The Chicken and the Egg - Which came First? An Accurate, but Not Very Serious Analysis

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Introduction

It is one of the great questions of science and an almost equally great question of comedic potential - which came first, the chicken or the egg? In this short article I will endeavour to answer this paradox of cyclical cause and effect with a mix of light science and humour (just wade through the light science to get to the humour).

And yes - as far as I am concerned, there IS a clear and very definite answer to this question!!

The Religious Chicken and Egg

I'm a believer in science, but to briefly consider the religious perspective;

In the Judeo-Christian religions, God creates 'fowl that may fly above the earth' but makes no mention of any egg before the fowl. The assumption would therefore be that chickens come first?

In Buddhism and in some other religions including those of the ancient Mayans and Aztecs, there is a cyclical view of creation, so time repeats itself and there is no beginning. If this implies eternity, then can we make the assumption that neither comes first?

In the Hindu faith, as I understand it, chickens and other birds are created by Lord Brahma, and there is a process of destruction and renewal, but there is also the concept of a 'cosmic egg' from which all of the universe was created, including animals and birds, so in terms of original creation perhaps an egg, if not a chicken egg, comes first?

The Ancient History of the Chicken and Egg Question

You think the chicken and the egg question is a recent one? Not a bit of it. It's a question which dates back to antiquity as can be seen in this quote by Aristotle the Greek c350 BC, who also related the seeming impossibility of the conundrum to the birth of man:

  • 'If there has been a first man he must have been born without father or mother – which is repugnant to nature. For there could not have been a first egg to give a beginning to birds, or there should have been a first bird which gave a beginning to eggs; for a bird comes from an egg.'

Plutarch, in the 1st century AD also saw the conundrum:

  • 'the problem about the egg and the hen ... (is) ... a difficult problem which gives investigators much trouble.'

And in the 5th century AD, the Roman philosopher Macrobius appreciated that this question could be both a source of amusement to many, and also a serious question of science (much the approach that my article takes):

  • 'You jest about what you suppose to be a triviality, in asking whether the hen came first from an egg or the egg from a hen, but the point should be regarded as one of importance, one worthy of discussion, and careful discussion at that.'

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The Basic Assumptions

We must first start with a couple of basic assumptions so we understand exactly what we are talking about.

1) The definition of a 'chicken' is clear enough - we are talking about a bird which zoologists can classify as a chicken (Gallus gallus domesticus). But the definition of an 'egg' is less obvious. 'Egg' is a general term, and eggs have been around much longer than chickens. Dinosaur eggs, frog eggs, fish eggs - need I say more? Therefore we must make clear, in the question 'Which came first, the chicken or the egg' the first basic assumption is that we are talking specifically about a chicken egg - which hatches into a chicken. Not just any old egg which hatches into a different bird or even a different animal, like a dinosaur or a frog.

2) When we talk about an egg in this context, we must also be clear whether we are talking about an unfertilised egg or a fertilised egg. I think the importance of this will immediately become very apparent. An unfertilised egg will of course break the chicken-egg-chicken-egg sequence because it won't hatch into anything - the best that can happen to it is that it will just become a boiled egg or a scrambled egg or an omelet, and therefore the second assumption we will make is that we are talking about a fertilised egg - ie: one which is capable of developing into a chicken.

In a nutshell (or an eggshell) we are therefore really asking 'which came first, the chicken or the fertilised chicken egg?' It is on this basis that the rest of the discussion below will be considered.

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The Evolution of Chickens and Chicken Eggs

Where do chickens come from? And don't say from eggs, or we'll be back to square one. Chickens are birds, and birds have a long evolutionary history dating back to the time of the dinosaurs. Indeed the prevailing current opinion (and my own strongly held belief) is that birds evolved from dinosaurs. Certainly many if not all dinosaurs laid eggs so these eggs came before chickens or chicken-like birds, but as I've already declared under 'Basic Assumptions', that's just not good enough. Of course eggs of some description came before chickens, so we must limit this specifically to chicken eggs. So let us return to relatively recent times and the most recent evolutionary change which led to a chicken.

The modern chicken is believed to have evolved from the jungle fowl of Asia. But which jungle fowl? There are two species, the red jungle fowl and the grey jungle fowl and some recent genetic evidence suggests that the domestic chicken may actually be a cross between the two species - a hybrid. If so, this may have some relevance to our question as we shall see under 'The Argument for the Egg.'

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The Argument for the Chicken

So who thinks the CHICKEN came first? Well quite recently a lot of media attention promoted the case for the chicken, and it's all to do with a protein called ovocledidin-17, found only in chicken ovaries. Scientists had discovered that this protein was instrumental in controlling the development of the egg-shell. Therefore, without the chicken ovary the egg shell could not form. Some reputable scientists felt that this indicated that the chicken containing ovocledidin-17 must have come first.

This, however, is nonsense. There were proteins before ovocledidin-17 first appeared, and these were used to harden egg shells. All other birds hatch from egg shells which don't come from chickens, and so do other animals which may not have ovocledidin-17 in their egg shells, like crocodiles. Ovocledidin therefore was NOT essential in the past for hardening eggshells. Eggs developed without it.

The argument for ovocledidin-17 doesn't get rid of the cyclical conundrum either. Even if we accept the suggestion that the chicken egg could only come from a chicken containing this protein, one still has to ask, where did the chicken containing the protein come from? Answer - a chicken egg.

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The Argument for the Egg

So who thinks the EGG came first? There are three arguments in favour of the egg.

1) The first argument runs along the lines that the nature of an egg is determined by what it contains, not what lays it. To clearly demonstrate this, one can use an implausible example. If a surrogate mother Tyrannosaurus rex laid an egg from which a clucking chicken emerged complete with beak and feathers, would we describe that egg as a T.rex egg or as a chicken egg? I think we would label it as a chicken egg because a chicken emerges from it. But if we label it as a chicken egg, because it produces a chicken, it does not necessarily follow that we have to call the animal which laid the egg, a chicken. In other words, in our example, no one would describe Tyrannosaurus rex as a chicken, just because it has laid a chicken egg. (leastways not to its face). So by this line of reasoning, a chicken egg first and foremost hatches into a chicken. And it is only incidental that it may have been laid by a chicken.

2) The second argument concerns hybridisation. As I have already mentioned, there is a belief that modern chickens may be a hybrid between two ancestral species of jungle fowl. If this is the case, then our answer is straightforward - two birds which were not chickens got together and produced a hybrid egg which developed into a chicken. If one accepts the hybridisation theory therefore, the chicken egg may come after the jungle fowl parents, but it most definitely comes before the domestic chicken offspring.

3) The third argument focuses on basic understanding of mutations. Only a mutation could change a non-chicken into a chicken, and mutations can only ordinarily occur during the recombination of DNA during the process of fertilisation. Therefore, irrespective of whether the two adults are different species, (as in the above jungle fowl example) or whether they are the same non-chicken species, the mutation to a chicken occurs at the egg stage.

Analysing the Chicken and the Egg Question

So where does this leave us on this important question?

DNA is what determines a species, so the science of this is really all about the point at which the first indisputably identifiable chicken DNA appeared. DNA doesn't alter during the life of an animal or bird. It only alters during the recombination of genetic material from two different species creating a hybrid species, or the mutation of genetic material from two individuals of the same species creating a new form. Either way, the alteration which brings about definitive chicken DNA occurs at the stage when the egg is fertilised. Definitive chicken DNA therefore occurs first of all in the fertilised chicken egg, and only second in the chicken bird.

You comprehend? If not, a plain English summary will follow.

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Is there an entry in the Guinness Book of Records for the most references to chickens and eggs in a paragraph of English, and can I submit the paragraph opposite? I counted 19 chickens and 15 eggs. (Though one should never count the chickens until they are hatched).

A Plain English Summary?

So we will sum up in very plain English which even a badly retarded chicken could understand. Humans may have some difficulty however - We have to decide which came first:

Did a chicken-like bird which was very similar to a chicken but not quite a chicken give rise to an egg which was sufficiently chicken egg-like to be called a chicken egg. Or did an egg which was very similar to a chicken egg but not quite a chicken egg give rise to a bird which was sufficiently chicken-like to be called a chicken? Given that mutation occurs when the egg is fertilised, any change in status occurs at this point. Therefore, in the distant past, a female chicken-like bird which was not quite a chicken formed an egg which was not quite a chicken egg. When this egg was fertilised by a male chicken-like bird which was not quite a chicken, a DNA mutation or recombination must have occurred which was just sufficient to make the chicken-like egg sufficiently chicken egg-like for us to be able to describe it as a chicken egg. So in conclusion the fertilised egg which is clearly and unarguably a chicken egg, came before the bird which is clearly and unarguably a chicken. Simple!

The Next Question

The next question one may ask is:

Which came first, the chicken-like fillet which is not quite a chicken fillet as it is made of soya? Or the chicken egg-like egg which is not quite a chicken egg, because it is covered in gold foil and made of chocolate?

And which is the first to be consumed?

The Egg Came First

So that's it then. The quote from Roman philosopher Macrobius elsewhere on this page indicates that the question has probably existed since the beginnings of human thought, and has always been treated in the same way by humans - a bit of a joke question yet with a serious underlying biological puzzle. The quote shows that human beings really haven't changed very much over the millenia in the way they ponder these questions. Yet if humans haven't changed, chickens and eggs clearly have. Once chickens and chicken eggs did not exist. And if they did not exist, one must have come first.

And now the answer is clear and definitive. Without a shadow of a doubt: THE EGG (fertilised chicken egg) CAME FIRST !!!

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More by this Author


I Would Love to Hear Your Comments. Thanks, Alun 31 comments

kenneth avery profile image

kenneth avery 3 weeks ago from Hamilton, Alabama

@ Greensleevees, Austinstar,

" . . .thank you both sincerely for your warm words of comfort and positive enforcement. Words to me are like various tools. Some are used for building, repairing, and refinishing while some are used to cover or uncover. But there are words that tear down like crowbars and such. I have none of these in my tool shed. Thank God. I will only use "tools/words," to give comfort or maybe a few smiles or laughs to one of my DEAR FOLLOWERS on HP and that is it. There is no cause ever for me to use destructive words or insinuations. That is immature and unwise."

"You two just keep providing great hubs and making people happy. I know that you both have blessed me richly."

Kenneth


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Greensleeves Hubs 3 weeks ago from Essex, UK Author

kenneth avery; Kenneth it's always nice to hear from you, and there's absolutely nothing to apologise for. I add my thoughts to what Lela (Austinstar) has said. Hope you're are better now, and I was so sorry to hear of your tragic news. Take care, Alun


Greensleeves Hubs profile image

Greensleeves Hubs 3 weeks ago from Essex, UK Author

Austinstar; Thank you Lela! This was an enjoyable article to write. Answering the question does depend on the precise definition of 'egg' and 'chicken', so I feel we have to restrict it to 'chicken eggs' ie: eggs with the same DNA as chickens. As it is recombinations of DNA in the egg, which ultimately change the species, I think most scientists would, by that definition, put the egg first :)

Oh, and I agree - where would we be, cuisine-wise, without either eggs OR chickens?! Cheers, Alun


Austinstar profile image

Austinstar 3 weeks ago from Somewhere in the universe

Sorry to hear about your daughter, Kenneth. Sad news indeed. Get well soon.


kenneth avery profile image

kenneth avery 3 weeks ago from Hamilton, Alabama

Dear Greesleeves,

I just got a notification that you left a comment on this hub and I am glad that I read it. And now I offer you my deepest apology for my first comment being 23 months ago.

I am very sorry. I have no excuse.

There has been a lot happen in my life in that 23-month span.

I had a heart cath for Congestive Heart Failure; my only daughter passed on Feb. 11 and other things too.

These are reasons why I have not written more.

I am sorry. Keep up the great work.


Austinstar profile image

Austinstar 3 weeks ago from Somewhere in the universe

Funny, yet serious. I wonder if all scientists have come to the conclusion that the egg must have come first. It seems to me that all eggs developed in the primordial goo that our RNA and eventually, DNA came from.

The proteins, and base chemistry all came from this goo, so it was the first form of life on this planet, right?

Personally, I like eggs just about any way they are cooked. And chicken piccatta is just fabulous!


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Greensleeves Hubs 24 months ago from Essex, UK Author

And best wishes to you too Kenneth. Hope you have a good one :)


kenneth avery profile image

kenneth avery 24 months ago from Hamilton, Alabama

Greensleeves,

I was passing by, so I thought I would wish you and yours a

Very Merry CHRISTmas.


Greensleeves Hubs profile image

Greensleeves Hubs 24 months ago from Essex, UK Author

pstraubie48; Thanks Patricia! Glad it made you laugh. I wouldn't mind receiving an egg, but not being much good as a cook or as a rearer of fowl, I wouldn't know what to do with a chicken :) Alun


pstraubie48 profile image

pstraubie48 2 years ago from sunny Florida

Laughing laughing and now I think I am more uncertain of which landed on the planet first and now I think I may not even care if it is this much trying to find the answer :D :D :D

Angels are on the way to you this evening....and they are not bringing either a chicken or an egg. ps


Saood Azmat 2 years ago

I just wanted to know about this but your work=Thumbs Up!


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Greensleeves Hubs 2 years ago from Essex, UK Author

Saood; Not really Saood. On this site, the only money received is from advertising revenue. I get about a dollar a day. I think some who have written many hundreds of articles, or more commercial hubs such as those with a theme which advertises products, may get quite a lot more.

I'd love to earn money from writing, but I write here because it's easy to do, requiring few I.T skills, and it's a good place to build up a body of work. Also there's a good community atmosphere among fellow members of HubPages.


Saood Azmat 2 years ago

Greensleeves are you earning money or not?


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Greensleeves Hubs 2 years ago from Essex, UK Author

Saood; Thank you very much Saood. Appreciated.


Saood Azmat profile image

Saood Azmat 2 years ago from Dera Ghazi Khan

I found it really useful


Saood Azmat 2 years ago

I love it really.It is great. Keep it up Greensleeves


annart profile image

annart 3 years ago from SW England

Don't know! We've kept some and they make me laugh the most when they run - rolling from side to side - so ungainly and cartoon-like!


Greensleeves Hubs profile image

Greensleeves Hubs 3 years ago from Essex, UK Author

annart; Thanks so much for visiting and for your comment. Appreciated.

I'm sure that when DNA was first discovered, its role in the solution of the chicken and egg conundrum was not the first thing on the scientists' minds, but it is interesting how the mechanism of mutation helps to answer this question. Incidentally, I wonder why chickens are so inherently funny? :-)


annart profile image

annart 3 years ago from SW England

Hilarious and well thought-out hub! I loved it, especially counting the chickens before they're hatched reference. Great writing and presentation. Well done! Up, funny and interesting.


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Greensleeves Hubs 3 years ago from Essex, UK Author

Thankyou dragonflyfla for visiting and commenting. Appreciated!


dragonflyfla profile image

dragonflyfla 3 years ago from South Florida

Very thoughtful :-) Voted you interesting on thinking this one out.


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Greensleeves Hubs 4 years ago from Essex, UK Author

saitam; thanks so much for visiting. Glad you liked it! Alun.


saitam profile image

saitam 4 years ago from Lisbon

Funny hub and interesting to see so many arguments.


kenneth avery profile image

kenneth avery 4 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama

Hey, greensleeves,

you are very welcome. I love hubs that challenge my sanity. You're a cool writer, man.

Kenneth


Greensleeves Hubs profile image

Greensleeves Hubs 4 years ago from Essex, UK Author

Thank you very much Kenneth for your comment; glad you liked this hub which was one of the most enjoyable to write! And thank you even more for the very warm fan mail you sent. Appreciated. Alun.


kenneth avery profile image

kenneth avery 4 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama

Nice hub. In-depth and full of information. Voted up and all the way. Keep up the great work, Greensleeves.

Kenneth


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Greensleeves Hubs 4 years ago from Essex, UK Author

Thank you shutupandstudy. That's a nice comment.


shutupandstudy profile image

shutupandstudy 4 years ago from New York, NY

This is a very interesting and cute hub.


alphonse george profile image

alphonse george 4 years ago from Kerala,India

You are very welcome.I hope people will find time to read this great hub.


Greensleeves Hubs profile image

Greensleeves Hubs 4 years ago from Essex, UK Author

Thank you alphonse for being the first to comment - I hope there will be a few more to come! It was fun to write the article and to convey what I hope is a sensible scientific argument in a lighthearted manner.

Having looked at your profile, I see you're fairly new to HubPages - I wish you all the best and hope you find it an enjoyable experience writing here. And what a great profile picture! Alun.


alphonse george profile image

alphonse george 4 years ago from Kerala,India

This is a very funny hub.Thumbs up.

I cannot believe that no one took the time to comment on this hub.

Anyway great work.Hub shared.

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