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How to be a critical reader
How to be a critical reader

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2.4 What is the text ‘The science of evolution’ saying and doing?

In the next activity you will analyse the second text in the same way as you did the first text.

Activity 13

Task 1

Read Text 5, ‘The science of evolution’, twice. Use any reading strategies you think are appropriate. In the box below, record any unknown words which you think are important for the meaning of parts of the text or the whole text. Try to understand their meaning from the context or use a dictionary if this doesn’t work. Don’t forget to record important words.

The science of evolution

The science of evolution is fundamental to understanding how our world works. Disease-causing and disease-spreading organisms can proliferate in several, sometimes many, different species, and take opportunities to colonise new ones, including people. As a result they can spread rapidly and cause severe disease in populations that have never, or not recently, encountered them.

History and natural selection are relevant in the sphere of the mind as well as the body. We tend to think of ourselves as autonomous beings in full control of our behaviour and we do, of course, have freedom of action, but how we make choices is influenced by how our minds have evolved. For example, why are we more scared of snakes than of fatal vehicle accidents that are so much the greater danger for most of us?

Evolution by natural selection can also help us understand moral codes that were once the exclusive province of religion. A philosophy of ‘survival of the fittest’ sounds amoral or even immoral, but evolution is much more sophisticated than this misleading phrase implies. Humans are social animals and our individual survival depends upon successful relationships with our neighbours.

Once again, evolution history shows the profound consequences of natural selection. If evolution trespasses on realms like morality and creation that were once the exclusive province of religion, is religious belief compatible with the science of evolution? Many people believe that it is, even though creationists (and some Darwinists) would have us believe otherwise.

And finally, what of our evolutionary future? There is little reason to doubt that humans are still evolving, perhaps faster than ever because of our burgeoning numbers, but the biggest influence on our future is undoubtedly the damage we are doing to our own environment. Life has continuously transformed our planet since photosynthesis evolved, long before humans appeared, but we are the first species to be able to understand the consequences of our actions and, potentially, to alter our fate.

The Open University (2008) S170 Darwin and evolution, Milton Keynes, The Open University
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Task 2

Identify the central idea and other key ideas in each paragraph. Make notes.


Your notes might contain some or all of the following elements.

Paragraph 1

Importance of evolution for understanding of world: example = diseases and threat to populations

Paragraph 2

Relevance of natural selection to the mind: evolution controls our choices

Paragraph 3

Natural selection explains society: survival depends on social relationships

Paragraph 4

Evolution questions religious beliefs

Paragraph 5

  • Evolution continues to transform planet
  • Biggest threat = environment
  • Humans = first species to understand our actions (damage to environment) and possibly alter future

Task 3

The list below shows the organisation of ideas in Text 5, but in the wrong order. Match the function of each paragraph with the paragraph number.

Using the following two lists, match each numbered item with the correct letter.

  1. Makes a central claim about evolution (main idea) and supports with one example

  2. Makes a claim about the importance of evolution for understanding our moral rules in society

  3. Argues that we are still evolving but that we are sufficiently evolved to fight against our fate (created by ourselves)

  4. Makes a claim about the importance of evolution for understanding the mind and supports it

  5. Makes a claim about the importance of evolution history and its possible consequences for religion

  • a.Paragraph 5

  • b.Paragraph 3

  • c.Paragraph 4

  • d.Paragraph 2

  • e.Paragraph 1

The correct answers are:
  • 1 = e
  • 2 = b
  • 3 = a
  • 4 = d
  • 5 = c

Task 4

Now think about the following questions and write down some ideas.

  • (a) Do the ideas in the paragraphs of the text link together logically? Does the text present a solid, well-supported argument?
  • (b) Does the text provide convincing examples or references to other writers to support the claims it makes?
  • (c) Does the text contain any sweeping generalisations?


  • (a) Did you think the paragraphs linked together well? The argument is organised logically, moving from a central claim to support to additional claims plus support, ending in a final argument. It does not use counterarguments (except in the paragraph on religious belief) but this is because the text is based on scientific fact.
  • (b) The text is convincing because it draws on scientific fact.
  • (c) The text does not contain any sweeping generalisations.

Task 5

Make a list of the ideas in Text 5 which are similar to those in Text 4, ‘Anthropathology’.

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Some similarities between Texts 4 and 5 are:

  • both texts talk about the importance of evolution
  • anthropathology, like evolution, challenges religious belief
  • both texts suggest that human beings may not have autonomy
  • both texts talk about environmental issues and the threat to the human race.

Task 6

Decide whether you enjoyed reading Text 5.


Whether you enjoyed reading this text depends on your interest in the subject and whether the text makes connections with your previous experience or thinking on this subject.


How was reading this text for you? We hope that the work you have done in this block helped you to use appropriate reading skills and strategies to read and understand it.

One of the most useful ways of reading critically is to compare how different authors write about the same subject. You will do that shortly, but first there is an activity on preparing for an assignment.