21 September 2017

Which came first – the chicken or the egg?

We’re all aware of the phrase, ‘it’s a chicken or egg situation.’ Most of us have probably used it at some time or other. Of course, this phrase infers the question, ‘which came first, the chicken or the egg?’

Well, believe it or not, it’s a question that has been taxing the old grey matter of many a great thinker for centuries, and while we often dismiss it as just a casual comment, it does have serious repercussions.

The oldest recorded reference to the conundrum goes back to a Greek historian called Mestrius Plutarchus, born in 46AD. In an essay entitled, “Whether the Hen or the Egg Came First,” he suggested that the question was already well established: “The problem about the egg and the hen, which of them came first, was dragged into our talk, a difficult problem which gives investigators much trouble.”

Plutarchus also hinted at the puzzle’s greater significance: “Sulla my comrade said that with a small problem, as with a tool, we were rocking loose a great and heavy one, that of the creation of the world.”

So, what do we mean when we use this phrase? I believe what we’re asking is,

“Which came first, the chicken or an egg containing a chicken?”

Not just any old egg, but an egg with a chicken inside it. Did the chicken come first, and lay an egg with another chicken inside it, or did an egg containing a chicken appear first, which then hatched into a chicken?

First, let’s have a look at the chicken itself.

As you probably already know, chickens are amazingly complex creatures. They have hollow bones, intricate feathers, a four-chambered heart, continuous air intake, high metabolism, a complex brain, good hearing, and superb colour vision. Everything about a chicken suggests careful design.

But a chicken’s egg also suggests careful design. The embryo nestles safely inside, surrounded and cushioned by amniotic fluid and nourished by the yolk. Metabolic wastes are insulated from the rest, while oxygen and carbon dioxide are exchanged across the hard but porous shell.

A healthy female chicken produces such a system nearly once a day, and can even preserve male sperm inside her body to continue fertilizing eggs for several days after mating.

But that doesn’t answer our question. Both the chicken and the egg are incredibly complex entities, but which came first? Which gave rise to the other?

Darwin’s, “Origin of the Species”, and the subsequent, “Theory of Evolution”, would suggest the egg had to come first.

Many evolutionists believe that birds in general originally evolved from dinosaurs, despite the fact that birds and dinosaurs differ markedly. Legs must become wings and scales must become feathers. Dinosaurs had solid bones, yet bird bones are hollow. Reptilian dinosaurs were probably coldblooded whilst birds are warm-blooded with an extremely high metabolism. Dinosaurs had lungs similar to mammals, while the bird’s breathing scheme is totally different. At least dinosaur eggs were similar to birds’ eggs internally. Externally, they had a soft, leathery shell quite different from birds’ eggs.

However, regardless of how the first birds apparently evolved, evolutionists believe chickens then evolved from other kinds of birds, although which ones remains unclear. Some evolutionists believe the chicken was descended from the red junglefowl, although recently discovered genetic evidence suggests that the modern domestic chicken could be a hybrid descendant of both the red junglefowl and the grey junglefowl. Assuming this evidence bears out, for evolutionists a hybrid is a compelling scenario that the chicken egg came before the chicken, by acquiring new genetic information through random mutation. But did the mutations occur in the adult progenitor of chickens or in its eggs?

Modern Genetic Science claims to add some insight on the debate.

Genetic science suggests that new species can only occur through mutations of reproductive DNA – DNA that may have been changed before or during mating by accidental deletion, insertion, substitution, duplication or translocation of nucleotide sequences. This is what causes the mutation which results in the new species. Therefore the new species (in our case, chicken) could only have come from an egg laid by another species of bird in which the DNA had mutated. Of course, this same mutation must have happened in more than one egg for the species to separate and develop from its progenitor species.

So evolutionists and modern genetic scientists would both hold the belief that the egg came first.

On the other hand, of course, those who believe the Bible would hold the belief that God created the chicken first. In Genesis 1 verse 21, the Bible says, ‘And God created…. every winged fowl after his kind…’ In verse 22 ‘God blessed them, saying…. let fowl multiply on the earth.’ No mention of God creating an egg first! Genesis would suggest He created the fully developed adult chicken.

So creationists and evolutionists would be at loggerheads over which came first, the chicken or the egg.

Now, that stalemate remained until very recently, when scientists from Sheffield and Warwick Universities upset the applecart. They were researching how animals make eggshells, and in July 2010, they announced to the world a startling discovery that turned the whole conundrum on its head, and challenged many previously held beliefs.

These scientists found that the formation of chicken eggshells relies on a protein found only in a chicken’s ovaries. This specific protein is not found in any other type of bird or animal. It is only found in chickens. Therefore, a chicken egg can only exist if it has first been inside a chicken, because only the chicken can form the shell of a chicken egg.

The protein – called ovocledidin-17, or OC-17 – acts as a catalyst to speed up the development of the egg’s shell. This hard shell is essential to house the yolk and its protective fluids while the chick develops inside. The scientists found that OC-17 is crucial in kickstarting crystallisation – the early stages of the creation of a shell.

Dr Colin Freeman, from Sheffield University’s Department of Engineering Materials, said: “It had long been suspected that the egg came first but now we have the scientific proof that shows that in fact the chicken came first.”

“The OC-17 protein had been identified before and it was linked to egg formation, but by examining it closely we have been able to see how it controls the process. The protein converts calcium carbonate into calcite crystals that make up the shell.”

“The results showed that the OC-17 protein in chickens acts as a tireless builder, placing one microscopic section of shell on top of the other. It initiates this building process before going off to start on another part of the egg.”

“Without this builder protein, the eggs would not exist. And yet it is only found in a chicken’s ovaries. This means the bird must have come first.”

Scientific proof that the chicken came first. After several millennia of pondering the question, science has now eventually given us an unequivocal answer. But that raises another question. If the chicken came first, where did it come from?

Well, referring back to our scriptural quote earlier, God simply created it. Fully formed. No egg. No genetic mutation. No hybrid between a red junglefowl and a grey junglefowl. God simply created the chicken and told it to go forth and multiply.

So next time you’re getting tucked into a fried egg, or a chicken curry, remember which came first, and more importantly, who created it.

Jim Browne