In the beginning was primitive man, someone who only slowly recognized an empirical order of nature. In The System of Animate Nature, Thomson attempts to reconcile scientific and transcendent by examining ‘the abundance and insurgence of life’. Ever so slowly, empirical recognition gave way to an ‘ever broadening and deepening’ scientific order. For Thomson, scientific study circles back, though, and returns to the natural theology of primitive man.
Thomson sketches evolutionary stages, maintenance, then growth and development. With higher animals, birds and mammals, there is evidence of objective ‘trial-and-error experiment and perceptual inference’. Perception leads to the problem of body and mind and the purposive mind. The author closes his book with the question of purpose. For man, he says, it is contemplation of the beautiful. In animate nature, there are ‘far-reaching correspondences to our ideals of the True, the Beautiful, and the Good, which suggest a rehabilitation of Natural Theology’. In a moving tribute to the natural world, Thomson declares ‘all natural living creatures must be contemplated without prejudice; in their appropriate surroundings they are artistic harmonies—a joy to behold.’