Does Humani Generis deny the existence of test-tube babies?

The Encyclical Humani Generis states as follows:

For the faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains that either after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parent of all, or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents.

[Emphasis added]

Now it seems that ‘test tube babies’ (and clones and so forth, things that are either realities or foreseeable in the future) are not naturally generated from their own ‘parents’, and thus do not take their origin through natural generation from the First Man.

They are not naturally generated in both senses of the word ‘naturally’: (1) they are created through some artificial method, and thus not ‘natural’ in the organic sense of natural, and (2) they are not originated in a way consistent with human nature, because it is contrary to human nature, i.e. the natural law, to make children without sex (and thus divorce the unitive and procreative purposes of sex).

If test tube babies (or clones, etc.) are not naturally generated from their parents, then it seems either (i) they do not exist, or (ii) they are not human, or (iii) there is error in Humani Generis when it says there are no true men who did not take their origin from natural generation from The First Man. I would like some help in understanding what the Pope meant by ‘naturally generated,’ otherwise it seems like one of the above three (i)-(iii) stances will need to be taken, and I do not like any of those stances. Clearly there are test tube babies, and I have no question that they are human, so either Humani Generis is incorrect on this point (I don’t like that either) or some other interpretation of Humani Generis or the phrase ‘natural generation’ must be given so that it is properly understood to be correct.

If anyone else has a different sense of the word ‘natural’, or a definition or understanding of what is meant by “natural generation” that would resolve this problem (without being something that Pope wouldn’t think of), I would greatly appreciate your assistance.

(The encyclical was promulgated before the first ‘successful’ test tube baby.)

Please note: This is not a thread that should have anything to do with Evolution. This is not a thread that should have anything to do with Polygenism. This is only a thread about interpreting this papal document. :slight_smile:

Thanks for any assistance anyone can give!

I don’t think the Pope, writing in 1950, envisioned and attempted to address in vitro fertilization (which did not happen until 1977).

I think he’s using the term “natural” as meaning “biological” (physical as opposed to ontological). IVF is biologically the same as regular conception, and, genetically speaking, children conceived this way still have Y-Chromosome Adam (and Mitochondrial Eve) as their first parents, just like everybody else.

Thanks for your response DavidFilmer!

Although maybe he didn’t think of in vitro, he could at least envision situations where new life is generated supernaturally (for example, that God would miraculously make some random man ‘appear’ without biologically parents, or those who might claim Christ, in His Human Nature, was not generated in a natural way).

Your interpretation does make sense and I appreciate it, as he could be trying to avoid the statement that each human being gets his soul and ontological existence from his parents (when in reality they both come from God).

But still, the phrasing in the excerpt makes this seem like a bit of a stretch to me (is he not at least speaking, or teaching, with the assumption that no man has ever been generated or will ever be generated in a non-natural (either organic or human-nature-following) fashion?).

Suppose we created an artificial intelligence computer. Would the computer inherit original sin since it was “physically” generated by mankind?

I think it may be significant that a key phrase is in the past tense:For the faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains that either after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parent of all, or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents.Perhaps one reason why we can’t hold that test-tube babies existed without taking their origin through natural generation from Adam is because at the time this was written test-tube babies didn’t exist yet.

I certainly think there is more to the answer than this, something more along the lines of what DavidFilmer suggested above. But I do think it’s significant that it uses the term in the past tense, at least in the English translation.

That’s a good point. When we look at that paragraph (#37) in context, it begins

When, however, there is question of another conjectural opinion, namely polygenism, the children of the Church by no means enjoy such liberty [to accept].

and the end of the paragraph talks about original sin and how all have inherited it from Adam.

It does seem clear that the Pius was focused on the past, and not trying to predict the future. The Church certainly does not teach that test tube babies are free from the effect of Adam’s sin! They need Baptism just like everybody else.

Combined with the statement about multiple first parents (in the same sentence), I believe the Holy Father intends to preclude the possibility that God directly created men other than Adam, as Birdmanman suggested.

First, a test tube baby must come from a human egg and human sperm combined in a laboratory. Both humans have as their parents, our original parents, Adam and Eve, so the donors are the same humans and their eggs and sperm were part of their natural bodies. So the resulting test tube baby is a laboratory version of a naturally produced baby. To survive, it must be placed in a womb.

Cloning humans requires a human egg. Again, this egg comes from a woman who traces her ancestry back to Adam and Eve. To survive, the manipulated egg must be placed in a womb. If not, it will grow to a point and die. Aside from scientific research involving embryology, there is no reason to create an adult human clone.


I’d deem the artificial intelligence an artful use of software that is still the responsibility of it’s builder and not responsible for it’s own actions thus incapable of sin at all.

If given complete legal autonomy and programmed not to be at the service of others, but free to choose it’s own ends. Then it should be deemed a corrupt mockery of human life and eliminated as a danger to commit injury upon others.

Suppose we fully encoded our own unique human genome in the lab then implanted the result into an egg cell. Would the resulting person be a person with a soul and original sin?

It’s a device. It has no biological origin. It’s like a washing machine.


You would have to explain the entire process of doing this. The result would be the same as present attempts to clone humans.


Suppose aliens showed up one day. It seems that the Vatican at least thinks that there may be non-human beings with souls.

Now suppose the aliens were like the ones in this story:

You invent a machine that will print out a strand of DNA containing any series of ATGCs that you want. You then type out the series of As Ts Gs and Cs that corresponds to humans. You make some arbitrary choices like hair color. You run a program on your homemade genome that gives it some random mutations. You print out the result using your fancy DNA printer. You inject the DNA into a cell that you may have also created in the lab. The cells will then grow into a real human with the properties specified in the code you invented.

Speculative fiction.


Not possible.


Bearing in mind that this was originally written in Latin, the phrase you highlighted is merely warning against the error of polygenism, or the belief that not all humans are descended from a single set of original parents.

It has nothing to do with the humanity, or lack thereof, of those who have been conceived outside of the martial act.

“Natural generation”, in this case, is just a euphemism for sexual intercourse. Equally important is the qualification of “through him.” This is referring specifically to the sexual activity of Adam alone. So taken in whole, the statement simply says that it is an error to believe there are or were human beings who do not owe their biological origins to the marital relationship between Adam and Eve.

Would you be willing to hang your faith on the non-existence of non-biological aliens?

The point is these things exist on a continuum. On one side we have traditionally-conceived people and close beside them are the test tube babies as mentioned in the original post. Next come “artificial” or “designer” humans whose genetic code has been modified or created entirely in a lab. Beyond humans, we run into human-made artificial intelligence (e.g. machines that pass the turing test.) Next come aliens and finally alien-created artificial intelligence.

The problem, as I see it, is that the inheritance of “original sin” is fundamentally not a testable claim. “Sin” can only be inherited in a colloquial sense, because no one I know of has ever proposed a method to test for the presence of original sin, or even a soul. Therefore, should Catholicism ever be faced with any of these entities, there will be no way for anyone to check and see whether or not that entity has a soul in need of saving. Most likely the pope would have to invoke his infallibility to settle the question.

Thanks, everyone, for your responses!

While I am open to more explanatory interpretations, especially those (which I have so far enjoyed!) that use historical information to give insight into what may have been on the Pope’s mind or meaning at that time of the encyclical, I think I have enough now to make it seem like less of an interpretive stretch to say that the Pope did not mean to imply that it was a matter of our Faith that the only means by which new men could be made, and originally sin carried on, was by natural sexual intercourse as opposed to IVF, cloning, etc.

[this thread isn’t meant to touch on how those things, IVF and cloning, are immoral, although I think the teaching on that is clear!]


Thats what it takes currently to produce a clone, BUT what about in 10 yrs, 20 yrs, 100 yrs? I think by then, if this trend continues, there will be factories set up that literally crank out human adults day and night, Im assuming for labor, military, or research ‘test dummies’. It is probable they wont need them to be in a womb, to be born, or even be a child, I think eventually they will figure out how to make an adult on an assembly line…These types of beings, I do not believe will have souls, Im not sure what they will be, but they wont be like us (spiritually anyway).

The Church will cross that bridge when we see actual aliens. The Turing Test doesn’t matter. Artificial Intelligence in devices does not mean they can be anything other than devices. They are products, nothing more.

It doesn’t matter if anyone thinks Original Sin is not testable. Catholics understand it as a matter of faith.


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