Is progress synonymous with evolution and vice versa? No. We say of an ailing person, that he is progressing, but we do not say he is evolving. An army makes progress in capturing enemy territory, but this is not evolution. Why not? Because there is the idea of exaltation and sublimity inherent in evolution, which is an upward movement from one level to a higher level, whereas progress is a horizontal advance at the same level. Military advance is thus progress at the same level.
When we speak of social evolution it implies things beyond progress. Some advances may be called progress for man or society, but would not be exaltation and evolution.
In this sense, those men of learning who have refrained from calling all progress evolution, are somewhat justified in their verdict. Evolution also differs from expansion. Now we can consider the following questions:
1. Has man secured evolution in his social life and during his history?
2. If we assume that he has evolved in the past, will he do so in future, too? Is human society moving towards evolution?
3. If he is moving towards evolution, what form would that ideal society or Plato’s Utopia take? What are its characteristics? Is it attainable? Could we say that history proceeds forcibly towards evolution irrespective of our wishes or efforts?
Have human beings in the past had no role as free, independent and responsible beings? Has their role been obligatory and secondary? Or should we say that they have voluntarily and consciously planned their society and started its advance towards evolution? Do we not respect many human beings of the past for the part that they have played as social pioneers?
They are those who could stand against historical evolution or at least offer no aid, and choose personal welfare, but they did not do so. There are also others who are very blameworthy for their hindering efforts. This has been the role of option in past history, and if we do not regard the future and have no plans for it and take no responsibility for making history, the result will be the same.
History is made by man and not man by history. Without a plan and a sense of responsibility for future, this vessel of history cannot, by itself, reach its destination. In Islam and, especially in Shiism, there is no belief in a blind and forcible course for events to happen, and this is one of the highest of Islamic teachings.