ONE of Britain’s leading atheists, the philosophy don AC Grayling, is to lead Time for Reflection at the Scottish Parliament.
But AC, or Anthony Clifford, Grayling, is the most high profile atheist to take part in the address.
Green MSP Patrick Harvie, who nominated Mr Grayling, said of his appearance on April 16: “This slot ought to fully reflect modern society, but it’s overwhelmingly religious and rarely offers a fresh perspective for Scotland’s law-makers.
“It is important that Parliament hears a range of views and I’m delighted AC Grayling has accepted the invitation to speak. Broadening the minds of us mere politicians sounds like an impossible dream but I’m delighted he’s going to give it a shot.”
Mr Grayling is about to publish his latest book, The God Argument, which sums up the difference between his approach and that of Britain’s most fiercely public atheist, Richard Dawkins, who called his most famous book The God Delusion.
He said: “I am very honoured by the invitation to address the Scottish Parliament. It is a wonderful opportunity and I was delighted to be asked.
“We know that society consists of many, many voices and opinions which are sincere. To be given this opportunity is of great value. It is very bold and I am full of admiration for the Scottish Parliament for being so inclusive and allowing our many voices to be heard.”
He also linked Holyrood’s openness in this area to Scotland’s educational tradition. “The added dimension is the Scottish education system, which I greatly admire,” he said.
“Students keep their breadth right up to tertiary education and as a result are more aware of a deep range of thoughts.”
He also argued it stood Scotland in good stead with the business of “being human and this difficult business of trying to organise a good society”.
Mr Grayling has been a regular visitor to Scotland, in particular to the Edinburgh Book Festival, where he forged an unlikely friendship with a cleric, Bishop Richard Holloway. “He is a great example of courage, intellect and the possibility that we can lead an ethical life without religion,” he said.
Mr Grayling was born in what is now Zambia and lectured at Oxford before becoming professor of philosophy at London University.
Early life and education – From Wikipedia
Grayling was born and raised in Luanshya, Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) within the British expatriate community, while his father worked for the Standard Chartered Bank. He attended several boarding schools there, including Falcon College in Zimbabwe, from which he ran away after being repeatedly and brutally caned. His first exposure to philosophical writing was at the age of twelve, when he found an English translation of the Charmides, one of Plato’s dialogues, in a local library. At fourteen, he read G. H. Lewes’s Biographical History of Philosophy (1846), which confirmed his ambition to study philosophy; he said it “superinduced order on the random reading that had preceded it, and settled my vocation.”
Grayling was the third sibling. His older sister Jennifer was murdered in Johannesburg when he was nineteen, something that affected him deeply. She had been born with brain damage, and after brain surgery to alleviate it at the age of 20 had experienced personality problems that led to several inappropriate affairs and a premature marriage. She was found dead in a river shortly after the marriage; she had been stabbed. When her parents went to identify her, her mother—already ill—had a heart attack and died. Grayling said he dealt with his grief by becoming a workaholic.
After moving to England in his teens, he spent three years at the University of Sussex, but said that although he applauded their intention to educate generalists, he wished to be a scholar, so in addition to his BA from Sussex, he also completed one in philosophy as a University of London external student. He went on to obtain an MA from Sussex, then attended Magdalen College, Oxford, where he was taught by P. F. Strawson and A. J. Ayer, obtaining his doctorate in 1981 for a thesis on “Epistemological Scepticism and Transcendental Arguments.”