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Table 3 Persistent challenges of evolution acceptance, possible sources of the challenges stemming from a gene-focused conception of evolution, and hypothesised opportunities for overcoming these challenges afforded by an interdisciplinary conceptualization of evolution

From: Educational potential of teaching evolution as an interdisciplinary science

Persistent challenges to evolution acceptance Possible sources of challenges stemming from a gene-focused conceptualization of evolution Hypotheses for how teaching evolution from a generalized conception may help make progress
Relevance of evolution to student lives The focus on genes greatly constrains the range of examples of evolutionary change relevant to student lives (traditional examples include e.g. evolutionary medicine, agricultural breeding, malaria resistance, skin color), including in the future
A lack of integration of student intuitive concepts about observable change can reinforce the notion that evolutionary dynamics are not relevant in the explanation of phenomena of interest
Cultural evolution as well as gene-culture coevolution of behavior and cognition, opens up the space of possibilities for how evolutionary history and evolutionary change relates to students’ everyday lives and to sustainable development in the present and future
Integrating student intuitive concepts such as about mechanisms of variation and transmission of behavioral and cultural traits in the discussion of cultural evolutionary phenomena
Emotional hurdles due to emphasis on competition Focus on competition and on individuals as primary levels on which selection occurs (“survival of the fittest”), at the expense of multilevel social evolution and the evolution of cooperation Emphasis on the evolution of cooperation and prosociality in humans and other animals, as well as on major transitions in individuality throughout evolutionary history
Emphasis on the evolutionary consequences of social interdependence and of selection as operating on multiple levels
Emotional hurdles due to emphasis on randomness and passiveness of organisms Focus on “randomness” of genetically induced variation, and organisms being passively at the mercy of a “selecting environment” at the expense of goal-directed and niche construction activities of animal behavior
De-emphasis on evolutionary explanations of behavior and cognition experienced by students as part of their identity (e.g. sense of purpose, agency, belonging, as well as emotions, explicit goals, values)
Emphasis on the causal role of behavior as selection pressure in evolution, and on the role of niche construction, especially in human evolution in the past, present and future
Exploring the (complex) evolution and development of our everyday experience, including, sense of purpose, agency, belonging, as well as emotions, explicit goals, values
Emotional hurdles due to deterministic and essentialist views of humans Focusing on changes in gene-frequency and simple genotype–phenotype relations creates a sense that one’s traits are “set in stone” and downplays the role of experience, learning, social environment and other factors in development Transferring the concept of population to the self, and integrating students’ intuitive understanding of individual-level adaptation, can create a more flexible attitude towards self and others
Teaching the complex evolutionary and developmental causes of human behavior and cognition, including cognitive biases towards essentialism and ethnocentrism
Challenges with acceptance of evolution due to conflicting cultural/religious beliefs A focus on macroevolutionary deep time challenges religious beliefs on the origin of life, at the expense of teaching (micro-) evolutionary concepts by focusing on currently observable phenomena (esp. cultural evolutionary phenomena) Teaching about concepts of variation, trait transmission and selection through cultural evolution examples that build on existing intuitive concepts and does not (initially or fundamentally) challenge religious beliefs
Exploring the cultural evolution of religion as well as the cognitive foundations of religion and morality