The intellectual poverty of progress

The empirical nonexistence of the myth called “progress” is becoming more and more apparent, even to the mainstream media:

Progress, liberalism and enlightenment — these are the watchwords of those, like Hitchens, who believe that in a modern world, religion has nothing to offer us. Don’t we discover cures for diseases every day? Doesn’t technology continually extend our powers and offer the promise of mastering nature? Who needs an outmoded, left-over medieval superstition?

Eagleton punctures the complacency of these questions when he turns the tables and applies the label of “superstition” to the idea of progress. It is a superstition — an idol or “a belief not logically related to a course of events” (American Heritage Dictionary) — because it is blind to what is now done in its name: “The language of enlightenment has been hijacked in the name of corporate greed, the police state, a politically compromised science, and a permanent war economy,” all in the service, Eagleton contends, of an empty suburbanism that produces ever more things without any care as to whether or not the things produced have true value.

Eagleton is on the right track, but he is logically incorrect to say that the idea of progress is a myth because it is blind to what is done in its name. It is a myth because it cannot reasonably be shown to exist in any material manner. Name a substantive, non-technological metric which supports your belief in progress that does not consist solely of the possession of more knowledge – which is all but inevitable over time – and I can probably demonstrate that any perceived progress is an illusion. In many cases, in fact, it’s not hard to show that any change toward the popularly assumed “objective” has been retrograde.

On a side note, the comments are worth reading if one happens to require more evidence of the typical New York Times-reading atheist’s ignorance of religion, history, logic, and Christopher Hitchens’s debating debacles. Dark Ages! War! Galileo! And Dickie D’s got a science degree!