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Adam Sedgwick

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Adam Sedgwick

Adam Sedgwick (Born::March 22, 1785Died::January 27, 1873) was one of the founders of modern geology. Although he was a peer of Charles Darwin, he rejected Darwin's evolutionary theories.


Adam Sedgwick was born as the third of seven children of an Anglican vicar on March 22, 1785. He was born in Dent, Yorkshire, England and had happy life by adventuring through the countryside. Sedgwick entered Trinity College at Cambridge as a sizar (a kind of scholarship). He became the Woodwardian Professor of Geology at Cambridge (a chair that had been endowed ninety years before by the natural historian John Woodward), in 1818. He was short of formal training in geology compared to others, but he quickly became an active researcher in geology and paleontology. Because of his active research, the geological collections of Cambridge University were tremendously enlarged. His lecture was very popular to the students and was unusually open to women.

In 1829 Sedgwick became President of the Geological Society of London, and in 1845 the Vice-Master of Trinity College. As Vice-Master, he led Cambridge to be open to all ethnic groups. Even though he was in poor health condition by 1850s, he gave lectures until 1871. He died in 1873.


Adam Sedgwick is one of the most important founders of modern geology. He proposed two new geological timescales; the Devonian period and the Cambrian period.

Sedgwick and Roderick explored the geology of Scotland in 1827. During their research, they found out that certain rocks in Devonshire, England, had a distinctive fossil assemblage. In 1839 they presented their researches together on the Devonian which was a new division of the geological time scale.

In the early 1830s, Sedgwick was working on rocks in central Wales. Even though the rocks were very difficult to work on due to extensive folding and faulting, he managed to find odd rocks which seemed to be older than most of the sedimentary rocks farther east. He proposed the Cambrian which was also a new division of the geological time scale.

These works placed him at the center of one of the hottest geological controversies. [1]

Objection to Darwin

While Adam Sedgwick was working on Wales, he met a young Charles Darwin as a field assistant. During the voyage of H.M.S. Beagle, Darwin not only sent many rocks and fossils from South America back to Sedgwick, but also descriptions of the geology of South America which impressed Sedgwick. But when Darwin proposed natural selection in The Origin of Species, Sedgwick objected to it on the following grounds:

  • Darwin's theory is not inductive
  • New varieties are the result of human intelligence and design, not by mere chance or by the selection of the nature
  • New species may appear as a result of creation by a power beyond us
  • Darwin's theory is based on apparent amoral and materialist belief
  • The lack of fossils of the lowest forms of organic life disproves the transmutation theory

Sedgwick feared that the hubris of Darwin's theory would provoke God’s wrath, much like the Tower of Babel. [2]