The egg came first!

Finally, the question as to whether the chicken or the egg came first has been answered.

It was the egg.

Naturally, Cecil was right.

Ignoring Cecil’s second response (which is a joke anyway), I think this is purely a question of semantics, not one about evolution. The people in the BBC article also seem to ignore this angle.

What exactly is the defining quality of a chicken egg? Is it an egg — laid by anything — that contains a chicken embryo, and which will gestate into a chicken under the right conditions? Or on the other hand, is it any egg laid by a chicken? Does a chicken exist in the world when it is merely a zygote and before the egg shell is formed around it, or does the chicken not exist until it has hatched, or is close to hatching?

(Reminds me a bit of the abortion debate, come to think of it.)

This annoys me, I came up with this idea a while ago but just never put it down on paper :mad:

On more careful re-reading, I see that the semantic issue actually is being addressed, briefly, in the BBC article.

The “kangaroo/ostrich” argument isn’t very satisfying to me though, since the example doesn’t remotely resemble what happens in the real world, or what was happening around the time chickens first came to be. (The question is, “Which came first, the chicken or the (chicken) egg?”, not “What Frankenstein monstrosities involving eggs and unrelated species could we conceivably make in the laboratory — and if we did, what precisely would we call them?”)

Professor Papineau prefers to categorize an egg by the animal gestating inside it. I happen to favor that definition as well, but that’s beside the point. An intelligent person could disagree and say that the first chicken egg was the first egg laid by the first chicken. If you choose the first definition, then the chicken egg was first. If you choose the second, then the chicken was first.

Yeah, the BBC snubbed me as well on this issue. And I do not easily forget a slight.

Actually, the rooster came first.


In the '80s, the sitcom “Head of the Class” had an episode in which some visiting philosopher tells the class that Aristotle solved this debate by making the distinction between an actual chicken (the chicken) and a potential chicken (the egg), and that you must have an actual object before you can have a potential object (otherwise, you couldn’t have an object for the potential object to become), therefore the chicken must have come first.

I mention “Head of the Class,” because if Aristotle did not enter into the chicken/egg debate, I blame it for making me believe so. Otherwise, I’d like to ask (first) if Aristotle did indeed discuss this issue and (second) in which of his writings does this argument appear?

The problem with adopting that point of view is it raises the question of eggs that don’t have an animal gestating inside of them. I buy eggs at the grocery store that I would classify as chicken eggs because they came from chickens; they are not resulting in chickens (I hope).

Why are these idiot scientists getting credit for this? Cecil (and others) have reached this conclusion previously. This isn’t news - the scientists added nothing.

I agree. It is possible to have an egg which will not hatch into some critter; it is not possible to have an egg which was not laid by some critter. One could, I suppose, define the species of an egg as “the species of the creature which will hatch from it, or, if no creature will hatch from it, the species of the creature which laid it”, but this is overly complicated. Better just to identify the species of an egg by what laid it, since that works for all eggs.

The problem with that argument is that it completely misrepresents the philosophy. Aristotle derived from Plato, who stated that potentalities (“ideals”) were primal, and that actualities are “shadows” of pure ideals.

As a specific counterexample, Aristotle asserted that actual infinities could not exist, while potential infinities did.

And did the Hen come at all?

Who cares? :wink:

This is all very ascientific. The fact is that, over the course of evolving, the modern chicken speciated from whatever came before it; the almost-chicken. The first bird whose genetic material contained the final mutation that made it Chicken. Obviously, it’s impossible to nail down the exact bird, or the exact time, that this happened. Kind of like trying to draw a hard line between Modern English and Middle English. Impracticality aside, however, the fact remains that the first chicken was hatched from an egg laid by a not-quite-chicken; the Kangaroo, if you will, of the cited example. That first “real” chicken had to come out of an egg.

Therefore the egg came first; what came before that eqq was not quite a chicken yet.

Right. (Incidentally, does anyone know what almost-chicken tastes like? Tastes a lot like chicken.)

I don’t think anyone in this thread, at least so far, is disputing the evolutionary history. The point I was making above is that the old Which Came First question is really just a semantic or definitional question. What, precisely, is a “chicken egg”?

Correct. Now then, what do you call that egg?

You and I are calling that a chicken egg, because a chicken hatched from it. Chronos and JeffB, if I may briefly speak for them, would call it an “almost-chicken” egg, because it was laid by an almost-chicken. Sired by one as well, in fact.

Chronos makes a persuasive case for his method of egg classification. I’m inclined to switch my allegiance in fact, but that would kill the fun prematurely.

As I also said above, a reasonable person could argue that the first chicken egg was, by definition, the first egg laid or sired by the first chicken. If you embrace that definition, then it’s the chicken that came first.

What proto-chicken’s ass did you guys pull the words “chicken egg” from anyway.

The question clearly states, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg.”

Clearly there was an egg before there was a chicken, while at one point there was no chicken prior to the egg. Precisely what kind of egg was it is irrelevant (and if you start being ridiculous and including dinosaur eggs, the answer is still the same).

Question solved, semantics be damned.

With that kind of thinking, we’ll soon be asking who came last.

The question is trivial and uninteresting if “egg” means “any old egg whatsoever”. As you say, dinosaur eggs predate chickens by quite some time. For that matter, fish eggs arrived even earlier. This would make it into a trick question — not that there’s anything wrong with that.

(Of course some people might find the question trivial and uninteresting under any possible assumption, but then they’re not following this thread presumably.)

If you didn’t really mean “any egg” in your interpretation of the question, you are still implicitly interpreting “egg” as “proto-chicken egg” or “chicken-ish egg”, or something, going by your confident answer. You’re free to make such assumptions, but I don’t see why that’s any more defensible than assuming the question meant “chicken egg”.

But chicken are still evolving as we are speaking today. So where to you draw the line between chicken, “past almost-chicken” and “future almost-chicken”? This distinction isn’t academic; what I’m saying is that it is impossible (even in a theoretical way) to distinguish between chicken and non-chicken. They lie on a continuum. Even if you define different species as groups of animals that cannot make fertile hybrids, this relation might not be transitive: you could have three birds, chicken-like animals A, B and C, such that A and B can reproduce, B and C can reproduce, but A and C cannot reproduce.

It’s the same thing for languages. There are cases where you simply cannot determine at which point a dialect is not part of language A but rather becomes part of language B.

So, the way I see it, the question is meaningless. Distinguishing between chicken and non-chickens is impossible, so it is meaningless to ask if the egg or the chicken came first.

Quite a common situation, in fact, if A and C are roosters, and B is a hen ;). But your point still stands with four birds.

I think that we can agree that no human agency can precisely determine where the line lies between “chicken” and “proto-chicken”. That does not necessarily mean that the line does not exist, however, merely that we can’t precisely place it. And the argument does not depend on where that line is, merely on its existence.

Well, my point was that it’s entirely possible (and I think it is the case) that the line simply doesn’t exist. This was what I intended to show with my three-bird example, which was in fact incorrect as you pointed out. This is why I think that not only is the line impossible to determine, but also that it doesn’t even exist in such a precise form that we could talk (even theoretically) about the “first chicken” or “first chicken egg”.

In fact, let’s try a four-bird example as you suggested. Suppose that A and C are females, B and D, males, and A:B, C:D and B:C can reproduce, but A:D cannot. Are you able to group these animals into distinct “species”, and if so, what would it look like?

You’re overlooking the Chicken Identification Agency (CIA), whose jurisdiciton covers this very thing.