Debate: Francis Collins vs. Richard Dawkins on God

May 22, 2022 • 10:30 am

Here’s a new episode from “The Big Conversation” (sponsored by the John Templeton Foundation!) in which Francis Collins, former director of the National Institutes of Health and an evangelical Christian, debates—or rather discusses—a variety of issues with evolutionist and atheist Richard Dawkins.  The moderator is Justin Brierly.

The argument centers on religion, especially on what constitutes “evidence” for God.  You might ask, “Why on earth would Dawkins debate Collins, since there’s no chance that either will change their minds?” But I think Dawkins took the time to do this to show the intellectually depauperate nature of Collins’s “evidence” for God. That evidence includes the laws of physics, our appreciation of beauty, the moral behavior of humans, and so on. Collins is not a “sophisticated” theologian, but remember that he’s not a theologian but a scientist who came to believe in Jesus through observing a waterfall frozen in three spouts (“the Trinity”). Collins seems to have picked up most of his arguments for God from a combination of C. S. Lewis and more modern “apologetics”, like the “fine-tuning” argument for God based on physical constants.

Reader Rick, who sent me this link, says “I’ve watched most of this and Collins is irritating.  When Richard points out a contradiction in his God hypothesis, he simply shrugs it off and says God can be anything He wants.  What a copout!”

But more about that contradiction below. In the meantime, if you want to hear a discussion between two smart guys, one of whom is subject to delusions, have a listen to this 1½ hour video. Let me add that Collins is an amiable and likable fellow, and was friends with Hitchens, helping Hitch with his cancer treatment.  What puzzles me is how such an apparently nice guy can buy into a passel of religious nonsense for which there’s no evidence.

But click to listen. It’s a better discussion than you might think.

They begin by discussing covid: Richard thinks that the lockdowns were premature, but Collins extolls scientific community’s rapid response in creating the mRNA vaccines.

With that out of the way, it’s onto the Big Questions of religion.  Collins recounts his conversion from atheism to religion, saying that he found that “faith was more rational than atheism” given the nature of the world. As for why Collins became a Christian rather than a Hindu or Jew, he says that he “needed an anchor for his faith”, and found one in “Jesus Christ, a historical figure about which we know a great deal”. Of course that “great deal” is solely from the Bible, and many of us aren’t even convinced that the anchor for Collins’s faith even existed. It would have been better for Collins to admit that “the great deal” is found entirely in the Bible, and different accounts of Jesus say different things.

The bit where I think Collins’s argument for God starts going awry is in his discussion with Richard about evolution.  Richard asks Collins the penetrating question, “If God could do anything, why did he choose to produce humans via the tortuous process of evolution?” Couldn’t He have just poofed all life into existence, as Genesis describes? And given—and Collins seems to agree—that a perfectly naturalistic process of evolution via natural selection could explain the appearance of organic design, why did God choose a mechanism that made Him superfluous?” (The question doesn’t arise about whether Collins thinks that with the appearance of H. sapiens the purpose of evolution has now been fulfilled: we have a product that evolved into God’s image.)

Collins’s answer smacks of a posteriori-ism, making the necessity of evolution into a virtue. As Collins says, “Evolution makes me even more in awe of the Creator than if God had just poofed things into existence.” In other words, God had a Big Plan for creating humans, and that Big Plan was evolution. Isn’t that mah-velous?  But he doesn’t explain why going through this Big Plan is more admirable and elegant than poofing things into existence. After all, several lineages of Homo, as well as of hominins, went extinct.

Collins has a further response:  God is all about order, and wanted a Universe that follows elegant mathematical laws. (Collins notes that the existence of those laws themselves constitutes evidence for God.) Ergo, we had evolution, which followed physical laws.  But this conflicts with Collins’s later assertion that it would be foolish to presume anything about the mind of God. After all, until 1859, all theologians thought that God cared more for creating humans instantly than for “following mathematical laws”.

The fine-tuning argument—the notion that the laws of physics were set up by God to allow the appearance of life and God’s Chosen Species—is especially appealing to Collins, even though there are naturalistic explanations for it. But Richard notes that if there were any argument that would convince him of God, it would be one related to fine-tuning. However, he adds that, as Hitch would say, “Collins has all his work before him.” Even if “fine-tuning” were to constitutes some sort of evidence for a Creator who made physical law, it gives no credence to Christianity and Jesus, who are smuggled in by Collins as an afterthought.

Richard adds the usual argument about how a a creator could come into being who ws so complex that he could bring into being the laws of physics. Collins responds that God could do it because he resides “outside of space and time.” Richard rightfully dismisses that notion as another a posteriori argument brought in without evidence to save God, noting that Collins’s “beyond space and time” argument “smacks of inventing a new cop-out instead of providing a proper explanation.”

Finally there’s Collins’s “contradiction,” which begins about 47:45 in the discussion. It is of course about theodicy. Why is there physical evil in a world created by an omnipotent and benevolent God? But Collins has a response, which I’ll call the “Let Her Roll Hypothesis”. It is this: God created the world so that it would obey his physical laws. And those physical laws simply allow for the existence of evil. Tectonic plates create earthquakes and tsunamis that kill innocents, cancers arise from mutations that obey physical laws, viruses evolve. In other words, God is more concerned with maintaining a Natural Order instead of mitigating suffering by interceding.

In response to Richard’s query that, if God can do miracles, couldn’t He have mitigated natural evil?, Collins says that miracles are a special case, to be used only in very special circumstances when convincing the world of God’s existence and power are overwhelmingly important. (One of these miracles, avers Collins, was the Resurrection.) Otherwise, it’s Let Her Roll, and if a kid gets leukemia, or a tsunami kills several hundred thousand people,  or a virus kills several million people, well, that’s just the byproduct of how God has chosen to run the Universe. It’s a remarkably sneaky but clever argument. (It could also be called “The Argument for the Rarity of Miracles.”) Evil, in other words, is simply a byproduct of God’s penchant for natural order and natural law, even if he could flout natural law if He wanted.

On to the query, “Where did the laws of physics come from?” (Dawkins says that if anybody would convince him of God, it would be that point.)  But he adds, why smuggle in Christianity and Jesus? Collins says that God was in a position to create the laws of physics because “God exists outside of into space and time.” (This doesn’t sound like a real argument to me.)

Richard responds that saying God is “outside time and space” is another a posteriori explanation, something that “smacks of inventing a new cop-out instead of providing a proper explanation”

The last part of the discussion is about human altruism, an altruism that Collins sees as evidence for God. In contrast, Dawkins sees it a carryover from the millions of years over which our ancestors lived in small bands in which reciprocal altruism (and kin selection) would have been adaptive. The “rule of thumb” to be nice and helpful to others, argues Dawkins, shows that “altruism” could have been a product of adaptive evolution.  The same goes for beauty, with Collins seeing human appreciation for music, art, and landscapes as evidence for God, while Richard notes that if birds can show a preference for beauty (this is Richard Prum’s argument for sexual selection), then so could humans.

My take? It’s an interesting discussion, but of course was doomed from the outset by both men holding incompatible worldviews. I have to say though—and call me biased if you will—that the ability of naturalism to solve scientific problems gives me a preference for Richard’s naturalism over Collins’s supernaturalism. In fact, Collins appears to believe in a lot of things for which there’s no evidence, like the Resurrection, and this detracts from his scientific worldview in other areas. Further, Collins appears to make stuff up as he goes along to buttress the weaknesses in his evangelical Christianity. But of course that’s the way theologians and regular believers have always operated.

In the end, the debate is a very clear demonstration of the philosophy of naturalism versus that of supernaturalism. To me, the ability of naturalism to explain the world (“we have no need of the God hypothesis”), plus the absence of miracles at a time when, one would think, Collins would find them especially useful (the world’s becoming more secular!)—all of this puts much heavier weight on the naturalistic side.

It’s hard to dislike Collins, but I am repelled at his uncritical approach to his religious beliefs.

An Intelligence-Squared Debate: Has the New York Times lost its way?

August 2, 2021 • 11:45 am

Here’s a 64-minute Intelligence-Squared debate on a topic of interest to many of us: “Has the New York Times Lost Its Way?” It’s a debate between four people: two for the motion (“lost its way”) and two against (the paper is fine). Here are the participants.

For the Motion:

Yascha Mounk – Author, “The People vs. Democracy”
Batya Ungar-Sargon – Deputy Opinion Editor, Newsweek Magazine

Against the Motion:

Frank Sesno – Former CNN Washington Bureau Chief
Virginia Heffernan – Columnist, Wired Magazine

Moderator: John Donvan, journalist and debate monitor

There are three rounds in the debate:

Round 1: 4-minute opening statements from each debater

Round 2: Conversation among debaters, questions by Donvan (he does a creditable job)

Round 3: Two-minute closing statements from each debater.

I think we all agree that the NYT is still one of the best papers around, but many of us object to how its editorial slant is spilling into the news coverage, including what topics are even covered—a point that Mounk makes repeatedly. Yes, as Sesno says, it’s making money, but $$ are not the question. I would be on the “lost its way” side, but would have added things like the 1619 Project, designed to propagandize schoolchildren (a NYT first, I think); the treatment of the Tom Cotton op-ed;  the firing of Donald McNeil for using the n-word in a didactic context but then allowing the word to be used in other didactic contexts (all the while saying “intent doesn’t matter”); the hypocritical hiring of Sarah Jeong versus the firing of Quinn Norton, and so on.

Yes, I still subscribe to the paper, because its reporting is still some of the best around. But that doesn’t mean it hasn’t lost its way in some respects. The main way is that it has become beholden to the social media mob in a way that makes it change course repeatedly in response to pressure, and has allowed its editorial stance to bleed into the news (its anti-Israel bias is one example, but there are others, as Mounk notes). It is no longer, also as Mounk notes, “The paper of record”—a paper whose journalism can be read with profit by all (thinking) Americans.

Mounk and Sesno do the best job of defending their opposing sides, Ungar-Sargon weakens her arguments by getting overly worked up, and Heffernan, whose work is great in other venues, doesn’t seem to have much to say. I doubt this debate will change people’s minds, but you might have a listen. [GCM: Recall, though, as has been noted here at WEIT, that Heffernan is a creationist.]

And weigh in below in the comments. Do YOU think the NYT has lost its way?

h/t: Paul

Possible debate between Robin DiAngelo and Ayaan Hirsi Ali

March 20, 2021 • 10:30 am

The people who run the “Letters’ section of Conversation, where Adam Gopnik and I are debating “ways of knowing”, are trying to set up debates between proponents and opponents of Critical Race Theory (CRT). The problem is that the proponents are happy to give public lectures, but not so happy to debate. As far as I’m aware—and I may be wrong—neither Ibram X. Kendi nor Robin DiAngelo, who have written the two most influential popular books on CRT, have been willing to debate their views.

Conversation is trying to set up such a debate, preferring to do it as a video rather than an exchange of letters, and has reached out to both DiAngelo and Ayaan Hirsi Ali. They have just started a Crowdfunding site where you can pledge money to underwrite the debate, and all the funds are earmarked for charities, not for the speakers.

Moreover, if the debate doesn’t take place, you can get your donation back, or have it go straight to the charity:

If the conversation happens proceeds go to Starehe: a charity providing Kenya’s brightest underprivileged children with a quality education. You can pledge safe in the knowledge that you will not be charged unless the conversation happens.

Click on the screenshot below to go to the site (and to pledge if you wish):

The topic will clearly involve identity politics and/or CRT; here are the campaign’s biographies:

Robin DiAngelo’s 2018 book, White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard For White People To Talk About Racism, debuted on the New York Times bestseller list where it remained for 85 weeks.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a best-selling author and human rights activist. As a proponent of individualism, she has expressed concerns about identity politics and its capacity to erode our sense of common humanity.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali has already accepted, but DiAngelo has not—at least not yet.

I suppose the philosophy is that the more money that’s pledged, the more willing people would be to participate in such a debate, because, after all, the money is to go to educate poor kids in Kenya. There are 90 days left in the pledge drive, which started less than two days ago, and if the debate doesn’t take place, well, you have nothing to lose by underwriting it.

The likely correlation between pledges and the probability of a debate comes from realizing that it’s hard to resist doing a bit of talking to garner a big donation for the education of poor African kids. Both DiAngelo and Hirsi Ali would surely have an interest in that education.  It’s also “bad optics” if you refuse to debate when there’s a sizable donation to a worthy charity at stake.

But some cynics don’t think it will take place:

I don’t know if they reached out to Kendi yet; I suggested that they try to set up a debate between him and McWhorter.  I know that McWhorter has agreed to such a debate a while back, but Kendi refused, despite having said that he’s willing to debate his ideas with anybody who’s a genuine university professor (weird, eh?), and certainly McWhorter fills the bill.

It would be fun to see a back and forth between these folks (and between Kendi and McWhorter), so if you want to underwrite the debate, click on the screenshot above—or here. There’s a FAQ section with questions about funding and the like.

Feel free to weigh in below as to whether DiAngelo will accept. I’m not holding my breath.

Final exchanges between Sarah Haider and Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Will Wokeism die?

January 3, 2021 • 2:00 pm

I should be paying more attention to the Letter site, in which two people go back and forth, debating and discussing a single issue in a series of short exhanges. Have a look: there’s some good stuff on there. In fact, I’m likely to do one in the near future, but more on that as plans proceed.

It appears that Sarah Haider and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, after five letters (three by Haider), have wound up their conversation, which you can read at the link below. I’ve already posted twice about their earlier exchanges (here and here), but in the future will wait until a series is done before summarizing and evaluating it.

In the first two letters, we learned that Sarah was pessimistic: she thought the culture war was lost and the Woke had won. Ayaan, on the other hand, was more optimistic. Did either of them change their mind?

Yes, I think Sarah did, becoming more optimistic about Wokeism’s end than she was at the outset. And I think the telling part was when Hirsi Ali told her that, ultimately, any ideology which rejects the facts and embraces its own “false facts”, as does Wokeism, is doomed. I agree.

At any rate, I think that when discussing the origins of Wokeism, Haider might have cited the analysis of where Critical Theory originates outlined in Pluckrose’s and Lindsay’s recent book Cynical Theories. So while Haider is close to being correct in what she says below, it’s not true that Wokeism seeks only to destroy. It also wants to create an authoritarian and Orwellian society that ultimately rests on postmodern tenets:

Wokeism is, perhaps, an anti-ideology—a will to power that can be identified not by what it values or the future it envisions, but by what it seeks to destroy and the power it demands. This makes it especially disastrous. For, when an existing organizing structure is destroyed with no replacement, a more brutal force can exploit the resulting power vacuum. In Iraq, the defeat of Saddam paved the way for ISIS. In Iran, naive socialists helped overthrow the authoritarian power, hoping to create a more just world—instead, the Ayatollah took charge and promptly executed and jailed his former allies. Once liberal institutions have been delegitimized by the woke, what will replace them?

But while its philosophy is empty, the psychology of wokeism is deeply satisfying to our baser instincts. For the vicious, there is a thrill in playing the righteous inquisitor, in mobbing heretics and demanding deference—brutal tactics that keep the rest of us in line, lest we be targeted next. Meanwhile, the strict social hierarchies of the woke are reassuringly simple to navigate: one always knows one’s place.

Certainly Wokeism is driven by thirst for power, but its philosophy isn’t really empty, just repugnant. And I don’t fully agree with Haider that “liberalism flies in the face of human nature”. (She says this to account for the displacement of liberalism by Wokeism.) In fact, as Pinker points out, liberalism has slowly been making inroads over much of the world, and that’s because human nature is attracted by science and empirical success, repelled by oppression and mistreatment.

But the important issue is whether Wokeism is on the wane. At the end of this letter, Haider bends a little and suggests that, as she has done in her work with ex-Muslims, the death of Wokeism lies in appealing to the youngest rational folks you can find—those who can think but are still on the fence. She gives an interesting example of someone who, she thinks, has the right approach:

Instead of aiming our efforts on those already captured by wokeism, perhaps we should focus on the next generation, whose values are still in active formation, who will relish standing up to the empire of the woke as a function of youthful idealism.

In my work with ex-Muslims, we persuade curious, intelligent young people to stand up against the religious totalism that has destroyed so much of the Muslim world.

. . . Jordan Peterson’s approach provides a good model. Though I have reservations about his specific message, he addressed the anxieties of young people and guided them through the culture war skirmishes. We must do the same.

We shall see how big Peterson’s influence in destroying Wokeism will be, but at least the man has the guts to push back against the Woke. He’s not afraid of being called a racist or a misogynist. Conquering the fear of disapprobation is, to be sure, the first thing we have to do.

But, says Hirsi Ali—and I now think she’s right—Wokeism will die from its own petard, for it ultimately rests on assertions that are either wrong or untestable, and so, like Communism, is doomed. I may not be around to see it, but I think Hirsi Ali’s most important point is this:

What is baked into modernity is self-perpetuating, not self-destructive. Many young people may have their hearts and minds captured for now, but the facts of physics and mathematics will remain what they are even if their detractors insist these fields must go “woke” (the controversy surrounding mathematician Abigail Thompson shows these fields are not immune from ideological pressures). Sooner or later, these young revolutionaries do have to realize that, for real progress to be made, they will need to base policies on objective realities. If they want to go to Mars one day, it is not the theories of Robin DiAngelo and Ibram X. Kendi that are going to get them there.

You don’t even have to aspire to go to Mars: the same can be said if you aspire to equal opportunity for people of all groups. Critical Race Theory won’t create that.

And, as Ayaan notes, the failure of the “blue wave” to appear in November suggests that, as she says, “[Americans] retaliated against the woke.” Perhaps the dissolution is on its way.

At the end of her last letter, Haider entertains the notion that yes, Wokeism may disappear. But she thinks the cause won’t be the intellectual vacuity of a fact-free ideology, but simply Wokeism’s hegemony, which quashes criticism:

So I wonder if perhaps what we are seeing is not an outright rejection of liberal, Enlightenment values, but a symptom of deep ignorance and privilege—an inability to comprehend the value of something many here have never lived without.

As John Stuart Mill explained, when a doctrine has been accepted so widely that the people have generally inherited, rather than adopted it, it begins an inevitable decline. Converts bring with them a zeal, but also an intimate understanding of the merits and pitfalls of both the ideology they left behind and that which they have adopted. Their beliefs were formed actively, by wrestling with objections and rebuttals. Those who have inherited the values that shape their lives may never have done this work, and thus may be far more susceptible to the simplest persuasion and emotional appeals.

“The fatal tendency of mankind to leave off thinking about a thing when it is no longer doubtful is the cause of half their errors,” wrote Mill. But if our success really is to blame, then we have cause for hope. It is possible that the challenge posed by the woke will serve to invigorate us, to wake us out of what Mill calls “the deep slumber of a decided opinion.” And that awakening—or shall I say awokening?—cannot happen a moment too soon.

If there is an “inevitable decline” of Wokeness, I think it will represent more than just the unavoidable death of ideas not questioned.  After all, Wokeism by its very nature precludes questioning, and that’s one reason it’s so successful. The reason Communism declined (and this is just my amateur’s take) is that it didn’t work—it did not produce a society palpably superior to ones based on at least some capitalism and freedom of speech and thought. Wokism won’t work because its tactics aren’t based on empirical data, and it rejects any data that contradicts its ideology. Ultimately, I think, that will bring it down. And it can’t come soon enough for me.

So in this exchange of letters between two very thoughtful (and civil) people, we have seen some movement. Sarah started out beefing about how Wokeness was here to stay, and in the discussion she wound up becoming not only more optimistic, but musing about what we can do to rid our house of ideological termites.


Some lagniappe: an article tweeted recently by Ayaan about the intellectual vacuity of critical gender theory:

Tonight: The University of Chicago’s world famous Latke-Hamantash Debate

December 17, 2020 • 10:45 am

The famous Latke-Hamantash Debate of the University of Chicago, now copied by a lot of wannabee schools, takes place tonight. (It started here in 1946.) I’ve been to it a couple of times, and it’s always a hoot. The premise is that local scholars, using only data and analyses from their own academic fields, debate the merits of the two Jewish foods latkes (potato pancakes) and hamantashen (triangular cookies filled with prune or apricot paste, usually eaten during Purim). The debate continues the classical disputations of Judaism, and, like those, cannot be settled.

The debaters, nearly always Jewish, are required to wear academic gowns.

Here’s the entire debate from 2016—the 70th debate. As usual, it begins with a musical piece, and then an introduction. Then the real fun begins: the arguments. They were good that year. Shadi Bartsch, a classical scholar, is also married to our University’s President.

This year, sadly, it’s a virtual debate, but the show goes on, as it has yearly since 1946, but I’m sure it’ll be as funny as ever. You can read about this year’s debate here, which begins tonight at 7 p.m. Central (Chicago) time, and you can register here for a free webcast link, and learn who the three speakers will be. Usually there are at least six speakers, and the debate always ends in a tie. Afterwards, the audience and speakers repair to the nearby refectory, where the two items at issue are served to all.

Latkes (with applesauce, though sour cream is a popular topping as well:

The estimable hamantash, here in the classic prune-filled version:

The post-debate nosh in years past:

Images from the 65th Latke Hamantash Debate at Mandel Hall at the University of Chicago on November 22, 2011. (Photo by Jason Smith)

Lip-synched Presidential debate

October 29, 2020 • 2:15 pm

This video came from reader Ken, who added, “These were popular in 2016, but this is the first debate lip-sync I’ve seen this election cycle”. It’s pretty funny, and, at any rate, it’s funny enough to bring to a close a pretty mediocre day. (I’ve started cutting way back on feeding the ducks, which makes me sad, but it’s necessary to make them move on.)

Tonight’s Presidential debate

October 22, 2020 • 5:30 pm

The debate between Biden and Trump, with the innovation of silenced mikes (not mics) will start at 9 Eastern US time (8 Chicago time) and last for an hour and a half.  You can watch it nearly anywhere; as the NYT notes:

  • The debate will be televised on channels including ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, C-SPAN, PBS, Fox News and MSNBC.

  • Many news outlets, including ABCCBSNBCPBSFox News and C-SPAN, will stream the debate on YouTube.

The links right above take you to the livestreams.

I’m providing this post for you to comment live, and, if you’re one of the people on this site who seem to like Trump over Biden, you’re welcome, too, though I will try to watch at least half the debate and may make ascerbic comments.

May the best man Democrat win!

SNL does the Trump/Biden debate

October 6, 2020 • 2:00 pm

Several readers sent me a link to SNL’s spoof of the recent Trump/Biden debate. Chris Wallace is played by Beck Bennett Trump by Alec Baldwin, and Biden by Jim Carrey (I didn’t recognize Carrey at first!) I’m not sure who plays Kamala Harris, as I almost never watch Saturday Night Live. When I have seen it, I can only compare it to the early glory days with John Belushi, Gilda Radner, Dan Akroyd, and the other greats.

This bit is pretty good, but not outstanding, which exemplifies the whole show to me these days. The last two minutes, however, aren’t half bad.

The Biden/Sanders debate: weigh in

March 16, 2020 • 9:45 am

I was too dispirited last night to watch the Biden/Sanders debate, and I haven’t watched many of the Democratic debates anyway. I had called several of my friends, who were also dispirited, and decided to have half a bottle of cava and the leftover carnitas I ate for lunch on Saturday. If there’s one silver lining in this pandemic, it’s that Trump’s hamhanded reaction seems to have made his reelection less likely. Or so I hope.

The New York Times did it’s usual “what’s-the-debate-take-of-our-columnists” article, and, to my surprise, Biden was declared the winner by a narrow margin. You can read the story by clicking on the screenshot.

Last night the average score of Biden (on a 10-point scale of increasing performance quality) was 7.6; that of Sanders was 7.1.  Apparently Biden said he intends to name a woman as his vice-presidential candidate, which I think is fantastic. That, according to the Times columnists, boosted his score. Plus Biden didn’t commit any gaffes, reassuring people that he’s not demented.

A few words from the Times, and the history of the candidates’ scores (Bernie has generally been ahead):

Throughout the long Democratic primary process, Opinion columnists and contributors have ranked each candidate’s debate performances. Now, after the 13th and potentially final Democratic debate, we’re presenting the results.

Overall, Bernie Sanders had the most consistent performance, according to our columnists and contributors, winning one contest and scoring 7 out of 10 overall. Joe Biden fared worse than Mr. Sanders in most debates, but he finally placed first in our rankings with Sunday’s debate.

And three opinions on each candidate (the article gives many other takes):


Nicole Hemmer (9/10) — The smartest move Biden made in the debate — other than committing to a female running mate — was tying revolution to disruption. At a moment when the world’s been turned upside down, he offered to flip it right side up, not shake it up more. His reassurances send a powerful general-election message — and why he won the debate.

Peter Wehner (8/10) — In a shrewd political move, Biden ensured that the only thing people will remember about this debate is his promise to pick a woman as vice president. It was also his best political debate. He was fairly sharp and focused, empathetic and crucially he didn’t fade. Biden should have focused a lot more on Trump and a lot less on his record, Sanders and the 1980s. Still, from coast to coast, Democrats are breathing a huge sigh of relief.

Mimi Swartz (7/10) — Who knew? Joe Biden saved the Western world while he was V.P.! Yes, he was substantially better debating one person instead of a basketball team. He was as usual better at the beginning than the end, and convincing and calming on his plan to fight the coronavirus. His tack to the left was less convincing. Promising to put a woman on the ticket was a good move. “Results, not revolution” will be the mantra until the convention, whenever that will be.


Elizabeth Bruenig (8/10) — What’s odd about Sanders is that he’s simultaneously the ideas candidate — unlike Biden, he has a philosophical brief against the excesses of American individualism — and the practical, materially focused candidate, worrying over how low-wage workers will survive this crisis financially. That breadth of interests came through strongly in this debate, and the no-audience format suited him well.

Jamelle Bouie (8/10) — If Biden tried at every turn to make the debate a question about what to do now, Sanders tried to turn the conversation to structural problems — to the larger dynamics that have produced the present crisis, whether it’s the devastating effects of coronavirus or climate change. It’s his most favorable terrain and he was strongest on that ground. Also, he seems much more vibrant than Biden, despite being a little older.

Gail Collins (7/10) — If you like Bernie Sanders, he was just fine. But he didn’t do what he’d promised: to set up a progressive ideological standard that Joe Biden couldn’t match. I suspect most voters who were listening thought these guys were pretty much on the same wavelength. But one has already been vice president. So that’s a huge win for Biden.

Now is the part where you weigh in. Did Biden look as if he were compos mentis? Were you reassured by his performance? Did you change your mind?

And, of course, who do you think will be the female v.p.? I’d like Elizabeth Warren, as it would give her a springboard to the Presidency, but she’s also needed in the Senate. I like Stacey Abrams but her experience is limited. And of course there’s Amy Klobuchar. . . . also in the Senate. If there’s a woman on the VP slate, which one would you prefer?