The Texas A&M TAMU Times reports that while neuroscience and religion might seem a strange mix for a college course, the TAMU professor responsible for the unconventional class offering has made a career of being outside the box during most of his highly successful 50 years in the classroom and laboratory. The new course for upper-division students was conceived and created by Dr. W.R. Klemm, a senior professor of neuroscience in the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences at Texas A&M, and who has authored more than 400 books, academic papers, and articles. The course is being offered for the first time this fall as an elective for biomedical sciences students.
The article cites Dr. Klemm saying he thinks the course could have life-changing effects on students — as well as on him, observing that “We explore how neuroscience and religion should inform and enrich each other.”
The course is based on reading assignments from his textbook, entitled “Core Ideas in Neuroscience,” principles described in it to 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 17th Century French mathematician, scientist and philosopher Rene Descartes theory of 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 told TAMU Times. “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,” Dr. Klemm continues. “I think that is unfortunate to say the least.”
However, while it is true that a preponderance of scientists today are either atheists or at most agnostic, anyone laboring under the misapprehension that science and religious faith are mutually exclusive and contradictory might expand their perspective by pondering Wikipedia’s List of Christian Thinkers In Science, which is non-exhaustive, and is limited (due to space constraints) to those scientists, past and contemporary, who also contributed to Christian theology or some other type of religious thinking, and doesn’t include two specific groups of Christians who made significant contributions to science that are not covered — Catholic scientists who are members of the Society of Jesus who can be found in the List of Jesuit scientists; and Scientists who are members of the Religious Society of Friends listed in Quakers in science. It’s also worthwhile to scan.
Godandscience.org‘s list of Famous Scientists Who Believed in God, which includes Descartes, Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton, Johannes Kepler, Nicholas Copernicus, Sir Francis Bacon, Galileo, Blaise Pascal, Michael Faraday, Max Planck, Louis Pasteur, William Kelvin, and more.
TAMU Times notes that one of Dr. Klemm’s objectives with this 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,” Dr. Klemm explains. “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, was filled the day it was announced by students who are mostly biomedical science (BIMS) majors, but also four majoring in other disciplines such as anthropology and psychology and pursuing the religious studies minor.
The course satisfies the university standards for a “writing” certification. Dr. Klemm requires participating 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, which are intended to develop student abilities to organize and clarify their thinking, and Dr. Klemm critiques every essay to help students develop communication skills according to the TAMU Times report.
Dr. Donnalee Dox, director of the Texas A&M Religious Studies Program in the College of Liberal Arts, is cited observing: “I was so delighted when Dr. Klemm contacted me and told me he was going to offer a course in neuroscience and religion. The relationship between science and religion is an up and coming field, and I’m very excited about this class.”
Drs. 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.
Texas A&M University TAMU Times
Texas A&M University TAMU Times