Moral without God? Video of debate

Debate: “One Can Not Be Truly Moral Without God”

Michael Nugent, chairperson of Atheist Ireland, took part in a debate with John Murray, director of the Iona Institute for Religion and Society, on the motion that one cannot be truly moral without God. The debate took place on 30 March 2010 in Maynooth University, and was organized by the Maynooth Christian Union and the Maynooth Literary and Debating Society. This is Michael’s opening contribution:

And this is a playlist of the full debate, which takes about an hour and forty minutes:

If you want to skip to any particular section, you can use the arrows on the right and left of the above playlist to view any of the following parts of the debate:

Opening speeches
1/12 – John Murray opening speech
2/12 – Michael Nugent opening speech
3/12 – Student speeches for motion
4/12 – Student speeches against motion

Questions and answers
5/12 – Relative morality in the Bible
6/12 – Can we live without God?
7/12 – Interpreting morality in the Bible
8/12 – Human rights and true morality
9/12 – Can we be moral with God?
10/12 – Science, morality and animals

Closing speeches
11/12 – John Murray summary
12/12 – Michael Nugent summary

Atheist Ireland


  1. Avatar
    daniel May 16, 2010

    is it possible for me to teach my children not to steal, murder or commit crimes without a fictional person in the sky making them feel guilty about pleasure?

    its beyond comedy

  2. Avatar
    Jan May 19, 2010

    What was the result or was there no vote at the end?

  3. Avatar
    Yewtree June 29, 2010

    I recommend Richard Holloway’s excellent book Godless Morality, which points out that even if you do believe in God, and even if you believe that the Bible is divinely inspired, no-one knows what God thinks (as there are multiple interpretations of the moral code laid down in the Bible), so even deciding between one interpretation of that code and another interpretation requires reason and weighing of the evidence. He also goes on to say that usually a moral conflict is a conflict between good things, rather than good versus evil, e.g. deciding whether to have an abortion weighs the good of the mother’s quality of life against the potential good of the baby’s existence.

  4. Avatar
    eamon July 03, 2011

    Cardinal Brady was in his thirties in 1975, when he would not tell the police about priests raping little boys. Mr. Nugent says (in 2/12) that atheists understand (??) how morality has evolved since then, as Brady has admitted in 2000 that he was wrong. Is Mr. Nugent somehow defending Brady’s inactions in reporting child rape to the police in 1975 as something understandable?
    I think Brady behaved like a scumbag in 1975 and should have been arrested and jailed at that time.
    Remember, this was 1975 and Brady was a grown man.
    Maybe, Mr. Nugent needs to more explicitly condemn the recent cover-ups of child rape and torture by the clergy in this country as very serious crimes.
    He and his organisation might also call for more (very badly needed) convictions of clergy, guilty of such appalling crimes.
    Until that happens, unbelievers like myself are not going to take Atheist Ireland all that seriously.

  5. Avatar
    Michael Nugent July 03, 2011

    Thanks for that contribution, Eamon. I agree with you that Cardinal Brady was morally wrong in 1975, and that he should have been questioned by the police about his failure to pass on information about these crimes.

    My purpose in making the point you refer to was to expose the hypocrisy of the Roman Catholic Church in generally claiming that morality is absolute and unchanging and comes from their god, yet when it suits them claiming that morality is relative and has changed between 1975 and today and is based on social norms, with regard to Cardinal Brady’s beliefs about the right and wrong of reporting crimes against children.

    My overall point was that morality is essentially about whether an action contributes or takes away from the suffering or well-being of sentient beings, that humans gradually work out the nuances of how to live together based on this principle, and that religion adds a distraction that allows people to justify to themselves taking actions that do cause suffering on the basis that their god decrees it.

    The political priorities of Atheist Ireland are promoting a secular Constitution and education system, as well as overall separation of church and state. As well as promoting these aims in a positive way, we also highlight incidents where we believe religions or religious representatives are behaving unethically. This of course includes the issue of child sexual abuse.

    I have explicitly condemned the cover-ups of child rape by the clergy in this country as serious crimes, both in the media and at the Gods and Politics conference in Copenhagen, and also in a debate in UCC along with journalist and documentary maker Kevin Annett in which we argued (successfully) against Jack Valero of Opus Dei and UCC law graduate Luke Harris that the Pope should be arrested for his role in facilitating and covering up these crimes.

    Atheist Ireland has highlighted the pamphlet by Monsignor Martinelli that revealed that the Vatican has described the attempted ordination of women as being on the same level of seriousness as clerical pedophelia. We have included the issue of child sexual abuse in our submission to the Irish Human Rights Commission on the place of religion in education from a human rights perspective. We have criticised Bishop McKeown for promotiong collective guilt for clerical sex abuse.

    You can read here my analysis of the Pope’s letter on child sex abuse last year. My conclusion: “The Irish DPP and police should take steps now to ensure that bishops who covered up serious crimes against children are brought before the law. The Irish Government should take steps to remove the influence of the Catholic church on our health and education system. In particular, the human rights of nonreligious parents to have a secular education system should be vindicated in every area of the country. The Government should review its relations with the Catholic church’s quasi-State in the Vatican City. The Government should seek to have the United Nations treat the Catholic church like any other religion, by listening to it as a nongovernmental organisation, and not by treating it as a quasi-State. If the Catholic church will not voluntarily face up to its responsibilities within civic society, then the institutions of State must ensure that it does so. And we the people should lobby our politicians to make this happen sooner rather than later.”

    I hope that this clarification will enable you, as an unbeliever, to take Atheist Ireland seriously as an organisation that is working for a more ethical and secular Ireland, and indeed I hope that you will join us and help us to make this happen. As a relatively new and voluntary organisation, we have to balance our activities based on our limited resources and multifaceted agenda. There are of course also other organisations with a more direct focus on the specific issue of child sex abuse and I would urge you to support their work as well as the work of Atheist Ireland.

  6. Avatar
    eamon July 04, 2011

    Thanks for the clarification.