The Pre-Egg Era.

A site that describes its mission by saying that “we want to aware every one of the latest developments in different scientific disciplines and the pillar concepts on which the basis of science are laid” has at last revealed the answer to the ancient question, “Which came first: the chicken or the egg?

The site tells us that this is the answer given by science, and therefore definitive. According to researchers who did research, “the protein which makes egg shells is only produced by chickens and not the other way around, so the egg can only exist if it has been created inside a chicken. Therefore, it’s the chicken that came first, not the egg.”

This is an interesting, if badly expressed (what does “the other way around” mean?), piece of reasoning. But it is not science: it is philosophy. How do we know the difference? A philosophical proposition may be defined as “a proposition whose exact contrary may be, and in fact is, held by other sane thinkers”—as opposed to a scientific proposition, to refute which it is necessary to do science.

In this case everything depends on what we mean by egg. At this moment, there is a nest of robins on the windowsill outside. The young hatched from eggs; they were not chicken eggs, but they were eggs. Young turtles hatch from eggs. Young dinosaur ancestors of chickens hatched from eggs. As a fact of nature, the egg existed before the chicken. A hundred million years AP (ante pullum), there were eggs. The egg came first.

This is not complicated philosophy, by the way: this answer was given to Dr. Boli by a ten-year-old child, from whom he borrows it with thanks.

Well, then we mean a chicken egg. But here is a simple argument from evolutionary biology for the contrary proposition, even assuming that definition. Speciation proceeds by degrees, but at some point a mutation occurred that created the first chicken rather than proto-chicken. That mutation was in an embryo in an egg laid by a proto-chicken. Therefore, it was an egg before it was a chicken—quod erat demonstrandum.

Incidentally, that other site’s conclusion seems to be the writer’s extrapolation from the abstract of a study that does not necessarily articulate that conclusion itself. Dr. Boli decided not to pay $59 for the whole study in PDF form, and he suspects that the writer at that other site made a similarly frugal decision.

On the same site, you can read “Wearing The Same Shirt Everyday Is A Sign Of Genius, Psychologist Suggests.” This, again, is presented as science, but again it is philosophy. It is quite possible to argue for the contrary proposition: Wearing the same shirt every day is a sign of being too stupid to operate the washing machine.

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  1. John M says:

    Wearing the same shirt every day is a sign that:
    1) You wash, dry, and iron that shirt every night, which wastes water and electricity (heating up the iron every day, ironing one shirt, and letting it cool off without ironing anything else seems inefficient).

    2) You live with such a large group of people that a full load of laundry is done every day

    3) You’re so brilliant that people put up with the smell of your unwashed shirt

    4) ??

    • John M says:

      Forgot to mention – are we defining a chicken egg as an egg from which a chicken hatched, or an egg that a chicken laid? Once one settles on the definition, the answer as to which came first is absolute. (As Dr. Boli’s 10-year old friend notes, if the definition of egg includes eggs laid by creatures other than chickens, eggs predated chickens by millions of years. (Fossilized fish eggs predate the dinosaurs, which predate the red junglefowl which eventually were domesticated and became chickens.)

  2. Hezekiah Garrett says:

    Actually, if the shirt is clean, it is evidence you are VERY good at running a washer. What it demonstrates is either extreme poverty, or mental illness.

    • Dr. Boli says:

      It is apparently not a matter of poverty. Reading the article in question, we find that it is provoked by the observation that Mark Zuckerberg always wears the same shirt. But it is not really the same shirt; it is one of an indefinite number of identical shirts he keeps on hand. Why? “I really want to clear my life to make it so that I have to make as few decisions as possible about anything except how to best serve this community.” So, yes, mental illness.

  3. You’ve begged the philosphical question, is a chicken egg an egg with a chicken in it (obviously not; I’ve eaten many chicken eggs with no chickens inside) or an egg laid by a chicken (seems reasonable). In this mode of understanding the chicken came before the chicken egg. QED

    • Dr. Boli says:

      A well-reasoned argument, and one that demonstrates why this is a question of philosophy, not science. Is a chicken egg an egg laid by a chicken? Then the chicken comes first, at least in conception. Is “the egg” “A body formed in the females of fowls and certain other animals, containing an embryo or fetus of the same species, or the substance from which a like animal is produced,” as old Noah Webster defined it in 1828? Then “the egg” predates “the chicken” by eons. And what of the first chicken? If it sprang from an egg laid by a proto-chicken, must we say that the chicken grew from an egg that was not a chicken egg? There is no end to these arguments, because they are really disagreements about which definitions, or “modes of understanding,” are most useful. That, Dr. Boli submits, is what makes them philosophy rather than science.

  4. A friend of mine once seriously made the argument that the chicken came before the egg, as God created the first chicken in the Garden of Eden, rather than create an egg for the first chicken to hatch from.

  5. Captain DaFt says:

    It seems to me that if a proto-chicken laid an egg that hatched into the first chicken, then the egg was a chicken egg, since it produced a chicken, therefore the chicken and the chicken egg were simultaneous.

    The tricky part is that the chicken had no other chickens to breed with, therefore, there are no chickens today, only chicken/proto-chicken hybrids, and chicken/proto-chicken hybrid eggs.

    • Dr. Boli says:

      And of course we know that speciation doesn’t really work quite so neatly as that. You do not see a sharp division, where one generation is not-chicken and the next is chicken. What you see is usually a slow divergence, often when populations are separated, until it is clear that this group of creatures is substantially different from that group of creatures. Science is at once more definite and vaguer than philosophy.

  6. Richard A says:

    But the study was published on a website that describes itself thusly: “Our mission is to spread scientific knowledge in an easy and extensive way that does not bore its readers and inspire them with what science can do.” Why are you interested in folks who don’t want to inspire others with what science can do?

  7. Richard A says:

    Ah, having asked the question, I realize the answer. Scientific knowledge is fun and interesting, but long and painful experience has shown us that human beings are much better off if they don’t “do” anything with it.

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