A Texas A&M Professor is making waves throughout the University, and hopes to continue making an impact to other students across the country. Dr. Bill Klemm has researched neuroscience for 50 years and has been a professor simultaneously. He said his new class, Neuroscience and Religion, is unlike any class he's ever taught.
"This is the most engaged group of students I have ever seen in 50 years of teaching," said Dr. Klemm.
He said one of the reasons is the subject hits home for many.
"They get confronted by all this science and technology that we teach here at Texas A&M and they're awed by the explanatory power of science and that causes what psychologists call a 'cognitive dissonance' with their religious beliefs," Dr. Klemm explained.
Aggie Ruth King is a sophomore and said she can relate.
"Your parents aren't there and you start running into more moral issues," said King.
King's father was a pastor; despite her love for religion, she also developed an intense passion for science. As a Psychology major, King said she is extremely interested in the subject of neurotheology, which conveys how religion affects the brain. She said this class is helping her balance her scholastic endeavors and spiritual beliefs.
"It gives you a scientific view; instead of just believing, you back it up and say here's the basis for this," King explained.
Students are assigned research papers. Depending on the topic, they must explain how it relates to neuroscience or religion, citing notable references.
"All these modern religions are not modern," Klemm laughs. "They were created long before science and so we need to reconcile the two."
Klemm said encouraging students to write crystalizes their thought process. In turn, it enables them to understand what they're researching in a clear mannner.
"It's personal to them," said Dr. Klemm; "they have something to say about it."
King said she understands how so many of her peers stray from their original beliefs.
"Back in ancient times, religion was used to explain the unexplainable. But now science, as it morphs into bigger things, you see it starts to replace religion; so you really have to hold on to your faith if you really, truly believe,” said King.
However, Dr. Klemm said even through all of his research, there are things that science still cannot explain, such as near death experiences.
“When your heart stops, your brain also stops. They know this by recording brain waves; they’re gone, it’s electric silence," Dr. Klemm explained. "Your brain can’t think when it’s electrically silent, so you can’t have hallucinations.”
Dr. Klemm said he can easily disprove the theory of a near death experience being a mere hallucination by personal experience. While in the Air Force, Klemm said he and his colleagues went through rigorous training, which included the use of altitude chambers. He said part of their training was to experience what it almost feels like to die from a lack of oxygen.
"You don’t hallucinate, you pass out," said Dr. Klemm.
Although brain scans show an increased blood flow in certain areas of the brain during religious activities, such as prayer and meditation, Dr. Klemm said it is not an accurate explanation of brain activity.
"Blood flow is not the signaling mechanism inside the brain; nerve impulses are," said Dr. Klemm. "Nerve impulses are the currency for thought."
Dr. Klemm said religious thoughts and actions "engage the entire brain."
King said regardless of beliefs, everyone comes to class as a student with an open mind.
Dr. Klemm said two of his students are enjoying the class so much, they plan to write their thesis statements about the topic. He hopes to get financial support from the Foundation to package this course for other professors across the country.
If you'd like more information about Dr. Klemm, you can visit his website:
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