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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.

CNN's Belief Blog – all the faith angles to the day's top stories

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. Scott

    You can't be a scientist and believe in intelligent design. Everyone knows that things only look like they are designed. it doesn't mean they are. The earth looks flat too if you stand in a field, it doesn't mean it is. Just because DNA is complicated doesn't mean that it can't make itself. Plenty of things make themselves, look at the universe for petes sake. lol

    March 14, 2012 at 11:17 am |
    • kotekaman

      The guy was a computer technician. Basically, a janitor that got promoted.

      March 14, 2012 at 11:21 am |
    • Will Robinson

      "You can't be a scientist and believe in intelligent design." - unbelievable. So, using your logic, Newton wasn't a scientist, neither was Kepler, or nearly all of the other "fathers" of the scientific method. This board should screen for imbeciles before allowing posts.

      March 14, 2012 at 11:29 am |
    • Will Robinson

      Your comment denies the scientific law of causation. Let me guess, you work at JPL, right?

      March 14, 2012 at 11:30 am |
  2. CyclopeFish

    If CNN deleted all posts in which users use words they do not understand, this tread would have been 10 times shorter.

    March 14, 2012 at 11:16 am |
    • AdamOsgood

      Ironic, really, since - practically speaking - an established thread couldn't be ten times SHORTER. It could be ten times LONGER or ten percent shorter.

      I don't disagree with your sentiment however. Just felt the need to point out the irony of the way you presented it. 🙂

      March 14, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
  3. 1ofTheFallen

    To point your finger at someone and call them stupid for not believing in your science or religion when mankind and science is very very far from having all the answers only leaves several fingers pointing back at yourself. Until someone has all the answers with proven science or religion it makes no sense to argue about who is right or wrong.

    March 14, 2012 at 11:15 am |
    • kotekaman

      Neither one has all the answers, that' true, but religion has no answer at all. "God did it" is not an answer. Who created god?

      March 14, 2012 at 11:19 am |
    • YeahOk

      So then it's ok for me to say the center of the Sun is made of cottage-cheese without anyone arguing that I'm wrong because there is no absolute proof either way?

      March 14, 2012 at 11:24 am |
    • JonnyJive5

      @yeahok
      It's ok for you to say the center of the sun is cottage cheese, but hopefully after you do you'll know why everyone is looking at you like you're an idiot.

      March 14, 2012 at 11:34 am |
    • Menoc

      Science does not have all the answers to life, but but religion has NONE. Religion "today" is a BUSINESS. PURE AND SIMPLE. IT HAS NO PLACE IN SCIENCE. Eventually, the religious community will realize that it can no longer deny the strength of science and will adopt its views in order to maintain it's business interests going. 200 years into the future, religion will probably have dropped GOD and JESUS as their focus and will probably morph into a kind of social movement that denounces the injustices of future societies. The same type of movement that JESUS started.

      What do JESUS, MICHAEL JORDAN, ELVIS PRESLY AND MUHAMMAD ALI have in common? . . . All celebrities elevated to godly status.

      March 14, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
  4. irunner

    Calling this guy a scientist when he is only a system administrator (back in the 80's we called them computer operaters) is a bit of a stretch. I would have avoided this guy if I had to work with him. So much for workplace harmony and teamwork...

    March 14, 2012 at 11:15 am |
    • jamdfh

      ANd it makes no sense to make something up and pass it off as science. He reached his Peter Principle of the mind and created answers in lieu of finding them.

      March 14, 2012 at 11:23 am |
  5. TheMagusNYC

    Whatever the merits of a case for termination, advocating for a position that is anti-scientific in its seeking evidence for its presumed conclusions is revealing, especially in the context of NASA.

    March 14, 2012 at 11:12 am |
  6. gok

    Wow, athiesm is probably the dumbest investment EVER, if youre right you get nothing and if youre wrong you get hell, can see why you people so smug.

    March 14, 2012 at 11:12 am |
    • kotekaman

      It's not an investment, dummy, it's a rational approach to life that matters. Can't walk around believing in total nonsense.

      March 14, 2012 at 11:13 am |
    • kotekaman

      It's not an investment, it's a rational approach to life.

      March 14, 2012 at 11:14 am |
    • TheMagusNYC

      Seems that atheism is rooted in rebellion and pride, but at least it is a stand, unlike agnosticism, which is rooted in ignorance and laziness.

      March 14, 2012 at 11:14 am |
    • Paul

      Atheism and evolution are not the same thing. I said before evolution and god are not mutually exclusive, you can believe in both. Unless you don't believe that god was capable of having the foresight to set evolution in motion and the knowledge to understand where it would lead.

      March 14, 2012 at 11:15 am |
    • Scott

      Actually, we get a lot. We get to live life to the fullest NOW, and focus on doing good in THIS LIFE because it is the right thing to do, instead of worrying about following a set of rules based entirely on a man-made story.

      March 14, 2012 at 11:19 am |
    • irunner

      Most athiests prefer to make the most of our lives on this planet... at least until someone can prove there is an afterlife or supreme being. Heaven or hell is what you make of your life. Nobody controls my destiny but me.

      March 14, 2012 at 11:20 am |
    • LinCA

      @gok

      You said, "Wow, athiesm is probably the dumbest investment EVER, if youre right you get nothing and if youre wrong you get hell, can see why you people so smug."
      atheism*
      you're*

      Look up "Pascal's wager".

      ---------–
      @TheMagusNYC

      You said, "Seems that atheism is rooted in rebellion and pride, but at least it is a stand, unlike agnosticism, which is rooted in ignorance and laziness."
      Nope. Atheism, for most, is rooted in healthy skepticism and sound reasoning. Agnosticism is rooted in the realization that there are things that we don't know, and acceptance that we may not ever know them.

      Theism is rooted in ignorance and blind faith.

      March 14, 2012 at 11:22 am |
    • Brett

      Believing in Truth is a good investment for me, and that's why I'm an atheist. If you can believe in a lie, you'll do anything, because you can always make up a new lie to believe in, which leads to the very poor character that many religious people exhibit.

      March 14, 2012 at 11:22 am |
    • Observer

      TheMagusNYC,

      "Seems that atheism is rooted in rebellion and pride, but at least it is a stand, unlike agnosticism, which is rooted in ignorance and laziness."

      It is IGNORANT to pretend you can prove that God does not exist. Agnostics recognize that neither atheists nor beleivers can PROVE their points and BOTH could be wrong.

      March 14, 2012 at 11:24 am |
    • LinCA

      @gok

      You said, "Wow, athiesm is probably the dumbest investment EVER, if youre right you get nothing and if youre wrong you get hell, can see why you people so smug. "
      atheism*
      you're*

      Look up "Pascal's wager".

      ---------–
      @TheMagusNYC

      You said, "Seems that atheism is rooted in rebellion and pride, but at least it is a stand, unlike agnosticism, which is rooted in ignorance and laziness."
      Nope. Atheism, for most, is rooted in healthy skepticism and sound reasoning. Agnosticism is rooted in the realization that there are things that we don't know, and acceptance that we may not ever know them.

      Theism is rooted in ignorance and blind faith.

      March 14, 2012 at 11:24 am |
    • Bill

      Atheism is nothing. It is not a belief. It is merely the acceptance of measurable facts adding up to a conclusion. That being, your conclusion is based on the very opposite. I do not know what is more arrogant, ignorant and selfish than constructing and then worshiping a deity modeled in our own image.

      March 14, 2012 at 11:25 am |
    • U ARE A TOOL if you think BELIEVING in science makes you smarter than BELIEVING in GOD

      LOL

      GOOD POINT!

      March 14, 2012 at 11:36 am |
    • Will Robinson

      Kotekaman -Atheism – It's not an investment, dummy, it's a rational approach to life that matters. Can't walk around believing in total nonsense."

      Really? Look at the word. We can usually derive the meaning of a word (as opposed to just giving our feeling of what it might mean) by it's structure. Atheism is the worldview that there is no God. A-theism. Your opinion that it's a "rational"
      way to see the world is just that – nothing more than you're opinion.

      March 14, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
    • Lying for Jesus is still lying

      Pascal's wager was logically eviscerated several hundred years ago. Do try to keep up.

      March 15, 2012 at 9:47 am |
  7. Jherndo

    A couple things strike me as odd. He's claiming religious discrimination but then claiming that ID is not religious based so that he wasn't creating a hostile work environment. If it was not religious based he wouldn't have a case since there is no protection for believing "alternate" views. It'd be the same as if they fired someone for believing that some obscure plant could cure cancer with no evidence and they won't shut up about it. Either he's wrong because it's religious or he doesn't have a case because it's not religious. But since several courts cases have already established that ID is a religious belief he should have shut up about it when his supervisor told him he was creating a hostile work environment.

    March 14, 2012 at 11:12 am |
  8. svscnn

    The only two words that apply here are, "case dismissed."

    March 14, 2012 at 11:12 am |
  9. TheTruth

    These religious wackos need to stay in their own private world. Religion has no business with science and should stay out. Intelligent design...a true oxymoron.

    March 14, 2012 at 11:11 am |
    • Nii

      It seems u need a break. Religion n science will continue to be together for a long time.

      March 14, 2012 at 11:17 am |
    • Joepub

      You seem to forget the fact that Science is a process to ponder and explore ideas. To dismiss something as hogwash is closed minded and very anti-science.

      March 14, 2012 at 11:46 am |
  10. Romulan

    This is just another example why Romulan will conquor earth. Human scientist still holding on to stone age belief. When Romulan warbirds fire disruptors and humans can only defend themselves with wooden shield with holy cross markings, you can tell me Romulan conquest of Earth is by intelligent design.

    March 14, 2012 at 11:11 am |
    • MacIan99

      Not to be pedantic, but I believe the planet is named "Romulus." Why a non-terrestrial culture would name their planet after a figure in ancient Roman mythology is open to question (Romulus and Remus were reared by a she-wolf and went on to found the city of Rome, which also takes its name from Romulus). But I notice many of the ET cultures in Star Trek got a lot of ideas from terrestrial mythology.

      March 14, 2012 at 11:17 am |
    • Klingon

      The planet name is "Romulus", not Romulon. Besides, us Klingons will conquer the entire galaxy anyway. That is the Intelligent Design!

      March 14, 2012 at 11:53 am |
  11. Curtis

    So many worthless comments on this article... Whether you believe in evolution or intelligent design has no bearing whatsoever on the topic of the article.

    The question is, was the guy wrongfully terminated? From the way it's described, sounds like he was harassing his co-workers (and it sounds like JPL has evidence of that). Harassment is grounds for termination, it doesn't matter what the topic of the harassment was.

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

      People dont like to talk, they like to fight. 90 percent of the people on these boards dont even read the article. As soon as they see anything that has to do with religion, they jump straight to the comments section and write horrible horrible things. On both sides.

      March 14, 2012 at 11:13 am |
    • The Jackdaw

      Exactly. This guy strikes me as somebody who just likes to draw attention to himself. He takes a job at JPL and starts spouting jesus stuff and then takes them to court and gets on the news. A true a$$ hat.

      March 14, 2012 at 11:14 am |
  12. derpatron 9000

    "Scientist" and "intelligent design" do not even belong in the same sentence. Who hired this crazy in the first place?

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

      he guy is a computer technician, a gofer, not a scientist.

      March 14, 2012 at 11:11 am |
  13. Scott

    What a fool. How can anyone believe in that intelligent design stupidity. Science clearly proves that the Big Bang can produce all the complexities of life. Anyone who thinks that order must come from order is a few beers short of a six pack. Look at human beings and how complicated we are and we came from primordial soup if you go back far enough. If that is not proof I do not know what is. Religion needs to be kept out of the work place and in those silly church buildings. 2012 and people pretend like science does not exist. lol

    March 14, 2012 at 11:09 am |
    • Goose66

      "Science clearly proves that the Big Bang can produce all the complexities of life." You call Coppedge a fool but then make such an unsubstantiated and clearly erroneous statement. Science has "proven" nothing re. the big bang. It is simply one theory among many. I suggest you are the fool for not being open to all the theories that may be discussed. I, for one, do not subscribe to intelligent design. But I am smart enough to know that science hasn't proven anything about the origins of the universe, except maybe the ages of our closest celestial neighbors (earth, moon, sun, mars, etc.).

      March 14, 2012 at 11:19 am |
    • Mike

      And where did the big bang came from? This evolutionist make it look too easy Science is their religion.

      March 14, 2012 at 11:23 am |
    • Jondoe

      Ok, lets go on that bent for just one moment, cosmic soup shall we? Obviously we would need to take all those bits of the soup and have some major chain reaction fire in the exact proper sequence... lets apply lightning to this theory. Bzzz, hmmm, no dna molecule. Plain and simple, science hasn't been able to prove or disprove this one way or another. I'd like to suggest a totally different idea, willed evolution. That way, both sides are right. There is evolution but a driving force behind it all. Who are we to question the mysteries of the universe? Were we there when the foundations of creation were laid? Of course not, so who are we to question it? Id rather believe that my life has some meaning and that we aren't some cosmic accident. I'd rather be wrong this way than be wrong the other way. Just my 2 cents worth.

      March 14, 2012 at 11:29 am |
    • Menoc

      There is nothing to this. This guy is a bible pusher disguise as a scientist. He was probably there with the whole purpose of indoctrination.

      March 14, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
  14. Joe

    I bet anything this guy would show up to work and blab all day about intelligent design and probably Jesus too. And if you disagreed with him he'd label you brainwashed, elitist, and worst of all an atheist *GASP!*...

    You can't blame a science agency for canning some clown that disavows real science and spews pseudoscience nonsense instead.

    Good job NASA.

    March 14, 2012 at 11:09 am |
  15. Gordon

    The more a person works in the creative/design field, the more it becomes clear that random processes cannot create a new design. You can randomly shake up a closed system and create a new instance of the environment, within the confines of the law of the closed system, but you cannot create a new system that goes beyond the limit of the initial and boundary conditions.

    It's that simple. A new design that goes beyond the boundary condition needs a conscious intelligence to change the condition.

    The law of the universe is driving it towards chaos due to human sin. Sure, you can randomly shake up things and form a new instance, like throwing a bucket of sand to the ground and find a form of a human, but you won't find the form actually live and breathe. Basically, life begets life, non-life cannot get life. To get a life out of non-life, you need to supersede the law that controls this universe.

    March 14, 2012 at 11:09 am |
    • lunchbreaker

      And God came from where? The assertion that God had no beginning is no more plausible than the universe had no beginning.

      March 14, 2012 at 11:13 am |
    • TheRationale

      Yet another fallacious teleological argument. And where did that intelligence come from? Problem not solved.

      March 14, 2012 at 11:15 am |
    • Ben

      You obviously don't understand the boundary conditions. You also don't understand that the tendency towards disorder is an average. Some parts can become more ordered while others become less ordered without any physical laws being broken. In fact, that what you are doing right now as you process air and food and water to create order as your body grows. That is counter balanced by the increased disorder in the air around you as your body radiates heat.

      March 14, 2012 at 11:16 am |
    • jamdfh

      Terra Incognita! If your brain is unable to conceptualize beyond your own fixed boundaries doesn't make it ok to make something up! And even worse, defend the "make believe" like its an actual theory!

      March 14, 2012 at 11:18 am |
    • Gordon

      @lunchbreaker and @Ration, you are avoiding the original problem by extending the problem to the designer. We are not talking about the designer. We are talking about the system, and you are already starting to argue about something science can never prove or disprove. How can a scientist and scientific methods within the boundary of this universe comprehend/measure a being outside the boundary? Please tackle the initial problem first. The problem with the origin of the designer is a separate and independent issue, and you can never know, because you cannot go outside this universe.

      March 14, 2012 at 11:46 am |
    • Gordon

      @Ben and @Jam, you didn't read my post properly. I already said that the random shake up can create a new instance within the confines of the boundary conditions.

      But how can you prove that the boundary condition that the universe tends toward decay and only life begets life can create something that breaks the boundary condition?

      We have not seen one instance where non-life begets life, but we have consistently measured and validated that life begets life. That's the Law of Life as scientists know it.

      Again as stated on my second post, evolution cannot happen without the will to survive. If everyone is satisfied the way they are, they all eventually die off. Evolution is nothing more than a struggle to survive, not to create a new form out of pure chance.

      March 14, 2012 at 11:55 am |
  16. Paul

    Intelligent Design is not a scientific theory but a reactionary idea for people who are unable toe accept that evolution is the most rational and reasonable way that life progresses. Furthermore the theory of evolution and the idea of a Deity are not mutually exclusive and can certainly co-exist. Is it not possible that the creator created evolution and that such a powerful being had the foresight to know exactly what path it would take?

    March 14, 2012 at 11:08 am |
    • Joepub

      Is it not possible that the creator created evolution and that such a powerful being had the foresight to know exactly what path it would take?

      A being like that would have to be... Godlike

      March 14, 2012 at 11:42 am |
  17. pop CHEESE

    If people don't make God REAL.... "CERN Black Hole" is not myth. Just saying it could happen.

    March 14, 2012 at 11:08 am |
    • Ben

      No, it cannot. It's not even remotely possible.

      March 14, 2012 at 11:11 am |
    • pop CHEESE

      Let just say you divide by zero on calculator. "CERN Black Hole" .... It's cern black hole. It's not good idea to cross the line without knowing.

      March 14, 2012 at 11:17 am |
    • Drowlord

      The CERN black hole hype was complete garbage. You can't have a black hole without an enormous amount of mass. Significantly more mass, in fact, than our solar system contains. You simply can't get there by colliding a few sub-atomic particles.

      March 14, 2012 at 11:28 am |
    • Lying for Jesus is still lying

      No...no, it can't.

      Rather, it can, but not a black hole like you are thinking of. Micro-black holes that dissipate almost instantly probably, but not a planet killer. It isn't even a realistic probability and no amount of scientific ignorance will make it one.

      March 15, 2012 at 9:49 am |
  18. MacIan99

    JPL's actions as described in the article are correct and appropriate, and would be whether the guy was a nutcase about intelligent design or fantasy football–there should be no difference in the way they're handled. He was disruptive to his co-workers and used work time to push his own agenda. When I have an employee complain about something in the workplace, I have to act, no matter what the disruptive action is: girlie calendars are a big deal and, yes, fantasy football activities during time you're supposed to be working are a no-no too. The only reason this is news is that the intelligent design people see it as a chance to create some frenzy among their pathetic whack-job adherents. I sincerely hope that the judge to find no merit in the complaint.

    March 14, 2012 at 11:08 am |
  19. JAB62

    Just another example of religious people forcing their garbage where it's not wanted. If you're secure in your beliefs you don't need to push them onto others. Good job JPL.

    March 14, 2012 at 11:07 am |
  20. S Kyle

    If you want to be a nutjob, fine. But don't expect to bring your hocus-pocus films into a place of scientific study and research and not suffer any backlash. There are no such things as ghosts, demons, spirits, angels, gods or Intelligent Design. If you want to practice magic and worship invisible creatures, do it on your own time.

    March 14, 2012 at 11:06 am |
    • Joepub

      Excuse me, but nobody has all the answers as you seem to think you have all the answers. In addition, if this man is accredited, and is qualified to be a scientist; then he has every right to believe as he does.

      March 14, 2012 at 11:40 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.