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Terminated employee claims bias against intelligent design
NASA's Cassini space probe snapped this photo of jets spewing from Saturn's moons.
March 13th, 2012
10:08 PM ET

Terminated employee claims bias against intelligent design

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.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Christianity • Culture & Science • Science

soundoff (2,244 Responses)
  1. Milton

    If this guy told me that god designed me, I would say, "Really? Then god must reside inside all of us. I hope he likes burritos because that's what he's getting" (paraphrased courtesy of Jack Handy).

    March 14, 2012 at 10:37 am |
  2. AW

    What!!! how dare you try to force intelligence on the people at JPL!!! They have every right to remain clueless. This guy's obviously a terrorist teaching people think for themselves and stop buying into the charade. What is this world coming too?

    come on you know the answer already

    March 14, 2012 at 10:36 am |
    • YeahOk

      Pot, meet Kettle.

      March 14, 2012 at 10:38 am |
    • filthburger

      Intelligent design is not intelligent. It's the religious right attempting to be scientific. Religion and science do not work together. Science is about fact. Religion is about faith. Science can be proven. Religion is taught and interpreted. Get it straight.

      March 14, 2012 at 10:43 am |
    • AW

      @ filthburger well your tag says pretty much everything about your thirst for misinformation but don't keep your head up you're YKW for too long, you're being left behind. Newtonian physics is so.... dark ages. Don't worry maybe by the time you get to high school they might actually be teaching something worth learning.

      March 14, 2012 at 10:49 am |
    • filthburger

      AW, my name reflects a sense of humor and should not be taken literally. I'm sorry if i have to explain that to you, my simple minded creationist. If you really believe in intelligent design and believe there is a basis in science for this, then debating you is useless. I'd love to see the scientific facts behind it. I can try to explain to you how science works, but i'm sure you will start quoting the bible. Have fun being a m0r0n.

      March 14, 2012 at 10:53 am |
  3. Dl

    NASA should sue churches for spreading nonesense to the gullible

    March 14, 2012 at 10:36 am |
  4. katahdin

    I meant science, not religion

    March 14, 2012 at 10:36 am |
  5. Sean Russell

    Next NASA will be sued by people that believe in leprechauns, the Tooth Fairy, and werewolves.

    March 14, 2012 at 10:36 am |
    • filthburger

      Would that be Gingrich or Santorum?

      March 14, 2012 at 10:40 am |
    • YeahOk

      So you're saying you think I have a case? ;)

      March 14, 2012 at 10:42 am |
  6. Jim

    I hope he wins his lawsuit and sets a precedent. That way I can distribute my satanic DVDs at work!

    March 14, 2012 at 10:35 am |
    • YeahOk

      \m/ \m/

      March 14, 2012 at 10:43 am |
  7. Evangenital

    Where is all this religious crap going to end?

    March 14, 2012 at 10:34 am |
    • CallingBS

      With sharia law in a neighborhood near you!

      March 14, 2012 at 10:40 am |
    • How is this NEWS?

      When the Chinese government takes over the USlessA and imprisons all the jesusFreaks!

      March 14, 2012 at 10:40 am |
    • filthburger

      I really wish the aliens would land in a nice place like the Vatican or SLC and say, "We're here!!! Nope, sorry, no evidence of God. We got rid of that pesky religion millenia ago. Hey!!! You guys wanna see some neat scientific stuff?!?!?!?"

      March 14, 2012 at 10:45 am |
  8. How is this NEWS?

    ‘Intelligent Design Scientist’… now that’s an oxymoron.
    Almost as funny as ‘FOX News’
    These are 2 examples of words that should never be used together.

    March 14, 2012 at 10:34 am |
    • You are A TOOL

      How is that an oxymoron, exactly?

      You DO realize that your brand of evolutionary science is FUNDAMENTALLY based on THEORY, as is the VAST MAJORITY of SCIENCE? AND THAT THEORY, BY DEFINITION, HAS NOT BEEN ACTUALLY PROVEN.

      NOT very long ago, scientist were CERTAIN that larmarkian evolution was the "truth"

      or that Eistein's theory of relativity was "bullet proof genius"

      NOW....not so much.

      GET A CLUE: your "knowledge" is based on faith and the limits of human reason! Have you EVER seen an atom? NO. But you believe it to be there because OTHER PEOPLE'S THEORIES & limited human reasoning skills have lead to a consensus, which may very well be AND IS FALSE!

      March 14, 2012 at 10:42 am |
    • How is this NEWS?

      Dear You are A TOOL... you really need to get a life!
      I know something is NOT Real when the person promoting it tells me not to question it.

      March 14, 2012 at 10:46 am |
    • YeahOk

      @You are A TOOL

      You got an F in science, yes?

      March 14, 2012 at 10:46 am |
    • filthburger

      Incorrect, Tool. The theory is what leads to discovery. Theory is what drives science, not a belief that it's true. A theory is different than a belief. Very often, a scientist will have a theory and will set out to prove it and will find out that he is completely wrong and will admit it. Religion is faith based and is not to be questioned. Intelligent design does not have any scientific proof. You may have a theory, but no way to prove it. You are a leading member of the m0r0n0th0n.

      March 14, 2012 at 10:49 am |
    • U are A TOOL if u think BELIEVING in science makes you smarter than believing in GOD

      what a bunch of idiotic wannabe scientists we have here!

      LOL HAHAHAHHAHAHAHA.

      THE THEORY OF EVOLUTION IS no more proven than the THEORY OF intelligent design, due to the limits of time (no time travel yet, you dumb folk!) and the limits of the human mind.

      March 14, 2012 at 10:57 am |
    • Silenus

      As to the DEFINITION of THEORY, we don't live to be millions of years old and are thus not able to observe it in real time. This is the only thing keeping it in the category of THEORY. The real issue is that science affords the flexibility to be modified as evidence and understanding develop. Typical reasoning based on religious faith does not allow for this and proponents lash out against any information that might contradict their willfully narrow view. And I love "...AND IS FALSE" Really? Atoms are false? One thing has been scientifically established with reasonable evidence ... You are A TOOL.

      March 14, 2012 at 11:00 am |
    • Cedar Rapids

      "You DO realize that your brand of evolutionary science is FUNDAMENTALLY based on THEORY, as is the VAST MAJORITY of SCIENCE? AND THAT THEORY, BY DEFINITION, HAS NOT BEEN ACTUALLY PROVEN."

      you do know that 'theory' in the scientific sense does not mean the same as 'theory' used outside of the lab right? seems so many religious nuts have difficulty with that distinction despite the no end of times they have been educated otherwise.

      March 14, 2012 at 11:01 am |
    • EMP

      @ the TOOL up there: There's a big difference between you saying "I have a theory about that..." and an actual scientific theory. What you're defining is refered to as a hypothesis in the scientific method. It's the second step after observations are made. Then (and this is where science really diverges from religion), the hypothesis is actually tested repeatedly and under controlled conditions where the same test can be repeated under the same conditions many, many times to compare the results. And then it's tested some more. And not just by the one Scientist or a group of his cronies who are only out to prove it correct. It's tested by any scientist who wants to try and prove it either way. When a hypothesis fails to stand up to testing, it's discarded or revised and tested some more. When it does stand up to repeated testing, it becomes a theory. And then it's tested even more. Religion, on the other hand, barely passes as a hypothesis given that it's entirely based on primative observations made thousands of years ago and then blindly believed because testing it was often punishable by death.

      It doesn't take faith to believe in a scientific theory because there is plenty of recorded, repeatable data concerning its correctness to date. Not so with religion. Does that mean that a scientific theory never changes? Certainly not. Science is never so self-righteous as to believe that it knows everything already nor so pig-headed as to deny facts simply because they don't follow with its preconceived worldview. Again, not so with religion.

      March 14, 2012 at 11:10 am |
    • HotAirAce

      Believers should be very careful when they attempt to discredit something by labeling it (incorrectly!) a theory! There is no greater theory than the theory that there are any gods! Believers have been trying to prove their various god theories for thousands of years and have yet to come up with a single shred of factual, verifiable, objective, measurable or independent evidence for the existence of any god. Applying the scientific method to gods or religion will only result in the complete discrediting of these childish myths. Please, please, go for it!,

      March 15, 2012 at 11:20 pm |
  9. PaulNYC

    There IS a bias against "intelligent design" - it's called reality.

    March 14, 2012 at 10:34 am |
    • Jesucrisco

      Exactly.

      March 14, 2012 at 10:35 am |
    • CallingBS

      Agreed!

      March 14, 2012 at 10:41 am |
  10. John Brooks

    People keep asking for proof of God. What time is it?

    That is proof enough we can time our watches to something like the sun. Even Old Faithful Geyser has issues, but the universe just keeps on ticking.

    March 14, 2012 at 10:34 am |
    • The Jackdaw

      Thats like saying, "Arent sandwiches wonderful? I saw a dinosaur on TV."

      March 14, 2012 at 10:36 am |
    • U are A TOOL if u think BELIEVING in science makes you smarter than beliving in GOD

      RIGHT ON!

      March 14, 2012 at 10:44 am |
    • filthburger

      if there is a god, he does not care about some microbes living on a small planet in some solar system on the edge of some galaxy with billions of stars in a universe with trillions of galaxies with billions of stars. I'd say he has bigger things to worry about. Much like you don't care about the bugs you kill. The bible was written by man who were crazy from eating bugs and drinking rancid rain water from being in the desert for 40 days and nights. Probably ate some peyote as well. i believe there is more out there than I can feel and see, but i'm not so arrogant to think that i understand the creator of the universe because some guy wrote some stuff down in a book a few thousand years ago.

      March 14, 2012 at 10:58 am |
    • Cedar Rapids

      “People keep asking for proof of God. What time is it? That is proof enough we can time our watches to something like the sun. Even Old Faithful Geyser has issues, but the universe just keeps on ticking.”

      This has to be the strangest argument ever. Because man invented the concept of keeping time based on observable conditions it must prove god? Really?

      March 14, 2012 at 11:04 am |
  11. josh

    I double checked Coppedge's resume. He is *not* a scientist, he is a technical administrator. This headline is intelligently designed to pander to the flammable masses.
    ID may be "true", but it is not science because it can never be disproved by evidence. And for those who say we are too complex to have arisen through evolution, I say 'speak for yourself.' We are realizations of the second law of thermodynamics–entropy accelerators, fancy tornadoes if you will. It is a testable and deeply spiritual theory.

    March 14, 2012 at 10:33 am |
    • mandas

      Intelligent design is not only not true, it is absolutely untrue and can be easily show to be such.

      Intelligent design advocates claim that life is too complex to have arisen spontaneously or to have evolved, and that it must have been designed by some intelliigent being. The being they mean is their god, but they like to ommit this from the argument to avoid the religious tag.

      The problem is, if life is too complex and must have been designed, who or what designed it? Obviously, it would require a being of extraordinary complexity to have designed life on Earth. And by their very own argument, such a being of extraordinary complexity MUST have been designed as well. So who designed the designer?

      It's so obvious that it requires a cretin not to get it. If, as the religious nutjob ID advocates like to claim, the 'designer' did not have to be designed, then by definition the original premise – that life is too complex and must have been designed – is shown to be false.

      March 15, 2012 at 11:02 pm |
    • Chad

      @mandas "The problem is, if life is too complex and must have been designed, who or what designed it? "

      =>the fundamental flaw with that argument is that it applies only to things that are created.

      The question "who created God" is a nonsensical question as God has always existed, He alone has no beginning and no end.

      March 15, 2012 at 11:12 pm |
  12. Rory

    After studying life giving DNA structures and how complex they are, I am convinced beyond a shadow of doubt, that it is more likely for a tornado passing through a junk yard, to create a brand new 747 jumbo jet than DNA to be created by accidental evolution.

    March 14, 2012 at 10:33 am |
    • rebar

      You didn't study them very well.

      March 14, 2012 at 10:35 am |
    • jimtanker

      Rory,

      Stop cutting and pasting creationist junk. Just because you dont believe something doesnt mean that it isnt true.

      March 14, 2012 at 10:37 am |
    • Aezel

      Lol. No. You're an idiot of you are convinced of that.

      March 14, 2012 at 10:37 am |
    • Chantal

      WHY do you and so many people think that evolution is RANDOM? It isn't!

      March 14, 2012 at 10:51 am |
    • george

      Don't tell anyone you work with because the leading scientists in your field will judge you for being very very very wrong

      March 14, 2012 at 10:58 am |
    • Cedar Rapids

      That you think that evolution claims you go from nothing to something as complex as 747 in one step shows your need to read more.

      March 14, 2012 at 11:06 am |
  13. Knuckleheads

    If you find a watch on a beach, there must be a watchmaker. If you find yourself confused by a series of contradictory political justifications, there must be a conservative.

    March 14, 2012 at 10:33 am |
  14. katahdin

    Intelligent design is creationism, and has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with theology.

    March 14, 2012 at 10:33 am |
  15. OGR99

    He expressed his views. Just like everyone else on this planet. What's wrong with that?

    March 14, 2012 at 10:33 am |
    • Jason

      Bludgeoning your coworkers with religious and political dogma during work hours is unprofessional and disrespectful. Anyone with a lick of common sense knows this.

      March 14, 2012 at 10:37 am |
    • MCR

      You can express your opinion publicly and you have every right to it. But pushing that view point on other people with DVDs is harassment in the workplace, creates an uncomfortable environment for others working there (it's JPL, I've been, there aren't a lot of other creationists there), and when working somewhere like JPL it would be near impossible to have such a rigid view of the world and complete your work to the level of people there who actually believe in what they do.

      March 14, 2012 at 10:42 am |
  16. WASP

    the crazy thing is when i first got on here it was only two pages a couple hours ago, i watched in three minutes pages 6-8 were added. lol man people grabbed a hold of this one. :)

    March 14, 2012 at 10:32 am |
  17. The Jackdaw

    NASA was right to fire him. There is no room for a closed minded moron like this at NASA.

    March 14, 2012 at 10:32 am |
    • Sojourneerinfo

      closed minded?

      March 14, 2012 at 10:36 am |
    • The Jackdaw

      Oh no, you are implying that I am closed minded because I deny the existence of God, and am therefore myself closed minded! Oh man, you got me right where it hurts! – - – – – Perhaps I have drawn my conclusions out of a lifetime of openmindedness. Sorry, try again.

      March 14, 2012 at 10:40 am |
  18. Jesucrisco

    NASA is in the business of real science. This wing nut is just in the business of crazy.

    March 14, 2012 at 10:32 am |
  19. jimtanker

    @ Scientech

    “Show me one experiment where evolution can be proved using the scientific method.”

    Human Chromosome 2 is a fusion of two ancestral chromosomes

    Introduction
    All great apes apart from man have 24 pairs of chromosomes. There is therefore a hypothesis that the common ancestor of all great apes had 24 pairs of chromosomes and that the fusion of two of the ancestor's chromosomes created chromosome 2 in humans. The evidence for this hypothesis is very strong.
    The Evidence
    Evidence for fusing of two ancestral chromosomes to create human chromosome 2 and where there has been no fusion in other Great Apes is:

    1) The analogous chromosomes (2p and 2q) in the non-human great apes can be shown, when laid end to end, to create an identical banding structure to the human chromosome 2.
    2) The remains of the sequence that the chromosome has on its ends (the telomere) is found in the middle of human chromosome 2 where the ancestral chromosomes fused.
    3) the detail of this region (pre-telomeric sequence, telomeric sequence, reversed telomeric sequence, pre-telomeric sequence) is exactly what we would expect from a fusion.
    4) this telomeric region is exactly where one would expect to find it if a fusion had occurred in the middle of human chromosome 2.
    5) the centromere of human chromosome 2 lines up with the chimp chromosome 2p chromosomal centromere.
    6) At the place where we would expect it on the human chromosome we find the remnants of the chimp 2q centromere.

    Not only is this strong evidence for a fusion event, but it is also strong evidence for common ancestry; in fact, it is hard to explain by any other mechanism.

    http://www.pnas.org/cgi/reprint/88/20/9051.pdf

    March 14, 2012 at 10:32 am |
    • PublicCries

      That was meant for you hhaha NICE I am a bit of a science hound so few take time to learn.Well said.

      March 14, 2012 at 10:46 am |
    • jimtanker

      And the best part is that this was predicted, using evil science, and then tested, again using evil science, and then the evidence was gained with the hard work of a bunch of evil scientiest.

      I wish that were as easy as just saying "god did it".

      March 14, 2012 at 10:49 am |
    • Good evidence

      Good answer, good answer.

      March 14, 2012 at 10:51 am |
    • filthburger

      What he said.

      March 14, 2012 at 11:22 am |
  20. Pete

    Jeez man, if I were lucky enough to have a cool job at NASA, I'd keep my mouth shut about non-work stuff!

    March 14, 2012 at 10:32 am |
    • PublicCries

      In one word....NICE...

      March 14, 2012 at 10:44 am |
    • Amy

      MEEEE TOOOOO!

      March 14, 2012 at 10:45 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.