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2002 - 2004: Bar Ilan University

God's Works and God's Words: Between Observation & Exegesis, Matter & Spirit, and Science & Religion


2003-2004 Lectures and Activities
2002-2003 Lectures and Activities
2001-2002 Lectures and Activities
Project Leader
Organizing Committee/Working Group
Additional Information



For centuries, philosophers and theologians have spoken of God's "two books." Bonaventura called them the liber naturae and the liber scripturae. Francis Bacon, generations later, called them "the book of "God's Words" and the "the book of God's Works." Still later, natural theologians like William Paley maintained that the book of nature reflected the grace of God no less than the book of scripture.

Though scientists and scholars, when in a particularly poetic frame of mind, occasionally speak today of "two books," the vitality of the metaphor has greatly diminished. The notion that nature and scripture are both the product of a single divine author has been largely replaced, until recently at least, by the notion that science and religion are irremediably foreign and necessarily antagonistic.

This is a great shame. Taken seriously, the "two books" metaphor could have tremendous value today, more for the productive questions it raises, than for answers that it in itself might provide. Viewing nature and scripture as two books raises questions about how knowledge is (or ought to be) attained. To what extent, for example, might science be viewed as an exegetical pursuit? And if science is seen as a sort of exegesis, are there ways in which its methods can be augmented or improved by incorporating sophisticated exegetical techniques developed by theologians over the centuries?

The "two books" metaphor also raises questions about universalism and particularism. Natural philosophers and scientists have for centuries looked to nature as a realm that reflected the glory of God, but not of any particular conception of God. Men such as Kepler, Newton, Paley and many others were persuaded that the study of nature could transcend confessional diffferences, and thus be a way for people of different religions to worship and glorify God jointly. Perhaps the "book of nature" admits companionable, joint exegesis on the part of Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Moslem and other scientists, in a way that scripture never could.

Finally, the "two books" metaphor raises questions about the anture of reality (and the reality of nature). Ought God's Works and His Words each be seen to represent its own unique reality? What is the relationship between these representations? To what extent ought the autonomy of each representation be protected, and to what extent ought the two representations be interleaved?

Reconsidering the relationship between God's "Book of Works" and His "Book of Words" will allow us to find fresh answers to questions such as these. To do so, we propose to bring together natural and social scientists, philosophers, historians, literary critics, theologians and others to explore constructively these metaphors and their implications. We plan to invite scientists and scholars of international reputation to spark our discussions, but we expect that the most valuable conversation will take place in the small group of faculty members from Bar Ilan and Israel's other universities, which will meet every month, we hope permanently.

Our emphasis will quite naturally be on Jewish perspectives, though we will try to broaden our inquiry to include Christian and Moslem perspectives, whenever possible. We will recruit participants from outside the university, including faculty at other universities, and other members of Israel's scientific, religious, and cultural elite, though the value and purview of our project go well beyond the rarified realm of the academy. Although we will strive to enrich our discussions with historical analyses, our focus will be contemporary. The goal of our discussion is to reach deeper understandings that will help scientists and scholars solve contemporary dilemmas.



2003-2004 Lectures and Activities

Program details coming soon!



2002-2003 Lectures and Activities

Spring 2003 Lecture Series
Click on the lecturer's name for a brief biography.

February 11, 2003
"Buber & Levinas: Bypassing the Problem of Evil"

Hilary Putnam, Harvard University

February 25, 2003
"Religion & Science: Conflicts and Interactions"

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, Institute for Judaic Studies in the CIS

March 11, 2003
"Monotheism as a Harbinger of Science"

Elia Leibowitz, Tel Aviv University

March 25, 2003
"Science, Religion and Religious Disputation in Judaism"

Menachem Fisch, Tel Aviv University

April 8, 2003
"Science, Morality & War: Oppenheimer and Nuclear Weapons"

Silvan Schweber, Brandeis University & Harvard University



2001-2002 Lectures and Activities

June 4, 2002
Conference: Science and Salvation - A Historical & Philosophical Investigation of Science & Religion

Philosophy as a Redemptive Project: The Case of Maimonides
Prof. Moshe Halbertal
Hebrew University

Seduction, Cultural Exchange and Secular Redeption in the Haskalah Rhetoric of Modernization
Prof. Shmuel Feiner
Bar Ilan University

The Scientist as Savior
Prof. Matthew Goldish
University of Ohio

Science, Salvation and Original Sin in the Late Seventeenth Century
Prof. Michael Heyd
Hebrew University


Project Leader

Noah J. Efron, Ph.D. (Committee Chairman)
Chairman, Graduate Program in History and Philosophy of Science, Bar Ilan University

Dr. Noah J. Efron is chairman of the Graduate Program for the History & Philosophy of Science at Bar Ilan University, where he specializes in the relationship between science and religion, focusing on Jewish attitudes toward nature and science. Efron received a Metanexus/Templeton grant for research, writing and publication of a book exploring the constructive interaction of science and religion, which he is presently writing, called Golem, God, and Man: Human and Divine in the Age of Biotechnology. Efron has been a fellow of the Dibner Institute at the Massachusetts Instituite of Technology and a Rothschild Fellow at Harvard University. He received a B.A. with High Honors, from Swarthmore College, and a Ph.D. in History and Philosophy of Science from Tel Aviv University. He has taught at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Tel Aviv University, and the Jerusalem affiliate of the Jewish Theological Seminary. Dr. Efron recently edited a special volume of Science in Context devoted to Jews and science since the renaissance. He has written many essays appearing in academic journals, books, and encyclopedias, and is a contributing writer for the Boston Book Review. His book, Trembling with Fear, about religion in Israel, is being published by Basic Books. Dr. Efron has been awarded grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Mellon, Rothschild, and Thomas J. Watson Foundations, as well as the Israeli Academy for Higher Education. He was also a member of the organizing committee of the Science and the Spiritual Quest (SSQ) conference which took place at Bar Ilan University in 2002.



Organizing Committee/WorkingGroup

Click on the name of a committee member for biographical information.
  • Nathan Aviezer, Professor and Chair, Department of Physics, Bar Ilan University
  • Menachem Fisch, Associate Professor, Cohn Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science & Ideas, Tel Aviv University
  • Aryeh Frimer, Ethel and David Resnick Professor of Active Oxygen Chemistry, Bar Ilan Univeristy
  • Ely Merzbach, Professor, Department of Mathematics and Computer Science, Bar Ilan University
  • Dov Schwartz, Professor and Chair, Department of Philosophy and Graduate Program for the Study of Contemporary Judaism, Bar Ilan University
  • Avy Susswein, Chair, Program in the Brain Sciences and Professor, Department of Life Sciences, Bar Ilan University
  • Noam Zohar, Rabbi; senior lecturer, Department of Philosophy; Chair, Graduate Program in Biotechnology, Bar Ilan University



Additional Information

Bar Ilan University - Templeton Research Lectures Website


Noah J. Efron, PhD
Bar Ilan University
Graduate Program for History and Philosophy of Science
Committee for Interdisciplinary Studies
Bar Ilan University
Ramat Gan, Israel 52900

Work: 972-3-5317756



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