Carl Woese dead at 84

I just heard word that evolutionary microbiologist Carl Woese has died. Woese is probably most famous for defining the Archaea, the “third domain of life”.

Intelligent design proponents have touted Woese’s ideas about horizontal gene transfer as a challenge to evolutionary theory, even claiming that Woese argued there were multiple, independent origins of organisms. This was wrong, of course.
Almost exactly a decade ago, I asked Woese to give his thoughts on his work and ID. I leave you with some of his comments:

It’s basically correct to say that I do not challenge common ancestry per se but rather the concept that there was a single common ancestor cell or organism that gave rise to the three cellular domains of life.

In a way my theory is more of a problem for creationists and their ilk than the old way of looking at things – though those folks do not seem to sense this yet. Special creation starts with a given type of form that may or may not change but in any case remains “true” to its original character. “Intelligent design” seems to see different mechanisms being designed individually, just as an inventor or engineer would do. Well, in my theory none of this is the case.

I have no trouble with a claim to the effect that God set the world up so that it progressed in an evolutionary fashion. That would affect my work no more than the belief that God’s world was a mathematical world affected Newton’s work; one can scientifically procede the same way with or without the assumption. And creationist or intelligent design views will be back where they belong, in the realm of (immature) religion.