Let me tell you a little of Destin.
Destin Sandlin is a mid-30's American engineer best known for his educational video series Smarter Every Day(SED), which is hosted on a YouTube channel of the same name launched in 2007. He's a 'southern boy'. He has a great sense of humour.
He is a 'natural' teacher.
Sandlin has a B.S. in mechanical engineering from the University of Alabama and an M.S. in aerospace engineering from the University of Alabama in Huntsville. While an undergraduate, he was awarded the University of Alabama's Outstanding Senior Award. He is a full-time Missile Flight Test Engineer at Redstone Arsenal.
A resident of Huntsville, Alabama, Destin is married to Tara and has four children (two daughters and two sons). Since 2012 Sandlin has supported and partnered with 'Not Forgotten', a charity that cares for orphaned boys in Peru.
He credits his fascination with the scientific method and his job as a rocket engineer as inspiration for making educational videos. He opens himself to people in a manner not usually found in 'engineering' types. He is not afraid of personal vulnerability.
Here he does a Q & A which may explain more and show his very personal, engaging style.
Sandlin's YouTube channel garners over 5 million subscribers and over 425 million views. In early 2016, Sandlin was one of three YouTube personalities chosen to conduct a one-on-one interview with then-president Barack Obama after his final State of the Union address. The interviews were sponsored by Google and were part of a White House initiative to reach Millennial audiences.
I do not hold that against him though.
On April 28, 2016, Sandlin started a second YouTube channel called The Sound Traveler, in which he employs 3D audioand GoPro footage to capture and convey the experience of visiting the world's most interesting places.
All this sound very 'geeky' but Destin brings a very mature personality and makes his educational lessons a personal encounter with him and his infectious smile - his whole face lights up: his sheer love of discovery; and his willingness to do more than one usually expects from a You Tube 'personalty'. He is not 'politically' opinionated.
On February 10, 2017 Sandlin started a podcast with his friend, Matt Whitman, called No Dumb Questions, in which the two discuss an assortment of topics and cover it from different perspectives.
One thing in particular stands out with him:
He never 'talks down' to anyone.
Sandlin began posting educational videos in 2007, and his first video to reach one million views cleared that milestone on July 10, 2009. The video was about chicken head tracking using chickens that Destin bought for his father as a demonstration. Because of its popularity that video retroactively had the Smarter Every Day label added to it. Mercedes-Benz capitalized on the popularity of this video with their "MAGIC BODY CONTROL TV commercial Chicken".
Sandlin formally launched Smarter Every Day on Apr 24, 2011 with a video titled "Detonation vs Deflagration - Smarter Every Day 1, which became the title for subsequent videos and the sole focus of his YouTube channel.
Episodes of Smarter Every Day revolve around scientific exploration and discovery and feature Sandlin as host and narrator. Sandlin is fascinated by flight and space, and his Smarter Every Day video library reflects that. However, his videos explore a wide array of other topics including the effects of hypoxia on the human brain, the curiously sturdy Prince Rupert's drop, the physics of potato guns, and a nearly-impossible to ride bicycle that turns the opposite direction of its handle bars.
As of August 2017, the channel has over 5 million subscribers as of early 2017 and has accumulated over 370 million views so far. In a day, it gets an average of 230,000 views from different sources. Financially this should generate an estimated revenue of around $350 per day ($128,000 a year) from the ads that run on the videos.
YouTubers get paid between $2 – $5 per 1000 monetized views after YouTube takes its cut. Monetized views range from 40% – 60% of the total views. All these are influenced by different factors like device played on, location of the viewer, ad inventory, how many ads there are on a video, how many people skip the ads, ad engagement etc.
But that apart, and I have no idea how much he earns, let us hear from Galen Broaddus a web developer currently living in the flatlands of central Illinois. He is also the president of Springfield Area Freethinkers (IL) and a real 'geek' and skeptic.
He had some 'doubts' with Destin being a committed Christian.
Now Destin is not 'my' sort of Christian, being one on a path in the same general vicinity to Catholics but at some distance. Nevertheless I am sure there are science oriented Saints who keep a close eye on him. But Destin raised a 'peripheral' issue in a talk he gave to some skeptical atheists. Our upbringing and religious training. What we do and become skilled at - and even the permanent thinking patterns we have, including our religious tradition/denomination - changes the way our brains work. Maybe one day he will change his brain architecture and become a sound Catholic gentleman.
Riding the Backwards Bike:
A Christian at Skepticon
Recently, I was fortunate to be able to attend Skepticon 8, held in Springfield, Missouri, in the heart of Bible country. (Proof: When I used a restroom at a restaurant near the venue, I found a Campus Crusade for Christ tract wedged behind the toilet paper dispenser.) I’d attended Skepticon a few years back, so I largely knew what to expect: speakers talking about topics related to atheism, humanism, skepticism, science, and other topics relevant to an atheist/skeptical audience.
I mostly didn’t find anything surprising about this year’s lineup, aside from the fact that the organizers wiped the slate clean and brought all new faces in. I knew many of these names already: author and Black Skeptics founder Sikivu Hutchinson, former pastor (and fellow blogger) Justin Vollmar, Ex-Muslims of North America president Muhammad Syed, writer Hiba Krisht, and many others.But one name stood out to me in particular:
I knew Sandlin from his wildly popular science YouTube channel Smarter Every Day (I had even used one of his videos in my days as a teacher), and one of the things I knew about him set him apart from the rest of the lineup: Sandlin is a Christian.
In fact, this incongruity was so striking to me that I actually wondered if I had misremembered Sandlin’s religious affiliation. It didn’t take long for me to realize that yes, Skepticon had in fact invited a Christian to give a talk to a bunch of heathens at a fairly prominent spot on the Saturday night of the conference.It’s worth noting here how risky a move this was – for both Skepticon and Sandlin. Letting a theist use the Skepticon platform could be easily seen as another opportunity for a religious person to spread their beliefs, and since many people attend Skepticon in order to have a safe space to enjoy talks and interaction without religion, that could be seen as an encroachment of religion, done with the knowledge and endorsement of the organizers.As for Sandlin – he risked walking into the lion’s den, so to speak.
You could tell from watching him, too, that he understood that full well. (He even made a point to bring up the “strange E-mail” he got from conference organizer Lauren Lane asking him if he would like to come and speak.)I was personally worried once I saw that his talk was going to address faith. Skepticon attendees are generally pretty well-behaved, from my experience, but I also knew that it wouldn’t necessarily take much positive discussion of religion or faith for someone to speak up from the crowd.
Happily, this never happened, which is both to the credit of the audience and of Sandlin, who was amiable and self-deprecating (he often described himself as a “redneck from Alabama”) and sometimes inched toward the threshold of danger but always backed off quickly before he started to sound too preachy.So what would a Christian YouTuber have to say to a bunch of nonbelievers?Well, it’s difficult to distill Sandlin’s talk down to a simple thesis, but perhaps the most significant part centered around a demonstration which is featured in one of his most famous videos:
In case you aren’t familiar, a welder friend of Sandlin’s engineered a bicycle that inverted the controls of the handlebars: that is, turning the handlebars left would turn the front wheel right, and vice versa.
If you haven’t seen this in action, it’s practically impossible to do for anyone who knows how to ride a conventional bicycle (and a few audience members demonstrated this), but Sandlin did the insane experiment of spending eight months learning how to ride this backwards bicycle.And he did it. The problem is that now he can only ride a backwards bike, as we all saw during the talk when he tried to ride a bicycle normally time and time and time again, always unsuccessfully.
As he tells it, he rewired his brain so that he could ride this altered invention, and this intentional mental retraining changed his way of processing this otherwise simple activity.
I think the point he was trying to convey was that maybe the difference between him – a Christian – and the typically non-theist attendees of Skepticon is a matter of how our brains work to process the same information, not as a matter of function and dysfunction but perhaps of a different functioning. It was sort of a “Don’t judge someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes,” except with brains.I have a lot of sympathy for Sandlin in this kind of situation. His religious beliefs are relatively well-known, and his videos often end with a Scripture reference – Psalm 111:2, a verse which (he reminded the Skepticon crowd) was inscribed on the door of Cavendish Laboratory at the University of Cambridge. So not mentioning them would be tantamount to ignoring the proverbial elephant in the room.Instead, what he did was something that I think is very useful for building bridges: He essentially argued,
“You know, we might seem to be in two different worlds, but we’re not as different as we might seem.”As far as religious beliefs go, Sandlin was obviously way out of the mainstream of Skepticon. At one point, he mentioned the mnemonic “God, grave, and grace,” which he almost impulsively started to explain before backing off somewhat defensively and noting that he wasn’t there to preach his beliefs.
But it’s pretty clear that otherwise, Sandlin’s work – which isn’t religious in nature, although Sandlin would certainly argue that his personal impulse for it is – is right in the wheelhouse of the science-loving crowd of a skeptic conference. After all, he is literally a rocket scientist, and he was able to talk with great technical knowledge even while he was discussing chickens. If you ignored the religion part and the obvious tribal separation, I think most of the crowd had a great deal of common ground with Sandlin in terms of scientific inquiry.To their credit, the Saturday night crowd at Skepticon did respond favorably: Lauren had promised “a mountain of high-fives” in her E-mail (as a free conference, Skepticon doesn’t pay honoraria or speaker fees), and they – or should I say, we (because I joined in, too) – delivered after Sandlin’s talk.So in a way, the talk did what it was supposed to do: At least some of the crowd left thinking,
“You know, for a Christian, he’s not that unreasonable a guy.”
I doubt anyone walked out convinced that theism or Christianity are rational belief systems, but that wasn’t even really the point: Sandlin just wanted to hammer home the point that one ought not to make too much of an assumption about the people “on the other side” that they argue with on the Internet.And in this way, the talk was certainly notable: It’s not likely that you would find many talks at an atheist or skeptic conference that would argue, “You know, religious people are wrong, but that doesn’t mean that they’re all completely irrational people.” There was no choir preaching happening here.
Not that the talk was perfect, of course. Sandlin mentioned both compartmentalization and cognitive dissonance, as if to acknowledge that these are the likely explanations that we would throw at him for why he can be so rational about science but not about the Jesus stuff, but he practically waved them away out of hand. “Am I just compartmentalizing my beliefs?” he would say. “I don’t know.”
But of course, as even he seemed to concede, we would disagree on this point. Moreover, many of us know about this firsthand, having insulated certain beliefs from rigorous skeptical scrutiny as religious people until we let those barriers down. So in a way, some of those in the crowd did in fact have the kind of insight into Sandlin’s mindset as a Christian that he lacked into our thoughts as non-theists.Still, as Sandlin would say several times over the course of his talk, he just wanted to understand where we were coming from. And even if he didn’t succeed at that, just as he never succeeded at riding his backwards bicycle in the traditional mode, just the mere fact that he made such an effort on that stage earns him a lot of respect in my book.
I was happy to pull a pint for him.If only there were more religious people who made half as much effort to be rational and skeptical as Destin Sandlin seems to, I have to think that we’d all be a lot better off.
Destin is one of that declining breed: a happily married man with a fine, warm family. As we saw in the Q & A above. He also has a little non-engineering advice too. The "Make me a sandwich, woman" now has a new meaning and description.
Drink to Destin and his family.
I shall have some sandwiches sent to your table.