The feathers on elephants
Now…about PZ’s elephant allegory. It all depends exactly what it is that Eagletosh is getting up to with those wings and iridescent feathers of many hues. That final question, in particular –
Where do you find meaning and joy and richness and beauty, O Reader? In elephants, or elephants’ wings?
In both. Both, both, both. (Gee, that’s a silly word if you say it more than once.) Absolutely in both. There’s no way I’m going to pick one over the other, or repudiate the elephants’ wings. Always assuming, that is, that Eagletosh is doing what we can loosely call poetry, and not religion. He’s doing some of each in the allegory, so that’s why I say it depends. But to the extent that he is doing what we can loosely call poetry; to the extent that he is making up stories and fantasies about what a magical imagined elephant could be like; and to the extent that he is clear that that is what he is doing; to the extent that he is not making truth-claims about the world – then I find meaning and joy and richness and beauty in both. I get to keep Babar, and the Elephant’s Child, and the mammoth in Ice Age. I guess I’m also stuck with that ridiculous line in ‘Paradise Lost’ – a risible item about how the elephant, to make them mirth, wreathed his proboscis lithe, or something like that. But never mind – it’s worth the freight.
We don’t have to choose. We can have both. We can have ethics without religion, we can have meaning without religion, we can have hope without religion, we can have solidarity without religion, and we can have poetry and fantasy and imaginary iridescent feathers of many hues without religion.