By Stan Wilson, CNN
Los Angeles (CNN) – A former veteran systems administrator for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory claimed during opening arguments in a civil lawsuit Tuesday that he was wrongfully terminated for expressing his views on intelligent design.
David Coppedge, who spent 15 years on the Cassini Mission, one of NASA and JPL's most ambitious planetary space explorations, asserts that he was unlawfully fired under his employer's anti-harassment and ethics policies. JPL contends Coppedge created a hostile workplace while expressing his religious views with co-workers.
His suit also claims that supervisors wrongly admonished him for distributing DVD documentary films titled "Unlocking the Mystery of Life" and "The Privileged Planet," which present biological and cosmological explanations for intelligent design, according to the complaint.
Coppedge claims he never forcibly compelled colleagues to accept his idea of intelligent design in the workplace. Intelligent design is a conviction that life is too complex to have developed solely through evolution and that the universe was designed by an intelligent entity.
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JPL, based in Pasadena, California, is one of the world's most prestigious institutions for scientific research and development institutions. In Coppedge's civil lawsuit, he describes JPL's space missions as designed, in part, to explore the origin of the universe, uncover whether life exists elsewhere in the universe - or is improbably confined to earth - and whether conditions necessary for life to exist reside elsewhere in the universe.
Launched in October 1997, the Cassini mission to Saturn included a sophisticated robotic spacecraft that orbited the ringed planet and provided streams of data about its rings, magnetosphere, moon Titan and icy satellites. Cassini was the largest interplanetary mission ever launched, with the largest technical staff and participation of 18 countries.
In his role, Coppedge was responsible for making technical and scientific recommendations to management and developing presentations about various technical capabilities of new systems and upgrades, his attorney William Becker Jr. said during opening arguments. During his tenure, Coppedge developed a "sincere interest in the scientific evidence behind life's origin," which led to his conviction about "intelligent design."
Coppedge shared the view that life and the existence of the universe derived not from "undirected material processes," but from "intelligent cause," said attorney Becker.
In March 2009, Coppedge claims that his supervisor advised him that co-workers had complained that he was harassing them over debates about his religious views and coercing them in the workplace into watching DVD programs about intelligent design. During his opening statements Tuesday, attorney Becker Jr. told a judge hearing the case that Coppedge's supervisor threatened him with termination if he "pushed his religion" and ordered Coppedge to refrain from discussing politics or religion with anyone in the office.
During that 2009 meeting, Coppedge alleges, his supervisor became angry and belligerent asserting that "intelligent design is religion" and ordered him to stop. "The tone of the meeting and conduct were abusive and constituted harassment," his attorney said in court.
JPL spokeswoman Veronica McGregor said the lawsuit "is completely without merit, and we intend to vigorously fight the allegations raised by Mr. Coppedge."
In their response to the civil suit, attorneys for JPL stated in court documents that one of Coppedge's co-workers complained to his supervisor that Coppedge made her feel so uncomfortable in discussing "non work related topics" that it bordered on harassment. The supervisor encouraged Coppedge to limit his discussions about topics like religion and politics to periods like lunch breaks, according to the response.
The documents state that other co-workers complained they also felt harassed when Coppedge expressed views in favor of California Proposition 8, the ballot initiative in 2010 that defined marriage between and man and woman.
"David Coppedge alienated his co-workers by the way he acted with them, and blamed anyone who complained about those interactions," according to JPL in their response. "He accuses his former project supervisor and line manager of making discriminatory and retaliatory employment decision, when they had in fact protected him for years."
JPL alleged that Coppedge "was seen as stubborn, unwilling to listen and always having to do things his way, which frustrated project members and resulted in errors."
Coppedge was demoted after eight years as lead systems administrator and terminated last year. He cited those actions as a factor in basis for his suit claiming religious discrimination, retaliation, harassment and wrongful demotion.
JPL has denied Coppedge's termination complaint, contending he was among 246 employees laid off as part of a downsizing plan that affected 300 staffers.
"JPL complies with all applicable state and federal employment laws including laws governing freedom of expression," said JPL spokeswoman McGregor.
California Institute of Technology operates JPL, which is federally funded under a contract with NASA. Scientists are employed by the Caltech.
The case has generated interest among advocates of intelligent design. The Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian civil rights group, and the Discovery Institute, a proponent of intelligent design, are supporting Coppedge's lawsuit. The National Center for Science Education, which supports the teaching of evolution in public education, is closely monitoring the case.
Coppedge is seeking damages for wrongful termination, including attorney fees. The nonjury trial is expected to last four weeks.
*An earlier headline for this article identified David Coppedge as a scientist. His attorney later said that despite his technical work with computers, he is not a scientist.
What an oxymoron. An intelligent design scientist. Either you are a scientist or you are a believer in intelligent design but you can't be both.
Evolution is a religion!
The intelligent design idea has nothing to do with intelligence; it is a belief based on faith. If you want to believe the idea, go for it. Just don't try to force the rest of the world to treat the idea as a hard scientific fact. Trying to force the rest of us to think and act as you want to think and act is another form of fanaticism; just a short step away from what we see in the Middle East.
He was Intelligently laid off
I've been asked if I believe in God. That's a loaded question. Which God are you referring to? Usually it's just the Judeo-Christian God. They can't fathom that somebody wouldn't believe in their God. Meanwhile, they scoff at other people's belief in other gods.
My thought, if there is some sort of God or being out there, he certainly isn't like anything any religion envisions as God.
Joe T – Then please don't call it "god". Of course, if you want to call whatever the explanation for the universe happens to be "god" then the word becomes meaningless and everyone believes in god by definition.
Well I would call it something else but I can't think of a different word for it.
@ Jake, so what should we call the other 10,000 gods we have invented, just like yours?
How about the God who came to earth to die for your sins. You might want to start there, since no other god was brutually beaten and crucified on your behalf, so that you may have eternal life. Your choice. Know Him before you take your last breath here in this temporary world. Eternity is a long time to be wrong. Man is falable. God is infalable. Even Darwin didn't believe in his theory at the end of his life. Don't be fooled.
Funny enough, this reminds me of the show Futurama. They had an episode in which Bender the robot met "God". And when Bender asked if God could help him get back to earth, God said, "What's Earth?".
That sums up my beliefs. There very well could have been a creator or it could have been all coincidence. As an agnostic, I simply don't belief God interacts with people on a daily level. If he does know of our existence, he's taking a back seat approach, and watching how it folds out while laughing at all the man made religions that try to speak for him.
Until someone comes back from the dead to tell us how awesome heaven is or that there is really another life after this one, then I'm treating this one as best as possible because it could be my last.
And above all else: Follow the golden rule!
Prove that Jesus was a God.
Till then, stop talking in absolutes. Feel free to proselytize your religion, but don't stake it as fact. That's why they call them beliefs. You believe that, but you don't know that.
And I challenge you to this: Are you only religious because you're afraid of what will happen after? Are you only good because you think being good here will reward you in your next life?
If so, then you might want to reflect on what Jesus actually taught. I am good in this life because I want people in this life to treat me as good as I treat them. It's called the golden rule, and your God was the biggest proponent of it. You don't have to believe in a religious to practice that belief and if everyone followed that rule the world would be much better off than what any religion could do for our world.
Intelligent Design, and it's root Creationism, is in NO WAY an accepted branch of Science! It is a thinly disguised attempt by the Evangelical Christian movement to present their religious beliefs as such.
The late Isaac Asimov presented the best argument against it I've yet found, and I'll post it here. He explains it better than I could.
Please remember that this was written in 1984, so some references are out of date, but it nicely sums up the whole issue.
Mr. Coppedge, an admitted "Evangelical Christian", was harrasing co-workers by attempting to spread his religion while at work. Plain and simple. He deserved to be fired.
Wow. Thanks for the link. What a great read!
What intelligent design theorists say over and over again, filling DVDs and lectures and pamphlets, is that it is impossible to get the solution to a complex problem without already knowing the answer. Some problem (how to fly, how to see, how to beat, how to think) is solved by some solution (a wing, an eye, a heart, a brain), and it is assumed that someone already had to know the answer for the thing to ever exist. In short, they are saying that it is impossible to learn.
Suppose I want to add two 10-digit numbers. A few people can do this in seconds, but I would need to take some time with pen and paper. But does anyone doubt that I can do it, even if the particular problem has never been attempted in the history of the universe? There is a very easy procedure to follow to get at the correct answer, but remember: the paper doesn't know what the answer is, and nor does the pen, and nor do I. All the components are 'dumb', and yet by following the procedure I can arrive at a correct answer.
Similarly, a bunch of dumb components (atoms) can follow a set of procedures (scientific rules, analogous to the mathematical rules) and arrive at a good solution. Yet again, nothing involved knew what the solution would be, but there it is. Learning is possible, and evolution is just really slow learning.
I'd just point out that your characterization is completely misguided. You've invented an entirely different debate in order to make those intelligent designers look stupid. But because you don't understand their position, you've really just made yourself look stupid. This is not a question of "problem meets solution," but rather a question of "problem requires complex invention." The design people say that, because a simple solution cannot meet the needs of a particular problem, the very complexity of the solution demands something that they describe as "intelligence." In your own misguided examples, you've required an act of reason – even in something so simple as mathematical problems – and then asserted that no reason is required. The eye that you've mentioned is a perfect example of how a "problem" – visual experience of the world – has an incredibly complex "solution" – I'd say invention – that is by no means a necessary or even the most logical response. There are a wide range of "eye-like" solutions out there, but something complex like the human eye would never work if any of a large number of its components were in place. So what you have to do is either a) claim that the eye popped into existence virtually overnight as a complex series of random, targeted mutations took place or b) claim that something invented it. Take your pick, just don't over simplify the discussion by missing the point entirely.
I am not an ID guy, but your example does not hold up.
You didn't know the answer when you started, but you understand the algorithm to add two numbers. The number system you are using had a designer, and so did the algrorithm you used to get your answer.
@ Skeptical – go to the Index to Crerationist Claims website on talkorigins. Scroll down to claim CB301: Eye Complexity.
Firstly, simple solutions are superior to no solution at all, if success is relative rather than binary (yes/no). This applies to vision with eyes ranging from the scallop through humans to the mantis shrimp.
Secondly, the eyes in your head are not logical, since they are wired backwards. A squid's eye is more logical, since the light does not have to pass through the nerves, and the nerves do not have to dive through the retina at a blind spot.
The overall point is that we choose the processes (mathematical or scientific) that yield valuable results, and abandon defective processes. We can't immediately know beforehand which one yields the right results after so many steps of implication and further implication. Experiment either kills or spares processes, so human procedures themselves evolve in a manner similar to the sequences that build complex organs. Scientific theories can grow to arbitrary complexity without knowing beforehand what was needed, and similarly organs can develop to arbitrary, even unnecessary complexity. The larynx nerve of a giraffe is unnecessarily complex (as well as large).
For the last time... This is your brain. And, this is your brain on drugs. Now put that bible away and live your friggin' life because it's the ONLY one you have.
if you post intelligent enough comments on here eventually cnn stops showing them :(
The people who wrote religious texts didn't know what micro and macro physics were. Religion is like webbed toes and the sixth finger–evolution will hopefully eradicate one's primitive ability to put blind faith in a God who doesn't want it and doesn't need it. I appreciate values and loyalty, but I hate ignorant sheep.
It is unfortunate reading through these posts to find how little science and the scientific process is understood by the masses. A theory (such as big bang, or evolution) in science describes an idea that has survived rigorous examination and scrutiny. Gravity, plate tectonics, relativity, and heliocentricity are all theories. Evolution is indisputable; the only scientific inputs at this point are nuances of how evolution occurs. Unfortunately, our language also allows us to use the same word 'theory' in everyday speculation, causing confusion and misguiding some to the conclusion that their speculative definition of the word 'theory' is identical to scientific 'theory' describing the bastion of thousands of studies.
They must have been sleeping in class when they were going over the scientific method.
The problem with intelligent design is that it failed to produce anything intelligent. And the problem with evolution is that we insult the monkeys. Even they are not so ignorant as to make up fairy tales about how they came to be from Adam and Eve. Back to square one.
Hmmm. So his beliefs aside, he's a nutjob and acts like a nutjob at work, and his employer can't fire him because being a nutjob is his "religion"? Gimme a break.
Couldn't have said it any better! LOL!
Religion is accepted schizophrenia .. for now
He is free to believe whatever he wants to believe in, but so are his co-workers. It probably takes awhile for people to start complaining about somebody harassing them with talk. I am not going to the church to preach MY views on THEIR beliefs, so I am expecting to be treated same way in my workplace.
On the other hand, is it really "hostile" to share DVDs about intellegent design?
Is your workplace your church? I think your analogy is flawed.
That said, I agree that religious beliefs should not be advocated in the workplace. Work is not an appropriate venue for trying to convince someone their beliefs are wrong.
ImWithJeebus - That depends on how it is done, doesn't it?
If you get into a discussion about your beliefs, and no one else agrees, so you come in day after day wanting to talk about it, pushing DVDs or reading material, and generally making yourself a nuisance because you can't accept that rational people will disagree with you - then yes, it is harassment.
We don't know how far this guy went, but when multiple coworkers are complaining, it seems likely that he went beyond simply making the DVDs available.
Everybody has a right to their opinions and beliefs, particularly in the "free" World. And I use the term "free" loosely. Everybody also has a right to choose whether or not to exercise common sense. If a person senses they are being a pain at work by expressing opinions that their employer does not like, and/or the manner in which those beliefs are delivered, then it is good sense to lower the tone or move on to another job. Let's face it, the guy is obviously well educated. In his case I'm sure he had ample opportunity to move on to something else before NASA terminated his employment.
As for his theories about intelligent design. I think we would be extremely naiive to "absolutely" accept or reject any theories about the origin and meaning of our existence. Man has an astonomical way to go before he is able to determine and define "everything". Much better to keep an open mind, a civil tongue, and a willingness to learn.
@Mike Great post and well stated.
Well stated, Mike! I agree completely.
I agree with some of what you are saying but ID is not a theory of any kind. It is not testable and not falsifiable. It is an argument from ignorance and just the same as saying "goddidit".
Would a hospital be required to retain a doctor who became a Christian Scientist and insisted on faith healing as the only means for attending to his patients? These religious whack-jobs are ridiculous...but, of course, they're not trying to force their beliefs onto anyone else...
Your analogy is flawed.
There is no evidence that his work performance was affected by his beliefs - only that he was offending his coworkers, potentially creating a hostile working environment.
Intelligent Design and Evolution both have something in common.....both are just theories. People seem to get upset when someone bring up Intelligent Design or baffled is someone believes in Evolution but like I said, both are just theories.
True. And one of those theories is supported by evidence while the other is supported by nothing but religious financial backing.
Check out the definition of theory in science:
Creationists argue that evolution is "only a theory and cannot be proven."
As used in science, a theory is an explanation or model based on observation, experimentation, and reasoning, especially one that has been tested and confirmed as a general principle helping to explain and predict natural phenomena.
Any scientific theory must be based on a careful and rational examination of the facts. A clear distinction needs to be made between facts (things which can be observed and/or measured) and theories (explanations which correlate and interpret the facts.
A fact is something that is supported by unmistakeable evidence. For example, the Grand Canyon cuts through layers of different kinds of rock, such as the Coconino sandstone, Hermit shale, and Redwall limestone. These rock layers often contain fossils that are found only in certain layers. Those are the facts.
It is a fact is that fossil skulls have been found that are intermediate in appearance between humans and modern apes. It is a fact that fossils have been found that are clearly intermediate in appearance between dinosaurs and birds.
Facts may be interpreted in different ways by different individuals, but that doesn't change the facts themselves.
Theories may be good, bad, or indifferent. They may be well established by the factual evidence, or they may lack credibility. Before a theory is given any credence in the scientific community, it must be subjected to "peer review." This means that the proposed theory must be published in a legitimate scientific journal in order to provide the opportunity for other scientists to evaluate the relevant factual information and publish their conclusions.
Creationists refuse to subject their "theories" to peer reviews, because they know they don't fit the facts. The creationist mindset is distorted by the concept of "good science" (creationism) vs. "bad science" (anything not in agreement with creationism). Creation "scientists" are biblical fundamentalists who can not accept anything contrary to their sectarian religioius beliefs.
Look up 'Scientific Theory,' and I think you'll find the definition is quite different than you think. It is not just an opinion or random thought. Intelligent Design is not a theory because it can never be proven out. Evolution is a theory because it has been.
As soon as someone says "just a theory," they have revealed they have no background in scientific thought. The "theory of evolution" is a "theory" the same way the "theory of gravity" is a theory. Both remain the best explanations for the observable evidence. Intelligent design is NOT a scientific theory, because it requires the introduction of the supernatural, which cannot be proven or disproven, and therefore does not fall within the realm of science.
You obviously have no understanding of what a scientific theory is. A theory in science is a construct that explains facts and makes testable predictions. A theory is science is a grand accomplishment, it is not a guess or hypothesis. Throw yourself from a ten story building and come back and tell me the theory of gravity is just theory. Creationism is at best a hypothesis and is not a scientific theory and is not on an even footing with an actual scientific theory.
And in the 2nd Century, the Geocentric Theory explained how the Universe was, and it was good...
Until 1600 AD, after new evidence showed the Heliocentric Model of the Universe was better...
Then in 1920 – less than 100 years ago – Edwin Hubble showed the Sun as only one of many non-centric objects in the Universe.
Theories are dropped if evidence (facts) don't support them. I'm still waiting for the Intelligent Design folks to show evidence.
I think you don't know what the definition of "theory" is.
Evolution is a theory.
Intelligent Design is a hypothesis.
Within scientific circles a fact is defined as an observation about the world we live in. A theory is science's best explanation for the cause of that fact.
Fact/Observation: When an object is dropped it falls to the Earth. The explanation for this is the theory of gravity.
Fact/Observation: When a doctor inserts an unwashed finger into a wound it becomes infected. The explanation for this is germ theory.
Fact/Observation: There currently is and for many, many years has been, a wide variety of life on Earth. The explanation for this is the theory of evolution.
It's important to note that evolutionary theory does not attempt to explain the origins of life. Rather, it's focus is the variety of species. Evolutionary theory doesn't pertain to the origins of life any more than gravitational or germ theory. Pitting ID against evolution is not an apples to apples comparison. Comparing ID to Abiogenesis would be more appropriate.
I get religious freedom and anti-discrimination, but when your religion clearly conflicts with the job you're being paid to do, isn't it fair to say you either need to ignore your religion at work or get fired?
If I were a priest and became an atheist, don't you think it would be perfectly reasonable for the church to fire me? Isn't it exactly the same principle?
Apples to oranges, Jake. Many people actually believe that belief in God and science are quite compatible.
There are almost no real scientists who believe in god. My brother works at JPL, so trust me on this one. If you hear a scientist say he believes in god, it's pretty likely he's lying (and there are a million reasons why he would be pressured to lie about it) or he's financially backed by religious dollars.
Lol! I know some and read of others. Do some research.
Jake - I am a scientist, and i know a lot of scientists who believe in god (or gods).
Not the majority, certainly, but a lot more than you think. Belief in god is neither incompatible with science nor would belief in intelligent design prevent this man from doing his job.
Tragically, it seems much more likely that his personality prevented him from working well with others.
The issue here is that according to Intelligent Design theorists, ID is just that – a legitimate scientific theory, one that makes no presumptions based on religious texts, or religion at all for that matter. Boil this down to a question of original mass if you will. Did it come from something? Was it G-d? How do you even define G-d? Could G-d just be original mass/energy? Intelligent design starts with "evidence" that our Earth, our universe, is uniquely positioned (i.e. designed) to accommodate life. There is no claim to religion overtly presented, which is probably why Coppedge has a case here.
He was fired because his actions were interfering with other people work, if I understand correctly from the article. Some people can "talk you to death", he looks like one of them.
ID is incomrehensible without an Intelligent Designer, and God by any other name is still God. ID is notheing more than creationism cleverly couched in scientific terms which don't add up.
One of his claims is religious discrimination.
I think he disagrees with you.
If someone brought religious items to my workplace I would fire them too but only after giving them a second chance. Bringing up emotional discussions specifically about something as silly as some guy rounding up two of everything can be very difficult especially in a workplace you know is going to be chalk full of atheists. He got what he deserved.
According to further info, individual's asked for these "religious" items. Would you prefer us to revert to a communist state?
Who said anything about a Communist state? Everyone is free to do what they want on their own time, but the employer would like the employees to work, not argue. I think it is reasonable for the employer to say, "don't proselytize on company time."
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