Friday, December 9, 2011

Adam Sedgwick and Diluvialism

Professor Adam Sedgwick in 1867

Adam Sedgwick (1785-1873) is one of the leading pioneers of modern scientific Geology.

Together with the Scottish geologist Sir Roderick Murchison (1792-1871) he first distinguished the Cambrian and Devonian sequences in the rock strata of Wales. The field work for this outstanding work was carried out during the 1830'ies and the results laid the cornerstone for modern Palaeontology and our understanding of the early history of life on planet Earth.

Because Sedgwick served whopping fifty five years as the Woodwardian Professor of Geology at Cambridge (1818-1873) he was a highly influential teacher for the greatest Victorian period geologists and palaeontologists who established the position of Geology in European and American academic institutions. 

Professor Sedgwick himself was strongly influenced by two of his famous contemporaries, the father of modern Geology Sir Charles Lyell (1797-1875) and the founder of modern Evolutionary Biology Charles Darwin (1809-1882).

Western pre-scientific view of the history of the Universe was strongly influenced by the Bible. Lacking other means of dating the Bible was by far the oldest known source of information about the origins of things. The writers of the Holy Book, the Jewish people, calculated the age of the world studying carefully the ancient genealogies contained in the Torah. By calculating the generations from  Adam and Eve to the destruction of the Temple 3rd century rabbi calculated the chronology and according to Jewish religious calendar now is year 5772 since the creation of the world.

Both the dominant Christian and Islamic cultures adopted the basic chronology modifying it with their own variations. Particularly famed is the chronology of the Archbishop of Ireland, James Ussher, who concluded that creation of the world took place 4004 before Christ my Blog.

Early 19th century Englishmen observed natural formations with open eyes and found some difficulty with the dating to the age of the world calculated from the Biblical genealogies. For example, the fossil record of animal remains was suggesting patterns of succession and extinction that were hard to explain. And some of the river valleys of Europe must have been made by much more massive amounts of water than exists today in the region.

One explanation from the Holy Book suggested itself. Genesis has a story of a catastrophic deluge with which God destroyed all life He had created except for the people and animals saved in the ark of Noah. Definitely huge amounts of water that would shape the landscape and drown living creatures. Perhaps there were other such catastrophes before from which the Biblical deluge was the latest and most destructive?

Adam Sedgwick had adopted ideas of diluvialism and was teaching them as explanation to fossil record and geological formations in his early Cambridge years in the 1820'ies. The scientific text book for these ideas was Le R├Ęgne Animal 

Georges Cuvier

Georges Cuvier ()

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