Grayling is Vice President of the British Humanist Association as well as the Master of the New College of Humanities, and has written widely on the philosophy of religion amongst other topics. His events frequently draw large crowds, and his talk on 15th January was no exception. Many attendees even resorted to sitting on the floor due to lack of seating.
The lecture was hosted by the Atheist, Humanist and Secularist society who had approached Grayling at last year’s London AHS convention. “He’s one of the country’s most prominent public intellectuals and a real hero of Humanism,” said Julian Webb, President of AHS Society, speaking in advance of the talk. “We asked him if he wanted to speak at Exeter, and now, a year later, I’m thrilled to be able to present such a fantastic speaker to our members and all of the other students who will be attending the talk this evening.”
The lecture, entitled ‘Atheism, Theism and Proof,’ saw Grayling speak about the metaphysical conflict between atheists and theists, and how testing a belief in a God can prove tricky. He claimed that, with a lack of any physical evidence of a God, and, couple with context-specific and sometimes inconsistent practices associated with religion, there is little room for a rational explanation of how a god might exist. What remains of religion’s appeal is what he calls ‘emotional residue’; the innately human, even “spiritual” need to be connected to others and our environments, alongside an intellectual and emotional engagement with the world. It is this socio-evolutionary psychological trait which religion focuses on. While we all have the propensity to be good and bad, he argues, it is humanists who wish to encourage the good in people, but separately from the demands of any religious outlook.
The sometimes humorous and anecdotal speech was well received, but unfortunately there was no time for questions as the philosopher was needed back in London and had to rush to the train station afterwards. It was a job well done by the AHS society and a testament to Exeter’s capability to draw prolific and world-renowned speakers.
You can watch the video of the talk here: A C Grayling – Atheism, Theism and Proof