Would a human clone have a soul?

Question: "Would a human clone have a soul?"

The prospect of cloning humans for reproductive purposes raises many moral, ethical, and medical questions. It also touches on deeper theological questions. Perhaps none is more basic than this: would a cloned human have a soul?

For some, the answer seems obvious. For others, there are reasons to wonder. Some go so far as to claim human cloning would be impossible because no soul would be created! How one views this issue hinges, almost completely, on his view of how a soul comes to be created. As with other narrow, non-salvation topics, the Bible gives no direct answers. In those circumstances, we should not be dogmatic, but careful.

All that being said, and based on several spiritual, scientific, and practical points, it seems the best answer to whether clones would have souls is “almost certainly, yes.”

Christians have differing opinions on how immaterial souls are created. There are two biblically supportable positions on that issue, known as (soul) creationism and traducianism. The first says God creates the soul when the child is conceived. The second says physical conception itself, via the parents, creates the soul. Other beliefs, such as the pre-existence of souls, are not biblically sound and won’t come into play here.

Before looking further, it’s important to establish some terms. Here, human refers to a biological member of homo sapiens: the material and genetic aspect. Person refers to the complete individual: mind, body, soul, and spirit, with an emphasis on the spiritual aspect. Clone and MZ twin refer to humans created through the processes described below.

In typical nuclear transfer cloning, the nucleus (information center) of an unfertilized egg cell is removed. It is replaced with the nucleus of a donor cell taken from the organism being cloned. This newly formed cell is stimulated and starts to divide. This results in an organism with DNA identical to the donor's. In therapeutic cloning, growth happens in a lab environment and creates tissues. In reproductive cloning, growth happens in the womb of a surrogate mother and can result in the birth of a fully formed duplicate of the donor.

Biologically speaking, something very much like human clones already exist. Identical twins, or mono-zygotic twins (MZ twins), are the result of this natural process: one sperm and one egg join, creating a single fertilized cell, called a zygote. Then this zygote splits into two or more completely separate embryos, which then develop independently. MZ twins are, for all practical purposes, each other’s clones.

In other words, biologically (genetically) duplicated humans already exist. The mechanism of their creation is vastly different from laboratory-based cloning, but the end result is materially the same. This is a key point to remember when examining different views on whether or not clones have souls. One’s position must be consistent and applied to both natural clones such as MZ twins and those who might eventually come through reproductive cloning.

The creationist view would easily affirm that clones have souls, in that God is directly involved in the creation of each soul at the appropriate time. Perhaps God imbues a single soul into a fertilized zygote, creating additional souls if or when the zygote splits. The Bible is not clear, but for the sake of this issue, the details are irrelevant. According to soul creationism, the method that creates the physical body has nothing to do with its being imbued with a soul. Conceived, cloned, or otherwise, the soul creationism view says God creates the soul, and there are no scriptural or spiritual reasons to think He would not do that with all human beings.

The traducian view, however, introduces several wrinkles. According to traducianism, both the body and the soul are inherited from the parents. In particular, it holds that a person’s sin nature is inherited from Adam via his or her father. This implies that the moment at which sperm and egg combine to create the DNA of a new human, a soul is simultaneously created. But, in cloning, there are no “parents,” only one human contributing genetic material that is then duplicated. There is no “conception,” only the replication of existing DNA.

This raises questions about the transmission of souls, according to traducianism. For instance, a clone would have neither a “father” nor a “mother” in the normal sense. The resulting human would have DNA from only the single donor. Genetically, the clone’s “father” is the donor’s father, and the clone’s “mother” is the donor’s mother. But in terms of conception, the clone itself would have no such parents. If the biological joining of the parents’ essence is what creates souls, where could a clone’s soul come from?

The same line of questioning, through traducianism, would have to consistently account for the concept of the sin nature being inherited from the father. Traducianism holds, for example, that it was the lack of a biological human father that resulted in Jesus being born free from a sin nature. If a clone lacks a literal human father, would the clone also lack an inherited sin nature? Would the sin nature be duplicated through the clone’s DNA? Strictly speaking, the inheritance of a sin nature is a separate question from obtaining a soul and raises many other points of possible debate. The point is simply that, if traducianism is to hold that both soul and sin nature are passed along at conception, it must account for both occurring (or not) during cloning.

Note, of course, that one’s perspective on this issue must account for natural clones, such as MZ twins. At the moment of conception, there is one zygote. Later, there may be two, without any additional conception having occurred. Few (if any) traducians would suggest that only one of a set of twins or triplets actually has a soul, or that they share a single soul, so there needs to be some consistent way to account for the imparting of souls that covers all naturally made humans, which could then be compared to a cloning process.

In short, traducianism leaves room to question whether or not a human clone would have a soul, if interpreted to mean souls are created by biological conception itself. Claiming that God decides when to imbue a soul would no longer be traducianism, but soul creationism. In response, one who holds to traducianism might well argue that the creation of a soul is simply something that occurs when a human—of any type—is created, through whatever physical means. Whether or not this holds up to deeper scrutiny is subject to debate and better left to a separate discussion.

In a more practical sense, few Christians would suggest that how one is conceived impacts one’s spiritual or moral status. For example, the common claim that abortions should be allowed “in cases of rape or incest” implies that people conceived under those circumstances are not persons, less human or less valuable, than those conceived in the “right” way. That’s more of a moral debate than a theological one, but our positions have to be consistent. If the circumstances of conception (or lack of conception) affect whether or not one has a soul, then one’s moral or spiritual worth is certainly up for grabs. Christians must carefully consider their stance on this issue.

There is no hard and fast, crystal-clear answer to the question of whether or not a cloned human would possess a soul. That being said, most interpretations of the Bible, and the general sense of Christian theology, would suggest cloned humans would, in fact, have souls. It’s possible to construct a theological framework where they would not. Yet most Christians would find that framework self-contradictory and unnecessary.

Lacking perfect understanding, we’re obligated to treat all human beings as persons, worthy not only of the value God places in His creations (Psalm 104:24) but the love that He expects us to show each other (James 2:8). That includes artificially cloned humans, if or when such persons come to exist.

Recommended Resources: Created in God's Image by Anthony Hoekema

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How should a Christian view genetic engineering?

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