Since Antony Flew wrote his little parable of the invisible gardener sixty years ago, countless atheists have claimed that theism is discredited by the advance of science, to wit, as science keeps advancing so God keeps retreating.
The story begins by assuming the most facile possible conception of theistic supernaturalism, viz. one in which God is the direct causal agent for otherwise unexplained natural phenomena (e.g. “Thunder is the sound of God clearing his throat”, or at least “God directly causes thunder”). And so, when science advances and explains thunder (e.g. “We now know that thunder is the sonic shock wave created by lightning”), the theistic story is rendered otiose, if not directly falsified, by that scientific advance.
Is theism allowed to regroup at this point and offer a more sophisticated conception of the God/world relation than this crass animism? Sadly, no. Any subsequent conception of God’s action in the world which is more sophisticated than this crass animism is dismissed as an irrational retreat into the confines of unfalsifiable fancifulness.
Alas, there is enough straw here to stuff every scarecrow in Iowa. In other words, identifying theism with crass animism, and then dismissing any more sophisticated form of theism as by definition an illegitimate retreat, is equivalent to one colossal strawman (or, as I already noted, to hundreds of average-sized Iowan strawmen).
However, two can play this silly game. We start by identifying naturalism with some suitably crude conception of naturalism. For example: “Naturalism is the thesis that everything that exists has mass”. Next, we point out that science has identified many entities which do not have mass (to say nothing of the massless entities identified by philosophers). And finally, we can conclude that any and all subsequent redrafting of the concept of naturalism is by definition an irrational retreat into the confines of unfalsifiable fancifulness.
That’s enough straw to stuff every scarecrow in Nebraska which complements well the scarecrows of Iowa.
All this is great if you’re interested in protecting the corn crop. Unfortunately, the byproduct is a whole lot of manure.