Ibn Rushd Science History
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Ibn Rushd

Cordoba mosque
Cordoba mosque

May 2016 - Since the time of Socrates, many people have tried to figure out how science and religion can both be true at the same time. Ibn Rushd, like the earlier ibn Sina and al-Ghazali, was part of an important movement to try to combine Aristotle's scientific description of the world with religious views to create a unified idea of the world. As a Muslim, Ibn Rushd tried to combine Aristotle with Islam. Ibn Rushd's admirer Maimonides did the same thing for Judaism, and then Thomas Aquinas did the same thing for Christianity.

Ibn Rushd (people sometimes call him Averroes) was born in Cordoba, in Islamic Spain, in 1126 AD. As he grew up, he studied and prayed in the great mosque at Cordoba. When Ibn Rushd was twenty years old, the Almohads conquered Spain, and Ibn Rushd's father lost his job as the chief judge of Cordoba. But unlike with Maimonides, Ibn Rushd's family stayed in Spain, and by the time Ibn Rushd was 34, in 1160, he became the chief judge of Seville.

Ibn Rushd couldn't read Greek, but he had copies of Aristotle's and Plato's books translated into Arabic that he could read. After he had read Aristotle and Plato, and also read what Ibn Sina and al-Ghazali had to say about Aristotle, Ibn Rushd wrote his own book about Aristotle's philosophy. Ibn Rushd thought that you could believe both Aristotle and the Quran at the same time, because they were just different ways of expressing the same truth.

white building with courtyard
University of Fez, Morocco

Ibn Rushd also thought that your soul was divided into two parts. One part of your soul was personal, and the other part was divine, so that when you died, your personal soul died with you, but your divine soul joined with the others in one big divine soul. Ibn Rushd also wrote a book explaining Plato's Republic.

Like his hero Aristotle, Ibn Rushd was a scientist as well as a philosopher. He discussed electric fish, the angle of the sun's rays, and many other topics.

As he got older, Ibn Rushd traveled throughout the Almohad kingdom on government business. Ibn Rushd died in Morocco, in 1198 AD, when he was 72 years old.

Learn by doing: does your religion conflict with science? Why or why not?
More about Maimonides

Bibliography and further reading about Ibn Rushd:

Thomas Aquinas
More about the Islamic Empire
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter.
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