Science, methodology and religion in the work of Adam Sedgwick.

Marston, V. Paul (1984). Science, methodology and religion in the work of Adam Sedgwick. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000f8f7

Abstract

Adam Sedgwick (1705-1873) was one of the leading geologists in the second quarter of the nineteenth century, and played a major part in establishing the geological column and applying it in the U.K. This thesis examines the metaphysical, religious and methodological presuppositions implicit in his approach to science.

A prevailing view amongst historians (e.g. Cannon and Morrell) has seen Sedgwick as a 'liberal Anglican' and 'Broad Churchman'. This has been linked with a view connecting the vanguard of science in the period with liberal Anglicanism (e.g. in the BAAS), and seeing both Tractarians and to a large extent Evangelicals as a ' threat ' to it. This thesis presents evidence showing the inadequacy of the 'Broad Church' concept, and that Sedgwick is himself closer to an Evangelical position than has been imagined. It shows that his presuppositions about the nature of science and its relationship with religion were close to those of Scottish Evangelicals like Chalmers and Miller, and not dissimilar from the leading moderate Anglican Evangelicals who would have associated with the Christian Observer. The influence of Coleridgesm liberalism was small.

Sedgwick also contributed to the development of Natural Theology in a time when it was in ascent. Evidence shows that criticisms of Sedgwick for semi-deism (e.g. by Hooykaas) are unfounded, and that his natural theology was consistent with a full Christian theism.

Finally, the thesis examines Sedgwick's participation in the nineteenth century debates about scientific methodology. It shows that, having taken as his mentors on the issue Bacon and Newton, Sedgwick's thinking evidences a certain tension as he tries to interpret what he is actually doing in science in these terms.

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