Adam Sedgwick

Adam Sedgwick

name = Adam Sedgwick

image_width = 300px
caption = Adam Sedgwick
birth_date = 22 March 1785
birth_place = Dent, Yorkshire
death_date = death date|1873|1|27|df=y
death_place = Cambridge, England
residence =
nationality =
field = Geologist
work_institution = University of Cambridge
alma_mater = University of Cambridge
doctoral_advisor = Thomas Jones and John Dawson
doctoral_students = William Hopkins
Charles Darwin
known_for = Classification of Cambrian rocks
prizes = Wollaston Medal (1833)
Copley Medal (1863)
religion = Anglican
footnotes =

Adam Sedgwick (22 March 1785–27 January 1873) was one of the founders of modern geology. He proposed the Devonian period of the geological timescale and later the Cambrian period. The latter proposal was based on work which he did on Welsh rock strata.

Sedgwick was born in Dent, Yorkshire, the third child of an Anglican vicar. He was educated at Sedbergh School and Trinity College, Cambridge.

He obtained his BA (5th Wrangler) from the University of Cambridge in 1808 and his MA in 1811. His academic mentors at Cambridge were Thomas Jones and John Dawson.

Sedgwick studied the geology of the British Isles and Europe. He founded the system for the classification of Cambrian rocks and with Roderick Murchison worked out the order of the carboniferous and underlying Devonian strata. He investigated the phenomena of metamorphism and concretion, and was the first to distinguish clearly between stratification, jointing, and slaty cleavage. He was elected to Fellow of the Royal Society on 1 February 1821.

Opposition to Evolution

While by no means a fundamentalist or evangelical by today’s standards, Sedgwick always maintained a fine line between his science and his faith. His geological position was catastrophist, and he believed in a succession of Divine creative acts throughout the long expanse of history. Any form of development that denied a direct creative action smacked as materialistic and amoral. For Sedgwick, moral truths (the obtainment of which separates man from beast) were to be distinguished from physical truths, and to combine these or blur them together could only lead to disastrous consequences. In fact, one’s own hope for immortality may ultimately rest on it.

So, when Robert Chambers anonymously published his own theory of evolution, or development, in the book "Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation" (1844), Sedgwick jumped at the chance to attack the book in the July, 1845 edition of the "Edinburgh Review". "Vestiges" "comes before [its readers] with a bright, polished, and many-coloured surface, and the serpent coils a false philosophy, and asks them to stretch out their hands and pluck the forbidden fruit," he wrote in his review. [Quoted in James Secord, "Victorian Sensation" (2000), pg. 246.] Accepting the arguments in Vestiges was akin to falling from grace and away from God’s favor.

He lashed out at the book in a letter to Charles Lyell, bemoaning the consequences of it conclusions. "...If the book be true, the labours of sober induction are in vain; religion is a lie; human law is a mass of folly, and a base injustice; morality is moonshine; our labours for the black people of Africa were works of madmen; and man and woman are only better beasts!" [Letter of Adam Sedgwick to Charles Lyell, April 9th, 1845, in "The Life and Letters of the Rev. Adam Sedgwick" vol. 2 (1890), pg. 84.] Later, Sedgwick would add a long preface to the 5th edition of his "Discourse on the Studies of the University of Cambridge" (1850), including a lengthy attack on "Vestiges" and theories of development in general.

Charles Darwin was one of his geological students and the two kept up a correspondence while Darwin was aboard the " HMS Beagle". However, Sedgwick never accepted the case for evolution made in the "Origin of Species" any more than he did in the "Vestiges". In response to receiving and reading Darwin's book, he wrote to Darwin saying:

:"If I did not think you a good tempered and truth-loving man I should not tell you that ... I have read your book with more pain than pleasure. Parts of it I admired greatly; parts I laughed at till my sides were almost sore; other parts I read with absolute sorrow; because I think them utterly false and grievously mischievous. You have deserted - after a start in that tram-road of all solid physical truth - the true method of induction ..." [Letter to Charles Darwin from Adam Sedgwick, November 24th, 1859, in "The Correspondence of Charles Darwin" vol. 7, pg. 396.]

In the same letter, once again, Sedgwick emphasized his distinction between the moral and physical aspects of life, "There is a moral or metaphysical part of nature as well as a physical. A man who denies this is deep in the mire of folly." To break this distinction would be to degrade and brutalize humanity. In a letter to another correspondent, Sedgwick was even harsher on Darwin's book, calling it "utterly false" and writing that "It repudiates all reasoning from final causes; and seems to shut the door on any view (however feeble) of the God of Nature as manifested in His works. From first to last it is a dish of rank materialism cleverly cooked and served up." [Letter to Miss Gerard from Adam Sedgwick, Jan. 2nd, 1860, in "The Life and Letters of the Rev. Adam Sedgwick" vol. 2 (1890), pgs. 359-360.]

Despite this difference of opinion, the two men remained friendly until Sedgwick's death.



* J.W. Clark and T.M. Hughes, "The Life and Letters of the Reverend Adam Sedgwick," Cambridge University Press, 1890, vols. 1-2.
* "Dictionary of Scientific Biography," Charles Scribner's Sons: 1970-1990; vol. 12, pp. 275-279.
* "A Biographical Dictionary of Scientists," Williams, T. I., Ed., Wiley, 1969, pp. 467-468.
* Isaac Asimov, "I. Asimov's Biographical Encyclopedia of Science and Technology" (2nd Ed.), Doubleday: 1982, p. 299.
* "Quart. J. Geol. Soc.," 1873, 29, pp. xxx-xxxix.
* "Dictionary of National Biography," Smith, Elder & Co., 1908-1986, vol. 17, pp. 1117-1120.

External links

* [ Sedgwick Museum, Cambridge]
* [ The Sedgwick Club, Cambridge]
* [ The life and letters of the Reverend Adam Sedgwick Vol.1 by J.W.Clark, 1890]
* [ The life and letters of the Reverend Adam Sedgwick Vol.2 by J.W.Clark, 1890]

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