Monday, October 17, 2016

God is good?

I’m puzzled about the attribution of goodness to God. There are vastly detailed issues in the background, but this rough sketch works to illustrate the point. (I am deliberately conflating acting and failures to act, and leaving some issues concerning duties to rescue in the background for clarity.)

In introductory moral theory discussions, we make four standard distinctions:
1. How should we understand the category of morally wrong actions? These are acts (and sometimes omissions or failures to act) where if you commit them, then you are deserving of moral blame and even punishment. Agents have a moral obligation to refrain from doing these. And people, the would-be victims, have a right to not have these acts committed deliberately against them. Murder, rape, child abuse, etc. fall into the morally wrong category, for example.

2. What acts are morally permissible? these are acts that a moral agent may do or may refrain from doing without violating any duties. Committing them, or not, does not warrant any moral praise or blame. Having toast for breakfast is morally neutral this way, unless perhaps you killed someone for the toast.

3. Which acts are morally obligatory? These are acts that an agent has a moral obligation or duty to perform. If he fails to do them, then he deserves moral blame. Failing to feed your kids, or ignoring a drowning person while there's a life preserver there on the dock that you could toss to him are examples. People have a right to receive these things from you.

4. Which acts are morally supererogatory? These are acts that you do not have a moral obligation to perform. But if you do them, you deserve moral praise. People don't have a right to expect these of you. You violate no moral duty by doing them or refraining. But we hold them in high moral esteem. When someone runs into a burning building to save a child, they are going above and beyond the call of duty. We praise them as heroes, but if he had not done the act, we would not find moral fault.
God, it is alleged, is good. He is morally just, infinitely good, or morally perfect. How can we understand this description in the light of the distinctions above? We typically have the highest moral praise for those individuals who make the greatest personal sacrifices in order to perform morally supererogatory acts. Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Gandhi, and many others are praised widely for their morally supererogatory acts.

God is alleged to be all powerful and all knowing too. So there will be no opportunities for supererogatory action that are unknown to him, or that are beyond his power to perform. Does God perform all of the supererogatory acts that we might expect from an infinitely good, all powerful, and all knowing being? The short answer appears to be no. There are countless supererogatory acts that God could have done that he has not done. There are countless supererogatory acts that God could have performed but he did not, but if a human had done them we would hold them in the highest moral esteem.

Does God perform all of those acts which we ordinarily hold to be morally obligatory for moral agents? Again, the simple answer appears to be no. There have been countless opportunities to perform actions that we would consider to be morally obligatory for moral agents, but the action was not performed by God. Again, God would not be limited by his power or knowledge in these cases.

Has God committed morally wrong actions? If God is the almighty creator of the universe, then there are countless instances where there was an event that God was either directly or indirectly causally responsible for that we would ordinarily identify as morally wrong. Consider the class of actions or omissions that we would identify as morally wrong if a moral agent had been present and had committed them or allowed them to happen. A person drowns by herself near a dock on a lake where a life vest sits on the dock. If a person had been standing next to the life vest and saw her drowning in the lake, but refrained from tossing the life vest to her, we would think of that failure to act as morally abhorrent. There are countless other events like these where it does not appear that God did what we would ordinarily have identified as the morally obligatory act. Therefore, it would appear that God has committed (or by omission allowed to happen) countless morally wrong acts.

So it appears that God has failed to perform countless supererogatory acts that we would otherwise identify as morally praiseworthy. And God has apparently failed to do many of the actions that we would ordinarily consider to be morally obligatory and good. And God has apparently committed (or by omission allowed to happen) countless morally wrong actions or events.

The implication may be that we cannot accept the claim that God is good unless some suitable and sensible way to cash out what that means is forthcoming. We might ask, given how things appear, what is the difference between a world that has an infinitely good God in it and one without? That is, what sense can we make of the claim that God is good? In what regard is he deserving of the attribution? And a related question is, what sorts of behaviors would God have to engage in for us to reasonably attribute moral evilness to him (if it is not the behaviors we have seen)?

In our ordinary, daily affairs, we invoke a set of straight-forward and clear criteria for what sorts of things are wrong, which things are heroic, which things are morally good, and which are morally wrong. But God, it would appear, is either not good, or has goodness that doesn’t manifest in any of the familiar ways.

Matt McCormick
Department of Philosophy
Sacramento State


  1. Hi Matt, I really like this presentation of the problem of evil. I haven't seen anything like it before. I suppose an omnigod theist can respond: "Some of your views about goodness, badness, right, and wrong are in fact wrong. For humans, moral goodness (etc.) is made possible and judged by God. Then they'd say that God's apparent lack of supererogatory acts and good acts, along with his apparent commission (etc.) in morally bad acts is illusory. We can't all understand it, but we are not like God in the relevant ways, so we can't judge the moral status of God's actions and inactions. As you know, this is all very standard in responses to the problem of evil.

    But, I think there is a very interesting upshot from this presentation. We might think that being morally perfect requires supererogatory acts, but supererogatory acts may be impossible for an all-powerful, knowing, and good being. This would be a very interesting result because it would mean that I could not donate ALL my money to the Against Malaria Foundation, and still be morally perfect (assuming I do the good that is required of me, and donating ALL I have is supererogatory). But, maybe I'm assuming too much :)

    1. Thanks Dan. The problems with skeptical theism have been well-documented elsewhere. Short story: you don’t get to selectively invoke skepticism about an objection to a position without also holding the position to that same standard. That is, if it’s right that God’s goodness is beyond our comprehension, then, at best, the most we can claim is that we don’t comprehend it. We can assert or affirm that it is true that God is good on the basis that we can’t understand what God’s goodness is.

      So in effect, the skeptical theist is agreeing with me: we don’t understand how God’s goodness is consistent with what we know about goodness. So at most, we can be agnostic about his goodness, or about God himself.

      Think of it this way: we might defend the existence of an infinitely powerful, infinitely knowledgeable, infinitely evil being the same way. This world might not look like the sort of world we would expect if there there an infinitely evil being in charge; things could be much worse, afterall. But the defender might insist: oh, the manifestation of infinite evil is beyond our comprehension, or something that we can’t understand or see in full from our perspective. So the evidence, if we view it the way the skeptical theist suggests, is indeterminate. And I maintain that if the evidence is possibly consistent with both extreme positions, then that undermines our attributing “goodness” to God with any confidence.

      I've got some ideas about supererogatory acts too, but I'll have to post those later.

    2. Matt, I look forward to seeing your thoughts on supererogatory acts, but for now let me register my agreement with you for dismissing the particular type of skeptical theism you dismiss in this response.

      However, there may be another type on the horizon (or in the literature) that does not say (1) "we do not understand what God's goodness is," but (2) "we do not understand what God's reasons are for not doing these apparently obligatory things, and yet we believe that he has such reasons." (1) and (2) are vastly different types of views.

    3. Thanks Russell. I see the difference you're pointing out. But I'm not sure it ends up making a difference to my argument, and I think skeptical theism still has a problem. Somewhere along the line, you've got to pay the piper. That is, at some point, even if we adopt the view in your 2) the cognitive dissonance builds up. To believe that he has such reasons, is to maintain that he is good and there are some reasons for his not acting in some ways that we would normally think of as good. But the scales have to tip at some point and undermine our basic confidence that he's good. I'm suggesting that we can't simply wave away all evidence to the contrary; it's significant that we believe generally that good people act in X, Y, and Z ways. But God doesn't act in any of those ways. So that puts pressure on our grounds, whatever they may be, for insisting that he's good.

  2. Matt, theists usually think that God is the source of morality. If God is the source of moral rights/wrongs/obligations, then to say that God is good could be simply to say that God comports himself with his determinations about what should and shouldn’t be done. That would be no small thing, since we can think of lots of people who don’t live up to the standards they require from others.

    But I do think there’s a mistake in thinking of God as someone who’s 'well-behaved' (much less 'obedient'). God is worthy to be praised, but I doubt that has very much to do with an evaluation of the soundness of his morality.

    And it’s a bigger mistake to think of God as well-behaved according to moral standards that apply to human beings. The most common accounts of morality deliver a range of welfare-protecting/enhancing rules that apply to us in the situations we find ourselves. They explain moral requirements utilizing features that are specific to us and our interactions with other people (cf. Hume or Hobbes). These accounts 1) make lots more sense to me than ones that attempt to explain morality in terms of appropriate responses to intrinsic value, value which generates reasons for acting that apply to all rational agents; and 2) are of limited use when you want to talk about God’s agency.

    1. Kyle,

      In re: God and the moral standards applicable to human beings, it seems to me that Matt's argument still bites, because when one says that a person is morally good, it seems to me that either one is describing her character (even if the description is not very detailed), or at least one is giving one's interlocutor a means of knowing something about that person's character. That seems applicable to God as well, when theists make such claims.
      For example, if I were to suggest that perhaps God tortures some people (not necessarily humans) for eternity, just for fun, I would expect nearly all theists to whom the suggestion is made to object to that, probably on the basis that God is morally perfect, and he would not behave in such manner.

      So, it seems to me that we can tell, on the basis of the claim that God is morally good - and moreover, perfect - that he would not torture people for eternity just for fun. And we can tell that on the basis of our regular intuitive moral judgments. That leaves open the question of how much we can tell of course, and many theists would argue that not so much, due to our epistemic limitations or something like that (I disagree with them, btw; I think we know enough to tell that no omnimax being exists, even considering moral grounds alone).

    2. As far as I can tell, Matt's argument still bites only if we just take your side of the disagreement you mention in your last sentence. Because, everything else you said is compatible with what I said.

      Specifically, 1) and 2) are compatible:
      1) Because God is morally good, he wouldn’t torture people for fun.
      2) God’s moral goodness isn’t (primarily) a matter of his responsiveness to human welfare-oriented accounts of moral rights and wrongs.

    3. As long as the person has not yet considered the argument from evil or the argument from suffering - even if they hadn't taken my side on that point -, I don't see why they would be beyond persuasion by Matt's argument. After all, there are theists who become non-theists after considering some version of the argument from evil and/or the argument from suffering, and people who are undecided and come to believe that theism is false after considering such arguments.

      That said, I do think that if someone already is a theist and has already considered the argument from evil and the argument from suffering - remaining a theist - they almost certainly won't be persuaded by Matt's version, either. Also, very probably, they will not be persuaded if they accept any of the most common versions of Islam or Christianity - and I think this is by far the most common case, as I said in my reply to Matt -, though some still might, especially if they're Christians but haven't either considered an argument from evil or suffering, and haven't read much of the Bible, either.

      However, for that matter, one can give any argument informed by science against Young Earth Creationism, and a Young Earth Creationist who is already familiar with evolution, geology, etc., could and likely will reply that God made it look in that way for mysterious reasons, or that Lucifer is tempting us, etc. If she's thinks about it carefully, she very probably will not incur contradiction. Theory is underdetermined by observations. But that would not imply as I see it that arguments against Young Earth Creationism based on science (e.g., biology, astronomy, geology) do not have bite. I reckon the same applies to Matt's argument, or a number of other arguments based on information about the suffering, moral evil, etc., in the world.

    4. In re: human-oriented accounts of right and wrong, one does not need to endorse up with a human welfare-oriented accounts of moral rights and wrongs (applicable to God or not) in order to make an intuitive moral assessment of his behavior - which is what we're doing when we say he wouldn't torture people for fun for eternity. Rather, one may contemplate the situation and make an intuitive moral assessment. That's how we reckon that he wouldn't torture people for fun for eternity, and - if you like to focus on humans - he also wouldn't torture humans for fun for eternity. Some of us make a number of other assessments too.

    5. Doesn’t matter. The point is that the origin of these intuitions is their socio-fitness. The requirements associated with living in a social order shaped our intuitions in a way that delivers welfare-protecting and -enhancing norms. And, generally speaking, the further you get from the situation that gave rise to these pro-social norms, the less you should be confident in their application.

      Here’s one that’s really close, so you can be really, really confident about it: ‘A morally good person wouldn’t torture people for fun.’

      Here’s one that’s much further away, so you should be much, much less confident about it: ‘A morally good person who has all the relevant power and knowledge wouldn’t actualize a world in which suffering exists.’

      This is just another way of saying that the appropriate standards for God’s agency probably aren’t the familiar welfare-oriented moral standards. It has more do with his responding to value in a way that’s appropriate for an absolutely perfect being to do so. Medieval philosophers, for example, argued that, necessarily, God must love himself as an appropriate response to infinite value. But, they said, it isn’t necessary that God acts in any particular way out of consideration of the consequences for sentient creatures, and so God wasn’t obliged to create, or to create in a particular way.

      Of course, God might determine to create and also determine to covenant with creatures, placing himself under a system of norms, which he keeps perfectly. As I said in my first comment, this is another sensible way to think about God’s goodness.

    6. Kyle, it matters, since:

      a. Our moral sense (or moral intuitions, or whatever you prefer to call them), are all the means we have, at bottom, to make moral assessments. We can also use deductive logic, make probabilistic assessments (also based on epistemic intuitions that evolved in the same context), and so on, but all of that requires the use of our moral sense.
      b. Theists often claim that God is morally good (and/or morally perfect). But there is no way we can assess how an omnimax being would behave other than by using our moral sense, more or less directly (by a.).
      c. As I mentioned, nearly all theists implicitly accept the use of our moral sense (or they take a stance that commits them to that), for example since they would accept that God would not torture people (or even humans) for fun for eternity, but even in many other contexts. In fact, when they come up with a defense against arguments from evil and suffering on the basis of theodicies, or generally presenting reasons why they think God would act in such-and-such way, they are committed to accepting their moral sense as a means of making assessments about God's behavior.
      d. Theists actually show confidence in the assessment that God would actualize a world with suffering, and much more.

      While one should be less confident in some cases than in others, that doesn't imply low confidence about the less probable of the two you compare.
      Moreover, one needn't rely on the statement you mention - and Matt didn't - to make an argument from suffering. For example, even if one grants that an omnimax being might create beings that might choose to suffer (though it seems improbable), the amount of suffering we find in the world, and the entities undergoing that suffering, make the assessment that God exists even much less probable (though it already was very improbable due to the existence of suffering, and leaving aside other considerations).
      Also, one may reckon God would not create flawed moral beings in the first place.
      The point is that there are plenty of assessments that seem pretty clear (each), and such that each of them entails the non-existence of God. While confidence in each is high but lower than in the "torture" assessment, they're still strong. Of course, theists don't agree with that - moreover, they are confident in the denial of some of those. But as I mentioned in my reply to Matt, in the context of a discussion with theists who have accepted the actions attributed to Yahweh in the Bible (many of them anyway) as performed by God, there seems to be such a chasm in moral assessments even in cases involving human obligations, desert, etc., that the other disagreements appear minor in comparison.

      That chasm extends well beyond assessments about what God would do, and involves radically different assessments involving humans.
      For example, if according to the Bible, Yahweh commands that a woman who had sex consensually before being handed over to the man her father chose for her, be stoned to death, and further implies that she deserves it, it's clear to me - and by means of a moral assessment only - not only that God didn't do any of that, but also, that it would have been deeply immoral to follow the instructions willingly: a person who is given that command probably should not have believed it came from a powerful being, but surely should not have believed that a woman who did that deserve the punishment, regardless of how many witnesses there are of her consensual relation (though the Bible makes it worse if possible given the flawed probatory method).

      Granted, not all theists believe that, but most Christians do (or would if the relevant passages were mentioned), and most Muslims have similar beliefs.

      The disagreement is much bigger still when it comes to Hell. The disagreements involved in arguments from evil or suffering, while also deep, big disagreements, appear minor compared to that.

    7. The thing I said doesn't matter is this:

      'one does not need to endorse up with a human welfare-oriented accounts of moral rights and wrongs ... [r]ather, one may contemplate the situation and make an intuitive moral assessment.'

      It doesn't matter whether you endorse the familiar harm-based accounts of rights and wrongs or whether you use your powers of intuition, because we have the intuitions we do because of their socio-fitness. Our welfare-oriented social norms have the same origin as our welfare-oriented intuitive judgments.

      But, given the origin of these judgments, Matt should worry more that they may mislead in other contexts where the relevant standards appropriate to evaluate someone's agency are independent of any inter-personal, social history. It won't do simply to reassert how clearly right we take our intuitive judgments to be.

      Matt's challenge, remember, went like this:

      'In our ordinary, daily affairs, we invoke a set of straight-forward and clear criteria for what sorts of things are wrong, which things are heroic, which things are morally good, and which are morally wrong. But God, it would appear, is either not good, or has goodness that doesn’t manifest in any of the familiar ways.'

      Part of my response has been that God's goodness does, in fact, manifest in ways we readily recognize as such -- God as a covenant-maker and keeper, for example. But sometimes it doesn't. Big deal. Given their origin, it shouldn't be surprising that the straight-forward and clear criteria we typically use to make moral distinctions will sometimes be inapt.

    8. Thanks Angra and Kyle, for all your thoughts and brain power on this. As I understand it, it seems like Kyle is agreeing with my intention, or he's at least saying some things that seem to support my conclusion. Suppose I accept Kyle's basic point that moral judgments get more and more doubtful the further we apply them from the socio-fitness context where they developed. Doesn't that call into doubt, then, our ability or confidence in calling God good insofar as he's an omni being? I agree with Kyle, as we get further and further out there, it should undermine our confidence in moral judgments. That's why I'm agnostic at best about "God is good," even making sense.

      And some of what's been said here suggests a Euthyphro style problem for God. I'm going to resist relativistic sounding accounts where that which is good is simply what God declares to be good, and what he holds himself to. Granted, there are some Christians who will bite the bullet here and say that if God commands that we dash the babies on the rocks, then that, by definition, is good. It's always seemed to me that this is the wrong way to go with the dilemma for a believer trying to sort this out.

    9. You're welcome, and thanks for your thoughtful reply as well.
      On the issue of distance and moral judgments, I actually do think that we should less confident the greater the less we know about an agent all other things equal, and usually we are in a better position to know about other humans than about, say, superhumanly powerful agents.
      However, I still think in many cases we can tell, and not just in the case of torturing people for fun.
      Generally, we may ask the question: Do we have a means of determining whether powerful agents (i.e., agents that make great displays of power) are morally good, etc., on the basis of their actions (real or hypothetical)?
      I think we often do in hypothetical scenarios, even if with limitations given by our more limited knowlege.
      For example, we usually can tell in movies involving powerful characters whether those are good or evil.
      But let's say we have no such means. Then, in particular, we have no means of telling whether a powerful agent claiming to be omnimax (i.e., omnipotent, omniscient, morally perfect), or generally claiming to be good, is good. But that's a problem for the theist in practice, because while that particular difficulty is not an objection to arguments like the ontological or contingency arguments, it would seem disastrous for specific religions, like Christianity or Islam, and in practice nearly all theists are adherents to a specific religion.

      In fact, it seems that that epistemic problem would remain even if the theist picked the second horn or your dilemma and said that if God commands that we dash the babies on the rocks, then that, by definition, is good. We might still ask: how could we go about assessing whether the agent giving the command in question is morally good? He might be a powerful demon, malevolent alien, matrix overlord, or whatever.

  3. I agree with Dan. This is a really interesting take on the problem of evil and might have purchase in ways that other formulations do not.

    A consideration along the lines of what Kyle suggests, is to maintain that there are problems with the notions of 'obligation' and 'morally ought' when applied to God. In fact, I'm inclined to say there are problems with those notions even when applied to humans (based on objections raised by Anscombe in "Modern Moral Philosophy"). This is what leads me to favor a virtue-based approach to ethics.

    And since I'm teaching virtue theory this week, I happen to have a Aristotle quote handy: "For just as for a flute-player, a sculptor, or any artist, and, in general, for all things that have a function or activity, the good and the ‘well’ is thought to reside in the function, so would it seem to be for man, if he has a function." And, I would add, so would it seem to be for God, if he has a function. Given this framework, we can say "God is good" insofar as God performs his characteristic god-function with excellence. Now, it is still up for much debate about what that function is and whether he performs it with excellence. But that is at least one way to ascribe goodness while possibly avoiding your concerns.

  4. Matt,

    I like the argument, but I don't think theist philosophers would consider that any action would attribute moral evilness to God because they consider that "God is morally good" is analytical, or something like that. Maybe you could say something like: what would an omnipotent, omniscient being would have to do in order for him to be evil?

    In any case, most theists seem to be Christians or Muslims who accept either that Mosaic Law came from God (even if it no longer applies), or that the laws given in the hadith do, so not only are they willing to say that God is good in spite of everything you point out, but even in spite of the fact that, say, he gave horrific commands. But even that pales in comparison with infinite punishment in Hell, and most theists seem to believe in that too. The moral disagreement seems so vast that there seems to be little room for common ground (yes, not all theists would make those assessments, but most would).

  5. Matt,

    This is a topic greater than which none can be conceived, in my view. Good on you for taking it on.

    My response is not going to echo here the other views expressed by your respondents (so far), although I find many of those views promising.

    Even if we assume that God is not the source of morality, and even if we assume that "good" can be, is, and ought to be used of God and us in relatively similar ways, I think there is a reasonable pushback to these points you are advancing.

    Assume what C. S. Lewis called "Christianity-and-water": "the view which simply says there is a good God in Heaven and everything is all right-leaving out all the difficult and terrible doctrines about sin and hell and the devil, and the redemption."

    Even here, we might think that all the good stuff in this world, from music talent in evangelicals to moral virtue in atheists (and yes, there are both), is like a pure gift that we did nothing to deserve, either directly or indirectly from the hand of God, and that other things--like the starry heavens above that Kant noticed--are even less dependent on the schemes of humans or the categories of the human mind.

    But now assume what Lewis called "mere Christianity," which surely includes the Apostle's Creed. This is much more filled in than Christianity and water. Notice that the Creed nowhere mentions God's goodness. But if we believe in what the Creed says, don't you think that gives a way of pushing back against those who say God does not do enough supererogatory stuff in this universe?

    Think of what Paul writes in Romans 5:6-8 here:

    6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

    I suggest, in closing, that our concept of a morally perfect person may indeed include the supererogatory, but it does not include the concept of doing everything in a super-duper-erogatory way (there, I just invented a term). And yet, it might include doing some things in a super-duper-erogatory way, if those things are connected in the rights sorts of ways to other good things (both moral goods and aesthetic goods and whatever other sorts of good you want to name). And the incarnation-atonement-redemption aspect of the mere Christianity story might have just that sort of super-duper-erogatory instance to seal the deal, and make us think, "hey, yeah, God really is good…"

    (I just realized this last point may be what Dan was driving at, though in a different way.)

  6. Kyle,

    "It doesn't matter whether you endorse the familiar harm-based accounts of rights and wrongs or whether you use your powers of intuition, because we have the intuitions we do because of their socio-fitness. Our welfare-oriented social norms have the same origin as our welfare-oriented intuitive judgments.

    But, given the origin of these judgments, Matt should worry more that they may mislead in other contexts where the relevant standards appropriate to evaluate someone's agency are independent of any inter-personal, social history. It won't do simply to reassert how clearly right we take our intuitive judgments to be. "
    Two points:

    a. Assuming that that is so, then it seems one should similarly worry that they might mislead when it comes to the assessment that God would not torture people for fun for eternity, or any other judgments involving God. They're clearly right, but then, you say that wouldn't do.
    b. Theists should similarly worry, then. Theists assert or imply that - for example - God would in fact create moral beings with an imperfect sense of right and wrong, or allow the sort of things we see in the world (in order to respect free will or for some other reason, which varies with the theist). They go further and say or imply that God would engage in the behavior described in the Bible or the Quran, etc.

    "Part of my response has been that God's goodness does, in fact, manifest in ways we readily recognize as such -- God as a covenant-maker and keeper, for example. But sometimes it doesn't. Big deal. Given their origin, it shouldn't be surprising that the straight-forward and clear criteria we typically use to make moral distinctions will sometimes be inapt."
    Making a covenant and keeping it isn't something that we recognize as morally good. Rather, it depends on the covenant.

    Let's say a dictator promises to help those who obey his orders, etc., to enforce his laws, etc. The laws set execution by stoning as the punishment for political opponents (peaceful or not), people in same-sex relations, slaves who run away, women who have consensual sex with someone other than the man their father chooses for them with or without their consent, etc.
    Not all of his legal dispositions are unjust, but given how unjust some of them are, overall the system is very unjust, and so is the dictator.
    The dictator keeps those promises, but we don't recognize that behavior as morally good, but as morally evil. He ought to change the rules and/or step down, etc., even if he promised never to do that. He shouldn't have made those promises in the first place (assuming he wasn't coerced, etc., let's say he wasn't), and he shouldn't keep them.

    Reading the Bible, we readily recognize that Yahweh is not an omnimax being, but an evil person (we can properly assess the moral character of a hypothetical person in a hypothetical scenario).
    More precisely, some of us (e.g., I) reckon we readily recognize his actions as very evil. Some of us (e.g., you) think they readily recognize his actions as good.

    If you think my judgment about Yahweh isn't warranted due to the "socio-fitness" issue, I'd say that I disagree (even if one should be less confident overall, that's no reason not to be confident enough in several cases), but granting so, the same rationale applies to your claim that "God's goodness does, in fact, manifest in ways we readily recognize as such -- God as a covenant-maker and keeper, for example".

    In other words, if we go with the "socio-fitness" argument, then neither of us should say that we readily recognize the actions in question (i.e., making and keeping that particular covenant, and perhaps some of the associated actions) as morally good or morally evil. But on the other hand, if we leave that "socio-fitness" argument aside, then why should we refrain from endorsing our clear moral seemings in the context of the argument from evil, suffering, etc.?