Guest post! In a previous article promoting methodological naturalism, I cited a lecture by Dr. Jonathan Brown as an example of where Islamic interpretations may conflict with Western secular interpretations. Here, with permission, is Dr. Brown’s response.
Someone sent this site to me. I’m flattered to have been discussed. One possibility for reconciling the Western naturalist view and a theistic one would be that most of the earliest hadiths (dated by source/author) that mention what would later be sects like the Qadariyya, Murji’a etc, don’t refer to the proper names. Rather, they talk about “those who believe in qadar,” etc. This is also the same for early texts attributed to people like Abu Hanifa that deal with these beliefs as well. As far as I know, it’s the enemies of these groups, not the groups themselves, that start using proper names to designate these schools of thought.
Let’s assume that the Prophet said that “Those people who believe in qadar are the Majūs of my umma”, and then later transmissions of this report, which post-date the appearance of the proper name Qadariyya, Murji’a etc, paraphrase the Prophet with these new terms (such paraphrasing was not unusual and openly recognized). In this case there would be no anachronism. In order to say that it’s impossible for the Prophet to have made the statement I suggested, one would have to argue that he was somehow mentally unable to grasp that the issue of qadar/free will was something that religious people debated.
This would make him not only totally unaware of his religious context (which would militate against the whole Muhammad was a product of late antiquity argument) or dumber than an American high schooler.