Understanding biological evolution is essential to achieving scientific literacy. This assertion has been made loudly and repeatedly by scientists and educators over the past decade. Students who aspire to be scientists must have a strong grasp of evolutionary theory if they are to contribute to advances in biology, ecology, geology, genomics, and medicine, as well as the information and social sciences. Citizens who understand evolutionary theory can make more informed choices about medical treatment, environmental policy, and other topics of personal and social import.
However, there are many challenges that arise when teaching and learning about evolution. The most often cited challenges stem from the religious questions that evolution theory raises, but there are many other reasons why evolution is a difficult concept for educators to articulate, and learners to grasp.
The research that has been done regarding these challenges falls into many different disciplines, including several branches of psychology, philosophy, science education and curriculum design. Too, the input of biologists, geologists and other scientists who use evolutionary theory in their daily work is essential to ensuring an accurate and comprehensive account of evolutionary theory.
Unfortunately, because this work has been undertaken in so many disciplines, there is no comprehensive theory that integrates cognitive, affective, and motivational aspects of learning, to fully explore and explain why those teaching and learning about evolution encounter so many obstacles. Each discipline has its own vocabulary and methods of inquiry, and each reaches a different audience.
Our goal was to bring together experts from all of the relevant disciplines, each one working on some facet of the challenge, and help them to engage in cross-talk and a mutual exchange of ideas. By doing so, we were working to present to all interested parties an integrated and comprehensive account of just what the obstacles are surrounding evolutionary theory, and why those obstacles exist. The results of this collaboration will only be known in time, but we hope that it will lead to more effective teaching in both formal and informal settings, and a more sensitive and nuanced understanding of the reluctance to accept evolution that we see amongst so many learners and members of the public.
In the end, the project included over 60 collaborators from many different disciplines, and led to the publication, published by Oxford University Press. We summarize those findings here, in the "Findings".