This Thanksgiving we revisit two Perspectives from our archives in which the authors debate an age-old question: Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Dan Libman threw down the gauntlet with an essay from Feb. 6, 2015 (included at the bottom of this post). It was swiftly followed by this rebuttal from Reed Scherer. Enjoy this Poultry Slam!
Dan, I appreciate your perspective on this age-old question, but I’m afraid your interpretation is foundationally, logically, and fundamentally incorrect.
Given that you are a professionally trained rhetoritician, I don't need to tell you that precision in language counts, and that details that may be considered implied may not actually be recognized as an explicit implication. The classic question you claim to answer was directly stated: "Which came first, the chicken or the egg?" The question is not, "Which came first, the chicken or the chicken egg?" Given the explicitness of the language, there is in fact an unequivocal answer.
You claim that chickens came first, based on the fact that your chickens are delivered to your house. In a box.
But here’s the overarching truth: chickens are recent additions to life on Earth. Although they long pre-date any type of postal service, the modern chicken lineage has been around for only a few thousand years. And, admit it, "in a box" is not really where chickens come from.
Unlike chickens, eggs came long before feather and beak were even on the horizon. As proof, I can cite superbly preserved 530 million-year-old eggs in Cambrian deposits of Changjiang, China, or the well-preserved dinosaur eggs in rocks 400 million years younger than that. (And by the way, before you protest, bear in mind that chickens are not merely descendants of dinosaurs, they actually are dinosaurs, from a phylogenetic and taxonomic perspective.) Moreover, it is logically apparent that the actual origin of eggs extends well before their earliest fossil evidence.
So you see, Dan, the egg really did come before the chicken.
I'm Reed Scherer, and that's my perspective.