John Arthur Thomson

Regius Professor of Natural History, University of Aberdeen

The System of Animate Nature

In the first series of lectures, Thomson discusses how primitive man slowly recognised an empirical order of nature, giving way to an ‘ever broadening and deepening’ scientific order and control of nature. As science advanced, there was a ‘movement towards a harmonious interpretation of Nature and experience’. In his second series, Thomson answers two fundamental questions in biology: what are living creatures, statically and dynamically, intact and in all their parts, and how have they come to be? 


John Arthur Thomson was born on 8 July 1861 in East Saltoun, Scotland. A Scottish naturalist, he sought to reconcile science and religion and was an expert on soft corals. After studying natural history at the University of Edinburgh, he became Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh at age 25. His first teaching post was at the Royal Veterinary College beginning in 1893. He was Regius Professor of Natural History at the University of Aberdeen from 1899 until his retirement in 1930. 

Knighted in 1930 by King George V, he lectured at Union Theological Seminary and Yale. His book, Outline of Science, published in 1922, sold more than one hundred thousand copies. Other notable works include Parasitism: Organic and Social (1895), Progress of Science in the Century (1903), Heredity (1908), Darwinism and Human Life (1909), Evolution, with Patrick Geddes (1912), Zoological Studies (1911–1915), What is Man? (1923), Science and Religion (1925), Modern Science (1929), Life: Outlines of General Biology (1931), Riddles of Science (1932), and the posthumously published Biology for Everyman (1933).