Everyone loves spitting out the chickens and egg debate when they can’t figure out the difference between cause and effect. Well, that and “correlation is not causation.” Which is true, those two things shouldn’t be conflated. But on chickens and eggs, it kind of creates an infinite regression. You need a chicken to lay an egg, but you also need an egg to hatch a chicken. So what’s up with that? Which one really came first anyway?
Did the Chicken Come Before the Egg? Why Do We Even Care?
Well you can thank Aristotle for that. You know, that guy you definitely studied in high school and forgot about unless you’re an armchair philosopher or continued to study philosophy.
Point is, he and his philosophical friends in Ancient Greece asked this question, but ultimately ruled that it was an infinite regression. Then moved on. Though his perspective largely ruled that the chicken came first, since a bird comes from the egg.
“There could not have been a first egg to give a beginning to birds, or there would have been a first bird which gave a beginning to eggs; for a bird comes from an egg.”
The contemporary version of the question regarding chickens and eggs would come with Plutarch, though the sentiment of the musing would be the same as Aristotle’s. We’re still talking about birds and eggs. Though the question at its core symbolized how the world began. Wherein you know, existence is the egg.
For a while, people generally figured it didn’t matter which came first, just that the question was provocative.
Christian philosophers would use the Book of Genesis to make the chicken come first. Suffice to say that people really went back and forth on it.
Our favorite has to be Italian historian Ukysse Aldrovandi ruling that it didn’t matter and both chicken and egg came from nothing.
Time For Science
Luckily for science nerds everywhere, the study of evolutionary biology can get us an answer. Scientific survey says… Eggs came first.
We know birds are basically present day dinosaurs, so that’s how far we have to go back. But dinosaur eggs date back 190 million years. So if the first dinosaurs that we would consider birds are older than 190 million years, then the chicken came first. Well contemporary chickens are definitely a lot younger than the concept of eggs, but that’s kind of an obvious conclusion.
Archaeopteryx fossils are generally considered to be the first birds, heck that’s what the name means. How old is the archaeopteryx? Well the fossils we have date back to 150 million years old. So contemporary birds are in fact younger than eggs.
You can kind of logic this out too. For something to genetically change and create a new species, it has to be born. If a new “human 2.0” with like 3 eyes or something cropped up, this human would have been born. It wouldn’t have been someone randomly growing an eye like a superhero.
Thus, the same principle applies to chickens. Something that wasn’t a chicken (but pretty darn close) laid an egg one day. That egg contained genes different from the ever so slightly not chicken. Then it hatched and we got a chicken. So a not chicken laid an egg that made a chicken, thus the egg came first.
But Wait… Science Says the Chicken Came First?
There actually has been data that supports the chicken coming before the egg. University of Warwick and University of Sheffield researchers actually discovered that the protein used to make chicken eggs was only found in chicken ovaries. This could imply the chicken came first, but even the original researchers don’t seem too convinced–especially since answering the question wasn’t the original purpose of their study.
Maybe there will be no chicken or egg debate if we eat them all here.