There is an excellent account of the word “nature” in Raymond Williams’ book Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society (page 219). Three definitions of the word were listed.
- the essential quality and character of something
- the inherent force which directs either the world or human beings or both
- the material world itself, taken as including or not including humans beings
Example sentences of these respectively could be, for example:
- “The nature of the crime was too gruesome to describe.”
- “Nature will dictate our planet’s future.”
- “Man and nature have achieved harmony.”
While the oldest usage is that 1 it is used more now as 2 and 3 where differentiation is difficult between the the latter two. What is important is the inclusion and exclusion of human beings. One is to equate nature with God with a capital G (as noted by Williams). Thus 3 is close to the physical reality when man is included, but only the natural world apart from human being and human culture.
Personally, I believe nature includes us (meaning 3). Nature made us to develop ideas which includes ideas about God, nature, and culture. There is a role for the idea of exclusion as well as inclusion. We have the capacity to think and express either. The ground of battle is not in God, nature, or culture but the nature* of language itself.
*First meaning was meant and unavoidable.