The problem with the secular narrative is not that it assumes progress is inevitable (in many versions, it does not). It is the belief that the sort of advance that has been achieved in science can be reproduced in ethics and politics. In fact, while scientific knowledge increases cumulatively, nothing of the kind happens in society. Slavery was abolished in much of the world during the 19th century, but it returned on a vast scale in nazism and communism, and still exists today. Torture was prohibited in international conventions after the second world war, only to be adopted as an instrument of policy by the world's pre-eminent liberal regime at the beginning of the 21st century. Wealth has increased, but it has been repeatedly destroyed in wars and revolutions. People live longer and kill one another in larger numbers. Knowledge grows, but human beings remain much the same.As with much of John Gray's writing, The atheist delusion, from which this is taken, makes some good points. But while Gray may sometimes see further and deeper than some evangelical atheists, I am not convinced he delivers.
The increasing pace of scientific and technological development may not necessarily mean 'better' ethics and politics (and they may even be vain hopes - see, for example, Climate change, poetry and tragedy); but the huge scale and nature of the change and the challenges (including but by no means limited to changes in the biogeochemical cycle unprecedented in millions of years) points to at least two things: 1) it is necessary to try; 2) there may be discontinuities and surprises.