I love the show Frasier and watch it most nights before I go to bed. Last night's episode had Frasier whining about how nothing was up to his standards at the resort where he was trying to score points with his latest love interest.
Frasier was particularly upset that the fancy fish entrees on the menu had run out. The waiter said that he was sorry but that they did have a "decent swordfish." Frasier responded with condescension, ridiculing this suggestion and making it sound like "decent swordfish" was fare suitable only for boorish philistines. He even managed to pronounce the proffered entrée in such a way that it sounded unappetizing.
Frasier's sneering condescension put me in mind of some of the complaints that have been leveled at the BioLogos project to find harmony between science and faith. I speak of the way that that the label "accommodationist" is being applied as if it were a warning from the FDA that these ideas are not fit for human consumption. On Richard Dawkins site there is a long discussion called "The Big Accommodationism Debate," with contributions from various critics who blog about accommodationism as if it is some kind of plague.
But accommodationism, like "decent swordfish," should not be sneered at. To accommodate is good. It's a virtue, like honesty, diligence, and kindness. Imagine a father going into a hotel on a rainy night hoping they have room for him and his tired family. He comes out and announces, "Thank goodness, but they are not accommodating. I would hate to have stopped at an accommodationist motel." Does this make sense? Does it make sense not to invite Aunt Clara for Thanksgiving because she is too accommodating?
To accommodate simply means to "provide what the occasion needs." Hotels accommodate guests when they have room for them; car dealers accommodate customers by providing them with appropriate cars. Polite hosts accommodate their dinner guests by not talking about how they came on the wrong day, or how their clothes are so out of fashion.
In a pluralistic democracy accommodationism is critically important for civil discourse. America has made great strides in accommodating the many viewpoints that have a place at our national table. We have particular words and phrases that we use and don't use to talk about African Americans, gays, women, the disabled, Jews, the elderly, and so on. The very atheists whining about the accommodationism of BioLogos are asking us to start calling them brights, because "atheist" sounds, you know, so negative...
The BioLogos project is proud to be labeled accommodationist, for that is exactly how we see ourselves. We believe that science and faith can and should accommodate each other. They are not the same, so they need not be equated or assimilated, but they do need to co-exist.
As scientists we understand that natural history does not testify to an endless series of supernatural interventions. We appreciate that our faith traditions have come to accommodate this fact about the world and adjusted accordingly. As religious believers we understand that the world is meaningful and we reject the claim that science has squeezed out all meaning from nature. Our science can accommodate the belief that the world is not without purpose, for science has no reason whatsoever to even be talking about purpose, much less claiming to have proved it is not there.
We plead with our colleagues in the scientific community to refrain from talking about science as if it is all encompassing and capable of adjudicating questions of purpose; and we plead with our fellow believers to refrain from using their theological beliefs to explain all of reality, as if the Bible was a science text. If we do this then perhaps those two perspectives can indeed accommodate each other.
And then, of course, we can all sit down together and enjoy a nice meal of decent swordfish.
Karl Giberson directs the new science & religion writing program at Gordon College in Boston. He has published more than 100 articles, reviews and essays for Web sites and journals including Salon.com, Books & Culture, and the Huffington Post. He has written seven books, including Saving Darwin, The Language of Science & Faith, and The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age.