Philosopher, historian of science Shanks selected as WSU's Gridley Professor

11:00:27 AM CDT - Thursday, April 21, 2005

Niall Shanks, author of a book critical of the intelligent design theory, has been appointed to the new Curtis D. Gridley Professorship in the History and Philosophy of Science at WSU following a national search. Shanks, whose first name is pronounced "Neal," will start this fall.

The professorship was established by Gridley, a WSU alumnus with degrees in philosophy and mathematics, and is the first faculty of distinction position for the Fairmount College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. In the faculty of distinction program, which was created by the Legislature, the state supplements a gift annually with the interest it earns on the same amount of the original gift. The original gift must be at least $350,000.

Shanks is a philosopher and historian of science. His current research interests include the theoretical issues in the biological and biomedical sciences.

"It is a great honor to be selected to be the first holder of the Gridley chair," said Shanks. "I am looking forward to arriving in Wichita to work with new colleagues at WSU."

Shanks interviewed on the Wichita State campus in February and gave a lecture critiquing intelligent design theory, a controversial theory that says the plausible explanation for the complexities of life and the universe is the existence of an intelligent designer. Shanks' position is that this particular theory is a serious threat to scientific and democratic values. In his book "God, the Devil, and Darwin: A Critique of Intelligent Design Theory," published in 2003, he argued that intelligent design is "old creationist wine in new designer label bottles."

A proponent of evolutionary biology, Shanks said proposals like the one the Kansas Board of Education is studying now to include creationism or intelligent design in science standards are economically irresponsible, among other things. "The biotech industry is the industry of the 21st century. Biotech companies will not relocate to Kansas if medieval superstition is going to be taught in science classrooms," he said, noting that such companies will require a "scientifically literate labor force."

Shanks will address other issues in the WSU classroom, as well.

"I hope to teach classes that will address important theoretical issues in the history and philosophy of the biological and biomedical sciences," said Shanks, who has published articles and books on the use of animals in experimentation. "Having said that, I also hope to address issues in the history of technology and the history of physics and chemistry."

The Gridley professorship is a joint appointment in the departments of history and philosophy. In addition to his teaching responsibilities, Shanks will help integrate the history and philosophy of science into the general education and science curricula.

Shanks is currently professor of philosophy at East Tennessee State University. He holds adjunct appointments in the department of biological sciences and the department of physics, astronomy and geology, where he runs a history of science laboratory. Shanks is the author of three books and more than 60 scholarly articles and has edited two anthologies.

A native of Chester, England, Shanks earned his bachelor's degree in philosophy at the University of Leeds and his master of philosophy at the University of Liverpool. He completed his doctorate in philosophy of science at the University of Alberta.

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