Chicken Or The Egg?

The following was a rather silly exchange between myself and my friend Nathan back in October of 2002 on the age-old question of "which came first, the chicken or the egg?"...


There are two main schools of thought on this subject.

The first is a Platonic argument based on philosophical constructs. The chicken is an actual chicken, while the egg is a potential chicken. Since actuality ALWAYS proceeds potentiality, we can deduce that the chicken MUST have come first.

I, however, subscribe to the second school of thought that is based on evolutionary biology. Since mutation and genetic drift occur in offspring, then that means that there was some cycle in which a creature laid an egg that produced a slightly different creature. At some point, long ago, one of these creatures, that wasn’t quite a chicken, laid an egg that genetically varied from itself slightly. That slight variation pushed the new creature (that would eventually emerge from the egg) into what we now classify as a chicken.

Hence, the first chicken hatched from an egg that was laid by a creature that wasn’t quite a chicken.


rebuttals are welcome. What do you think?


I’m sorry but you are mistaken. It can only be that the CHICKEN came before the egg, based on evolutionary evidence...

First, you have the possibility (even probability) that the proto-chicken life form was also an animal which laid eggs. Given the going hypothesis is that avians evolved from dinosaurs, which also laid eggs, then it may seem that the egg would have come long before the chicken.

However, we should be careful not to make a CONTEXTUAL logical error, in which the same word is used, but the definitions are different. In other words, when we ask, “which came first, the chicken or the egg?”, surely one is not asking if ANY sort of egg (insect, dinosaur, etc.) came before the chicken. The implication is that one is asking, “which came first, the chicken or the CHICKEN EGG?” If the old question refers specifically to a CHICKEN egg, then we must look to the definition of speciation.

Biologically, what determines whether or not something is a new species revolves around the question of whether or not it can produce viable offspring with the others in question. Let us suppose that two populations of proto-chicken find themselves suddenly isolated geographically. Their two genomes will begin to drift over time, based on the pressures of their two different environments. Let us call the two groups PC1 and PC2 (proto-chicken populations 1 and 2) and let us assume that PC1 will eventually evolve into the modern chicken, while PC2 becomes something else, perhaps a form of reptile or more likely a turkey. At some given point in time, the PC1 genome will drift so far from PC2 that a member from each would no longer be capable of the conception of viable offspring together.

Now, this would probably happen gradually, meaning that there would be several generations of PC1 and PC2 that CAN produce viable offspring, but only with much effort and with increasing frequent miscarriages and/or deformities. Nevertheless, at one point there would be a generation in which no pregnancy would occur, regardless of the number of times attempted. It would be this generation that will have officially become a unique species (in this case, the modern chicken). The very first member of this generation would have been the VERY first chicken.

Because all of his older siblings would have such abysmal failure rates in trying to breed with PC2, it would be nearly impossible to tell which individuals had a very low chance of offspring with PC2, and which were completely incompatible. However, common sense suggests that there MUST have been one particular individual which was first born, where the possibility of generating offspring with PC2 was zero. Despite our inability to have recognized the individual, this organism would have been a chicken, while its parent would not have been.

So now the issue comes down to, how do you define the “ownership” of the egg; by it’s occupant or by it’s lay-er? If the egg is considered to be a proto-chicken egg because the organism that laid it was a proto-chicken, then we must conclude that the CHICKEN came before the egg (chicken egg, that is). However, if we could say that the first chicken came from a chicken egg because it contained a chicken, then we must conclude that the EGG (chicken egg) came before the chicken, which would then hatch from THAT egg.

I would argue that the most rational definer of egg-ownership would be that organism which laid the egg. The reason being, that at the time the egg is formed, there is no chicken inside because it has yet to form (and what of eggs which are never fertilized?). Therefore, the owner of the egg is most consistently considered to be the parent. Furthermore, when we look at the human example of female eggs and what we already have defined as legal ownership, it is clear that the mother is the owner of her eggs. Therefore, as per the reasoning in the previous paragraph, one can only logically conclude that, because it gestated, NOT inside a chicken egg, but inside a proto-chicken egg, that THE CHICKEN CAME BEFORE THE EGG.