Niall Shanks dies

Niall ShanksNiall Shanks

The philosopher of science Niall Shanks died on July 13, 2011, at the age of 52, according to the Wichita State University Department of History. Born in Cheshire, England, on January 18, 1959, Shanks received his B.A. in philosophy from the University of Leeds in 1979, a M.Phil. in philosophy from the University of Liverpool in 1981, and a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Alberta in 1987. He was a member of the Department of Philosophy at Eastern Tennessee State University, where he also held positions in the Department of Biological Sciences and the Department of Physics and Astronomy. In 2005, he became the Curtis D. Gridley Distinguished Professor of History and Philosophy of Science at Wichita State University. He served as the president of the Southwestern and Rocky Mountain Division of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2008-2009. Initially focused on the philosophical foundations of quantum mechanics, he became interested in evolutionary biology and its implications for biomedical research, writing (with Hugh LaFollette) Brute Science: The Dilemmas of Animal Experimentation (Routledge 1996) and Animals and Science: A Guide to the Debates (ABC-Clio 2002).

Shanks was also profoundly concerned with creationism. In addition to his book God, the Devil, and Darwin: A Critique of Intelligent Design Theory (Oxford University Press 2004), which Richard Dawkins described, in his foreword, as "a shrewd broadside in what will, I fear, be a lengthy campaign," Shanks (often with collaborators) criticized creationism in scholarly and popular journals including Philosophy of Science, Metascience, Synthese, Philo, Free Inquiry, and Reports of the NCSE as well as in a contribution to Why Intelligent Design Fails (Rutgers University Press, 2004). His concern was not only academic, though: in 1996, when Tennessee's legislature was considering a bill that would have provided for the suspension or dismissal of any teacher who taught evolution as a fact rather than a theory, Shanks became politically active. He was also not averse to debating creationists, having tangled with the Institute for Creation Research's Duane Gish and the Discovery Institute's William A. Dembski and Paul Nelson (MP3 download). "Not debating people is a very dangerous tactic," he told the Lawrence Journal-World (July 25, 2005), which was reporting on his move to Kansas. "Then they go unchallenged."