progress

(Latin: progredire, to go forward)

An advance. Originally this term referred to movement in space, but by an easy figure of speech it now refers more especially to change for the better in any department of life: thought, morality, civilization, or science; or in generalized thought, to a supposed evolution of all nature, in which constant change brings even greater perfection. The doctrine of indefinite progress is, of course, as old as human optimism, but in our day has a special connotation in that it is associated with the materialistic philosophies of such men as Comte, Hamilton, and Spencer. In its positive side, this system accounts for the present as a growth from the past; the cause of this growth is simply an innate tendency of all things to improve; and as to the future, the system predicts essential changes in all things to new and better forms, which in their turn will be still further improved. Familiar examples of the application of this theory are the visionary descriptions of the super-man, the super-state, and the doctrine that religion, morality, and truth are essentially relative and subject to modification in every successive age. No one can hold this view in its entirety, except by failure to make a careful distinction between progress that is real fact and progress that is only claimed, or between progress that is probable and progress that, despite prophecies, is impossible.

As to actual progress, this is determined by accurate history of the past and present. Especially in the fields of natural science and man's control of natural forces, there is no doubt of the vast progress that has been made, particularly in the last century. One need only turn to the work of chemists, physicists, astronomers, engineers, and to the world of manufacture and communication, to see how completely changed and improved are modern conditions. Moreover, it would not be prudent to doubt that further discoveries and inventions will be made, achieving results quite beyond our present power of surmising. These exaxnples are largely confined to the material aspect of life. Although admittedly of exceeding importance in itself and in its effects on social and individual life, this material aspect is only one section of our being. When we turn to other fields, progress is not so evident. The native intelligence of man (as contrasted with acquired knowledge) seems not to have improved. The earliest prehistoric races have left records of an entirely human intelligence, shown in the making and use of tools, in the striving for beauty in painting and sculpture, in religious practises and in belief in human survival. During the historic period, the intelligence of the Greeks seeIng to have been, not inferior, but superior to ours, and their classic sculptures, architecture, and literature, have not been improved upon. The Romans exhibited a genius in military affairs, in law and in civil adxninistration which remains supreme. The 18th century showed a flowering of ability for pure speculation, for popular creation and appreciation of art, which has not been rivaled since. These familiar examples prove that man, in his essential make-up and in his spiritual activities, is not constantly changing, and more especially that in these matters there is no universal law of evolution and improvement.

Finally, in the matter of religion and morals, no Catholic admits, nor is there any evidence to show, that faith and ethics founded upon natural law and divine revelation have in our time been changed and improved. God's existence, His plan in creation, His revelation of Himself as Creator and Redeemer, are facts which cannot change. Moreover, the laws He has established for human conduct have not been changed by Him and cannot be changed by man. The so-called modern progress in these matters is impossible in itself, and the doctrine proclaiming it is founded only on heresy and sin.

New Catholic Dictionary

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