Monday, February 17, 2014

3 Worthwhile YouTube Subscriptions

My YouTube “watch history” is embarrassing. It's my favorite social medium, an endless supply of entertainment and information – and I spend way too much time on it. I mean, there are so many movie trailers I have to watch, and someone's doing a "Let's Play" of Bioshock!

For many, YouTube is synonymous with wasting time; some of the top videos trending now are Ellen DeGeneres pranking Bruno Mars and Nicki Minaj's latest music video. But Youtube's cultural impact is almost immeasurable. It's the digital community of our generation, and as such its potential to be misused is only matched by its potential to benefit.

Our world is very good, but cursed. Technology like the Internet was developed as a part of the human mandate to have dominion over the earth. Youtube specifically was created to facilitate community and creativity. So it doesn't have to be a waste of time, and the difference is in how you use it.  With that in mind, here are my top three worthwhile accounts to follow on YouTube.

3.  BigThink
If you're looking for four-minute introductions to the current trends in fields ranging from philosophy to science to economics, BigThink is a great place to start. The videos don't come from a Christian perspective, so don't expect this content to be theologically uplifting. Rather, the benefit of this channel is that is provides an honest introduction to the arguments Christians can expect from a secular perspective.

Where it comes from:  The YouTube channel is the video arm of a consulting firm by the same name.  BigThink bills itself experts and delivers it in an easily manageable format to individuals and companies.

What to watch first: Michio Kaku, a prominent theoretical physicist and speaker, lays out a scientific theory with massive spiritual implications in “The Universe in a Nutshell.”

Poured from a “brain batter of art, culture, science, philosophy, spirituality, and humor, SoulPancake is a light and fluffy breakfast of life's big questions.” One of the channel's most remarkable achievements was introducing the world to Zach Sobiech, a 17-year-old songwriter diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer called osteosarcoma. Zach succumbed to the disease in May of 2013, only months after his diagnosis, but his song “Clouds” became an Internet sensation. SoulPancake was created to start conversations about things that matter, and it does a very good job.

Where it comes from:  The channel was founded by actor Rainn Wilson, who is perhaps best known for his role as Dwight Schrute on NBC's “The Office,” following his release of a book by the same title. "I believe in God. Some don't. Every person has some kind of spiritual life, even if they think they don't," Wilson told USA Today in 2010. "There's no agenda with SoulPancake." 

What to watch first: President Obama explains to his nine-year-old counterpart, Kid President, how to change the world.   

Think Bill Nye on a budget. There is a close-knit and prolific community of YouTube users dedicated to making science interesting through the web video medium, and Smarter Every Day is a fan favorite.  Destin's unique charm and minimalistic filming style showcase endlessly fascinating physics questions answered with often explosive methods. Every video ends with a Bible reference displayed briefly on the screen, above an icon of Reepicheep, the adventurous talking mouse from C.S. Lewis' Narnia stories.   It's these subtle reminders of faith working with science that put Smarter Every Day in the top spot.

Where it comes from: Destin is a rocket scientist and family man from Huntsville, Alabama, who began the channel as a way to save money to send his kid to college.

What to watch first: AK-47 Underwater: Exploring the physics of bullets with a swimming pool and a high-speed camera.

What are your favorite YouTube Channels to follow? Let us know in the comments.

Lucas Zellers is a regular Axis contributor and former intern.

Monday, February 10, 2014

What to Do With the Ham-Nye Debate

By now, you might be tempted to pick sides and conclude in favor of one or the other. But there's something I'd like you to know about the recent debate between Bill Nye “the Science Guy” and Ken Ham, founder of Answers in Genesis and the Creation Museum.

Nobody won. Though the debate was well conducted, civil, highly instructive, and illustrative of the struggle for Christian thought in the scientific community, nobody won.

From the beginning, this debate was not set up to declare a winner. I've experienced enough academic or parliamentary debate to know that it has a specific, complex structure and set of rules, which allow it to conclude the truth or falsehood of a given statement (i.e. have a resolution). A skilled judge could follow the arguments presented and refuted by both sides and “flow” the sum total of those arguments to either the affirmative or negative side, without any prior knowledge or bias toward the topic of debate (a concept known as tabula rasa, Latin for “blank slate”).

This debate lacked the specific structure that makes academic debate work: the topic of debate was a question, not a statement that could be declared true or false; a specific set of arguments was not presented and discussed throughout; and the speeches given were not ordered or timed so as to maximize give-and-take on those arguments.

This debate was not mud in the eye for evolutionists or a trouncing for creationists—it was never supposed to be. It was more intellectual theater than academic debate—which is probably just as well, because I've also experienced enough academic debate to know that it can be insufferably boring.  

That being the case, I'd like to present a more effective way to react to this debate: treat it as a snapshot of the tension between the scientific and Christian communities, as well as an itemized list of the most important arguments being discussed, and use it as a primer for a comprehensive self-education in this intersection of science and philosophy.

Bill's face and Ken's hands --
also very consistent throughout the debate
Rhetoricians spend a lot of time looking at what students do repeatedly, as a way of helping them realize their shortcomings and improve their technique. The process holds true here: the fundamental issues of this debate are the ones to which the speakers constantly returned. Nye constantly referred to “science as practiced on the outside,” “conventional scientists,” and “the mainstream,” while Ham referred to a perceived exclusion of creationists from the scientific community and portrayed evolution as a religion of naturalism that leads to moral relativism. Nye stressed that the creation model has “no predictive quality” and therefore no relevance to the method of science; Ham repeated that the mechanism of evolution does not introduce new information or function and therefore cannot explain the origin of man. 

Perhaps most importantly, Nye's philosophy treats the acquisition of scientific knowledge as the highest goal a man can pursue—meaning “I don't know” is a perfectly acceptable answer—while Ham's philosophy treats the Biblical account as the final and perfect answer, making scientific exploration a function of worship and divine revelation.

It's apparent from this reading that both men have a definite worldview that answers to their own satisfaction the same fundamental questions of philosophy. The war between these worldviews is being fought in battles like radiometric dating methods, geological layers and the fossil record,  Lake Missoula, the improbability of the Ark, speciation and genetic “kinds,” the Australian land bridge, the expansion of the universe, and plate tectonics. Wherever you fall on the spectrum of origins beliefs, let this debate serve as a reminder that worldviews and debates should be based on evidence. If you wish to reduce the tension between faith and science, then take some time to study these topics and follow the evidence—all of it—where it leads.

The Nye-Ham debate was fascinating and influential because it pitted the man of faith and the man of science against each other. However, reconciling them should be the aim of every scientific apologetic. They are not at odds, as this debate seemed to suggest; instead, they should be one and the same.

You can watch the Nye-Ham debate at for a few more weeks. For further reading, consult the following articles:

Lucas Zellers is a writer and speech coach working in south-eastern Ohio. He competed successfully at the national level in college forensics for two years and has earned a Bachelor's degree in comprehensive communication from Cedarville University.

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Selfie and Self-Image: Redefining Beauty on Your Facebook

This may not come as a surprise to anyone with an Instagram, but “selfie” is now the 2013 Word of the Year, according to Oxford Dictionaries. The word beat out runners-up “twerk” and “binge-watch” for the top spot. While “selfie” was added to the dictionary in June of 2012, in the last year its usage skyrocketed by17,000%. Celebrity selfies have become annoyingly commonplace. 2013 even gave us the first papal selfie, a controversial presidential selfie at Nelson Mandela's funeral, a selfie from space, and even the first interplanetary selfie (from the Mars rover Opportunity, which is surprisingly photogenic for being a decade old).

What makes a selfie unique from other forms of self-portaiture, and there are many, is two important features. First, it doesn't work if you don't post it. The selfie is inextricably linked to social media.  Second, they're always posed.  Especially with the advent of the front-facing camera, the line between subject and artist becomes blurred. This pose, pic, post formula have led many to say that the selfie is the product of a self-absorbed, narcissistic culture. But in the wake of the Oxford Dictionary's announcement, NBC News called the selfie “an empowering act where you control your own image.

So maybe the selfie has a more . . . photogenic side. Recently, the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty explored the idea that the selfie could be used as a tool to help build self-esteem for girls growing up in a world of photoshopped models and cyberbullies. They enlisted the help of photographer Michael Crook and award-winning director Cynthia Wade to produce “Selfie,” a brief documentary that's been making waves in social media since its release last week. It follows female high school students in Great Barrington, Massachusetts through a photography workshop where they and their moms learn to take selfies together. Watch the short version below.

“You have the power to change and redefine what beauty is,” Cook tells students in the videos. “The power is in your hands, because now, more than ever, it's right at our fingertips. We can take selfies,”  she said. She encouraged participants to focus their pictures on things that they didn't like about themselves. The results were showcased at a formal photography exhibition where viewers could compliment the photos with post-it notes.

The documentary premiered to great success at this year's Sundance Film Festival and subsequent viral status across social media platforms. The documentary is a redemptive work where technology and social media, for once, are the good guys. There's a lot to be said about the subject of self-esteem, and though it may not be a perfect solution, re-purposing the selfie is a step in the right direction.

What do you think? Can selfies redefine beauty? Let us know what you think in the comments. For more pop culture and technology analysis, follow us on Twitter at @axishq and on Facebook at