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At BioLogos, a Disregard for the Truth about David Coppedge

David Klinghoffer

The BioLogos Foundation is a group of Christian theistic evolution advocates who published a distorting review of Stephen Meyer’s Signature in the Cell by “living legend” Dr. Francisco Ayala. Dr. Ayala patently hadn’t read the book, as president Dr. Darrel Falk was surely aware. Fresh from that unfortunate display, BioLogos now slurs David Coppedge of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory based on an article from a really sterling peer-reviewed journal, the Huffington Post.
Whoever wrote the unsigned “news” item for BioLogos cites as his lone source the piece by Steven Newton, of the Darwinist lobby group National Center for Science Education. Newton’s reporting is none too accurate itself, but BioLogos improved on Newton by introducing falsehoods not even found in the original. BioLogos is supposed to be an outfit devoted to apologetics, reconciling science and faith — an unobjectionable mission as far as it goes. What we get from these folks tends, instead, to be little more than propaganda.
A high-level computer specialist on the Cassini mission to Saturn, David Coppedge sued his employer for demoting and humiliating him. His crime? Giving away the occasional DVD of intelligent design-friendly documentaries, Privileged Planet and Unlocking the Mystery of Life. Coppedge claims — reasonably, it seems — that his constitutional rights were infringed. On Huffington Post, Newton implied with no evident factual basis that Coppedge was doing something much less low-key than his own legal complaint — the only information publicly available to our knowledge — suggests. Newton declares: “Supervisors rightly chastise employees who fail to respect their co-workers.” Certainly so, but he gives no reason to think Coppedge “failed to respect” anyone.

The BioLogos author is unsatisfied with merely implied defamation. His item offers prejudicing and false accusations against Coppedge that were not cribbed from the Huffington Post version but simply invented: 1) that Coppedge “continually promoted” the films — you picture him blowing off his work every day to wander around the office pushing DVDs into people’s hands; and 2) that he sued merely because he was “informed” that his actions were unwelcome — as opposed to suing because he was unfairly punished by being demoted. Quoth BioLogos:

The final story covered in this [Huffington Post] article concerns David Coppedge, a computer specialist who continually promoted the DVDs Unlocking the Mystery of Life and The Privileged Planet to his coworkers. Because his supervisors informed him that his actions were “unwelcome” and “disruptive” to the workplace environment, Coppedge has filed a suit against his company citing “religious discrimination and retaliation,” harassment, and “wrongful demotion.”

It’s a sloppy and uncharitable reading of a source that’s uncharitable to begin with. However, it is of a piece with other Darwinist commentary on academic-freedom and free-speech cases.
Thus the very same Steven Newton article invokes Darwinist martyr Christina Comer, erstwhile state science curriculum director for the Texas Education Agency. According to the NCSE’s preferred narrative, she was forced out of her job merely for forwarding an email about a planned speech by Professor Barbara Forrest in which Forrest was expected to bash Darwin-doubters. Newton laments that in Texas, “the director of science must ‘remain neutral’ on the subject of evolution.” BioLogos dutifully parrots the NCSE’s interpretation, at least here getting the standard Darwinist version right without further embroidering.
But that standard version is itself a gross distortion of what happened between Ms. Comer and her employer. The lady had an extensive record of warnings and complaints against her for acting inappropriately in a freelance capacity — various instance of “insubordination” and “misconduct.” Almost all of the Texas Education Agency’s difficulties with Ms. Comer had nothing to do with evolutionary curricular matters — on which, because a curriculum dispute was ongoing, she was indeed reasonably required to keep her views to herself.
Contested issues of policy are for elected legislators, not agency staff, to decide. Staff are required to adopt a “neutral” stance till legislators make their decision. Comer was not hired to be a publicist for one side or the other. When she acted as one, this was the last straw for the state agency. A federal judge dismissed her suit against the TEA on precisely that ground. (She has since appealed.)
The justice of Comer’s complaint has already been decided, in the negative. Coppedge’s has yet to be decided. It’s a shame that our friends at BioLogos don’t have the sense to suspend judgment till the facts are in, and factually reported. Contributing misinformation of their own isn’t just a shame — it is positively shameful.
UPDATE: The BioLogos page has since been amended, noting “The wording of the paragraph summarizing Mr. Coppedge’s case has been updated for accuracy” and now citing an AP article. That’s nice, but an apology to David Coppedge, and to readers, was surely called for as well.