Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

I only post this because I know people will argue...

The classic question is phrased: "Which came first, the chicken or the egg?"

It comes from the observation the chickens come from eggs, and eggs come from chickens, in a seemingly infinite cycle. I simple naive question.

There were eggs long before there were chickens.

The problem is, of course simple, without any more qualification. Eggs have existed long before chickens. So for this question to be even remotely controversial, it needs some qualification. So let's rephrase:

"Which came first, the chicken, or the chicken egg?"

What does "chicken egg" mean?

This is, of course, obvious, isn't it... I can point to such an egg and show you. Well, I could if any shops had any chicken eggs in them - it is all chocolate eggs at the moment!

But there are two possible variations - "An egg that came from a chicken" or "An egg that hatches in to a chicken".

And this is where the solution lies. At some point in history a proto-chicken, something you would not define (by whatever criteria you are using) as a chicken, laid an egg, and from that egg came something you would define as a chicken. That is evolution. Whatever definition you use for "chicken", wherever you draw the line, that is what happened at some point.

So which came first depends on which of those two definitions of "chicken egg" you are using.

So the question is answered by defining the question. Not a dilemma at all.

Or it is defined by qsort?


  1. The egg's genes are a combination of the genes of its parents but genetically identical to the chicken which hatches from it so, by whatever fine-grained definition of "chicken" you use, the egg is genetically a chicken's egg before the first bird which is genetically a chicken.

    What confuses me, though, is that that first chicken has to breed with another bird to establish the bird species. That other bird is not, by our silly hair-splitting (feather-splitting?) definition, a chicken yet the resulting combination chicken and not-quite chicken genes has to still cross the chickenness line. Hmmm…

    1. Your choice is picking the "and egg that hatches in to a chicken" definition of "chicken egg" and hence egg first. Well done.

    2. I think the only reasonable definition of "animal X egg" is "egg which is genetically an animal X and will develop into an animal X if it survives". Defining the egg based on the animal it comes FROM makes sense only because under any normal circumstance, an egg develops into the same species of animal that laid it.

      One can imagine a hypothetical future situation where chicken eggs can be created with a replicator, or grown in a lab somehow, but it wouldn't make much sense to declare that they are not chicken eggs because they didn't actually come out of a mother chicken.

    3. I disagree. Naming object like this based on what they come *from* is exactly how we do it.

      A human hair is a hair that came from a human.
      A dinosaur bone is a bone that came from a dinosaur.
      A slug trail is a trail that came from a slug.
      A chicken egg is an egg that came from a chicken.

      The fact that eggs happen to have a unique property that they also grow into a new organism doesn't mean they deserve to be named through a different convention to everything else.

      An artificial egg would not be a chicken egg, even if a chicken hatched from it. It would be an artificial egg.

      So, to my surprise, my conclusion is that the chicken came first, because the only linguistically consistent way to define "chicken egg" is "egg from a chicken".


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