The Creation Safari man
Carl Wieland chats with prolific creation activist David Coppedge
David Coppedge has degrees in science education (Bob Jones University) and astrophysics (Cal State Northridge). For many years he worked for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California. Operated by Caltech, JPL is contracted to the US’s National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to explore the Solar System via unmanned spacecraft. David’s work at JPL involved computer systems and security, as the leader of the systems administration team for NASA’s Cassini mission to Saturn. Despite his exemplary performance, David was fired from JPL, in 2011, for his open creation views. After a harrowing court case and a battle with cancer, David has now largely recovered his health and energy, and is once again running outdoor Creation Safaris and active in creation ministry.
David Coppedge readily acknowledges that his passionate commitment to an amazingly multifaceted creation-focused ministry—while in a demanding technology job in the space exploration industry—has a lot to do with his “very dedicated, strong Christian parents”. David says that for 45 years, “they were a team running a vibrant Christian youth center ministry.” His late father and mother, James and Elsa, “would pick up young people from 30 miles around to bring them to our ranch in the San Fernando Valley. They reached thousands of children and teens; many became missionaries and vibrant Christians when they grew up.”
His father, already qualified in theology as a former navy chaplain, would often point out the wonders of creation to youngsters on hiking trips. David says, “When I brought home my science textbooks in the 1960s, they were pushing evolution like never before, with no hint of anyone disagreeing. Dad read them all and was really concerned; he said there needed to be qualified people that could answer these evolution claims.” So, while still running his youth ministry, James Coppedge earned more degrees, including “the equivalent of a Ph.D. in biochemistry. He developed a particular passion about the origin of life issue. He wanted to let many more people know of the devastating mathematical arguments that show it’s totally impossible for chemicals to form themselves into even the simplest of living systems.”
Thus was born James Coppedge’s 1973 book Evolution: Possible or Impossible? which had a very positive influence in the early years of the modern creation movement. I told David that I recall the impact of one of his father’s examples; he first showed how it would take on average 10171 years for just one protein to form itself by random shuffling (even assuming that the building blocks were all there).
Then, to help readers understand just how big that number was, he asked them to imagine a tiny ameba assigned the task of carrying matter, just one atom at a time, from one edge of the universe to the other side (30 billion light years away) and travelling at the incredibly slow pace of only one inch [2.54 cm] each year.
The staggering outcome is that in 10171 years, the ameba would have transported 1064 entire universes (that’s 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 universes) from one side of the universe to the other! David says, “If evolution was considered improbable in 1973, it’s obviously many millions of times more improbable now, with what we know about the inner workings of a cell.”
David became convinced of the importance of creation as a teenager. When he found himself having to stand up to the ridicule of his biology teacher, far from dissuading him, it motivated him even more. Back then not many books on creation were available. It was just before the rise of the modern creation movement gave birth to groups such as the Creation Research Society, the Institute for Creation Research, and similar. David was involved with the movement from its early days.
How the ‘Creation Safaris’ began
About 31 years ago, the singles group of the large church he attended announced activities which were all ‘city things’ like bowling, shows and concerts. He thought, “Hey, why are we being entertained just by the works of man—can’t God put on a better show?” So David got permission to ‘add a hike’ to the activity calendar. He organised the first one as a bicycle ride and fossil hunt. He says, “About six people came; we had a great time, digging seashells out of a cliff a very long way from the ocean.”
Then he had a ‘star party’ where people could look at the heavens, and so began the ministry of his Creation Safaris.1 At one stage, he was running up to 18 of these each year, with the activity varying widely so as to have something for everyone. It could have been just a visit to a local planetarium, for instance, or something as strenuous as hiking near Mt St Helens. The safaris have several times included trips to Grand Canyon, sometimes in association with other creation groups.
A few years ago, David started to publish short comments about breaking science news on his creationsafaris.com website. He quickly developed a following because of his incisive and remarkably rapid responses to some of the claims made by evolutionists and the media. Now his Creation Evolution Headlines is a separate internet site.2
David said that CMI’s Creation magazine was actually an inspiration for these. “I used to ‘focus’ on your Focus items, and I loved the way they highlighted news snippets. The internet enables such responses to be way quicker.” David writes mostly all the regular news and commentary himself, and has done so for over 14 years.
Hot moons and the birth of a news site
What triggered this outreach, he says, was when he attended a lecture by the Cassini Project Scientist associated with the NASA-related work he was involved with. He says, “Here they were saying that there was more than ten times the heat coming from Io (one of Jupiter’s moons) than we can account for, even allowing for tidal pumping, that is the action of gravity intermittently ‘squeezing’ the interior to produce heat. But that particular piece of strong evidence for a young world—the object’s original, primordial heat would have long since been gone after millions of years—was not being made widely known. A similar thing was happening with another Saturn moon, Enceladus. I thought I could feature this creation-evolution news on my Creation Safaris site, and I started getting amazing emails from all over.”
Court case and following
In 2009, David was unexpectedly demoted because of a complaint against him by a fellow employee (he had offered her a DVD which suggested living cells were intelligently designed). It was plain that this was discrimination against him because of his creationist beliefs, but his superiors sought to deflect the blame onto him. Initially, he tried to get JPL to reverse the discriminatory action, but when that failed, he sought assistance from the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). In April 2010 an ADF attorney filed a lawsuit, and JPL retaliated by firing David some 9 months later.
The ensuing court case gained international prominence. David has carefully documented these events,3 highlighting various questionable tricks and tactics that seemed aimed at avoiding the truth coming out. The judge decided against David, but gave no reasons for his decision.
Immediately before this disappointing decision was handed down, David discovered that he had a rare and serious form of cancer requiring major surgery. People from around the world prayed for him through those dark times, and he has had an amazing recovery. Less than four months after the operation he was again doing strenuous backpacking, and despite ongoing treatment is enjoying good health, running safaris, and keeping on with his creation ministry.
David’s activity for the cause of the creation/Gospel message, which he did even while he held his responsible fulltime job, is prolific and wide-ranging. In addition to writing Creation Evolution Headlines and organizing the safaris, he writes regularly for various creation-related groups, and serves on the boards of three of them, including his local chapter of the Bible-Science Association,4 and Illustra Media, where he does scientific research and fact-checking for their films.5 He heads the non-profit organisation his parents founded. Its mission is youth discipleship and creation evangelism. (His other creation ministry activities were formally placed under this in 2006.) Plus, he’s working on a book about great creationists. And for good measure, David gives creation presentations to schools and churches.
Asked how he finds the time, he says, “Well, I read, type, drive, and walk fast, I suppose. But ever since I was a teenager, I have loved God’s creation. I love exploring it, photographing it, and studying it. The beauty and design in nature makes me passionate to share it with others, and to defend God’s glory against the false ideas of man.” We thank God for David Coppedge’s commitment and talent. We hope his example will help inspire many more to similarly devote their lives to the cause of Christ and the integrity of His Word.
References and notes
- Information about Creation Safaris can be accessed at creationsafaris.com. Return to text.
- Accessed at crev.info. Return to text.
- On the website Footprints of David Coppedge; davidcoppedge.com. Return to text.
- A spin-off from the original Bible Science Association, which is now called Creation Moments. Return to text.
- Including a new one on marine biology coming out in June 2015, and all the earlier ones like Flight and Metamorphosis. Return to text.