Questions about science literacy and the rejection of scientific consensus are once again in the spotlight, with freshly-ignited debate over the facts of climate change and the teaching of evolution. In recent years, cognitive science research has highlighted the range of cognitive, motivational and emotional factors that contribute to science acceptance. We focus on a specific strand of this research, related to the concepts and intuitions deployed in reasoning about the biological world. Our core aims are two-fold: to advance key theoretical debates via the presentation of new empirical data, and to highlight emerging best-practice in translating this basic research into applied tools in both formal learning and informal communication contexts. A defining feature of our symposium is the inclusion of nascent research programs exploring the role of biological reasoning in newly-emerging domains of public debate (e.g. synthetic biology), alongside more established research areas (e.g. climate change & evolutionary theory).