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Does evolution explain whether the chicken or egg came first? © Getty Images

Does evolution explain whether the chicken or egg came first?

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A Darwinian view of life helps untangle this age-old philosophical conundrum.

Asked by: Zvi Albert, Manchester

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If you trace the family tree of any chicken back through its ancestors, you will find that each one hatched from an egg that was in turn laid by a chicken and so on. But if you go back over 10,000 years, you eventually reach the wild ancestors of the domestic chicken, which were probably the red and grey jungle fowls of Southeast Asia.

You could draw a line there and say all ancestors prior to that were not chickens, but everything from that point on was. Whatever attributes qualified this individual to be a chicken, they were set at the moment the egg and sperm met. I would argue this means the egg came first.

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This argument does depend on the acceptance of modern theories of evolution and genetics. A Lamarckian view of evolution (in which animals could pass on physical characteristics acquired in their lifetimes) would imply that a non-chicken could evolve into a chicken within its own lifetime and thus the chicken would have come first.

Authors

luis villazon
Luis VillazonQ&A expert

Luis trained as a zoologist, but now works as a science and technology educator. In his spare time he builds 3D-printed robots, in the hope that he will be spared when the revolution inevitably comes.

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