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On David Coppedge Trial, Darwin Bloggers Groping Their Way in the Dark

At the Darwin-defending group blog Panda's Thumb, Nick Matzke and his friends are enjoying a discussion of the David Coppedge trial even as they admit that they know hardly anything about the facts behind the affair. They are nonetheless sure he deserved to be fired by his employer, NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab, and was no innocent victim. Matzke writes:

We don't know anything more than what can be gleaned from the news reports and DI propaganda (and the court filings, if anyone is brave enough to dig through that tedium), and the various evolution folks have said relatively little about it as a result
So Matzke & Co. admit they know essentially nothing about Coppedge's case, but they are sure that Discovery Institute's commentary is "propaganda." How odd.

Matzke opens up the thread for comments so Panda's Thumb readers can express their own speculations, equally uninformed. For example:

  • "Creationists have been lying about intelligent design creationism for years -- saying it is science and denying it has anything to do with religion. It will be interesting to see if Coppedge and his fellow travellers continue this creationist custom of lying under oath."
  • "The Discovery Institute is misrepresenting reality."
  • "I would not be surprised if the court finds that Coppedge was harassing coworkers, neglecting his real job, and being insubordinate when called on this."
  • Of course this is all mere speculation, and the PT readers cite no facts whatsoever to back up these claims. There is no evidence that Coppedge was "insubordinate," and as far we're aware, JPL isn't even claiming Coppedge was "insubordinate."

    Speaking of insubordination, Matzke cites the old Chris Comer case. He claims that her case showed a "teacher in the Texas Dept. of Education who was basically fired for saying that evolution was good science." In fact, the evidence shows that was a case where the teacher had been charged with "insubordination" or "misconduct" on three separate occasions for issues that had nothing to do with evolution, and we cited specific evidence from the documentation of Comer's case demonstrating that her termination had to do with a long history of disciplinary problems, not her views on evolution. The Coppedge case is completely different.

    Matzke ends with this comment:

    Another interesting thing is that everyone knew the layoffs were coming years ahead of time. So maybe JPL employees were scheming to ditch him when the time came, or maybe Coppedge was scheming to cause maximum damage and maximize benefit to The Cause since he figured he's be laid off anyway."
    Matzke is right that JPL employees were scheming to ditch him when the time came -- as we explain here, there is strong evidence in the case showing that even way back when Coppedge was demoted in 2009, JPL supervisors wanted him fired due to his discussions about ID.

    But Matzke's suggestion that Coppedge was "scheming to cause maximum damage and maximize benefit to The Cause since he figured he's be laid off anyway" implies Coppedge wanted to get in trouble and be fired. This is obvious nonsense -- if you're familiar with the facts of the case:

    • David Coppedge had been lending intelligent design DVDs to co-workers for years (without incident!) at JPL, and didn't just start doing this recently, when budget cuts were looming on the horizon.

    • Coppedge's serious problems started when one of his supervisors got upset at him for sharing pro-ID videos, accused him of "pushing religion," and ordered him to stop talking about intelligent design. Coppedge did not deserve this treatment, but he's also not some all-powerful puppet-master capable of inducing others to harass and censor him simply for loaning out DVDs.

    • Coppedge didn't want to get fired. Take a look at him: he's not exactly in the springtime of his career. He was in his late 50s at the time he was fired, and naturally wanted to finish his career at JPL in good form, so that he could retire. The last thing David Coppedge wanted was to lose his job not long before retirement.

    • Even if Coppedge was "scheming" to get fired (which obvioulsy he wasn't) as Matzke claims, what did Coppedge do that was so wrong? He lent intelligent design DVDs to coworkers. If Coppedge was "scheming" anything, it was scheming to do something completely legitimate, legal, and justifiable. It's the intolerant staff at JPL who did wrong here.
    David Coppedge is a normal person. In this tough economy he wanted to keep his job as much as anyone else would in his situation. That's why his complaint asks that he be given back his original job. He didn't want to be demoted or fired, and never thought that loaning intelligent design DVDs to coworkers would get him demoted and then fired. He filed this lawsuit with great fear and trepidation -- not because he didn't think he had a strong case, but because he's not the kind of person who goes around looking for trouble. Coppedge's ultimate purpose is to return to work at JPL, and to defend the rights to talk about intelligent design.

    The gang at Panda's Thumb take the dimmest possible view of ID proponents -- speculating that Coppedge loaned out ID videos to coworkers with the express purpose of getting fired, late in life, just so he could bring a lawsuit and support "The Cause." This is not just untrue, it's total nonsense. And it's a terribly unfair and unkind accusation. And they accuse us of promoting "propaganda"?

    Look, there's a big difference between our approach to the Coppedge case and the Darwin lobby's: We've been following this case, are reasonably well informed about the facts, and thus we cite facts in favor of our arguments. This is very different from the unsupported speculation and cruel character assassination being promoted by Panda's Thumb and the Darwin lobby.