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 . Based on work which he did on Welsh rock strata
, he proposed the
Cambrian period in 1835, in a joint publication in
Roderick Murchison also proposed the
Silurian period. Later in
1840, to resolve what later became known as the Great Devonian
Controversy about rocks near the boundary between the
Carboniferous periods, he and Murchison proposed the
Though he had guided the young
Charles Darwin in his early study of
geology and continued to be on friendly terms, Sedgwick was an
opponent of Darwin's theory of evolution by means of natural selection
* 1 Life and career
* 2 Geological views and evolution
* 4 Sedgwick Museum
* 5 Sedgwick Prize
* 6 Sedgwick Trail
* 7 Notes
* 8 References
* 9 External links
LIFE AND CAREER
Sedgwick was born in Dent , Yorkshire , the third child of an
Anglican vicar. He was educated at
Sedbergh School and Trinity
He studied mathematics and theology, and obtained his BA (5th
Wrangler ) from the University of
Cambridge in 1808 and his MA in
1811. On July 20, 1817 he was ordained a deacon, then a year later he
was ordained as a priest. His academic mentors at
Thomas Jones and John Dawson . He became a
Fellow of Trinity College,
Cambridge and Woodwardian Professor of
Cambridge from 1818,
holding the chair until his death in 1873. His biography in the
Cambridge Alumni database says that upon his acceptance of the
position, reverend Sedgwick had no working knowledge of geology. An
1851 portrait of Sedgwick by
William Boxall hangs in Trinity's
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
Devonian strata. These studies were mostly carried out in
the 1830s. The investigations into the
Devonian meant that Sedgwick
was involved with Murchison in a vigorous debate with Henry De la
Beche , in what became known as the great
Sedgwick 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. In 1844, he was elected a Foreign Honorary
Member of the
American Academy of Arts and Sciences
American Academy of Arts and Sciences .
Sedgwick was an owner of slaves in plantations in
Jamaica and was
awarded £3783 in compensation for 174 slaves, following the abolition
of slavery by the British government.
GEOLOGICAL VIEWS AND EVOLUTION
Church of England
Church of England , by no means a fundamentalist or evangelical
church, encloses a wide range of beliefs. During Sedgwick's life there
developed something of a chasm between the conservative high church
believers and the liberal wing. After simmering for some years, the
Essays and Reviews
Essays and Reviews by liberal churchmen in 1860
pinpointed the differences. In all this, Sedgwick, whose science and
faith were intertwined in a natural theology , was definitely on the
conservative side, and extremely outspoken about it. He told the
February 1830 meeting of the
Geological Society of London
Geological Society of London : "No
opinion can be heretical, but that which is not true.... Conflicting
falsehoods we can comprehend; but truths can never war against each
other. I affirm, therefore, that we have nothing to fear from the
results of our enquiries, provided they be followed in the laborious
but secure road of honest induction. In this way we may rest assured
that we shall never arrive at conclusions opposed to any truth, either
physical or moral, from whatever source that truth may be derived".
As a geologist in the mid-1820s he supported
William Buckland 's
interpretation of certain superficial deposits, particularly loose
rocks and gravel, as "diluvium" relating to worldwide floods, and in
1825 he published two papers identifying these as due to a "great
irregular inundation" from the "waters of a general deluge", Noah\'s
flood . Sedgwick's subsequent investigations and discussions with
continental geologists persuaded him that this was problematic. In
early 1827, after spending several weeks in Paris, he visited
geological features in the
Scottish Highlands with Roderick Murchison
. He later wrote "If I have been converted in part from the diluvian
theory...it was...by my own gradual improved experience, and by
communicating with those about me. Perhaps I may date my change of
mind (at least in part) from our journey in the Highlands, where there
are so many indications of local diluvial operations.... Humboldt
ridiculed beyond measure when I met him in Paris. Prévost lectured
against it." In response to
Charles Lyell 's 1830 publication
promoting uniformitarian geology Sedgwick talked of floods at various
dates, then on 18 February 1831 when retiring from the Presidency of
the Geological Society he recanted his former belief in Buckland's
He strongly believed that species of organisms originated 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.
He stated in 1830 that
Scriptural geologists proposed "a deformed
progeny of heretical and fantastical conclusions, by which sober
philosophy has been put to open shame, and sometimes even the
charities of life have been exposed to violation." In 1834 he
continued, "They have committed the folly and SIN of dogmatizing,"
having "sinned against plain sense," and "of writing mischievous
nonsense," "Their eyes cannot bear to look upon" truth and suppose an
"ignorant and dishonest" theory. They show "bigotry and ignorance,' of
nature's laws and natural phenomena.
While he became increasingly Evangelical with age, he strongly
supported advances in geology against conservative churchmen. At the
September 1844 British Association for the Advancement of Science
York he achieved national celebrity for his reply defending
modern geology against an attack by the Dean of
York , the Reverend
William Cockburn , who described it as unscriptural. The entire
chapter house of the cathedral refused to sit down with Sedgwick, and
he was opposed by conservative papers including
The Times , but his
courage was hailed by the full spectrum of the liberal press, and the
confrontation was a key moment in the battle over relations between
Scripture and science. Sedgwick in 1867
When Robert Chambers anonymously published his own theory of
universal evolutionism as his "development hypothesis" in the book
Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation
Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation published in October 1844
to immediate popular success, Sedgwick's many friends urged him to
respond. Like other eminent scientists he initially ignored the book,
but the subject kept recurring and he then read it carefully and made
a withering attack on the book in the July 1845 edition of the
Edinburgh Review . Vestiges "comes before 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. Accepting the arguments in Vestiges
was akin to falling from grace and away from God's favour.
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!" Later, Sedgwick added 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 geology students in 1831, and
accompanied him on a field trip to
Wales that summer. The two kept up
a correspondence while Darwin was on the Beagle expedition , and
afterwards. However, Sedgwick never accepted the case for evolution
On the Origin of Species
On the Origin of Species in 1859 any more than he did that in
Vestiges in 1844. In response to receiving and reading Darwin's book,
he wrote to Darwin saying: "If I did not think you a good tempered
parts I laughed at till my sides were almost sore; other parts I read
with absolute sorrow; because I think them utterly false & grievously
mischievous — You have deserted—after a start in that tram-road of
all solid physical truth—the true method of induction—">'s
locomotive that was to sail with us to the Moon. Many of your wide
conclusions are based upon assumptions which can neither be proved nor
disproved. Why then express them in the language & arrangements of
Sedgwick regarded natural selection as "but a secondary consequence
of supposed, or known, primary facts. Development is a better word
because more close to the cause of the fact. For you do not deny
causation. I call (in the abstract) causation the will of God: & I can
prove that He acts for the good of His creatures. He also acts by laws
which we can study & comprehend—Acting by law, & under what is
called final cause, comprehends, I think, your whole principle".
He emphasised 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". If
humanity broke this distinction it "would suffer a damage that might
brutalize it— 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".
Despite this difference of opinion, the two men remained friendly
until Sedgwick's death. In contrast to Sedgwick, liberal church
members (who included biologists such as
George Rolleston , William
Henry Flower and
William Kitchen Parker ) were usually comfortable
Sedgwick Club , the oldest student-run geological society in the
world, was set up in honour of him in 1880.
On the death of Sedgwick it was decided that his memorial should take
the form of a new and larger museum. Hitherto the geological
collections had been placed in the
Woodwardian Museum in Cockerell's
Building. Through the energy of Professor T. McK. Hughes (successor to
Sedgwick) the new building, termed the Sedgwick Museum , was completed
and opened in 1903.
In 1865, the University of
Cambridge received from A. A. Van Sittart
the sum of 500 pounds sterling "for the purpose of encouraging the
study of geology among the resident members of the university, and in
honour of the Rev. Adam Sedgwick". Thus was founded the Sedgwick Prize
to be given every third year for the best essay on some geological
subject. The first Sedgwick Prize was awarded in 1873.
To celebrate the bicentenary of Sedgwick's birth a geological trail
was created near Dent, the village where he was born. The Sedgwick
Trail follows the
River Clough , highlighting rock features and
Dent Fault .
* ^ Background note on Adam Sedgwick
* ^ Ray Spangenburg, Diane Moser, The Age of Synthesis:
1800–1895. Infobase Publishing. p. 94
* ^ Bernard V. Lightman, Bennett Zon.
Evolution and Victorian
Cambridge University Press, p. 292
* ^ A B C "Sedgwick, Adam (SGWK803A)". A
Cambridge Alumni Database.
University of Cambridge.
* ^ A B Bonney 1889 .
* ^ "Trinity College, University of Cambridge". BBC Your Paintings.
* ^ von Zittel, Karl Alfred 1901. History of geology and
palaeontology to the end of the nineteenth century. Scott, London.
* ^ Rudwick M.S.J. 1985. The great
Devonian controversy. Chicago.
* ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter S" (PDF). American
Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 9 September 2016.
* ^ "Summary of Individual Legacies of British Slave-ownership".
www.ucl.ac.uk. Retrieved 2016-09-01.
* ^ Browne 1995 , p. 129, Sedgwick, Adam (1830). "Geological
Society, Feb. 19 – At the Annual General Meeting of the Society,
held on this day, the President, Professor Sedgwick, delivered the
following Address from the chair: –". The Philosophical Magazine: Or
Annals of Chemistry, Mathematics, Astronomy, Natural History and
General Science. 7. Richard Taylor. p. 310.
* ^ Herbert 1991 , pp. 170–174, Sedgwick, Adam (April 1831).
"Address to the Geological Society, delivered on the Evening of the
18th of February 1831, by the Rev. Professor Sedgwick, M.A. F.R.S. &c.
on retiring from the President's chair". Philosophical Magazine. 9.
Taylor & Francis. pp. 312–315. Retrieved 13 June 2014.
* ^ Sedgwick 1830 , p. 310
* ^ Sedgwick, Adam (1834). On the Studies of the University. pp.
* ^ James Secord, Victorian Sensation (2000), pp. 232–233.
* ^ James Secord, Victorian Sensation (2000), pp. 233, 246.
* ^ Letter of
Adam Sedgwick to Charles Lyell, 9 April 1845, in The
Life and Letters of the Rev.
Adam Sedgwick vol. 2 (1890), pg. 84.
* ^ A B "Darwin Correspondence Project – Letter 2548 –
Sedgwick, Adam to Darwin, C. R., 24 Nov 1859". Retrieved 24 January
* ^ Letter to Miss Gerard from Adam Sedgwick, 2 January 1860, in
The Life and Letters of the Rev.
Adam Sedgwick vol. 2 (1890), pgs.
* ^ http://sedgwickclub.soc.srcf.net/index.php
* ^ 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica Archived 20 June 2011 at the
Wayback Machine .
* J.W. Clark and T.M. Hughes , The Life and Letters of the Reverend
Cambridge University Press, 1890, vols. 1–2.
Cambridge University Press , 2010. ISBN 978-1-108-01831-9
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.
* Bonney, Thomas George (1889). "Sedgwick, Adam". In Stephen, Leslie
Dictionary of National Biography
Dictionary of National Biography . 17. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
Adam Sedgwick – Geologist and Dalesman" Colin Speakman Broad
Oak Press 1982.
* "Adam Sedgwick's Dent" A facsimile reprint of 'A Memorial by the
Trustees of Cowgill Chapel (1868) and 'Supplement to the Memorial
Adam Sedgwick with introduction by David Boulton Hollett,
Sedbergh and David Boulton Dent 1984.
* "A Discourse on the Studies of the University"
Adam Sedgwick The
Victorian Library, Leicester University Press 1969
* Browne, E. Janet (1995), Charles Darwin: vol. 1 Voyaging, London:
Jonathan Cape, ISBN 1-84413-314-1
* Herbert, Sandra (1991), "
Charles Darwin as a prospective
geological author", British Journal for the History of Science (24),
pp. 159–192, archived from the original on 8 February 2009,
retrieved 24 January 2009
* Secord, James A. (2000), Victorian Sensation: the extraordinary
publication, reception, and secret authorship of Vestiges of the
natural history of creation, Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
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