Longform

Creationists' Last Stand at the State Board of Education

Raymond Bohlin holds a doctorate in molecular biology. He received his master's degree in population genetics, the study of how adaptation and speciation is expressed by DNA. In other words, he possesses more than a passing knowledge about the theory of evolution. At the University of North Texas, he participated in research revealing that colonies of pocket gophers in Oklahoma and Texas, once indistinguishable, had diverged somewhere along the way into two identifiably distinct species.

In a way, so had Bohlin. He never accepted the hypothesis central to his discipline, hardened in the crucible of 150 years of experimentation, validated by the advent of modern genetics. He could not believe that evolutionary mechanisms could account for the dizzying complexity he saw in the living world. It was easier for him to detect the work of some unseen force — a designer's hand guiding a spontaneous appearance of species — behind the rise of complex life. It's the sort of completely untestable idea that doesn't gain much traction among the editors and reviewers of scholarly journals.

And so, according to his own list of published work, Bohlin's name was never attached to another peer-reviewed scientific study after his paper on gophers in 1982. Faith in a theory for which there is no experiment turned out to be a dead end. Yet he may be the only creationist to have participated in naming a new species, which is exactly what makes him so valuable to a movement that has worked for decades to scrub Charles Darwin from Texas public schools.

On a recent morning in Plano, Bohlin stood beneath a chandelier made of antlers, roughly the size of a small truck, in the Hope Center — some 185,000 square feet of hunting-lodge style, rough-hewn rock façade, rustic leather furniture and exposed wooden beams. It houses more than 40 separate Christian organizations in a complex on Plano Parkway, including Bohlin's own Probe Ministries. On the second floor, Probe fights for the everlasting souls of American youth from a warren of offices, balustered by rising stacks of science textbooks and Christian literature.

Bohlin looks like a college biology professor, pale, square-jawed, peering out through glasses beneath an Indiana Jones fedora emblazoned with the words "Grand Canyon." It's actually the subject of one of his trademark lectures. He takes his audience on a virtual tour of our national testament to unfathomable geologic time and offers explanations for how the biblical flood may have created it far later than mainstream science would have them believe.

He grew up a Catholic boy on Chicago's south side, destined for the priesthood. He ended up a zoology undergrad at the University of Illinois, where he daydreamed about becoming a park ranger and living a life of solitude. That all changed when he befriended a group of evangelical Christians. Bohlin was fascinated by this passionate strain of belief. He adopted its vibrant spirituality as his own, though he wondered how he should reconcile God with the theory at the root of every life science course he enrolled in. The Catholic Church had long since come to the conclusion that evolution need not contradict faith. Many evangelicals, however, still look upon it as a repudiation of a Bible meant to be taken literally.

In the school library one day, he struck upon the answer to the questions that deviled him. He picked up a book written by Henry Morris, a Rice University civil engineering professor credited for being the "father of modern creation science." Morris opened Bohlin's eyes to what he says was the only scientific rationale he'd ever seen for the six-day creation of earth.

"That raised questions in my head," he says. "I got fascinated by it."

In 1975, he connected with Probe Ministries, a group of campus evangelists who hoped to challenge secularism on its home turf. Bohlin desperately wanted to join them, to spread the gospel of evolution's fallacies. But to take his place in that fight, he needed to understand what he hoped to disprove. "They said, 'You just have a bachelor's degree.' When I got to Probe, my education began immediately. If I'm going to be a critic of evolution, I have to make sure I understand in detail how it's supposed to work."

Bohlin invested years of his life in the graduate program at North Texas and the molecular biology doctoral program at the University of Texas at Dallas, absorbing everything he must refute. While his fellow students accepted a theory that had stood unchallenged by science for more than a century, Bohlin believed he alone was capable of assessing evolution with a critical eye. He admits, though, that his conclusions may already have been deeply entrenched. To alter his view of creation, he says, "would have required a major shift in personal and professional connections with people."

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Brantley Hargrove