Have there been exceptions? Of course. But in general nothing holds back scientific and technological progress like religion.
Look at who set us back from the advancements of Greek and Roman culture to pitch us into the Dark Ages, and who executed people who proved biblical dictates (like a flat Earth or a geocentric model of the solar system)- religion.
Look who fought against education for women? Religion.
Look at who currently fights against breakthrough technologies like stem cell research, and established science like evolution and the Big Bang- Religion.
Look at who is causing misery in the Third World because of superstition about "witches" and homosexuals, and lies about contraception- religion.
I think it is difficult to attribute something like "progress" or "impediment" to any one event. Atheists accuse religious people of the Crusade and Dark Ages, while religious people accuse atheists of the Stalinist and Maoist regime. We have to remember that things don't necessarily have causal effects or even a correlation if they happen together. Catholics claim responsibility for the University system and charitability while atheists boast the Enlightenment and scientific progress.
That being said, on the issue of religion specifically, I do think what we would define as organized religion today is a serious impediment of general human progress. Organized religion has consistently shown a reluctance to accept any and all new ideas, ranging from stem cell research to equality for male and female. One very specific example of religious dogma hurting people is the spread of AIDS in Africa. The Catholic church forbids the use of condoms, which many uneducated Christians in Africa take seriously.
Religion is not evil nor must it necessarily be incompatible with science. However, religion is inherently conservative. With every argument where religious reasons are cited for one side, the side that religion falls on is always the more conservative stance and as such it, by definition impedes progress which requires change.
Note, I am not saying that religion is always wrong. I am not saying that change is always beneficial. I am only saying that progress by its very nature requires change and religion by its nature resists it.
The major religions of today all tell of an afterlife, and a non scientific version of the creation of the world among many other false ideas. Christianity, the most followed religion in the world, tells of many incorrect versions of history. The Bible's version of the creation of the world is a 7 day creation of an all powerful creator with very little or no evidence of existence, which happened roughly 5,000 years ago. Intelligent people brought up as kids learning that things such as this is true instead of what modern day scientists believe to be most likely impedes many possible new scientist from growing up to help learn for the human race.
It impedes social progress by telling of many old morals which are by today's standards immoral. An example of this is slavery which is encouraged in the Bible. People who believe in this instead of thinking for themselves hold back society. While most don't believe in slavery, many do still believe in the Bible's discrimination of gay people.
As you have pointed out in your argument religion does have its 'bad sides' when it comes to progress. Medieval Europe is a suitable example for this. The Catholic Church having permeated almost every people in Europe at that time and being able to dictate what was wrong and what was right did exercise its power to an extent that proved to be a hindrance to all sorts of progress. The Church had the ability to discredit an idea by just deeming it heretic. Just to name one example: the banning of many of Galileo's ideas. So that begs the question if the Church really did not impede progress at least sometime in human history. If the question were 'Does religion always impede progress' I would totally agree with you, but as it is I do think that it does.
I would like to approach this from three perspectives. (a) If you merely believe in god, you cannot be termed as religious. A religious person is one thoughts are determined and influenced by religion. They inherently cling on to rituals and dogmas - some of which might need upgradation and change. (b) Secondly, their actions are also impacted by religion, and here they tend to spend significant amounts of time in prayer, chants, attending religious congregations; when instead society and national building activities could have been indulged in. (c) And last, the political/ruling class has and continues to play to these (religious) sentiments and takes us away from the real issues regarding poverty and disease eradication, education of women, etc.
Religion has traditional values and generally does not appeal to the idea of new technologies taking over the world. Also, Religion believes in values that were relevant hundreds of years ago which are not applicable in modern times. Many texts in the Quran prove this statement and talk about things from an older age.
Can we talk about Tuam?
In a very catholic society, baby's born out of wedlock were killed and left in sewers. They were called "devil children". Women who were Raped would have the blame put on them.
Or how about Galileo?
Where the Catholic Church impeded his studies because they didn't want to believe we rotate around the sun.
Think about it like this, once we learn and control something we are the gods of it. Before agriculture we prayed to the rain gods. Religion allows us to not work to understanding our universe. We just accept that "god created us" when we have no proof. It makes us look like absent minded ants, and it's comedic that we think we have it all figured out.
As long as religion is allowed to remain, there will always be competing beliefs and when these beliefs compete humanity does to progress to the next stage which is complete and utter unity of belief. Without this unity there will be those who attempt to stop certain progressive milestones in order to protect their own beliefs. Milestones like this could be essential for creating unity. The most controversial of this all is the existence of god. This concept was only concieved in order to give the illusion that the religion you believe in can explain everything. However this cannot be father from the truth.
Christianity, Islam and Judaism all tell stories of humans being inherently inferior because of sin or because they have already set forth a purpose to every individual: to serve a higher being and do nothing else. If humanity tries to achieve greatness in their own way, they are punished in some way such as the babel story which humans tried to achieve greatness by creating an imposing tower only to be destroyed by an insecure jealous god simply because said tower offends him. Islam is not innocent of the same themes as the belief itself dictates that humans are oppressed by sin and the only way to free ourselves is to prostrate to god and his laws (shariah) which is ironically even more limiting.
Religion discourages the individual from seeing the greater part in themselves, to see through their purported inferiority and realize their greatest potentials in lives which in turn drives people to contribute to the progress of society, something lacking in religious cultures of the Islamic world (today), Africa and even Russia (their lack of innovation at this time is staggering due to their overwhelming fanaticism to orthodox christianity) and this is as a result of what religion tells them, they are discouraged from seeing other means to fulfill their lives by achieving their potential to compensate for its emptiness as religion chooses to teach that embracing scriptures is the only way for true fulfillment and no amount of dream catching will offer the same experience.
Sad isn't it?
You are born sinful vs you are special and talented. Which is will make you feel bad?
Happy people are more willing and able to make significant contributions to society. Religious people are generally happy people. This is not to say that non-religious people can not be happy people, only that people who are religious are statistically more likely to be happy.
Based on peoples' opinions so far, I see that people define "progress" in different ways. I see "progress" as continued learning and innovations in technology and standard of living.
When used intelligently religion can give an individual strength and conviction. There are numerous historical examples where religion and science mesh and work together to better society. There have also been times where religion has saved mankind from losing the sciences. One prime example of this is the "dark ages" in European history, where the Roman Catholic church educated the clergy and safeguarded many scientific documents that would otherwise have been lost.
As basic human nature dictates, we are constantly striving for technological and social progress. In the past, almost all religions, at some point in time, have been major movers in the march towards both forms of progression. A major example is Islam, a religion that kept and expanded upon Greek and Roman science whilst Europe fell into a sort of "dark age", where technological progress wasn't occurring at the rate it once was. This is still true today, as religions, whilst they have their "bad" side, help in aiding social and technological progress.
People often like to quickly put all the blame on religion for the lack of "progress". In reality, it is people who make the decisions that impede people's opinions of "progress" that do this. Religion is just people. People can only say things. There are more "people people" than religion.
Religion doesn't impede progress; religious people do. By relentlessly exerting their opinion on other people, religious extremists make it extremely difficult for the human species to appear reasonable. Believe what you want, but don't make others try to believe the same thing. If you want followers, DO something; don't just spit out words that don't really make sense and try and back it up with an ancient book. Actually care for those in need or save the polar bears or something. Less words, more actions.
Religion like capitalism and communism are not bad in nature but are corrupted by man. I think capitalism stands in the way of progress more than anything if it doesn't make a profit it doesn't fly even if its the greatest idea ever. Im sure by now if religion could it would have cured cancer unlike capitalism which finds no profit in treating the disease but much profit in the symptoms. Its man that wants to dictate not religion so no its not in the way of progress.
The golden era of Islam, the values and goals of the Christian Church is the reason modern science was discovered. The Church subscribed to the idea that God made an intelligible universe and commanded people to love each other and care for the Earth. Christians believed following God's command to love one each could be fullfilled by understanding nature through observation and experimentation. The Church started the first modern university system and required all students to learn natural philosophies/science. Then the church sponsored scientists and funded their research projects creating the first professional scientists in the world...Producing greats like Copernicus, Mendel, Newton, Kepler, Galileo, Bacon, Descartes.
Religion provides a spiritual dimension to life, giving humans meaning in life and allowing them to find greater purpose in their actions. As humans strife to attain higher levels of “self-actualisation” as theorised by Emmanuel Maslow, religion acts as a platform to improve the standard of living and the quality of life in humans. It gives humans understanding of a divine purpose in their lives, lowering despondency and precipitating higher self-confidence. It gives humans a means to give back to society in deed and action, cultivating a culture of kindness, giving and empathy. It promotes peace, minimising conflict as theorised by Francis Fukuyama in his book “The End of History and the Last Man”, which theorised that in the post-cold war era, countries would cease to go to war as capitalism, democracy and other shared values from propagating religions pervade the globe. Given the trend of reduced conflict since the 1990s, it seems that Francis Fukuyama is right in predicting a peaceful post-cold war world, partially attributable to the major world religions that, in their purest forms, preach peace and non-violence. Without religion, civilisations may have no incentive and basis to pursue peace, which, coupled with deepening fault lines, would precipitate more conflicts in our society, making the world a worse place to be in.
Religion is an instrument of social change, catalysing movements and advancements on a moral basis to change existing norms and discrimination, making the world a better place. The deep-rooted beliefs of religion make uniting people for a worthy cause more likely, allowing for the protest against social stigma. In fact, many advancements in human rights have been undergirded by religious truths, such as the value of life and the equality of all men. Democracy was founded on the belief that God created all things and all men were equal in the sight of God with certain unalienable rights. The Civil Rights movement in the 1960s in America also boasted a religious basis for cooperation, with the Southern Christian Leadership conference galvanising support behind the cause. Black protesters also believed that discrimination went against Biblical principles of all men being created equal before God. Reverend Martin Luther King also declared that “[the black protesters] would not stop until justice overflows and righteousness cascades down like a mighty river”, quoting from the Biblical prophet Amos, emphasising the religious basis for this social change. Even the spirit of non-violence that characterised the Civil Rights protests stemmed from Jesus telling His disciples to “turn the other cheek”. Vis-à-vis the above examples, it is palpable how the world has been transformed by religion and the very nature of religion that may tear us apart can also be used to spearhead social change to make the world a better place. The world would definitely not be better off without religion.
Religion is the moral compass for many people and provides an unchanging set of beliefs for people to live a moral and fulfilling life. Scientific development that is not led by a moral compass would be misguided and immoral. This is succinctly elucidated in the example of Unit 731, an experimental unit that conducted life terminating experiments on humans in the Second World War. Japanese troops reportedly infected their test subjects with syphilis, then dissected them alive to see its effects on the human body. They also tested chlorine gas and other biological weapons on their prisoners and investigated the effects of hypothermia by freezing people to death. The Tuskegee Syphilis Study in the 1950s also involved the study of Syphilis in African American males through deliberately withholding treatment from test subjects so researchers could observe the full, long term progression of the fatal diseases. True, religious beliefs did not hinder scientific research, but these disgustingly immoral war crimes and experiments would not have taken place with the morals of religion. Religion that upholds the sanctity of life and provides a set of values for people to guide their actions bears testament to the importance of religion in our world. Many actions, especially in scientific development, may be deemed as amoral, but religion directs scientific progress to a moral and acceptable process and outcome. Without religion, the world would be misguided and immoral.