The age-old puzzle that if chickens come from eggs and vice versa, how do you establish which of the two existed first?
When a hen lays a fertilized egg, that hen will keep the egg warm until it hatches a chick. That chick will then grow up to become a hen and lay other eggs, repeating the process as part of an ongoing cycle. But when did this process start? What was first: the chicken or the egg? This infamous question identifies a problem of causality, a paradox in which both chicken and egg cannot exist without the other, yet there must have been a moment when one of them came first.
What existed at the beginning? How did objects, the world, animals, and humans come to be? These are the basic questions that lie at the heart of the chicken and egg conundrum. When the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle (384-322 BCE) asked the question, he believed that both must have always been in existence. Over the centuries the question remained a challenge to philosophers, though it became less important after English naturalist Charles Darwin (1809–82) introduced the theory of evolution by natural selection and explained the development of any organism as a process of slow progress over time.
In 2010, British researchers released the results of a study that, they claimed, conclusively proved that the chicken came first. While the solution was not universally accepted, and others claim that the egg existed prior to the chicken, the question’s importance is not solely one of biological history. The chicken and the egg conundrum prompts us to consider beginning, and how they relate to our experiences. Some theologians have answered the question by saying that the creation of the universe necessarily means that the chicken came first. Other traditions hold that time does not have a clear beginning and end, and the idea of what came first is nonsensical because all things have existed for eternity.