Friday, January 7, 2011

Pseudo-Scientific Muslim Fundamentalists at Bar-Ilan University

Bar-Ilan University, the second largest university in Israel, is a very fine institution. It has produced many outstanding scholars and academic publications, and has nearly 27,000 students. There is also a kollel and midrasha on campus.

On the Torah and science front, however, there have been some disturbing developments. Now, since Bar-Ilan has a strong religious component to it, I'm not expecting them to, say, host a conference on the Documentary Hypothesis at the kollel. But certain events are so antithetical to science and scholarship that one has to be distressed at their taking place. Recently, Rabbi Zamir Cohen, whose material on how Chazal knew modern science is by far the most nonsensical of anything in the field, gave a presentation at Bar-Ilan. But at least he was only invited by a student's group; much more troubling is an event due to take place next week. Here is the email that I received:


DATE: Wednesday, January 12, 2011
TIME: 2:00 pm - 4:00 pm
LOCATION: Bar Ilan University, Ramat Gan, Chemistry Building # 211, Hall # CMT 10

How the Theory of Evolution Breaks Down in the Light of Modern Science
by Dr. Oktar Babuna, M.D. & Dr. Ali Sadun Engin, Ph.D.
With the contributions of Prof. Doron Aurbach

Ms. Seda Aral (Science Research Foundation)
Personal representative and media contact of Mr. Adnan Oktar (aka Harun Yahya)
Turkey, Istanbul
Tel: +90 530 609 26 32

There are two aspects to this event which are disturbing. One is that a science division is hosting a pseudo-scientific lecture against evolution. The common ancestry of all species is accepted scientific fact; even scientists associated with the Intelligent Design movement, such as Michael Behe, do not dispute it. If someone wishes to refute it, let them follow the scientific process of doing research, publishing papers, and so on. Religious propaganda masquerading as a "scientific" refutation of evolution has no place being presented in a chemistry building. Would the geology department host a "scientific" refutation of the sphericity of the earth, or would the history department host an "academic" refutation of the Holocaust?

Second, hosting such an event by Jewish Biblical literalists would be bad enough on its own, but hosting this group of Muslim Koran fundamentalists is appalling. Oktar Babuna and Ali Sadun Engin are followers of Harun Yahya, a.k.a. Adnan Oktar; indeed, the event at Bar-Ilan is being advertised as a "Harun Yahya Conference." According to the Wikipedia entry about him, Harun Yahya's Islamic fundamentalism has also led him to antisemitic conspiracy theories and Holocaust denial, and there are numerous other disturbing reports about him. Is this the kind of person whose movement should be speaking at an Israeli university which in its mission statement "regards the sacred principles of Judaism as the manifestation of the Jewish people's uniqueness... supporting the safeguarding of these principles out of love and with the purpose of training and producing scholars, researchers and men of science knowledgeable in the Torah and imbued with the original Jewish spirit and love of one's brethren"? Is whoever arranged this conference so Jewishly motivated to refute evolution that he is willing to have these sorts of people speak about it?

While the Harun Yahya group has managed to present its propaganda at several universities in England and the United States (read more about this here), one would hope that the additional antisemitic aspects would be enough to prevent it from coming to Israel. I know that many faculty members at Bar-Ilan were disturbed to hear of this event. One can only hope that wisdom will prevail and it will be canceled, so as not to mar the reputation of such a wonderful institution.


  1. I think this just about sums up the insanity of today's Haredi world. Haredim, in searching for somewhere to place the blame for the Holocaust and the flight of millions of Jews from tradition in the late 19th and first half of the 20th centuries, have traditionally focused in on two subjects; Zionism (in the broadest sense) and science/rationalism/secular education. Because of the vile they direct at both they distort reality (whether its science or geo-political reality, since they need to give good reasons why the state of Israel doesn't need to be or should not have been founded), and they will ignore the obscene silliness of their scientific positions as well as Arab antisemitism when it suits them. How well Zamir Cohen demonstrates both!

  2. There is a large Muslim student body in Bar-Ilan. I'm not sure at all that this is a "Jewish" event.

  3. Why is it so bad if the lectures are to be followed by questions and answers and a free discussion? Amnon Yitzhak's visit to Hebrew University comes to my mind. It was an opportunity for intelligent and educated people to challenge and defeat him in an honest and open argument. Instead, Meretz students would not let him talk and he carried the day.

  4. Rabbi Slifkin,

    I have read several of R. Zamir Cohen's books about Chazal's knowledge of science (Hamahpach, Hamasa el haemet). While he is certainly using his interpretation of science to reach a pre-arranged conclusion, and his basis is decided non-rationalist and heavily rooted in the Zohar, I don't know if I would call it nonsensical. His presentations are very logical and organized - it's just the usual question of which sources he chooses to bring and which he chooses to conceal or undermine. On occasion I have found anachronisms where he attributes knowledge to Chazal which would have been against the knowledge of the times and thus relatively radical but I think it's a matter of perspective. Do you have specific examples of true distortions in his works or is there someone else who has looked at his writings carefully?

    1. Rabbi Zamir Cohen is the Jewish version of the christian apologist, Kent Hovind.

  5. Dawidh, It's hard to believe that a conference at Bar-Ilan can be blamed on the Haredim. I doubt there are many Haredim organising conferences at Bar Ilan.

  6. This highlights the sad state of religious zionism in israel... there is a heavy shift towards the charedi leumi camp... Soon the only thing differentiating us from charedim will be zionism (even this is questionable after gush katif) and sandals with socks!

  7. All this irrational thinking is finally bringing the Israelis and Palestinians together!

  8. Did I miss something? How do we know Bar Ilan's science division is sponsoring this event? The conference got access to a room in the chemistry building, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's sponsored by the science department.

  9. He might be a pseudo-scientist (or more correctly an anti-science religious preacher) but it is equally wrong to present him as a major holocaust denier and antisemite.


    connecting this conference with anti-zionsist Haredi hatred is truly mind-blowing. Wow.

  10. Bar Ilan is not a chareidi institution. If anything it's supposed to be "the" university of Religious Zionism.
    However Benjamin of Tudela seems to have hit the mark: this is probably a Muslim talk organized by Muslim students.

  11. "Religious propaganda masquerading as a "scientific" refutation of evolution has no place being presented in a chemistry building. Would the geology department host a "scientific" refutation of the sphericity of the earth, or would the history department host an "academic" refutation of the Holocaust?"

    I cringe when I hear just about any denial compared to Holocaust-denial. (Several commentators, including George Monbiot and Ellen Goodman, have compared climate change denial with Holocaust denial.) Can you leave that analogy out?

  12. Let me get this right. Dr. Oktar Babuna is claiming we DON"T come from monkeys?

  13. @DES

    The speaker, Zamir Cohen, is Haredi. Notice that I didn't take Bar Ilan per se to task in my comment. Rather, I focused on the mentality of the vast majority of Haredim, who would agree with his sort of denial of science.

    @Shimon S

    "connecting this conference with anti-zionsist Haredi hatred is truly mind-blowing. Wow."

    I don't know whether you are illiterate or simply in denial. This Haredi rabbi is going to speak at a conference organized by fanatic Holocaust-denying Islamists. I didn't "connect" anything, the connection was there ipso facto. Depending on which problem you had with the article and my response, you can either visit or

  14. This Haredi rabbi is going to speak at a conference organized by fanatic Holocaust-denying Islamists.

    Er, no he's not.

    I'm a little disappointed at how carelessly people read what I write.

  15. Dawidh,

    I might be illiterate AND in denial but that doesn't mean I'm wrong in this case.

    Apology accepted.

  16. Talmid writes, "Let me get this right. Dr. Oktar Babuna is claiming we DON'T come from monkeys?"

    Was there supposed to be a subtle "baboon" joke in there? If so, it was funny.

  17. "Talmid said...

    Let me get this right. Dr. Oktar Babuna is claiming we DON"T come from monkeys?"

    Bravo, my friend. I'm continuing to laugh as I type out this reply to you.

  18. Hello,
    If you're dealing with conferences at Bar Ilan, you could be more balanced and report on conferences that host real scholars who are experts in both Torah and Science and discuss them seriously. For example a conference last week on: "Case Studies in Jewish Bioethical Decision-Making: Brain-Death and Advanced Genetic Management", you could have heard lectures there on issues discussed in this blog for example: "Of Mice and Genes: Making Mice from Two Fathers or Two Mothers" by Dr. John Loike, or "Criteria for Brain Death in Children" by Rabbi Dr. Moshe D. Tendler and a response by Rav Shabtai A. HaCohen Rappaport,: “Thinking Inside and Outside the Box – Torah Approach”. On the issue of the age of the universe there was recently a lecture by Prof. Mordechai Kislev a Torah scholar, biologist and leading Pre-Historic Archeologist (ArcheoBotany) on "The Age of Man, 5771 or millions". And many more lectures. My point is that blogging on these subjects is fine, but serious discussions will only come by serious studying and critical research in both Torah and Science. The examples I quoted above were of Scholars who reached the peak of both worlds and see them as one. That what we should strive for.

  19. Harun Yahya or the common name known ın Turkey Adnan Hoca ıs a great ANTİSEMİT guy. In 1990 's he publıshed weekly newspapers and wrote a lot of articles against jews. The years passed and he changed his name as an Harun Yahya and suddenly became a frdıne wıth jews. He has a large villa in Turkey lives with bautiful girls and handsome boys. He uses this people to find new members to his group. Once the member enter his group its to hard to go out. They publish sex video types etc. some of them kill themselves also. In 2000 the newspapers wrote that Dr. Oktar Babuna has a blodd canser. They started a big aid for Mr. Babuna. They collect bloods from thpusand of people and send them to Germany. Ypu are making a big mistake.

  20. Lawrence Kaplanb comments:

    Avrohom: Alas, good news is no news. Still, Rabbi Slifkin could have noted that this conference is an unfortunate departure from the usual high scholarly level of the conferences Bar-Ilan sponsors.

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