Niall Shanks

On this date in 1959, Niall Shanks was born in Cheshire, England. He earned his bachelor’s degree in philosophy from the University of Leeds in 1979, his master’s degree in philosophy from the University of Liverpool in 1981 and his Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Alberta, Canada. Shanks taught philosophy, biological sciences, physics and astronomy at East Tennessee State University (1991–2005) and at Wichita State University in Kansas (2005–11). He was especially interested in evolutionary biology and wrote several books, including Brute Science: The Dilemmas of Animal Experimentation (with Hugh LaFollette, 1997), God, the Devil, and Darwin: A Critique of Intelligent Design Theory (2004) and Animal Models in the Light of Evolution (2009).

Shanks was a self-described atheist who strongly supported evolution education. In his article “Fighting for Our Sanity in Tennessee,” published in Volume 21 of Free Inquiry magazine, he described his experience of being a nonbeliever who taught evolution in the bible belt: “I am an atheist for the same reason that I am an ‘asantaclausist.’ There is no convincing evidence to support claims about the existence of either alleged entity. Actually Santa may be the better off of the two, for the sincere testimony of small children is a tad more convincing than that of wily adults with sophistical arguments and axes to grind.”

In God, the Devil, and Darwin, Shanks denounced creation science: “The real motivations of the intelligent design movement … have little to do with science but a lot to do with politics and power — in particular, the imposition of discriminatory, conservative Christian values on our educational, legal, social and political institutions.” Shanks continued, “While we in the West readily point a finger at Islamic fundamentalism, we all too readily downplay the Christian fundamentalism in our own midst. The social and political consequences of religious fundamentalism can be enormous.”

He died in Wichita in 2011 at age 52 following a lengthy illness.

Freedom From Religion Foundation