evolutionary theory, the data and the information we receive. But you don’t need evolution to do the research.”

Likewise, Don Ewert, who holds a Ph.D. in microbiology, and a master’s degree in bacteriology, has been a biology researcher for over 30 years (including 20 years at the Wistar Institute), testified that his research has spanned bacterial population genetics to the study of comparative immunology and the study of genes that activate cell death and immune proteins. He testified about weaknesses in evolution, and was also asked the question by a board member, “I want you to address the notion that very little in biology is testable except for in the light of evolution.”

Here was Dr. Ewert’s answer:

Dobzhansky spoke for himself. … If you look at scientific textbooks and ask the question, if the theory of evolution were not in that textbook, what material would not make sense? And I would say that very little, if any, would not make sense. In fact, I think that anybody who learned the material apart from Darwin in those textbooks could go on to be successful scientists, veterinarians, and medical doctors. The theory of evolution contributes very little to an understanding of basic science and scientific research. The researchers I have known over the time–it’s hard to get them into a discussion about evolution because they are more interested in dealing with the molecular mechanisms that are going on in nature in living cells. So I would say that there is very little that you cannot fully understand apart from the theory of evolution. (emphasis added)

Needless to say, Berwald was the last evolutionist at the hearings to make the indefensible claim that “very little in biology is testable except in the light of evolution.”

Berwald’s Bluff #3: According to Berwald, Ph.D. Biologists Who Doubt Evolution Aren’t “Scientists”
Berwald’s most egregious error came when she wrote: “What makes this debate so heated? In the hearing room, when creationists bring up weaknesses in evolution, scientists are baffled.” Ignoring her inappropriate use of the “creationist” label, apparently professor Berwald doesn’t consider the Ph.D. biologists who testified at the hearing in support of teaching weaknesses in evolution–Ph.D.s from places like Rice University (Sara Kolb Hicks), University of Georgia (Don Ewert), University of Texas Dallas (Ray Bohlin), and Texas A & M (Wade Warren)–to be “scientists.” This is how Texas evolutionists bluff to the public.

Near the end of her testimony, Berwald told the TSBOE that they shouldn’t want someone like her writing about “weaknesses” in evolution in biology textbooks. You know what? Dr. Berwald was absolutely right: Anyone who cannot even extend to her colleagues who hold Ph.D.s in biology and doubt evolution the basic courtesy of recognizing that they are “scientists” is not capable of treating evolution objectively in a biology textbook.


Casey Luskin

Associate Director and Senior Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.



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