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NASA The Courts Science

Lawsuit Claims NASA Specialist Was Fired Over Intelligent Design Belief 743

New submitter period3 writes "The latest mission of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory is defending itself in a workplace lawsuit filed by a former computer specialist. The man claims he was demoted and then let go for promoting his views on intelligent design, the belief that a higher power must have had a hand in creation because life is too complex to have developed through evolution alone."
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Lawsuit Claims NASA Specialist Was Fired Over Intelligent Design Belief

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  • by Ferzerp ( 83619 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @01:07PM (#39327809)

    ... is demoted for rejecting the whole basis, or showing that he has a severely flawed understanding?

    Who would have thought.

  • by benjfowler ( 239527 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @01:08PM (#39327823)

    Can't say I'm sympathetic. If his critical thinking skills, not to mention his social skills are so bad, then he has no business working for NASA, and show go and work for Ken Ham or something, where his abilities and skills will be better appreciated.

  • by Kenja ( 541830 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @01:08PM (#39327827)
    There is a not so fine line between espousing a belief and passing out DVDs to co-workers and trying to convert them. Sounds like disruptive behavior to me. I also would expect from the description that he was asked to stop, then warned before being let go.
  • Just a thought... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Alioth ( 221270 ) <no@spam> on Monday March 12, 2012 @01:11PM (#39327877) Journal

    A thought:

    If life were to be too complex to arise by evolution, and needed an intelligent designer, then surely the intelligent designer would also be too complex to arise naturally.

    Who or what created the creator?

  • Yeah right... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 12, 2012 @01:11PM (#39327879)

    David Coppedge, who worked as a "team lead" on the Cassini mission exploring Saturn and its many moons, alleges that he was discriminated against because he engaged his co-workers in conversations about intelligent design and handed out DVDs on the idea while at work. Coppedge lost his "team lead" title in 2009 and was let go last year after 15 years on the mission.


    Coppedge had a reputation around JPL as an evangelical Christian and other interactions with co-workers led some to label him as a Christian conservative, Becker said.

    [he] says he believes other things also led to his demotion, including his support for a state ballot measure that sought to define marriage as limited to heterosexual couples and his request to rename the annual holiday party a "Christmas party."

    First, don't shove it in everyone's faces and it won't be an issue. Difficult for an evangelical, I know.


    It looks like a pretty straightforward case. The mission that he was working on was winding down and he was laid off.

    Good luck getting around that. Sounds kinda... normal and uninteresting.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 12, 2012 @01:12PM (#39327893)

    The man claims he was demoted and then let go for promoting his views

    Since one's beliefs on the origins of life have absolutely zero do do with the work of a "computer specialist," I'd hope he was fired if he was proselytizing at work.

  • by jiteo ( 964572 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @01:17PM (#39327965)

    From the TFA:

    He [...] handed out DVDs on the idea [intelligent design] while at work

    The question is whether the plaintiff was fired simply because he was wasting people's time and bothering them in ways that would have led him to being fired regardless of whether it was about religion or whether he was treated worse based on the religiosity of his beliefs.

    The former.

  • by tverbeek ( 457094 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @01:17PM (#39327981) Homepage

    There's a difference between firing someone for their religious beliefs and firing someone for promoting those beliefs at work, especially if the person is in some position of authority over those he's passing the DVDs out to. There's a trend lately with Christians complaining that their religious freedom is being infringed, when what's really happening is that they simply aren't being allowed to impose (to some degree or another) their religion on someone else. Whether it's a teacher lecturing to her students about her religious beliefs, an employer specifying which legal medical treatment an employee's health insurance covers, or a supervisor trying to persuade his team of his religious beliefs, those are all examples of religious "freedom" going far enough to step on others' right to believe differently. Like the old saying that "your freedom to swing your arm ends where my nose begins", your right to proselytize ends at the office door.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 12, 2012 @01:18PM (#39327995)

    Insightful? Dude was a computer scientist, not a xenobiologist. Should they fire the rest of us for every tin foil consiracy theory we believe? ID is no less rational than aliens at Wright Pat, but neither should be fireable offenses.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 12, 2012 @01:19PM (#39328019)

    ... is demoted for rejecting the whole basis, or showing that he has a severely flawed understanding?

    Who would have thought.

    Intelligent design answers more the 'why' than the 'how' that Evolution does. It's entirely possible to believe both at the same time, in fact.

    I don't believe Intelligent Design, but calling people who do 'stupid' or saying they 'reject the scientific method' is juvenile, and really serves the exact opposite of convincing the 'other side' that they're wrong...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 12, 2012 @01:19PM (#39328027)

    Sounds to me like he was fired for being a jerk, and continued acting like a jerk after he was fired.

  • by Moof123 ( 1292134 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @01:20PM (#39328041)

    Exactly. Pushing your religious beliefs at work is bad enough, but doing it as a manager is something else entirely. Sounds to me like the dude crossed several lines.

    I've worked with a few oddballs, like a Young Earth'er who'd fill your ear with great flood stories (the Grand Canyon is proof positive of the great flood!), but they all knew what lines not to cross and I had no problem with them professionally. One is still a good friend. You can talk about this stuff at a peer level, outside of work within reason (i.e. respect folks desire to change the subject when they are clearly getting uncomfortable). You can't create a situation where employees can reasonably be afraid that their review/raise/promotion can affected by agreeing or disagreeing with them on decidedly non-work topics.

  • Don't bother (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 12, 2012 @01:20PM (#39328045)

    People don't accept ID because it is rational and well-supported by scientific evidence. People accept ID because it abates their fears about their place in the universe, and because it is consistent with the stories they were told when they were impressionable children.

    Rare indeed is a person who can be made, by purely rational means, to reject a belief system to which he has plenty of irrational attachments.

    Posting challenges like yours are tantamount to mud wrestling with a pig (you get nowhere, and the pig enjoys it).

  • by Swarley ( 1795754 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @01:21PM (#39328051)

    religion without science is blind

    That would be your Intelligent Design right there. You may not realize this depending on where you get your science information but there is quite literally ZERO evidence in favor of ID. Not a little. Or some weak evidence that needs more study to flesh it out. ZERO. Not a little bit vs. evolution through natural selection's large piles. I mean zero. Nothing. Intelligent design is blind religion at it's finest.

  • It was God's Will. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by bareman ( 60518 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @01:22PM (#39328079) Homepage Journal

    Tell him it was God's will that he was fired, and if he pursues the lawsuit he's doubting God's plan.

  • by Jason Levine ( 196982 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @01:26PM (#39328157) Homepage

    Agreed. I'm pretty religious (Jewish), but I don't make it a habit to discuss my religion at work. If asked about a certain aspect of Judaism, I'll answer. If I need to take a day off due to a Jewish holiday, I'll talk with my boss about it. Otherwise, my religion and my work are two completely different things.

    If one of my co-workers started telling giving me DVDs and pamphlets telling me that I needed to accept Jesus or fry in hell, I'd complain to HR and would expect that this employee would be warned to stop and fired if he/she didn't.

  • by PIBM ( 588930 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @01:26PM (#39328159) Homepage

    If you are actively promoting your belief at the job, and preventing other from working on their hours, yes, you should definitely be reprimanded and possibly let go. Whichever belief it is.

  • Down-modded (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Enderandrew ( 866215 ) <[enderandrew] [at] []> on Monday March 12, 2012 @01:28PM (#39328209) Homepage Journal

    I've always had Excellent karma on Slashdot for years until I made a post that the believe that evolution occurs is not in direct opposition to the belief that there is a Creator/God.

    I was down-modded like crazy and people came out of the woodwork to make personal attacks.

    My wife tells me of how she was harassed while working at a Jesuit university for believing in God, because she was in a lab. Fellow Jesuit employees spoke of how only absolute idiots would believe in God, and how it is an absolute accepted fact amongst intellectuals that God cannot exist.

    I still maintain that if it is a great offense to believe in the existence of God (which cannot be tested), then it is equally a great offense to believe definitely in the inverse of something that cannot be tested.

    I think most intellectuals who believe in God hide their beliefs out of fear and shame that they will be judged and ostracized for that belief. I would assume that intellectuals would easily spot the logical fallacy that judging a belief solely on the merits of the stupidest people who believe in it doesn't hold water. []

  • by mario_grgic ( 515333 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @01:29PM (#39328215)
    That does not mean what you think it means: Science is constantly proving religion wrong and it gives science an underlying purpose to keep moving forward with its work in every category while religion is constantly revising its interpretations of an apparently flawless book. While at the same time religion needs science because it does actually explain how some of the "miracles" could have occurred if the people in the stories were the thinking kind of people who could predict wind patterns and sun locations. In short, they "need" each other

    Einstein was by no means a religious person - in fact, the great physicist saw religion as no more than a "childish superstition". "The word god is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honorable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this".
  • by Timmy D Programmer ( 704067 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @01:30PM (#39328243) Journal
    Unless you are a politician or clergy. Otherwise you can expect to alienate the majority of your co-workers.
  • by pitje ( 1083069 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @01:31PM (#39328261)

    bull. shit.

    ID is nothing more than a rephrasing of 'God is real' without actually saying that.
    It's wishfullfillment, nothing more.

    Any of which shouldn't get you fired btw. Imposing your (misguided) beliefs upon others in your workspace is.

  • by SomePgmr ( 2021234 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @01:34PM (#39328339) Homepage

    It's Sir Isaac Newton.

    And he lived nearly 300 years ago. He probably thought you could turn lead into gold with the proper application of liquefied horse dung, too.

    All of which is beside the point. The idea of a magician creating the universe is, in all ways, ridiculous.

  • by SomeKDEUser ( 1243392 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @01:41PM (#39328461)

    If you say something preposterous, expect people to mock you. If you say Obama is a secret Muslim, or not a US citizen, your ideas should be mocked!

    If you think the Earth is flat, or 6000 years old, your ideas should be mocked!

    In general, if you do/say something ridiculous, it should be mocked. Because this is how you'll know how absurd that thing is. And of, course, it depends on the circumstances. Mocking a child for making a mistake at school is cruel. Mocking an adult who should know better is a public service. It is somehow deemed acceptable to be ignorant, and have opinions. Because all opinions should be respected.

    Fuck that.

    Ignorance is not a valid point of view, and never was. Your wrong and silly ideas (as opposed to you) should be mocked.

  • by SomePgmr ( 2021234 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @01:41PM (#39328471) Homepage

    The article says he was laid off because the project was winding down.

    Though if they chose him among the first, I wouldn't be surprised if it was because he was, "that annoying asshat that constantly aggravates all of his coworkers."

  • by Joce640k ( 829181 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @01:41PM (#39328473) Homepage

    It sounds like he was finally fired for not being able to take a hint after being demoted for the above activities.

    Definitely not the sort of person you want to spending tax dollars on at NASA.

  • by doza ( 657250 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @01:47PM (#39328563)
    NASA isn't just about flying rockets into space. If you're trying to find other planets which could harbor life you can't leave evolution out of the equasion.
  • by snowgirl ( 978879 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @01:50PM (#39328619) Journal

    Hopefully NASA relies more on physics and mathematics than it does on evolution.

    However, he wasn't fired for his flawed understanding of evolution - he was fired for being disruptive in the workplace. He would, hopefully, have been fired if he had been ranting on about how great natural selection was and passing around DVDs of pro-Darwin materials.

    Indeed... really the only way he would have a case in the first place is if Intelligent Design is admittedly religious belief. I know that the Dover School trial established that it was, but ID proponents keep trying to argue that it has nothing to do with religion, in an effort to get it into the schools.

    So, really, creationists are stuck between a rock in a hard place. Either it's not religious so it can get into schools, or it is religious to get protected belief status. (You cannot be fired for being Christian, or expressing belief in Christian dogma. You can be fired for believing that the Loch Ness Monster actually exists.)

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 12, 2012 @01:50PM (#39328631)

    The Obama situation wasn't being too quick to pull the trigger, the right wing hate machine had already latched onto the short sound clip. Similar thing happened to ACORN -- the organization did nothing wrong, but was destroyed (in that case) by selectively edited interviews with low-level members. By the time the GAO report clearing the organization of any wrongdoing was released, ACORN was already defunded.

    It's terrifying how easy character assassination is.

  • Re:Down-modded (Score:4, Insightful)

    by tulare ( 244053 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @01:53PM (#39328677) Journal

    Consider that /. is largely populated by analytical thinkers (computer people tend to be that way or else they'd do something else for a living) and that religion, regardless of what flavor, is predicated on the abandonment of analytical thought at least where one particular idea is concerned.

    Just like the guy this article is about, in a group of analytical thinkers, anti-analytical thinking is bound to be suspect.

  • by Joce640k ( 829181 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @01:56PM (#39328735) Homepage

    Also for being enough of a dumbass to try and convert people in a place which mostly hires scientists. Not the brightest bulb on the tree, methinks.

  • by mario_grgic ( 515333 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @01:58PM (#39328763)
    If you note I quoted the word "need". This is because science really does not need religion at all, we are all curious enough to want to know the answers to fundamental questions. Religion was our first approximation to all the important questions, like cosmology, astronomy, medicine etc. But like all first approximations it proved to be quite wrong. We now know much better how life evolves, how solar systems and planets form, we now know how even universe can come from nothing. Even philosophy really has nothing useful to say about the real world we live in let alone religion. Religion on the other hand just wishes science would go away. The only thing it has going for it is ignorance.
  • by Joce640k ( 829181 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @01:58PM (#39328777) Homepage

    The whole "Intelligent Design" thing is just Christianity in disguise. Please don't pretend it's anything else.

  • by Miseph ( 979059 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @02:01PM (#39328813) Journal

    Except Shirley Sherrod has been working for the Departmenf of Agriculture for decades, has a long track record of excellent service, and was relaying a story of how she did something positive at a NAACP event on her own time. Cappedge was fired for actually being a disruptive and problematic employee.

  • by Homr Zodyssey ( 905161 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @02:04PM (#39328879) Journal

    You can be fired for believing the Loch Ness Monster exists? That's news to me.

    This guy can believe all of the cockamamee(sp?) ideas he wants to, and shouldn't be fired for it. In America, we're pretty much allowed to believe whatever we want, and the only employers that are allowed to discriminate based upon beliefs are religious institutions.

    However, the burden of proof is on the plaintiff. He must show that his beliefs rather than his actions were the reason for his demotion and subsequent firing. It will be hard to prove that about the firing, seeing as how they were laying off a lot of guys at the same time. He can believe in the Loch Ness Monster if he wants to, but if he wastes taxpayer resources expounding upon that belief, then he should be first on the chopping block.

  • by medcalf ( 68293 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @02:21PM (#39329233) Homepage
    Except that you missed the point. What the "right wing hate machine" as you put it latched onto was not what Sherrod said; it was the approving reaction of the audience when she said the first part, before she got to how she actually overcame that prejudice.
  • by Reverand Dave ( 1959652 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @02:30PM (#39329391)
    The simple reason for this is that you cannot use logic to counter an argument that was made without logic. You cannot reason with an unreasonable belief because the 2 positions are not on the same terms. Simply put: "If you could reason with religious people, there would be no religious people." -- House.
  • by englishknnigits ( 1568303 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @02:41PM (#39329587)
    I hope you are never a manager, HR rep, or someone with authority because that is a terrible way to do things. You don't demote people to "give them a hint." If there behavior, whatever it is, is a problem you pull them aside and tell them the behavior is disruptive and not appropriate at work. If they continue, you fire them. As far as him not being the type of person you want to spend $$ on at NASA that is entirely dependent on his job performance, not his personal views on things.
  • by UnknownSoldier ( 67820 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @03:05PM (#39329943)

    I'll probably get modded down, but I will point out 2 things:

    You _do_ know that a Catholic priest gave us the theory of the Big Bang, right? []

    a) You ignorant to assume that the Scientific Method is _mutually exclusive_ with Religion (the latter which is _supposed_ to be the Science of the Mind when it is not corrupted, but I digress.)


    Have you _personally_ seen an electron?
    Have you _personally_ seen Dark Matter or Dark Energy?
    If no, then you take them to exist on faith -- based on another person's word. Science relies on Subjective Truth to establish an Objective Truth. Note the order and dependency!

    b) It is arrogant to assume your objective "faith" is somehow more valid then someone else's subjective faith who has a different set of assumptions. It would behoove you to spend less time criticizing others who don't think like you and focus on solving problems.

  • by sjames ( 1099 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @03:21PM (#39330185) Homepage Journal

    First you give a verbal off the record warning. Then on the record, then written. If none of that makes the point, demotion is the next logical and necessary step. If even that doesn't make the point, termination becomes the only option. Keep in mind that if you do nothing, then you are up for a lawsuit from everyone else for allowing a hostile work environment.

  • by Velex ( 120469 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @04:03PM (#39330723) Journal

    I've _personally_ seen amazing things that scientific research has made possible.
    I've also _personally_ seen how religion can destroy families by privileging a 3,000 year old text over reality.

    I hear this standpoint all the time, that subjective truth is just as valid as objective truth. It's rubbish.

    Subjective truth predicts nothing. What does assuming your sky wizard exists or not enable me to do? Absolutely nothing except hate myself because god hates fags like me.

    What does assuming dark matter exists enable me to do? Nothing except provide a possible explanation for why there's gravitational lensing in a picture of distant stars where there really shouldn't be.

    What does assuming that different materials have different properties and assuming that mathematics is sound enable me to do? Build bridges, skyscrapers, better farming tools, more fuel-efficient cars, better looking video games, etc.

    Well, I suppose, unless you believe that suspension bridges are something that your sky wizard just shits out on occasion. If you do, that's your choice. However, I sure as hell wouldn't hire you to design a new suspension bridge.

  • The only question should be how was he doing his job.

    Someone who feels the profound need to nail his beliefs into other peoples' heads usually falls into a subclass of folks who are opinionated, stubborn and won't be dissuaded by silly things like proof or physical reality. A person like that in a technological profession will almost certainly find that this particular set of behaviors is antithetical to doing their job and in a position where logic is the foundation for making valid choices and selections a person who puts their beliefs and personal feeling first is going to step on a lot of toes and be a general aggravation to his coworkers.

    There is also a certain air of self righteousness and arrogance. These are highly off-putting character traits. If he feels obliged to share his religious views, he should consider working at a place where people believe the same things. Is there a church in his denomination that needs a person with his job skills. In such an environment of closed minds he should be happy as a pig in a wallow, and the rest of society can avoid the imposition of putting up with his uninvited opinions.

  • by ArhcAngel ( 247594 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @04:36PM (#39331151)

    My belief in God does not preclude me from wanting to understand how the universe works.

    I am fascinated learning how the universe works. ID doesn't however help me understand how the universe works so much as tell me how it was made from a religious perspective. Science and religion don't have to be mutually exclusive BTW. Think about this for a minute...One theory contends that the universe was created by a large (really really big) explosion commonly referred to as the Big Bang theory. Judaism purports that the universe was created when God spoke. It's not hard to imagine an all powerful being's voice commanding such a presence as to be explosive.

    ID isn't "an attempt to explain something" it's an attempt to attack evolution because we don't like evolution

    And here I was thinking Jesus told us God is perfectly capable of defending Himself.

I was playing poker the other night... with Tarot cards. I got a full house and 4 people died. -- Steven Wright