May 22, 2010

The Chicken Or the Egg? Part Deux! (A history and example)

Hi again,  I got some interesting and well thought out responses and general interest on my Chicken or the Egg post and thought it was worthy of a follow up. I really appreciate those who took the time to read the whole post, and thank those who commented on it. I changed around my colour scheme due do to the after images it was causing, although for my next post on optical illusions and seeing not being believing I may change it back. Anyway, I did some further research on the topic in light of the comments I got and have to say I generally agree with my first post.  That being said I do have some more information, including the historical background of the question and some responses to a couple of criticisms to post here. (Anyone who doesn't care for the history, feel free to skip the next three paragraphs.)

The question first goes back much further than  I thought it would, and I guess everything really is a footnote to Plato, because that's the era that the question first Arises. I found the quote about it from Aristotle who says that, "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." The article goes on to say that, "The same he held good for all species, believing, with Plato, that everything before it appeared on earth had first its being in spirit. (Isis Unveiled I, 428.)" That article can be found here  if your interested.

This is an important pre-evolution understanding. The bird and the egg seem co-dependent, so there can be no first, so everything must be eternal. Then creationism came and in Genesis 1:20 God said that, "'Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky.' 21 So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living and moving thing with which the water teems, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good."

So the answer historically changed from there being no first chicken or egg, to there being birds created before the egg. God created the bird first, and I assume the chicken is one of the birds that flies above the earth and a bird according to its kind.

Then with the Origin of Species Darwin worked out (with a contribution from pigeons and finches) that animals can adapt to there surroundings; Watson and Crick found DNA and the chicken and the egg took a decidedly different look The look that I described in my first post, that had some contentions.

 I have been criticized by some posts saying that of course that is the answer, but it isn't a sexy answer to the question. While it may be boring, there are many people who, wrongly I think, postulate the egg as the answer, and in doing so really belittle the process. They elevate the individual egg over the steps that create the distinction between things.

For instance states that "MatheMagic- I think you're reasoning it out wrong: any step of rearranging the DNA takes place at the 'egg' stage. It is difficult to define the moment at which species occur, fine, but like any taxonomist you must set some arbitrary criteria (lets say the primordial "chicken" would share 99.00000000% of the DNA seen in chickens today)."

My response to this while the egg is the place of change this question isn't like a court of law that must make a sentence upon a guilty verdict (Any court sentence is an arbitrary but necessary decision). This is a question that can be fairly answered without having to put an arbitrary stick in the mud. The question as given is a false dichotomy, the answer isn't in the choice of possibilities and I think that I can make my point with the a news article.

The article is on how people in England having bird feeders (along with warm winters) has created a separate breeding population for Blackcap's. It is a pretty short and interesting article and I will try to summarize it, but you can find it here if you are interested.   Anyway, there are two populations of blackcaps have a different wintering area and the ones that go to England are able to get back earlier than the other population. This ability lets them breed earlier and has created two separate breeding populations. That is all it really takes to create a split in the species. It is noted that, "The team also observed differences in the birds' beaks, wings and plumage.", but don't get any hopes up on a new chicken coming soon as, "Dr Schaefer pointed out that the evolution of a new bird species, 'could take 100,000 to a million years'."

There are changes that take place, but no single great change is the defining thing that separates one thing from another. Darwin showed this in the Origin of Species when he himself pointed out the problems and folly's with trying to define the differences between a species and a variety and those terms may be highly contested.

What the Blackcap really shows is that no one egg can even be arbitrarily shown to be 'the first chicken.' It may take 100 000 years for there to be a chicken from the egg, that is one of the reasons why people who deny evolution are able to say that well species can change, but no new species have ever come into appearance. (Please don't make this a topic, I know that species can evolve at different rates and the populations may be some and the changes could come quickly in an evolutionary sense).

I could site literally hundreds of people, who like MatheMagic, that state that the egg is the correct answer, but all those people are really putting the individual ahead of the process. It comes up in the philosophy of mind often when trying to define where consciousness is what it is. Many people have given different answers, but the answer that I think fits best is that consciousness, like evolution, is a process of that involves different things and trying to encapsulate those things in any one term really fails to show the beauty in the inner-workings that are going on.

Thanks for reading,

The Moral Skeptic


  1. Darn long post...

    Can you summarize whether you're leaning towards a Godly, or Evolutionary side.

    I'm for a Godly side, but that's personal preference. -.-

  2. Hah, I don't think it would take much browsing through many of my other posts to find the answer your looking for.