Many atheists claim belief in evolution and belief in theism (e.g., Christianity or Islam) are compatible. This claim tends to be motivated not by evidence but by political gain. After all, most people are theists, and if they can be convinced evolution doesn’t contradict their religion, more people will accept evolution, which is good. I have two problems with this stance. One, convincing people of the right belief for the wrong reasons goes against my ethics. Two, I care not just about convincing creationists of evolution, but also about convincing theists of atheism.
So here’s why evolution and theism are incompatible — or at least, why theistic evolutionists have a lot of explaining to do.
Theists believe God created humans. There are any number of ways humans could have been, but we are this particular way, with two arms, two legs, two lungs, anger, love, pain, and so on; and according to theists, the reason we are this way is God chose us to be this way. (A theist who denies this is off the hook as far as this argument goes, but is definitely not any sort of mainstream Christian or Muslim, and probably not really a theist either.)
According to the theory of evolution, humans arose from earlier species all the way to the beginning of life on Earth, in a long sequence of small incremental changes. These changes happened because of natural selection (and random drift); given the environment, organisms with certain genes reproduced more than those with other genes, and so those genes became fixed.
So theism says the explanation for the information contained in the human genome is God, whereas evolution says the explanation is past environments were some way and not some other way, and random chance went some way and not some other way. The only way these two statements can be reconciled is if the information in past environments and random chance came from God. So a theistic evolutionist is forced to claim God created humans by intervening at many times throughout prehistory (setting the initial conditions only doesn’t work due to quantum mechanics) in such a way as to make environments and random chance favor our ancestors.
There’s an old joke that says that to make a statue of an elephant, you just need to take a big rock and cut away everything that doesn’t look like an elephant. The position theistic evolutionists are forced to take is that God made humans by killing off everything that didn’t look enough like a human.
It won’t do to say that “God created the process of evolution”. Whatever that means exactly, you can never put enough information into the nature of the “process of evolution” to specify that what comes out is humans. Evolution is a simple algorithm; there aren’t enough degrees of freedom.
We have to presume God could have just created humans complete and in the blink of an eye. If he instead created humans slowly by manipulating environments and chance over billions of years, then that cries out for an explanation. It’s an extremely complicated, high-maintenance way of doing things. It’s dishonest, in that it’s very carefully tuned to leave no evidence, so as to make reasonable observers conclude no God was involved. It flatly contradicts any reading of holy writings, certainly any that would have been reasonable in past centuries, which again implies dishonesty. And there simply doesn’t seem to be any reason.
Conclusion: evolution and God can be made compatible only with far-fetched excuses. To believe in both you have to believe God went out of his way to hide his existence. You might as well believe the desperate story of some creationists that God put all the fossils there to test our faith. People who do claim to believe in both should be expected to explain, the same way I’d be expected to explain if I claimed to believe both in modern meteorology and in Thor throwing lightning, or both in gravity and in the invisible Man pushing the people down.