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Sedgwick, Reverend Adam (1785-1873)

English geologist and Anglican priest

Reverend Adam Sedgwick contributed to the entire scope of geology , but mainly toward defining the Cambrian stratum of the fossil record and trying to show precisely when life originated in geologic time . As an accomplished and popular teacher, speaker, and writer, he successfully encouraged many young British scientists and intellectuals to pursue geologic inquiry, and thus set the course of British geology for over a century. The Sedgwick Museum of Geology at the University of Cambridge is named in his honor.

Sedgwick was born the son of the Anglican vicar in Dent, Yorkshire, England. His childhood hobby of rock collecting on the moors grew into his career as a geologist. After his secondary education at Sedbergh School, he matriculated at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he received his baccalaureate in mathematics in 1808. He became a Fellow of Trinity College in 1810, was ordained in the Church of England in 1817, assumed the Woodwardian Chair of Geology at Cambridge in 1818, served as president of the Geological Society of London from 1829 to 1831, and after 1845 held a variety of high administrative posts at Cambridge. Liberal in both politics and theology, he led the fight to allow non-Anglicans to study at Trinity and was among the first professors at Cambridge to allow women into his classes. He never married, but spent the rest of his life as a faculty member at Trinity, and died in Cambridge.

Sedgwick's research centered on the Paleozoic Era . Influenced by William Conybeare (17871857), he studied British limestone and sandstone deposits, concentrating especially on the Devonian, and became an expert on the fossil record throughout England and Wales. He established the contemporary agenda for stratigraphy and frequently challenged the findings of other geologists, notably Roderick Impey Murchison (17921871) with regard to the Silurian.

In 1831, one of Sedgwick's students was Charles Darwin (18091882). They maintained a lifelong friendship, even after 1859, when the clergyman expressed his strong objections to Darwin's recently published Origin of Species. Sedgwick did not accept a literalist or creationist interpretation of the Bible, but, consistent with his opposition to Darwinian evolution , believed in the cataclysmic or catastrophic theory of the history of Earth, whereby occasional dramatic events cause mass extinctions and radically alter further geologic development. In this he supported Georges Cuvier (17691832) and opposed Charles Lyell (17971875), a major proponent of a theory of gradual, steady, predictable geologic change.

See also Evolution, evidence of; Evolutionary mechanisms; Fossils and fossilization

Sedgwick, Reverend Adam (1785-1873)

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