October 24, 2013

Neuroscience And Religion Combine In New Course

William Klemm

W. R. Klemm

Neuroscience and religion might seem a strange mix for a college course, but the professor who devised the unconventional class offering has been unconventional for most of his highly successful 50-year career in the classroom and laboratory. The new course for upper-division students is the brainchild of Dr. W.R. Klemm, senior professor of neuroscience in the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences at Texas A&M University. The course is offered for the first time this fall as an elective for biomedical sciences students.

Klemm said he thinks the course could have life-changing effects on students — as well as on him.

“We explore how neuroscience and religion should inform and enrich each other,” Klemm said. Although the course is based on reading assignments from his textbook, titled “Core Ideas in Neuroscience,” those principles will be accompanied by religious and philosophic perspectives. For example, when discussing evolution of the nervous system, the students will also consider the Biblical book of Genesis and other creation stories. The lesson about action potentials — the cellular process that transmits information within and between neurons — will also include a discussion of Descartes and dualism between mind and brain.

“Many people, especially college students encountering what seems like intellectual culture shock, struggle with the conflicts between evolution and religion,” Klemm said. “As a neuroscientist, I know that the human mind has a material basis, and that may cause even more cognitive dissonance for people.” In other words, if physical processes in the brain give rise to the concept we call the mind, what does that mean for free will, the concept of self and even the soul?

“Many polls show that most scientists are atheists,” Klemm said. “I think that is unfortunate to say the least.”

One of Klemm’s goals for the course is to show students that science and theology don’t have to contradict each other. “I am hoping that the students learn to be more introspective, open minded and mature about their spirituality,” Klemm said. “I fully expect this course will change the beliefs of everyone involved, and that includes me.”

When asked why they wanted to take the class, students cited curiosity, the opportunity to challenge themselves, and a general interest in the two subjects of science and religion. Several noted the uniqueness of the combination of topics, with one student commenting that she enrolled to get a different perspective on both. Finally, some students just went with a reason one doesn’t often hear: “I just thought it would be fun.”

The course, which is limited to 20 students to facilitate discussion and interaction, filled the same day it was announced. These students are mostly biomedical science (BIMS) majors, but four are majoring in something else — anthropology and psychology, for example — and pursuing the religious studies minor.

Dr. Klemm teaching his class

Texas A&M Prof. William Klemm teaching his new neuroscience and religion class. Photo: Texas A&M

The course satisfies the university standards for a “writing” certification. Klemm requires students to write, comment on, and lead class discussions of their essays and summaries of research papers in both fields that integrate neuroscience and religion. Writing can develop student abilities to organize and clarify their thinking, and Klemm critiques every essay to help students develop communication skills.

“I was so delighted when Dr. Klemm contacted me and told me he was going to offer a course in neuroscience and religion,” said Dr. Donnalee Dox, director of the Texas A&M Religious Studies Program in the College of Liberal Arts. “The relationship between science and religion is an up and coming field, and I’m very excited about this class.”

Dox spoke to the students for a few minutes during the first class session about how to study religion in an academic setting, noting the different approaches researchers can take. Speaking to the BIMS majors in the class, she noted that the study of religion has more grey areas than they might be used to in some of their other courses, and advised trying to accept those ambiguities.

Klemm and Dox have also submitted a pre-proposal to the Templeton Foundation to enhance the course and to develop an academic discipline around the theme of “Belief Neuroscience,” with an emphasis on why humans — religious and otherwise — believe things even with incomplete evidence.

###
Media Contact: Lane Stephenson, News & Information Services, at (979) 845-4662

Tags: , ,

10 Comments to Neuroscience And Religion Combine In New Course

  1. I hope they use this opportunity to acquaint themselves with the revelation of God for this Day as revealed by the Writings of Baha’u'llah and the teachings and principles enunciated in the Baha’i Faith. There is likely a Baha’i student club on campus, the members of which would be delighted to offer a short presentation of the principles and teachings of this newest of world religions

  2. Dalton Garis '89 on October 26th, 2013
  3. Here is my favorite line “For example, when discussing evolution of the nervous system, the students will also consider the Biblical book of Genesis and other creation stories.”

    My second favorite line is ““Many polls show that most scientists are atheists,” Klemm said. “I think that is unfortunate to say the least.”

    This is great for the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences at Texas A&M University® brand, no?

  4. Citizen1 on October 29th, 2013
  5. Hurray!, Bravo! Power to Dr. Klemm. What a needed emphasis in today’s world!

  6. Robert W. Hutchison, sr. on November 1st, 2013
  7. “Many polls show that most scientists are atheists,” Klemm said. “I think that is unfortunate to say the least.”

    I think it is unfortunate ANY scientist believe in a personal God, despite all evidence against the word of the Bible being even remotely true.

    Litsen to Neil deGrasse Tyson’s speech, he beautifully explains why a belief in God destroys the scientific curiosity, with a bunch of good examples from the past.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1te01rfEF0g

  8. James on November 4th, 2013
  9. “For example, when discussing evolution of the nervous system, the students will also consider the Biblical book of Genesis and other creation stories.”

    I want to know what he means by “consider.” Is this like a comparative class that will “consider” how the religious myths about creation are horribly wrong considering what we know today? If so, that’s great. But I’m pretty sure this is not the angle being taken, due to his comment about atheist scientists being unfortunate.

  10. Former Aggie on November 4th, 2013
  11. This is embarrassing. This type of class belongs at Liberty University not Texas A&M University. We are one of the strongest schools on the planet in terms of scientific research and the progression of science, this class just weakens us. Faith has no place in public classrooms.

  12. Chris V on November 4th, 2013
  13. And what part of the caudate reacts to 50 shekels for a wife? And how does this enable an evolved approach to science? Actually forget it, this is just obvious case of conflict of interest and cognitive dissonance. And also an obvious attempt at trying to keep 2000 year old tribal fiction somewhat relevant in modern life … it fails, and leaves a corrupt heavy cross to bear upon young minds; mind you that’s nothing new is it. I sense that the aim of this “course” is to try to “determine” it’s students towards the concept of “determinism”. Maybe a language module in abstract human concepts like “god” and evolution of words would be more suitable.

  14. rob on November 4th, 2013
  15. Science and religion do not complement each other. Science uses evidence and facts to help us find the truth. Religion promote faith over knowledge, diametrically opposing the foundations of science.

    This is a veiled attempt to indoctrinate people into a Judeo-Christian theology. That it is happening in Texas is not a surprise to me.

  16. Bill on November 4th, 2013
  17. “with an emphasis on why humans — religious and otherwise — believe things even with incomplete evidence”

    Or with no evidence at all. Or even with all evidence clearly pointing to the contrary.

    I must admit to being very wary of this course. I smell an agenda.

  18. Harold Art '98 on November 4th, 2013
  19. Might as well teach creationism while you’re at it…What ever happened to critical thinking? Science is supposed to be skeptical not “faith based” – I’d suggest the Professor is the one who needs to open his mind and maybe he will realize why so many scientists are atheists…

    …and no surprise Templeton is funding this – they’ve got over a Billion dollar endowment to plug religion as much as possible.

  20. etseq on November 5th, 2013
Share this story

More…