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A tale of reason and religion

Born in Stradbroke, England, in 1175, Robert Grosseteste is a poor boy whose brains take him to Oxford. He studies law, medicine, and mathematics, learns about Aristotle, and is excited by the idea that the natural world can be observed and facts can be proved. Robert Grosseteste believes that God’s world can be understood rationally and mathematically. He advocates deducing universal laws from particular observations, and then predicting particulars from universal laws. He calls this "resolution and composition".

Both the Islamic philosopher Averroes, 1126 – 1198, and the Jewish philosopher Maimonides, ca. 1135 -1204, are born in Cordoba. Like Grosseteste, born fifty years later, they study medicine and read Aristotle.

Maimonides is exiled as a teenager when he and his family refuse to convert to Islam. Whenever possible, Maimonides will try to harmonize Jewish theology and aristotelian thought.

Averroes attempts to reconcile Aristotle's ideas and Islam, and arrives at a theory of "dual truth” – one truth for reason and another for religion.

Islamic rulers and religious scholars denounce the examination of cause and effect as heretical because it suggests to them that the will of Allah is limited. Averroes is exiled, and scientific thought in the Islamic world largely ends.

Eventually the Church makes Robert Grosseteste a bishop. His students examine causes and effects, deduce principles from particulars, and prove them with experiments. They are largely but not entirely untroubled by religious authorities. They help to lay the scientific foundations of civilization.

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