This article caught my eye last week. It's about a study that is looking for the roots of morality in human evolution by building a large database called Seshat (though I wonder if Babel might have been a better name - a giant construct designed to find god that inevitably leads to a bunch of people arguing!)
The authors of the study (which is not yet property peer reviewed) released some initial findings that point to morality being a relatively late introduction into a society, rather than the growth of society arising from moral precepts, which is called the moralizing god hypothesis.
"Moreover, if the moralizing god hypothesis was right, then social complexity should increase more rapidly after “Big Religion” came to town — but the Seshat databank revealed the opposite for 12 diverse regions. From ancient Rome to Egyptian gods to Indian buddhism, moral faiths followed after social constructs and population growth."
“Most of the time it was right around that million-person mark, where this transition seemed to happen,” Savage said. That’s when simple rituals morph into those driven by moral gods or supernatural beliefs that punish."
The author of the article rightly points out some of the flaws in the methodology, and brings in contrasting views, so I thought overall it was well balanced.
I think what interests me most about this is not what it might tell us about the past, but what it might reveal about the future. If a moralizing element is introduced into a society when a population reaches a million, what are the implications for online communities? Are larger online communities liable develop a moral code that small ones do not? I think the evidence currently points to 'no'. So does that mean the thesis doesn't really hold water, or that on-line communities are not societies? Is if fair to compare on-line societies with physical societies? In many ways, the questions are more interesting than the answers.