Test: ACT Reading

"Darwin and His Influence" by Joseph Ritchie (2014)

In this passage, “selection” refers to traits that are selected for and passed on to later generations, and “species” refers to organisms that share a common ancestor and can produce viable offspring with one another.

     Early in the nineteenth century, scientists sought to understand the differences in the earth’s flora and fauna from their archeological ancestors. The prevailing view at the time was that the differences between current and previous species were unremarkable deviations from their Platonic ideal forms. This theory hinged upon the ideals of the religious-based “created kinds” theory, which state that individuals of today are products of the organisms that were present at the earth’s creation, the result of an intelligent designer. Furthermore, these individuals believed that the differences between organisms could be explained by unseen geological and astrological forces acting on organisms slowly, throughout time. Other scientists also believed that individuals had the ability to change within their lifetimes and pass on traits to their offspring efficiently and quickly through a single generation.

     Charles Darwin and other biologists, such as Alfred Wallace, were not greatly influenced by these views and hypotheses. Their propositions stated that species evolve over many generations, due to the selective pressures of their given environments. This evolution could result in the generation of divergent traits, as well as speciation and separation from the original ancestral species. The concept that organisms were not finite or present since creation was very controversial to the scientists of the period. Some saw such an idea as unsupportable, while others perceived it as heretical and fanatical.

     Darwin set out to find support for his theory through his work, On the Origins of Species by Means of Natural Selection. He was influenced by archeological discoveries of species, which appeared to have vastly different physiological appearances from present-day organisms. Darwin decided to sail around the world on a Royal Navy ship named the H.M.S. Beagle. During his travels, he was taken to the Pacific islands of the Galapagos archipelago. The volcanic islands followed a patterned distribution on either side of the Equator. The landscapes of each island varied, with different observable flora and fauna. Through scientific observations, Darwin noticed subtle variations of finches on different islands. Some finches had large hard beaks, while others had slender beaks. Beaks were differentiated from island to island. After careful study, Darwin noticed that the beaks seemed to match the food source on each island. The large beaks were specialized for breaking open hard-shelled nuts, while the slender beaks were specialized for eating certain fruits that were abundant. Darwin hypothesized that an ancestral species of finch landed on the islands, and that over generations they became adapted to the locally abundant food sources. 

     Darwin compiled multiple instances of natural selection and incorporated discoveries made by archeologists and physiologists. He surmised that species evolve over time due to the selective pressures of their respective habitats. These events occur slowly over many generations. Each species selects for advantageous traits among its members. Over time, traits selected as advantageous by environmental pressures and stressors become commonplace in the species. This niche-forming process specializes species by rewarding those with traits most suitable for reproductive success. These traits may progress into speciation of the original species, which results in the eventual development of an entirely new species. Darwin’s theory was met with opposition at the time of its publication, and the theory of evolution remains a controversial topic in several arenas of debate.


The main difference between the "created kinds" theory and natural selection is represented by which of the following statements?

The "created kinds" theory is better supported than natural selection.

The "created kinds" theory is religious based while natural selection is not.

The "created kinds" theory was the basis for Darwin's theory of natural selection.

The "created kinds" theory suggests a finite number of species on earth while natural selection assumes species evolve.

1/2 questions


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