"Religion is a hypothesis about the world: the hypothesis that things are the way they are, at least in part, because of supernatural entities or forces acting on the natural world. And there's no good reason to treat it any differently from any other hypothesis. Which includes pointing out its flaws and inconsistencies, asking its adherents to back it up with solid evidence, making jokes about it when it's just being silly, offering arguments and evidence for our own competing hypotheses...and trying to persuade people out of it if we think it's mistaken. It's persuasion. It's the marketplace of ideas. Why should religion get a free ride"

Greta Christina

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Free speech in the balance

In a recent survey of 1000 British Muslims conducted on behalf of the BBC it was found that 80% of those asked found cartoon depictions of their Prophet Mohammed “deeply offensive”. Also a substantial minority (27%) thought that violent reprisals for such offense can be justified. A follow-up vox-pop on Radio 4’s Today program featured several Muslim voices from Bradford exclaiming they felt “extremely personally offended” by disrespect to their “beloved prophet” and if we take these statements at face value and allow that sentiment really does run so deep within British Islam we have got a real problem for liberal democracy in this country.
Difficult as it is for someone like me to empathise with personal distress over such abstract offenses as blasphemy and criticism of long dead self-styled “prophets” the fact that a substantial proportion of a growing minority feel that way is not to be ignored. These people are not just going to “get over themselves” any more than the clinically depressed can just “cheer up”. Reverence for Mohammed is integral to their upbringing and psychology and constantly reinforced within their ethnic and religious cultures; change, if any, will be generational and not to be expected short term. So is it up to us as a society to accommodate Muslim sensitivities and if so how can we do so without compromising freedom of expression?
It’s easy to forget that blasphemy was a crime in this country until 2008 and I for one have no desire to revert to any legal suppression of religious criticism. In any event such laws often come with unintended consequences and one person’s blasphemy is another’s sincerely held belief as the abuse of such laws in Pakistan against Christians there illustrates. Neither is it possible to legislate for offense generally as we are all occasionally offended by something.
In the normal way of things very few of us go out of our way to be deliberately offensive unless we feel we have good reason, one of which may be the imposition of another’s taboos in our own space. It is certainly not to be expected that a Christian, Jew, Hindu or atheist should respect Mohammed or any part of Islam that does not inform their own belief system. Islam and all it entails is an idea which in a free society we are entitled to reject and if within it we see inherent dangers we have an obligation, let alone the right, to be critical. When extremists insist that non-Muslims must not portray the prophet and back that injunction with threats of violence the only response is to do that very thing, which is why I fully supported “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day” and while it’s unfortunate that as collateral damage a large number of Muslims who may abhor violence are offended I see very few alternatives to this tactic. I don’t think I am unnecessarily victim blaming to suggest that the way for mainstream Islam to avoid Charlie Hebdo style provocation is to rein in their own extremists.
Should we have the freedom to indiscriminately ridicule religion in the public square? Here the answer is categorically yes, but whether we should routinely do so, except as a response to a threat to that freedom I think is a question of taste and good manners. Where I do think such ridicule is perfectly acceptable is in the arts, literature and in our private spaces including our own social media accounts. In order for people to be offended in these places they must be actively seeking offense by choosing to read that blog or book and watch that play or TV show or go to that exhibition. It’s not an imposition or discrimination to say to Muslims that if they don’t like this or that speech they should ignore it. We all avoid exposing our minds to ideas we find offensive and I regularly block social media feeds that I find distasteful due to racism or sexism even though I don’t believe it’s a particularly good thing to exist solely in a bubble of our own beliefs.
It’s a feature of all religions that their adherents demand respect for their beliefs and given the power and opportunity insist that everyone abides by their rules. It took a long time to tame Christianity in this country and put it into its proper place, subservient to law and in the private sphere (mostly). Islam is going to have to learn to occupy those same social spaces and be prepared to be offended on occasion. The more Islam becomes part of the fabric of Britain it will be measured by its ability to withstand satirical criticism; that is the trade-off for living in a democracy. Muslims have the right to protest and voice their anger if they think real boundaries are being crossed because they enjoy the same right to speech as everyone else. They have every right to point out the offense, but no right not to be offended.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

One of our own?

When fanatics kill others in the name of their “beliefs” those beliefs are usually religious, sometimes political or territorial, sometimes all of the above and the one thing atheists have always been able to say about themselves is that nobody has ever killed in the name of atheism. This hasn’t stopped others trying to pin the crimes of Stalin Mau and Pol Pot on atheism but these charges are specious, a-historical and deny those dictator’s totalitarianism as sufficient motive. Which is why the horrific shooting of three young Muslims by self-avowed atheist Craig Hicks is causing such consternation and debate among the atheist community.
Deah Barakat, his wife Yusor Abu-Salha and her sister Razan Abu-Salha were gunned down last Tuesday in a condo about two miles from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill
There have also been questions over whether Hicks' anti-religious stance - which he freely shared on social media - had also been a factor in the murders.
On a Facebook page in his name, Hicks shared a number of anti-religion posts. A banner about 'anti-theism' is prominent on his page.
Hicks posted a photo from United Atheists of America on February 8, which has the title 'why radical Christians and radical Muslims are so opposed to each others' influence when they agree about so many ideological issues'.
His Facebook page would not have raised any red flags to atheists active on social media and I have expressed such sentiments myself and shared similar articles to provoke discussion or sometimes just to provoke. In fact I would say his online presence is much like any other activist atheist, with possibly a tad more anti-theist sentiment than those I engage with personally, so it’s not possible for any atheist who would hope to distance themselves from Hicks to make ”no true atheist” arguments.
There are however aspects of Hicks’ behaviour that are less than savoury; he was a multiple firearms owner who obsessed about the parking around his condo and was frequently threatening to neighbours who transgressed the rules.
Neighbors, as well as tow-truck driver and others, have said Hicks often complained about residents and visitors at Finley Forest parking in his reserved space. He called one tow truck company so often they stopped responding to his calls.
So far the local police are treating this as a killing over a parking dispute and if the victims had not been conspicuously Muslim that is probably where the speculation would have ended. But the execution like nature of this atrocity, three individuals murdered each with a bullet in the head, plus their race and religion makes it at least possible that this was a hate crime; the victim’s family certainly think so.
Yusor and Razan’s brother, Yusef Abu-Salha, also told RT last week that there had been a lot of tension between his sisters and Hicks.
“There were plenty of run-ins [with Hicks],” he said, “but the run-ins escalated when my sister moved in; she obviously wore the head scarf. I recall her telling me when she first went to visit the condo before she even moved in together, [Hicks] came and knocked on the door and told them they were making too much noise, and he brandished a gun at his waist.” “I consider that terror,” he added, “I consider that hate.”
Also there is no doubt that if Hicks had been Muslim and the victims white Christians the media would have been all over this as a hate crime or even terrorism; Islam would have been cited, links to ISIS or Al-Qaeda sought and security heightened. But, even in a country where atheists are routinely demonised, so far the only people really asking whether atheism is a factor here are atheists themselves.
That we are doing so is I think to our credit. Although there are hyper-sceptical voices claiming his atheism is no more relevant than his hair colour others are suggesting that as a movement we should focus on atheism’s moral dimension more
There’s nothing wrong with being against religion. But how could anyone absorb that part of our message and completely miss the part about how it makes our common humanity infinitely more precious? Many nonbelievers, including me, have written about how atheism makes life more valuable, not less. But are we not highlighting the moral dimension of atheism enough? Are we not doing enough to make it clear that we think and act as we do because we love the good? Have we not emphasized strongly enough that criticizing religion’s inhumanities is shallow and meaningless if we don’t hold ourselves to a better standard? Those are the questions that I think atheists should be asking ourselves in the wake of this horrific crime.
Craig Hicks
If atheism turns out to be Hick’s motivation this will be a rare and possibly unique event; Christians being far more likely to commit this sort of crime in the U.S . However that does not mean atheists can write him off as mentally ill (a discriminatory excuse in any case) or not one of us. Up until this event he looked from the outside to be fairly representative of a good number of atheists who mock religion without contemplating ethical alternatives, so if atheists in general and movement atheism in particular condemn yet disown him it will be as disingenuous as Muslims pretending ISIS are not Muslim.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

"Three Parent" IVF is not a moral issue

A recent vote in the house of commons means that Britain is one of the first countries in the world to legalise an IVF procedure that involves taking the nucleus of one egg and inserting it into the cytoplasm of another egg which has had its own nucleus removed while , crucially, retaining its mitochondria.
a mitochondrion
Mitochondria are organelles whose primary function is to supply energy to the cell and during reproduction they are passed down in the cytoplasm of the egg which means they always travel down the maternal line. Defects in the mitochondria can cause debilitating diseases and infant mortality and it is these conditions that the technique is designed to prevent by substituting healthy mitochondria prior to fertilisation. This will of course be a boon to couples at risk of passing on mitochondrial diseases to their offspring as it enables them to have a healthy child with nuclear DNA from both natural parents; up until now it has only been possible for such couples to conceive with a complete donor egg or a surrogate.
Offspring born of this technique are referred to as “three parent babies” which I think is unfortunate because for one thing it’s not strictly true from a genetic standpoint and for another I suspect it has contributed to some of the unnecessary moral panic that surrounds it.
Much of the objection to legalising this form of IVF has come (predictably) from the Church with both Catholics and Anglicans claiming scientific uncertainty as their rational but in fact the technique has been well tested and the people who actually understand the science are satisfied of its safety, with the usual caveats. Given the Vatican’s antipathy to any artificial fertilisation techniques I suspect their objections are entirely ideological and can therefore be ignored. For example Bishop John Keenan, the Bishop of Paisley, was among the Catholic leaders who condemned the technique claiming it “seeks to remove anyone affected by certain conditions from the human gene pool”. Of course what it actually does is remove the condition from the gene pool, the “anyone” in the above nonsense never existed except in the abstract.
Other objections seem more reasonable, for example the concern that the mitochondria continue into subsequent generations, but are grounded in a misunderstanding of mitochondria and their origins as the “powerhouse of the cell”. The “three parent” moniker is inappropriate because although the mitochondria contain DNA it is their DNA and does not contribute to human characteristics outside of the somatic effect of its function. The entire nuclear DNA in this technique, the stuff that can be considered to count, is derived from the natural parents and not from the donor of the egg. Ethically this is more akin to a transplant than genetic engineering.
Another point that has been missing from the public debate is that mitochondrial DNA is not really ‘human’ at all because these organelles are endosymbionts, remnants of previously free-living proteobacteria that either infected or were absorbed by other primitive cells over 1.5 Billion years ago. Over evolutionary time the mitochondria lost the genes necessary for autonomy and retained just enough for their own reproduction and metabolic function within their hosts. The gestalt of these two primitive cells formed the first truly eukaryotic cells that are the basis of all complex life.
I’m not convinced that any ethical Rubicon has been crossed by approving this technique. In fact, even if at some future date it is discovered that by some genetic tinkering in the nuclei of eggs destined for IVF we could eliminate cystic fibrosis or some other debilitating genetic condition we should do it. I do not subscribe to the sort of genetic essentialism that some, including rather bizarrely the church, seem to indulge in and although I’m prepared to accept that somewhere amongst all possible applications of human genetic engineering there will be some ethical red lines we’re nowhere close when it is used solely for the elimination of heritable diseases.

Friday, 30 January 2015

Panpsychism: cosmic consciousness and the entropic elephant.

The hard problem of consciousness is, well…hard. It is very difficult to reconcile self-awareness, and experience of qualia with the squishy materialistic brain stuff that appears to produce it.
From a naturalist perspective the usual solution is emergence which argues that from sufficiently complex and organised systems consciousness can arise irreducibly from simpler non conscious processes. Or as Max Tegmark says
“Consciousness is how information feels when being processed”
It’s a concept that I am sympathetic to, which is why I can entertain the idea that self-awareness may one day emerge in an artificial intelligence, or even out of a well enough connected internet. Even so, this is not obviously true, and human intuition has long assumed a dualist approach to consciousness that maintains a distinct separation between brain stuff and mind stuff.
The extreme of dualism is the naïve religious concept of the soul, that we are essentially an immortal spirit temporarily inhabiting a physical body; our mind stuff is us with the brain a mere vessel. That this is not the case can easily be demonstrated by the fact that we can alter, enhance or impair our minds with psychoactive drugs or through illness and injury. More sophisticated theologies seem to argue for a kind of pantheism whereby our consciousness is a phenomenon of an all-encompassing deity, a sea of divine consciousness experienced as God. This idea is a subset of the concept known as panpsychism .
panpsychism is the view that consciousness, mind or soul (psyche) is a universal feature of all things, and the primordial feature from which all others are derived. A panpsychist sees themselves as a mind in a world of minds.
Panpsychism has a prestigious provenance dating back at least as far as Plato and found favour with Carl Jung, Spinoza, Arthur Shopenhauer and Bertrand Russell to name only a few. Needless to say the theory is not obviously wrong and it’s not my intention here to argue against it, but rather to explore the implications should it be true.
Unless we are to abandon methodological naturalism altogether the first question we should ask is what this “primordial feature” is supposed to be made of. In order to have any continuity at all with the material universe as we currently understand it consciousness would have to be some sort of field, preferably with an associated quantum particle. After all the brain must be processing something for neuroscientist to be able to measure its activity. To say it’s beyond physical comprehension is only to push the hard problem further down the causal chain; it certainly doesn’t solve it. Also whatever the constituents turn out to be would dictate whether panpsychism implies that consciousness is everywhere or merely that some unconscious fundamental particle of mentality pervades the universe. In other words does mind stuff necessarily mean there is a mind, or does it need further organisation to qualify.
Some flavours of panpsychism insist that everything has at least some experience or perception of qualia, even inanimate matter, whereas weaker versions assign this only to living systems. Mystical interpretations look for an overarching cosmic consciousness, a self-aware universe that some will interpret as God. If the fundamental unit of consciousness turns out to be something completely beyond our understanding all bets are off. But, assuming for now that that our quantum of consciousness can be fitted into the existing paradigm I would suggest that it must be something reducible to information.
Scientist and Author Peter Russell Likes to draw parallels between light and enlightenment to pitch light as the vector for consciousness. He uses an argument from special relativity to suggest that photons lie outside of space and time and it is only our perception that creates the illusion of existence in the four spacetime dimensions. From the link above…
“What you observe as the speed of light can be thought of as the ratio of manifestation of time and space. For every 186,000 miles of space, there appears 1 second of time. It is this ratio that is fixed. This is why the so-called 'speed' of light […] is always the same.”
Unfortunately, Russell takes a Noetic view of consciousness and believes that meditation and inner reflection can reveal deep truths about the universe and I also think his argument from relativity is flawed (which I won’t elaborate on here) however, pursuing our line of thought, I think the photon as a candidate for a quantum of consciousness is a reasonable one but for different reasons.
In standard particle theory photons are Bosons quantum particles that mediate the interactions between other subatomic particles. Specifically photons mediate the electromagnetic force and are emitted and absorbed as electrons change energy levels around nuclei. In living systems this could be considered a fundamental quantum of information since the “experience” of even the most primitive life forms is based on electrochemical reactions facilitated by photons. So could they count as the quanta of consciousness? Well maybe. But for sense to be made of these packets of information some level of processing needs to occur. Even amoebas have relatively complex chemical pathways that translate external stimuli into actions and as far as we can tell only complex multicellular neural interconnected brains can learn, predict and analyse.
But I think there is an entropic elephant in the room. That consciousness only obviously manifests in complex living systems should tell us something. What is unique about life that it is able to make such use of the panpsychic field? Well, one defining feature of life is that it is capable of self-sustaining a state of very low entropy with respect to its surroundings. Life is information rich and maintains this by acting as an entropy pump consuming high quality energy and excreting poor quality energy (mainly heat). Arguably brains are using this same pump to maintain the low entropy high information state of consciousness. Unless we are prepared to allow that the photon (or whatever non-mystical unit of consciousness we posit) is of itself fully “conscious” in order for brains to support minds they must be being organised (thus reducing entropy).
From this point of view strong panpsychism that allows for minds to create reality or for the universe to be self-aware cannot be true since outside of brains the field of consciousness would be disorganised, high entropy and information poor which would not allow for any kind of “cosmic mind” or even connectedness except in a very trivial sense. In other words the universe would not be self-aware even if pervaded by such a field; Spinoza’s god would be dull company.
We’ve arrived at a kind of compromise between strong emergence and strong panpsychism. Allowing for some pervading quantum field of consciousness derived from existing science means that mind does not have to emerge ex nihilo from complexity, rather brains may be evolved for the organisation and processing of this pre-existing resource. However the argument from entropy means we have to dispense with the mystical conclusions of cosmic consciousness and parapsychology and accept that however much navel gazing we indulge in there can be no access to external truths from that source.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

On Charlie Hebdo

It’s almost impossible to know where to start to write about the Charlie Hebdo atrocity. The blood spilt in this tragedy has already been overtaken by ink and pixels with commentary from every quarter and political viewpoint. It is particularly unfortunate that the personality of “Charlie” the magazine has almost occluded the real people that have sadly lost their lives, especially since many of us who have adopted #JeSuisCharlie (myself included) have never read it. But it’s inevitable since this attack, aimed directly at the most treasured values of liberal democracy, has ramifications far beyond the limited circulation of one Parisian publication.
Charlie Hebdo post attack cover
Free speech, freedom of the press and the right of artists in all media to criticise and ridicule sacred cows are the foundations of a truly free society. It does not matter if, as some suggest, Charlie Hebdo was over provocative or even racist in its portrayal of Islamism. Even if the humour is not to everyone’s taste it is worthy of protection because as soon as we allow that some sections of our communities are never to be offended all useful debate about society will be effectively shut down. In particular we cannot protect religious sensibilities as they are often the quickest to take offence at the slightest of provocation and although I prefer to avoid slippery slope arguments the situations in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia should be salutary enough to deter us from pursuing that path.
Nearly a week on from this tragedy, as the remaining staff of Charlie Hebdo are about to release a defiant new issue with an unprecedented three million copy print run expected to be in demand worldwide, the mainstream media are still grappling with how to deal with the “problem” of reporting the story without re-publishing the images which sparked the attack. But I see no moral dilemma here. In any news story I would expect a newspaper or website to publish relevant illustrative photographs or images. Short of graphic depictions of bloody slaughter or gross obscenity pertinent images would normally accompany the narrative and there is no doubt in my mind that should be the case with this story. I understand that newspapers may not want to endanger themselves or their staff but if ever there was a case for holding a journalistic line, even if that meant rival publications colluding to gain safety in numbers, this was it.
In the event if the Jihadists aim was to suppress caricatures of Mohammed being circulated they were obviously unaware of the Streisand effect since Charlie Hebdo’s images of the prophet have now become ubiquitous on social media and will also appear prominently in the next edition.
I have no sympathy with the idea that re-publishing such images will further alienate and offend mainstream Muslim opinion: Muslims are not the intended target. However, the ideology that underpins attempts to suppress our freedom of expression is fair game and it is difficult to imagine how this could be effectively satirised without using the speech or images it aims to censor. Satire entails mockery and defiance of power; Islamism aims to be powerful so it is the islamist’s fault their shibboleths are in the firing line.
Very few people would want to gratuitously give offence to a section of our community, most of us aim to be polite and at least tolerant of the foibles of our neighbours. But tolerance is a two way street and in a pluralistic society it is beholden on mainstream Islam not to go looking for offense where it is not intended or to attempt to inflict its taboos on other worldviews. If, as Anjem Choudary says, “Muslims don’t believe in the concept of freedom of expression” they are at liberty to live their lives that way but must accept that liberal democracies do believe in it passionately and so will sometimes be exposed to views that conflict with their beliefs. Although, while it may be a theological truth I suspect that most Muslims in the west are much happier with freedom of expression than Choudary suggests. Islam is not the monolith of consistent belief and practice it is sometimes assumed to be and my hope now is that liberal minded Muslims will use this opportunity to seize their religion back from the fundamentalists and the fascism of the Islamists

#JeSuisCharlie

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Why I believe in Father Christmas

I’m a big fan of Santa. This syncretic quasi-religious staple character of Christmas serves a useful purpose both for parents and the young children that are encouraged to believe in him.
For one thing he can be a proxy for parents and relatives as a source of presents and treats. Children don’t have to know that they are entirely dependent on their families for everything and at least once a year they can rely on something from someone they don’t feel a need to be totally beholden to. Also the extent to which they have been “naughty or nice” can be a good incentive for self-reflection in the run up to Christmas without any real dire consequences following either way (I mean, do any parents ever not give presents from Santa when their kids misbehave?)
But for me the real utility of Santa is at the point where children start to doubt his existence. Most parents eventually observe their children applying a little bit of critical thought to the whole shtick; “How does he fit down the chimney?”, “But, we haven’t got a chimney”, “How does he get to all the children in one night?”, “How come he looks different in every shop with a grotto?”
Ultimately, all children see the absurdity of Santa, but more interestingly most also take longer to let go of the idea altogether and it is common for children to pretend to their parents and younger siblings that they still believe. This is a good exercise in both scepticism and diplomacy; skills to be encouraged in children and adults alike.
It would be better if all children managed to make the logical leap from a non-existent Santa to a non-existent deity but the extent of religious belief belies any pretence of that possibility although this watershed moment at the crux of credulity does inspire some to question the claims of religion sooner or later. But more to the point it is an early object lesson in the tolerance of other people’s cherished delusions.
I have often said that beliefs don’t deserve uncritical respect but one should respect the right of people to hold whatever beliefs they like (note: this does not entail respecting the believer, adults should take epistemic responsibility for what they believe) and the ability to indulge a younger child’s Santa belief or a parents delusion that you still believe is a skill applicable to adult life.
This, apart from the obvious irony, is why I was struck by this story of a Norfolk curate who told primary school children that Father Christmas doesn’t exist.
During the carol service, the curate asked children what they thought was the meaning of Christmas. When a child answered "Father Christmas", she told them he was not real. One parent said on Facebook that Mrs McPhee had "put me off taking my children to church just in case something else gets said".
Rev Margaret McPhee has since apologised to the school for her comment and I am sure she sincerely regrets it. However it does illustrate how glibly people of faith will disabuse a child of its sincerely held belief in one supernatural being while trying to defend the existence of another.
As an atheist but particularly as a humanist I am, more and more, finding myself in contact with children and adults with beliefs in various deities and while I openly state that I do not believe in gods would not dream of telling a young child directly and unasked that Allah or Jesus or Santa weren’t real. It is reasonable though for them to know that not everyone believes the same thing and it would have been enough for the curate to acknowledge that Santa and his elves are important for some people at Christmas before relating the church’s entirely rational position vis-à-vis virgin births, heraldic angels and miraculous stars etc.
This is not the same as answering an honestly asked question. A child who asks directly of an adult whether Santa is real deserves a factual answer as does the child who asks directly about God. However, much as it’s fun to draw equivalences between God and Santa the answer to their respective existence cannot be identical. We know unequivocally that Santa is a fiction and should say so when it’s appropriate while explaining why some people maintain the pretence. God however is a much more slippery concept and when a child asks if God exists then is the perfect time to explain how there are so many ideas about what a god might be that they cannot all be correct and that possibly all are wrong.
This is when the previous experience of letting go of one fantastical figure can help them explore their doubts about another while at the same time negotiating the minefield of living with those who still cling to belief.
Anyway, enough! I still have a stocking to hang and mince pies to put out (must remember a carrot for Rudolph).

Happy Xmas

Monday, 15 September 2014

Muslims or monsters?

Over the weekend David Cameron made a statement following a COBRA meeting in response to the appalling murder of British aid worker David Haines. The takeaway sound bite was ”ISIS are not Muslims but monsters”.
Now I understand the realpolitik behind such statements but in this instance and in the way this was phrased it is less than helpful .
Not Muslims?
To start with who is David Cameron to determine who is or isn’t a Muslim and why does he think himself sufficiently theologically equipped to declare Islam necessarily a religion of peace? It’s just vacuous rhetoric with no other purpose than to pander to the sensibilities of moderate Muslims and even on this measure I suspect it will fail. Moderates will only feel patronised.
It’s also self-evidently wrong. Whether or not ISIS conform to Cameron’s view of what Muslims should be the Jihadists self-identify as Muslims and moreover consider themselves to be the true face of Islam. Also, trivially, if they are not Muslims what are they? Perhaps Anglican heretics or lapsed Catholics or maybe they kill to the glory of L. Ron Hubbard and we’ve just mistaken their battered copies of Dianetics for the Qur’an.
“Muslim or monster” is a puerile and dangerous juxtaposition to make. They are not mutually exclusive any more than Christian and monster or Hindu and monster are as it is perfectly possible to be both a follower of a faith and a monster. It plays into the false idea that to be religious is to be moral and that the truly devout cannot behave immorally
All religions are religions of peace to those who follow them peacefully and all are capable of being justifications of violence to those who would be violent (although I maintain that Islam has peculiarities which make radicalism easier to justify). The extent to which the majority of Muslims are “good” is, I suggest, precisely the extent to which people in general are “good”. I would expect most human beings to find moral outrage in the behaviour of ISIS regardless of their religious allegiances and I would expect the majority of Muslims to condemn them as not being representative of Islam. But to suggest ISIS are not Muslims is absurd and a blatant use of the No True Scotsman logical fallacy.
I get that western politicians are anxious not to demonise Muslims in general and they are right to do this. Muslims in general are not demons or any other kind of monster but pretending that radical islamists are not Muslims at all is to neglect a great deal of the ideology that motivates them. Neither will a white Middle England Anglican telling a potential British jihadist that they are doing Islam wrong persuade them from heading to Syria. If anything it will be a greater motivation.