Posts Tagged ‘Religion’

You remember that documentary called “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed“? That was the one that came out a year or two ago, hosted/narrated by Ben Stein, that looked at incidents where educators and scientists were ridiculed, denied tenure, and sometimes fired simply for believing that there might be evidence of design in nature. Well, here’s another one for Stein to investigate….

David Coppedge of JPL

David Coppedge at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory

David Coppedge is a high-level IT specialist working at the esteemed Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), a NASA lab overseen by the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). Until recently, Coppedge was a “Team Lead” Systems Administrator on the ambitious & high-profile Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn. Then, Coppedge was demoted for religious proselytizing on the job. But, is that really what he did? Not quite.

It seems that Coppedge is guilty of talking about Intelligent Design and loaning/giving pro-ID DVDs to some of his co-workers. He did not force anyone to talk about ID or to take the DVDs. These co-workers had expressed interest or at least willingly accepted the DVDs. None of these people complained to the higher-ups. While Coppedge is a Christian (who edits a private, pro-ID blog), no proselytizing was actually involved. But, one of the supervisors who was aware of the discussions allegedly confronted Coppedge, angrily asserting that “Intelligent Design is religion”, accused Coppedge of “pushing religion”, and ordered him to stop talking about ID, religion, or politics, (why not sports, too?) or he would be fired. That was back in March of 2009, at which point Coppedge says he complied with the demand. He then got a written warning and was demoted the following month.

Coppedge’s attorney, William Becker, Jr., has now filed a lawsuit on behalf of his client in the California Superior Court in Los Angeles. Caltech, JPL, and three of Coppedge’s superiors (i.e., his direct supervisor, group supervisor, and the Manager of IT Resources for the CIO) are all named in the suit. The allegations include: religious discrimination, harassment and retaliation; violation of free speech rights; and wrongful demotion.

Hold up! “Religious discrimination…”? Didn’t I just say there was no proselytizing going on?

Yes. But, the anti-ID crowd usually conflate or connect modern ID Theory with creationism (e.g., “intelligent design creationism”). Of course, anyone who knows much about Intelligent Design and is intellectually honest knows the difference. While compatible with creationism (which begins with a religious text), ID actually begins with observations about the physical world and what we know about the effects/products of intelligent agents versus those of mere chance & necessity. It is the philosophical (and perhaps theological) implications of recognizing design in nature that upsets certain people, especially committed materialists. So, they rhetorically refer to ID Theory as “creationism in a cheap tuxedo” and then dismiss it as religious nonsense.

Although ID is not religion, and the DVDs in question “make no reference to any religion, scriptural text or religious belief”, what matters is that JPL’s management decided the problem was that Coppedge was “pushing [his] religion”. The problem for them is that it is illegal for an employer to “discriminate against an employee based on what they deem is religion,” as per California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). (Go here for counterpoint arguments to what ScienceBlogger Ed Brayton and ACLU lawyer and Loyola law professor Gary Williams have to say on this.)

According to Casey Luskin, an attorney who works at the Discovery Institute and is a consultant on the suit,

For the offense of offering videos to colleagues, Coppedge faced harassment, an investigation cloaked in secrecy, and a virtual gag order on his discussion of intelligent design. Coppedge was punished even though supervisors admitted never receiving a single complaint regarding his conversations about intelligent design prior to their investigation, and even though other employees were allowed to express diverse ideological opinions, including attacking intelligent design.”

Incidentally, according to the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, “Earlier this month Coppedge claims he met with his supervisors, who told him that the written warning was inappropriate and it would be removed from his file. The suit calls this is [sic] ‘an admission of liability.'” JPL maintains their position that Coppedge’s conduct was inappropriate, that his demotion was justified, and the “gag order” on his speech in the workplace remains in effect.

JPL logo

JPL logo

The other important issue, here, is that of free-speech and First Amendment rights. To some degree, employers have a right to monitor and restrict what their employees talk about while on the job. Issues of profanity, racism, and sexism come to mind. But, did JPL act appropriately in this case? Keep in mind that the lab is federally funded and is the primary planetary spacecraft center for NASA, an agency of the U.S. government’s Executive Branch.

This is just the latest of several such cases where public and private institutions are alleged to have unfairly discriminated against scientists and others for holding and/or promoting views contrary to the Darwinist establishment. In fact, Becker is also representing the American Freedom Alliance in their First Amendment suit against the California Science Center in Los Angeles, which I blogged about at “Shenanigans at the California Science Center“.

You can read the formal complaint in its entirety here. I found the details of the confrontation, secret investigation, and subsequent disciplinary action (Section E, pp. 8-14) particularly interesting and disturbing. I can only imagine the kind of stress, anxiety, humiliation, and fear for his continued employment that Coppedge has been under the past year.

Anyone who thinks that today’s culture of science allows an open discussion of evolution is sorely mistaken,” said Dr. John G. West, associate director of the Center for Science and Culture. “When it comes to intelligent design, private and government-run agencies are suppressing free speech.”

What say you?

Oh, in case you were wondering what the offensive DVDs were, check out “Unlocking The Mystery Of Life” and “The Privileged Planet“.

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Last time (Part 1 & Part 2), Beckwith & Koukl demonstrated how the evolutionary approach to explaining morality actually denies it. Now, for an even bigger problem…

Why Should I?

This third observation uncovers the third and most serious objection to the idea that evolution is adequate to explain morality. One question can never be answered by any evolutionary assessment of ethics: Why ought I be moral tomorrow?

One of the distinctives of morality is its ‘oughtness,’ its moral incumbency. Assessments of mere behavior, however, are descriptive only. Since morality is essentially prescriptive — telling what should be the case as opposed to what is the case — and since all evolutionary assessments of moral behavior are descriptive, then evolution cannot account for the most important thing that needs to be explained: morality’s ‘oughtness’.

Chimpanzee in deep thought

Chimpanzee in deep thought

One question really needs to be answered: Why shouldn’t the chimp (or a human, for that matter) be selfish? The evolutionary answer might be that when we’re selfish, we hurt the group. That answer, however, presumes another moral value, that we ought to be concerned about the welfare of the group. But why should that concern us? They would say ‘because if the group doesn’t survive, then the species doesn’t survive.’ But why should we care about the survival of the species?

Here’s the problem. The responses intended to explain morality ultimately depend on some prior moral notion to hold them together. Based on an evolutionary view, it is difficult to explain why we should not be selfish, or steal, or rape, or even kill tomorrow without smuggling morality into the answer.

The evolutionary explanation disembowels morality, reducing it to mere descriptions of conduct. The best the Darwinist explanation can do — if it succeeds at all — is explain past behavior. It cannot inform future actions. But prescription, not description, is the essence of morality. As we have seen, evolution may be one explanation for the existence of conduct we choose to call moral, but it gives no reason why we should obey any moral rules in the future. If one countered that we have a moral obligation to evolve, then I’ve won my point. If we have moral obligations prior to evolution, then evolution itself can’t be their source.”

Hah! I love it.

Earlier in the chapter, the authors point out:

Evolutionists may be right when they say that we’re not compelled to adopt the morality of evolution. The danger of social Darwinism, however, is not that society must adopt the law of the jungle but rather that it is allowed to. The exploitation of the weak by the strong is morally benign according to Wright’s evolutionary view of morality.

What Darwinists cannot do is give us a reason why we ought not simply copy nature and destroy those who are weak, unpleasant, costly, or just plain boring. If all moral options are legitimate, then it’s acceptable for the strong to rule the weak. No moral restraints would protect the feeble, because moral restraints simply wouldn’t exist….

Bongo is not a bad chimp; he’s just a chimp. No moral rules apply to him. Eat the banana, Bongo.”

Chimp sitting and eating

Bongo the Chimp finishes his banana

In my last post (Part 1), Koukl & Beckwith explained why morality entails more than mere conduct; motive and intent are also parts of the equation.

Denial by Neo-Darwin

This leads us to the second problem, which runs much deeper than the first. When morality is reduced to patterns of behavior chosen by natural selection for the survival value, then morality is not explained; it’s denied. Wright admits as much. [This is a reference to Robert Wright, journalist and author of The Moral Animal — Why We Are the Way We Are: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology.] Regarding the conscience he says: ‘The conscience doesn’t make us feel bad the way hunger feels bad, or good the way sex feels good. It makes us feel as if we have done something that’s wrong or something that’s right. Guilty or not guilty. It is amazing that a process as amoral and crassly pragmatic as natural selection could design a mental organ that makes us feel as if we’re in touch with higher truth. Truly a shameless ploy’.

Evolutionists like Wright are ultimately forced to admit that what we think is a ‘higher truth’ or morality turns out to be a ‘shameless ploy’ of nature, a description of animal behavior conditioned by the environment for survival. We’ve given that conduct a label, they argue: morality. But they say there is no real right and wrong.

Comtemplative chimp

Contemplative chimp

Does Bongo, the chimp, actually exhibit genuine moral behavior? Does he understand the difference between right and wrong? Does he make principled choices to do what’s right? Is he worthy of blame and punishment for doing wrong? Of course not, Wright says. Bongo merely does in a primitive way what humans do in a more sophisticated manner. We respond according to our genetic conditioning, a program ‘designed’ by millions of years of evolution.

Philosopher Michael Ruse admits that evolution and objective morality are at odds: ‘Considered as a rationally justifiable set of claims about an objective something, ethics is illusory. I appreciate that when somebody says, ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself,’ they think they are referring above and beyond themselves…. Never the less… such reference is truly without foundation. Morality is just an aid to survival and reproduction… and any deeper meaning is illusory.’

The evolutionary approach does not explain morality: it denies it. Instead, it explains why we think moral truths exist when, in fact, they don’t.”

Go here for Part 3.

Every once in awhile, you hear someone trying to describe how evolution/Darwinism — really, the Neo-Darwinian Synthesis — explains “morality”. Often the explanations involve recent observations of “morals” (or the rudiments thereof) among one or another type of animal — elephants, whales, birds, cats, dogs, apes, etc. But, IMHO, there is always something missing. The naturalistic philosophers and scientists never really explain the concept of the transcendant, objective morality. At best, all they can do is suggest why certain individuals or communities — human or perhaps not — may adopt a certain code or guidelines to live by. Why is that?

Rather than try to piece something together myself, I’d like to address this issue, at least in part, by quoting from a couple philosophers. (Don’t worry; they are quite readable for us layfolk.) The next three posts will constitute a passage — roughly 3 pages’ worth — from Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air (1998), by Francis C. Beckwith and Gregory Koukl. Hope you enjoy it!

More Than What You Do

Recent studies have attempted to show that animals exhibit rudimentary moral behavior. In one case, a group of chimpanzees ‘punished’ Bongo, a ‘selfish’ member of their band, by withholding food from him. Apparently the moral rule was this: Chimps shouldn’t be selfish.

Chimp eathing a banana

Chimp eathing a banana (ooh-ooh! yum!)

This assessment has serious problems. First, drawing conclusions about animal morality simply from behavior reduces morality to conduct. But true morality also entails nonbehavioral elements, too, like intent and motive.

We can’t infer actual moral obligations from the mere fact of a chimp’s conduct. We can observe that chimps in community share food and that when they do they survive better. But we can’t conclude from this that Bongo ought to share his bananas or else he’ll be immoral because he hasn’t contriguted to the survival of his community.

Further, in fixing blame we distinguish between an act done by accident and the same act committed on purpose. The behavior is the same, but the intent is different. We don’t usually blame people for accidents: If the boy didn’t intend to trip the old lady, we don’t fault him.

We also give attention to the issue of motive. We withhold blame even if the youngster tripped the elderly woman on purpose if the motive is acceptable: He tripped her to keep her from running in front of a train….

Motive and intent cannot be determined simply by looking at behavior. In fact, some good behavior might turn out to be tainted, depending on the motive and intent: giving to the poor when one wants to be well thought of, instead of having a genuine concern for the recipients. Indeed, it seems one can be immoral without any behavior at all, such as plotting an evil deed that one is never able to carry out.

Morality informs behavior, judging it either good or bad; it’s not identical to behavior. Rather it is something deeper than habitual patterns of physical interaction. Therefore we can’t draw conclusions about animal morality simply based on what we observe in their conduct.”

Go here for Part 2 and Part 3.

Have you ever been a member of a group (e.g., Boy Scouts, Democratic Party, teachers’ union), or do you self-identify with some group (e.g., skeptics/ agnostics, Christians, political conservatives)? I suspect the answer is, “Yes, several.”

diverse group of people

Multi-ethnic, possibly mult- other stuff, group of people

Now, have you ever seen or heard someone from your group — or, at least, whom outsiders associate as part of your group — saying/doing something stupid, repugnant, or otherwise embarrassing? Yeah, me too.

Sometimes the offending party is someone who holds to the same ideas & principles as you and the rest of your group and who is normally a “fine, upstanding member.” But, something just sets them off on this particular occasion and you wish they would just shut up and go home. Or, maybe, it turns out the individual has a particular vice or, er, shortcoming that suddenly gets some attention. Once in awhile, though, there is some far-xxxxx radical or idiot or nutjob who is singled out by the media and gives your whole group a bad name. I hate when that happens. (OK, ok, I “strongly dislike” when that happens. Don’t want to be labeled a “hater”.)

For me, as far as the first type goes, it might be someone like Rush Limbaugh or Ann Coulter. I don’t follow either of them closely, but I’ve read at least one book by each, and when I hear/read them or about something they’ve said, I generally agree. Their styles occasionally grate on me, but we’re basically on the same page on most things. But, once in awhile, they will say or do something that will make me cringe that was, shall we say, tactically unwise, at best. (At least in the way it was phrased.) For example, Limbaugh’s addiction to prescription drugs or Coulter’s remarks about the 9/11 widows “enjoying” their husbands’ deaths. Groan!

As for the second, more radical type, I think of people like the “Christian” militia group who are currently in the news, or the Westboro Baptist Church whose members are always showing up & getting on camera with their signs & placards that says stuff like “God Hates Fags!” (I’m not Baptist, but I’ve known quite a few, and none of them were hatemongers like this crowd.) Now, I may actually agree on a couple very basic points with both of these two groups — uh oh, I’m in trouble now — but their rather extremist views (especially on certain topics) and activities are not something I can agree with or, in good conscience, condone. I’m sure other examples come to your mind, as well.

But, of course, the media love to jump on it, the bloggers eat it up, and those who hold opposing positions to yours will paint your whole group with the same broad brush. It’s frustrating and sometimes makes you want to scream, “I’m not one of them! I don’t hold that view, so don’t lump me in with those morons!”

I was trying to think of what an equivalent example might be for someone who is “on the other side of the aisle” from me politically, theologically, philosophically, etc. It’s not easy, especially when there are so many far-Lefties in both federal government and the news & entertainment industries embracing, literally and figuratively, Communist dictators like Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro. Is the “average” Democrat or liberal as disturbed by this as I am?

One possible example is those more “reserved” homosexuals who are exasperated by some of the antics of the “flamers” and more in-your-face activists. Another possibility is when one of the “New Atheists” (e.g., Christopher Hitchens or Sam Harris) makes some incredibly scathing comment about the evils of religion or mocks & impugns some revered religious person. (On politics, I actually agree with Hitchens on a lot, while we are diametrically opposed on many (most?) theological/philosophical issues.) I know some atheists and agnostics that just shake their heads or roll their eyes at such provocative and, yes, judgmental comments. Any other examples you all can think of?

I guess what I’m getting at, here, is that we all need to be careful. Next time you are tempted to latch onto some wingnut’s comments or actions and accuse his/her broader ideological “community”, if you will, of being totally likeminded, take a step back. (Unless, of course, there is plenty of other evidence indicating that’s the case.) Remember how you have felt in a similar case and refrain, or at least temper or qualify your own remarks and conclusions. Or, to put it another way, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” I’ll try to do the same.

Usually at this time of year, the “attacks” center on Easter Sunday, or, more appropriately, Resurrection Day. This time, however, Good Friday got some extra attention.

Isaiah 53 passage

Isaiah 53 -- "by His wounds we are healed"

The memo went out to municipal employees last week from Craig Malin, City Administrator for the town of Davenport, Iowa. From now on, Good Friday was “history”. In its place was the more ecumenical and politically correct “Spring Holiday”, or “Celebration of Spring”.

Acting on the advice (from last summer!) of the Davenport Civil Rights Commission, Malin unilaterally made the decision. Not surprisingly, the reasoning had to do with “separation of church and state” claims and sensitivity within an ethnically and religiously diverse community. (Apparently, the commission had also considered and dismissed the idea of renaming Easter Sunday, because it fell on a weekend, when government offices were already closed. Christmas, too, was a no-go.) The first problem, though, was that such policy changes must be voted on by the City Council, and they didn’t even know about it until they read it in the Quad City Times.

News of the memo spread through town like wildfire and was the topic on everyone’s minds and lips by Palm Sunday. Resistance to the name change came from two fronts. First, of course, was the religious objection from those who thought it was an attack on Christianity — typical in the culture wars these days — and that the “separation” talk was bogus. The second objection came from city employees (including police), who thought it might violate their union contract, which stipulates Good Friday (not “Spring Holiday”) as an official municipal holiday. Mayor Bill Gluba said, “I understand why people were so upset. My position is we have a lot more important issues. We’ll fix this and move on.”

And “move on”, they did. On Monday, the city issued a press release stating that:

City Administrator Malin, in error, forwarded the recommendation to staff for further review and action, leading to release of a holiday notice with the holiday named ‘Spring Holiday,’ rather than ‘Good Friday’.”

So, either someone in City Hall zealously jumped the gun on this one, or they’re trying to help Malin save face for some reason, or both. Maybe just trying to keep the peace?

Ah, well. Bottom line is that the council voted and this stupid, PC name-change of a 2000 year-old holiday has been reversed. Things in Davenport, Iowa, are as they should be. (As far as I know.) For now….

Modern theories abound…

Whether based on the latest evolutionary hypothesis or sheer outrage at the thought of a God who is both loving and demands justice, modern conclusions about the origin of religion run the gamut. They include “Religion is Good”, “Religion is Bad”, “Religion Doesn’t Matter”, and “Religion Can Be Explained by X”. In the latest edition of Salvo, Denyse O’Leary looks at these and asks the question: “What type of explanation is not allowed?”

It’s a quick read, so check it out.