One of the central issues with
which Will Durant grappled during his life was his attempt to answer
the question: "is progress real?" Eventually, he decided that the
evidence clearly showed the reality of progress.
A better view of progress is as a three dimensional spiral rather than a two dimensional graph. Each civilized society makes some progress, but the subsequent fall of that society invariably loses some progress previously achieved. Viewed over a long period of time, we clearly have achieved massive progress for our species.
A better question is whether the achievement of "progress" is desirable or not. The neo-Luddites and some "back to the Earth" environmentalist movements have asserted that "progress" is bad, wrong, and should be avoided. The Agnostic Church believes "progress" is a proper goal for mankind.9
Part of the difficulty with the concept of "progress" is in defining how to measure it in any meaningful sense. The Agnostic Church believes that the proper measure of "progress" is to gauge our "progress" in achieving the three-fold Mission of Mankind.10 Laid against that ruler, it is clear that "progress" is very real indeed. We have increased our knowledge of the Truth, in quantity, in quality, and in dissemination; and we have increased the happiness of our population, in quantity, in quality, and in dissemination. This does not mean that there is nothing left to do. Quite the contrary; we only now see the path which we have been preparing to trod over these many millennia. We see that path now because our long view of our own travels down that path shows us the direction in which we have actually been heading over the many millennia which have encompassed that very lengthy journey. The real difficulty with perceiving where we have been going is that for so long, our leaders kept the people focused on only local concerns. Only when we have the freedom to study other societies do we gain the grand perspective which is required.
And we shouldn't expect a smooth rise in our level of "progress." We should instead expect lots of bumps, up and down, in the long term rise towards our long term goal. History teaches us that this is the way of "progress," up for a while, then down for a while, but seemingly never as far down as we have previously gone up.
Many people argue over whether "progress" is good or bad. That implies we are making a moral judgment about "progress." We can only make a moral judgment within the context of a religious system, so there is no particular basis for making any such judgment outside of a religion. The Agnostic Church believes that "progress" is not only good, but is also both necessary and desirable. But that does depend upon the adoption of the definition of what constitutes "progress" as being that proposed by the Agnostic Church as part of our Fundamental Principle.
Of course, part of the problem is that we have never before attempted to develop a universal consensus on just what our goals for mankind as a species ought to be. We have selfishly gone about our business as individuals, families, nations, or whatever, and blithely ignored much which would be meaningful only when we considered all of mankind to be part of the same "life unit."
In a sense, the beginning of our recognition that their can be issues which clearly transcend our more private concerns is part of what makes mankind a civilized animal.11 It is only in the 20th century, now drawing to a close, where mankind has been forced to face the reality of total mass destruction of up to all forms of life on our planet, and that has also enabled mankind to consider at least one alternative, the possibility of mass enlightenment (which, in this context, is intended to mean the achievement of all of the social goals adopted by the Agnostic Church, not merely "The Social Goal of Enlightenment"). The policy of the Agnostic Church is to promote the mass enlightenment of all of mankind, and to measure our progress towards that goal in accordance with the degree of achievement of the three-fold Mission of Mankind, as is embodied by the first three social goals stated as part of the Fundamental Principle.
9 This is embodied in the "Social Goal of Progress," which is part of the "Fundamental Principle" for the Agnostic Church.
10 The three-fold "Mission of Mankind" is embodied in "The Social Goal of Wisdom and Knowledge," "The Social Goal of Enlightenment," and "The Social Goal of Balance," each of which is part of the "Fundamental Principle" for the Agnostic Church.
11 Civilized behavior is only relevant in terms of how one individual relates to, or behaves in the presence of, some other individual, or as part of a larger group.
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