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Ignorance Isn't Bliss: Coppedge's Accusers Don't Understand Intelligent Design

As the David Coppedge v. Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) trial ends today with closing arguments, we thought it would be a good time to review what some of Coppedge's accusers at JPL thought about intelligent design (ID). A common theme emerges: David Coppedge was surrounded by people on the Cassini project who hadn't studied ID, and knew virtually nothing about it, but were generally hostile towards ID, and despite their self-confessed ignorance, are sure it's a religious viewpoint. As the testimony below shows, Coppedge was surrounded by people at work who generally opposed his pro-ID views, but admitted they didn't even have an interest in investigating ID to understand it. When it came to ID, they preferred ignorance and the status quo to study and understanding. We've now been able to obtain some additional trial transcripts, so this discussion includes deposition and trial testimony--both given under oath.

Margaret Weisenfelder: "Just My Own Surmise"
In a prior article, we saw that Margaret Weisenfelder objected to David Coppedge sharing his personal views at work but didn't mind when Greg Chin--the anti-ID manager who ordered David to stop talking about his religious beliefs--discussed his own more liberal political views. Here is how Weisenfelder described her feelings about intelligent design:

Weisenfelder called Unlocking the Mystery of Life "a rather heavy-handed treatment of the subject" (Weisenfelder Deposition, 19:23-24), which she believes was propounding "a religious viewpoint." (23:8-10) In her view, intelligent design is "the idea that there is a divine being behind the creation of everything." (22:11-12) Well, there's a good reason she misunderstands ID--she doesn't understand it:

Q. I'm trying to understand why you feel [ID is] a religious viewpoint, not a scientific viewpoint.

A. I'm really not -- I'm not clear on the distinction. I'm not well versed in the idea of intelligent design. ... I'm not an expert in any of this. (33:9-19)
No wonder she doesn't understand ID very well -- she admitted that she fast-forwarded "through large chunks" of the intelligent design DVD she willingly borrowed from David Coppedge, and doesn't remember its details. (22:23-24)

At trial, she further explained that her understanding of intelligent design is just whatever she wants it to be. After stating she believes that intelligent design is "in a religious category" she was asked:

Q. And your understanding of intelligent design what's that based on?

A. Just my own surmise.

Q. Okay. It's not based on any literature, is it?

A. No, it's not. (April 3, 2012, PM, 239:1-11)

Greg Chin: "I Did Not Do Further Research"
As for Greg Chin, he had about the same level of experience studying intelligent design. When Chin was asked if he had read any books about intelligent design, he answered "No." (135:8) When asked if he ever watched any of the DVDs on intelligent design that David was lending out, he answered "No." (135:13) And here's the best one:

Q. Did you have any interest in ever exploring what intelligent design is?

A. No sir. (135:14-19)
So Greg Chin has never read a book on ID, watched a DVD on ID, and has no interest in exploring what intelligent design is. But he is sure about a couple things about ID:
Q. And what would the difference be in your mind between creationism and intelligent design?

A. In my mind, they were one and the same. (138:23-25)
Q. Did you believe that David was pushing his religious views at work?

A. I am--Yes, sir.

Q. What religious views was he pushing?

A. Intelligent design. (158:5-10)
This gem from Chin's trial testimony also shows his lack of interest in correcting his misconceptions about intelligent design:
Q. Now your definition of I.D. presumes that - intelligent design presumes that intelligent design theory identifies the designer, right?

A. Yes.

Q. That's what you call -- recall your uncle telling you?

A. Yes, sir.

Q. But you've never been able to verify that by reading any actual literature?

A. I did not do further research, correct. (March 29, 2012, PM, 169:23-170:4)
Greg Chin presents us with a person who has never studied ID and showed no interest in studying ID, but he's sure it's a religious viewpoint that's the same as creationism. And he's willing to yell at David Coppedge and tell him to stop discussing ID at work.

Scott Edgington: "Well, I'm a Scientist"
Next, there's Scott Edgington, another complainant against David. Like the other complainants, he believed ID was religion, but had never studied the topic:

Q. How much research have you done into studying the theory of intelligent design?

A. None. It is not a theory. (Edgington Deposition, 19:21-23)
Q. Have you read any literature from proponents of intelligent design?

A. No, I have not. (20:5-10)
Q. So have you independently done any study of intelligent design to form the opinion that it's a religious viewpoint?

A. Professionally, I have not done any study on intelligent design. (21:10-14)
Despite his lack of "any study of intelligent design," Edgington is sure it's not science, but is religion and a form of creationism:
Q. What is your understanding of what intelligent design is?

A. My understanding is that it is attempt to form - to reform creationism into a science, and yet it does not meet the standards of science or criteria for something being a science, and it does not meet those criteria. (19:7-13)
Q. What do you believe it is?

A. It's a religious belief. (20:1-2)
So Edgington hasn't studied ID, but he's sure it's a creationist religious belief that isn't science. And what is his basis for his beliefs? This is the best part--his basis is the fact that he's "a scientist":
Q. On what basis did you form that opinion?

A. Well, I'm a scientist. I deal with science as a living. I've taken many philosophy courses as an undergrad where - especially philosophy of science classes. So as a profession, I do not agree that it is a science at all. (19:14-20)
Edgington's anti-ID bias comes through clearly--he thinks that being "a scientist" mean that one must necessarily believe ID is creationism, and not science. He even suggests that "as a profession" scientists should not view ID as science. He certainly doesn't leave much room for academic freedom for pro-ID viewpoints at JPL.

Bob Mitchell: How much do you know? "Very Little"
Finally, there's Robert "Bob" Mitchell, the Program Manager for the Cassini Mission. Mitchell had a particular animus against intelligent design, but his testimony reveals there's a lot more to it:

Q. Do you personally believe that intelligent design is a religious argument?

A. Yes. (Mitchell Deposition, 11:2-4)
Q. Do you believe that David was pushing his religion by handing out DVD's?

A. Yes. (85:24-86:4)
And even though Mitchell is sure ID is religion and creationism (12:15-22), we see that he too doesn't know much about ID:
Q. How much do you know about the theory of intelligent design?

A. Very little. (11:15-18)
He also has never watched any of the basic ID DVDs Coppedge was lending out.

But with Mitchell it goes much further. He explains that everyone he's aware of at the Cassini program sees ID as a religious viewpoint:

Q. Is there a general belief similar to yours that you're aware of within Cassini that intelligent design is a religious argument? In other words, do you hear other people talk about it that way?

A. The people who have expressed comments, opinions to me hold the same view that I do.

Q. Does that include scientists?

A. Yes.

Q. Do you know anybody in Cassini other than David who adheres to the position that intelligent design is not a religious argument?

A. No.

Q. ... Do you know anybody employed within Cassini who subscribes or adheres to the view that intelligent design is not a religious argument?

A. Believe that it is not a religious argument? No. (66:2-67:10)
If all this testimony is correct, it seems that David Coppedge was surrounded by people at JPL who were opposed to ID, were sure ID was a religious viewpoint, but also knew next-to-nothing about intelligent design and had no interest in studying it. And each of these people quoted here were individuals who either complained about David and/or authorized his demotion and ultimate termination. For David Coppedge, ignorance isn't bliss--especially when it's the ignorance of hostile coworkers.