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IT was evidently the desire of the founder of the Gifford Lectureships in the Scottish Universities that each lecturer should, from his own special studies and in his own way, endeavour to make some contribution that would help others in considering the highest questions that Man can ask: What kind of world is this in which we live—a universe or a multiverse? How has it come to be as it is? Does it give any hint of a purpose? What is Man's place in Nature? To what extent does our knowledge of Nature conform with our conception of God?

Lord Gifford contemplated the possibility of very varied answers to these and similar questions; he thought it possible that some of them might be held to be unanswerable; his one stipulation was for reverent study.

Under provisions so liberal, no apology need be made for a contribution which is scientific rather than philosophical, being in the main confined to the biological outlook. Whatever be our philosophical interpretation or our religious conviction, we must admit the desirability of having more than a passing acquaintance with the system of things of which our everyday life is in some measure part. The idea of Nature as a temptress leading man's soul astray has long since disappeared, and most of us turn to Nature with expectancy, varying with our temperament and experience. If the world we call “outer” be in any sense God's creation, will it not reveal to us something of Him? If it be our chief end to glorify God, should we not put ourselves in the way of intellectually enjoying the works of His hands? If Nature is expressing a thought, may we not try to spell this out by patient observation? Even if we have no philosophical or religious preconceptions of this sort, we are likely to understand our own life better by inquiring into the order of things in which we are immersed, sometimes, perhaps, almost submerged.

The aim of this study of Animate Nature is to state the general results of biological inquiry which must be taken account of if we are to think of organic Nature as a whole and in relation to the rest of our experience. Both among careful thinkers and careless passers-by views of organic Nature are held, in regard, for instance, to the organism as mechanism, the determinism of heredity, the struggle for existence, which seem to the author to be lacking in accuracy or in adequacy, which therefore tend to involve unnecessary difficulties in systematisation and perhaps gratuitous confusion in conduct. It has been declared by some that the world of life is “a dismal cockpit”, that in the behaviour of living creatures mind is a negligible quantity, that the study of heredity must leave us fatalistic, and that evolution is largely “a chapter of accidents”. Such views engender what may be called natural irreligion, and it is the object of this course to show that such views are scientifically untenable.

Nature doubtless presents many puzzling features, but care must be taken to make sure that what seem to be unconformabilities are not due to the inadequacy of our knowledge. While trying to keep wishes from fathering thoughts, we have been led in our study to see that the general results of Biology, when stated with accuracy, are not out of line with transcendental conclusions reached along other paths,—conclusions which different minds express in different forms. It looks as if Nature were much more conformable than is often supposed to religious interpretation, but we have not seen it to be our duty to justify the ways of God to man. We have tried to keep as close as possible to the facts of the case, leaving philosophical and religious inferences for those who are better qualified to draw them.

Our endeavour to present the scientific view of Animate Nature has often led only to a disappointing balancing of alternative formulations, for science abounds in open questions; it has also involved considerable noise of facts throughout the lectures, for there is no other way of getting beyond mere opinions. But it will be understood that the appeal to facts is not exactly for their own sake, as in a course of lectures on descriptive Biology, but as a basis for those distinctive biological and psycho-biological concepts of organism, behaviour, development, heredity, evolution, and so on, which must be included in a philosophical view of Nature.

It would be ungracious not to use this opportunity of thanking many friends in St. Andrews and Dundee—especially Principal Sir John Herkless and Principal John Yule Mackay—from whom I received much kindness while delivering these lectures.


May, 1919.