It's possible to believe in progress as something inexorable and governed by a grand purpose which pulls history along from the far end, so to say, and leads to a perfect utopia. But you don't have to think of progress that way. You can think, instead, that human beings have the intelligence, and can fashion the means, for improving their situation, and in many ways have done that, even if perfection is an unattainable, and indeed an incoherent, goal. It's easier to disparage the notion of progress, however, if you take the exorbitant rather than the more moderate version of it - if you say things like:
[The] idea of progress is a secular version of the Christian belief in providence.And:
To believe in progress is to believe that... humans can free themselves from the limits that frame the lives of other animals.Both statements are quoted by Carlin Romano in discussion of the thinking of John Gray. Romano writes:
One of Gray's bugbears is progress. "Humanists like to think they have a rational view of the world," Gray writes, "but their core belief in progress is a superstition." Later he adds: "Outside of science, progress is simply a myth." Still later, as he does often, Gray begins to introduce contradictions into his views. "Progress is a fact," he writes. "Even so, faith in progress is a superstition." At the same time, "There is progress in knowledge, but not in ethics."There's more to enjoy of this here. (Via.)
Give me that again? What about (where it has taken place) the abolition of slavery, the emancipation of women, the elimination of child labor, let alone what Gray might consider mere "scientific" progress, like longer life expectancies and conquest of disease?