Here's something I've been scratching my head about, ever since the Tom Johnson Affair: why are people (some, anyway) so riled up about "accommodationism"? I don't care for the term, but never mind. Let's talk about the attitude it refers to. So-called accommodationists are atheists of a certain sort--atheists who favor a tolerant and pragmatic approach to religion. For example, they see religious people who embrace evolution as friends, not foes. As a result, they don't like to see these people excoriated.
Accommodationists can be, but really don't have to be, compatibilists about science and religion That's the view that there's no contradiction in accepting all of modern science and also retaining religion (or some, anyway). You can "have it all" without being guilty of any thought-crimes.
Accommodationists really don't have to be compatibilists. You might think science and religion are incompatible, but that this is a problem only for the person who accepts science and retains religion. It's not a problem in the public domain. So despite the incompatibility, it's still right to be tolerant and pragmatic. But certainly, some accommodationists are also compatibilists.
Some of the "new atheists" think accommodationists stand in the way of progress--meaning progress toward the end of religion. They see science as an excellent religion-o-cide, and resent accommodationists going around passing out an antidote (compatibilism), or at least encouraging complacency. Of course, religious people look for antidotes to science as well, and can be complacent, but the accommodationists are found especially irritating. "They're fellow atheists. They should know better!"
Anyway, that's my reading of the battle over accommodationism. I lean toward the accommodationist side because, though I'm an atheist, I don't long for the end of religion. Even if I did, I'd think promoting science was much more important than fighting religion. And I think it takes tolerance and pragmatism to promote science effectively.
What's really on my mind is compatibilism, the antidote to science promoted by some accommodationists (and many religious scientists). It reminds me of another antidote, also called "compatibilism"--the view that we can accept determinism without rejecting free will, despite the appearance that they're irreconcilable. To be a compatibilist, you have to accept one of various artful, subtle views about what free will really is.
Here's what's puzzling me: within philosophy, compatibilism is perfectly respectable (though of course not universally accepted). It's not seen as at all unreasonable to want to hang on to both determinism and free will. Determinism is what you seem to have to accept if you take science seriously. Free will, on the other hand, is something we strongly feel we have, and it's also tied up with our beliefs about moral responsibility. Why isn't science/religion compatibilism equally respectable?
You might say--it makes perfect sense to want to go on believing in free will. We have an extremely strong impression that we have it, and believing in it does seem bound up with viewing people as responsible. It's valuable to be able to retain it. So it's not reactionary or illogical to want to find a way to "have it all"--both determinism and free will. But with religion it's different. Religion-retention is reactionary. It's like trying to retain slavery when you've embraced equality, or trying to retain the soul when you've understood the brain.
Of course, religion is many things. Retaining it is in some instances like retaining slavery or the soul. But the basics--God, for instance!--seem more like free will. For religious people, there are powerful confirming experience involved, like the vivid sense that we have free will. Believing in God improves life for many people, just like believing in free will improves life.
I'll just leave it there. There's no question it's respectable (even if it may not be correct) to be a determinism-free will compatibilist. Why is it any worse to be a science-religion compatibilist? If you have the answer, let me know. I'm just thinking about it.
Update: Jerry Coyne is also talking about free will today.