|Three examples of "animate" things: a windmill, a railroad worker (man), and a retinal molecule (a type of animate molecule), the "principles of animation" of which, in the former and latter case, being completely known.|
In circa 1610, Francis Bacon, in his §601: “Experiments in Consort Touching on the Affinities and Differences between Plants and Inanimate Bodies”, had the following to say about the supposed animate and inanimate distinction: 
“The differences between animate and inanimate bodies, we shall handle fully under the title of life, and living spirits, and powers. We shall therefore make but a brief mention of them in this place. The main differences are two. All bodies have spirits, and pneumatical parts within them; but the main differences between animate and inanimate, are two: the first is, that the spirits of things animate are all continued within themselves, and are branched in veins, and secret canals, as blood is: and in living creatures, the spirits have not only branches, but certain cells or seats, where the principal spirits do reside, and whereunto the rest do resort: but the spirits in things inanimate are shut in, and cut off by the tangible parts, and are not pervious one to another, as air is in snow.
The second main difference is, that the spirits of animate bodies are all in some degree, more or less, kindled and inflamed and have a fine commixture of flame, and an aerial substance. But inanimate bodies have their spirits no whit inflamed or kindled. And this difference consisteth not in the heat or coolness of spirits; for cloves and other spices, naptha and petroleum, have exceeding hot spirits, hotter a great deal than oil, wax, or tallow, &c. but not inflamed. And when any of those weak and temperate bodies come to be inflamed, then they gather a much greater heat than others have uninflamed, besides their light and motion, &c.”
In 1868, Ernst Haeckel, in his §: Physics and Biology”, of The History of Creation, pointedly said that the animate and inanimate distinction is a supernatural fiction: 
“The mechanical view of nature has for many years been so firmly established in certain domains of natural science, that it is here unnecessary to say much about it. It no longer occurs to physicists, chemists, mineralogists, or astronomers, to seek to find in the phenomena which continually appear before them in their scientific domain the action of a creator acting for a definite purpose. They universally, and without hesitation, look upon the phenomena which appear in their different departments of study as the necessary and invariable effects of physical and chemical forces which are inherent in matter. Thus far their view is purely materialistic, in a certain sense of that "word of many meanings."
When a physicist traces the phenomena of motion in electricity or magnetism, the fall of a heavy body, or the undulations in the waves of light, he never, in the whole course of his research, thinks of looking for the interference of a supernatural creative power. In this respect, biology, as the science of so-called ‘animated’ natural bodies, was formerly placed in sharp opposition to the above-mentioned inorganic natural sciences (anorganology). It is true modern physiology, the science of the phenomena of motion in animals and plants, has completely adopted the mechanical view; but morphology, the science of the forms of animals and plants, has not been affected at all by it. Morphologists, in spite of the position of physiology, have continued, as before, in opposition to the mechanical view of functions, to look upon the forms of animals and plants as something which cannot be at all explained mechanically, but which must owe its origin necessarily to a higher, supernatural creative power, acting for a definite purpose.
In this general view it is quite indifferent whether the creative power be worshipped as a personal god, or whether it be termed the power of life (vis vitalis), or final cause (causa finalis). In every case, to express it in one word, its supporters have recourse to a miracle for an explanation. They throw themselves into the arms of a poetic faith, which as such can have no value in the domain of scientific knowledge.
All that was done before Darwin, to establish a natural mechanical conception of the origin of animals and plants, has been in vain, and until his time no theory gained a general recognition. Darwin's theory first succeeded in doing this, and thus has rendered an immense service. For the idea of the unity of organic and inorganic [see: organic and inorganic] nature is now firmly established; and that branch of natural science which had longest and most obstinately opposed mechanical conception and explanation, viz. the science of the structure of animate forms, their significance and origin, is launched on to precisely the same road towards perfection as that along which all the rest of the natural sciences are travelling. The unity of all natural phenomena is by Darwin's theory finally established.
This unity of all nature, the animating of all matter, the inseparability of mental power and corporeal substance, Goethe has asserted in the words, ‘Matter can never exist and be active without mind, nor can mind without matter.’ These first principles of the mechanical conception of the universe have been taught by the great monistic philosophers of all ages. Even Democritus of Abdera, the immortal founder of the atomic theory, clearly expressed them about 500 years before Christ; but grand Spinoza, and the great ALL NATURE IS ANIMATE. Dominican friar, Giordano Bruno, did so even more explicitly. The latter was burnt at the stake for this, by the Christian inquisition in Rome, on the 17th of Feb., 1600, on the same day on which, 36 years before, Galileo, his great fellow-countryman and fellow-worker, was born. On the Campo di Fiori in Rome, where that funeral pile once stood, free Italy a short time ago (in July, 1889) unveiled a monument erected to the memory of the great martyr of the monistic theory; an eloquent sign of the immense change which time has wrought. By the theory of descent we are for the first time enabled to conceive of the unity of nature [see: one nature] in such a manner that a mechanico-causal explanation of even the most intricate organic phenomena, for example, the origin and structure of the organs of sense, is no more difficult (in a general way) than is the mechanical explanation of any physical process; as, for example, earthquakes, the courses of the wind, or the currents of the ocean.
We thus arrive at the extremely important conviction that all natural bodies which are known to us are equally animated, that the distinction which has been made between animate and inanimate bodies does not exist. When a stone is thrown into the air, and falls to earth according to definite laws, or when in a solution of salt a crystal is formed, or when sulphur and quicksilver unite in forming cinnabar, the phenomenon is neither more nor less a mechanical manifestation of life than the growth and flowering of plants, than the propagation of animals or the activity of their senses, than the perception or the formation of thought in man. The forces of nature present themselves here merely in different combinations and forms, sometimes simpler, sometimes more complex. Bound elasticities become free and pass over into living forces, or vice versa. This restoration of the monistic conception of nature constitutes the chief and most comprehensive merit of our new theory of development, and is the crown of modern natural science.”
In 1920, William Sidis, in his The Animate and the Inanimate, sought to reconcile the issue, in his mind, by recourse to ideas of William Thomson, and the assertion that “life is a reversal of the second law of thermodynamics”, in short.
The following are noted oft-cited quotes:
“We thus arrive at the extremely important conviction that all natural bodies which are known to us, are equally animated, that the distinction which has been made between animate and inanimate bodies does not exist.”— Ernst Haeckel (1868), The History of Creation; cited by: Henry Bray (1910), Benjamin Wiker (2009) 
“Neither the theory of spontaneous generation nor the theory of the continuity of life solves rationally the problem of the origin of life, since these theories are based on the tacit assumption of an absolutely impassable hiatus between inanimate and inanimate nature.”— Alexander Oparin (1936), The Origin of Life (pg. 45)
1. (a) Bacon, Francis. (c.1610). The Works of Francis Bacon: with an Introductory Essay and a Portrait, Volume One. London: Henry G. Bohn, 1850.
(b) Bacon, Francis. (c.1610). The Works of Francis Bacon: with an Introductory Essay and a Portrait, Volume Two. London: Henry G. Bohn, 1850.
2. (a) Haeckel, Ernst. (1868). The History of Creation: The Development of the Earth and Its Inhabitants by the Action of Natural Causes, Volume One (Natürliche Schöpfungs-geschichte) (translator: E. Ray Lankester) (pg. 23). Publisher.
(b) Haeckel, Ernst. (1868). The History of Creation: The Development of the Earth and Its Inhabitants by the Action of Natural Causes, Volume Two (Natürliche Schöpfungs-geschichte) (translator: E. Ray Lankester). Publisher.
3. (a) Bray, Henry T. (1910). The Living Universe (pg. 204). Truro Publishing Co., 1920.
(b) Wiker, Benjamin. (2009). Moral Darwinism: How We Became Hedonists (pgs. 257-58). InterVarsity Press.