An Answer to the 'the Chicken or the Egg' Question

  • Title: Contemplations, An Answer to the 'the Chicken or the Egg' Question.
  • Author: Arvindus.
  • Publisher: Arvindus.
  • Copyright: Arvindus, 2011, all rights reserved.
  • Index: 201103311.
  • Edition: html, first edition.


The 'the chicken or the egg' question asks which came or was first, the chicken or the egg. It is a metaphorical question, which is applied when the causal relations of two givens in a seemingly endless sequence is questioned. In this contemplation we shall go deeper into the expression of the metaphor itself, without considering its possible applications. So it must be kept in mind that our findings and conclusion may thus lack validity for that to which this metaphor may be applied.

Now the 'the chicken and the egg' question can be formulated in two ways. The first formulation asks; (1) 'which came first, the chicken or the egg?', and the second formulation asks; (2) 'which was first, the chicken or the egg?'. The distinction between these two formulations is very important as we shall see. This importance can be brought to the fore by explicating some of the, for this contemplation important, presuppositions which these formulations contain. From there the contemplating towards an answer can proceed. In this procedure however nothing shall be decided about the validity of the question as it is formulated and its contained presuppositions. The question is approached as if it were a valid question, and for the sake of the contemplation are also the presuppositions accepted. With this noted can a start be made with bringing the regarded presuppositions to the fore.

Formulation (1)

Let us start with the presuppositions of formulation (1). The first presupposition here is an implicit one, which means that it cannot be deduced from the formulation itself (which is the case with explicit presuppositions), but that it must be derived from the context in which the formulation is used. And this first mentioned implicit presupposition says that; (3) ''egg' refers to chicken-eggs'. This seems obvious but must nevertheless be explicated. The 'the chicken and the egg' question is not about chickens and duck-eggs, crocodile-eggs, ant-eggs or chocolate Easter-eggs, but about chickens and chicken-eggs. This presupposition shall be explicated in the rest of this contemplation by using 'chicken-egg' instead of 'egg'. Another implicit presupposition says that that; (4) 'normally chickens originate from chicken-eggs, and chicken-eggs from chickens'. This presupposition is empirically acceptable. For normally shall empirical observation lead to the conclusion that chickens originate from chicken-eggs and chicken-eggs from chickens. However since empirical observation can only induce, there will always be logical possibilities for abnormal observations. Therefore the term 'normally' must be applied instead of the logical solid 'necessarily'. Another presupposition, one to which the term 'necessarily' can be applied, is an explicit one, and thus one that can be deduced from the formulation. This presupposition says that; (5) 'both chickens and chicken-eggs necessarily originate'. This explicit presupposition is brought in by the word 'came'. For everything that came, originated from somewhere else or something else. This with no exception, and thus; 'necessarily'. And lastly another explicit presupposition is important to mention. This presupposition says that; (6) 'among chickens and chicken-eggs there is a first'. This presupposition is of course brought in by the word 'first'. When asked 'which came first, […]?' it is implied that there is a first. But this presupposition (6) seems to clash with presupposition (5). For if chickens and chicken-eggs necessarily originate, is it then not impossible that among these there is a first? (For if the chicken originated from a chicken-egg, and the chicken-egg from a chicken, neither of them can be first). The answer to that fair question is that there is one way in which this is not impossible, namely when a third given is brought into play. This given then must be neither a chicken or a chicken-egg, and be at the same time the origin of the first chicken or chicken-egg. Then the chicken and the chicken-egg can be held to originate necessarily, and still be the first among each other. Examples of such a thought can be found in Abrahamic and Darwinistic approaches to the question.

Abrahamites such as Jews, Christians and Muslims only need to quote Genesis to come to their conclusions. For God created every winged bird, and he did clearly not create every scaled bird-egg.1 So Abrahamites will find their solution in God creating the chicken before the egg, because they accept the authority of Genesis. This solution is here however not acceptable because mere writings can never be accepted as absolute authority in contemplative thought.

As a contemporary alternative for Genesis generally Darwinism is brought to the fore. In Darwinism will the chicken as a species be held to lose itself in a prior species, which for the convenience we shall call here 'pre-chicken'. Now Darwinists may posit such a species as the origin of chickens and chicken-eggs, however with that it cannot be deduced whether the chicken or the chicken-egg came first. It cannot be determined whether the pre-chicken laid a chicken-egg or the pre-chicken-egg hatched a chicken. And thus can also the Darwinistic way not be embraced here. For it does not lead to a clear and sound conclusion.

And this sketches basically the problem of accepting a third given and thus the problem of following formulation (1). A third given must be accepted in order to keep this formulation from being contradictory in itself, but at the same time the acceptance of such a third given can by itself not lead to conclusions on whether the chicken or the chicken-egg came first.

Formulation (2)

The story of formulation (2) ('which was first, the chicken or the egg?') is different. This formulation shares the presuppositions (3), (4) and (6) with formulation (1). However because the word 'was' is used instead of 'came' does it not contain presupposition (5). This word 'was' leaves the possibility open for chickens to originate from chicken-eggs, and chicken-eggs from chickens, and it is even presupposed to be normal according to presupposition (4), however it does not state origination as a necessity because presupposition (5) is not contained. In this way no clash and contradiction with presupposition (6) is threatening the formulation, and so no third given needs to be posited. With formulation (2) can the solution be searched within the two givens of the chicken and the chicken-egg. Let us continue our contemplation from here.

Imagining the question according to formulation (2) we come normally to the following picture. A chicken-egg originated from a chicken, which in turn originated from a chicken-egg, which again originated from a chicken, and so on until the first one is reached. It cannot be stated within the question that is being asked that the sequence of causation goes on endlessly without reaching a first, because this is prohibited by the explicit presupposition (6) that posits the existence of a first. Therefore the sequence of causation goes on until a first one is reached. This first one however cannot be itself caused by another, because then it would not be a first and would the sequence simply continue. And as shown above we also cannot posit a third given as a cause of this first, for that does not lead to conclusions if no external authority is accepted (which is not the way of contemplative thought). So this first is either a chicken or a chicken-egg, but then one which is not caused by another. It is the uncaused cause of the whole chain of chickens and chicken-eggs. Now as uncreated this first must be beyond time. For everything in time is created, exists for a while, and seizes to be. So something which is not created cannot be in time but must be beyond time. And being beyond time the first uncreated must not only be uncaused and uncreated, but also unending. The first must be eternal, whether being a chicken or a chicken-egg. And here we are nearing an answer to the question. For a chicken-egg causes a chicken by seizing itself to be. For a chicken to be born, the chicken-egg's shell must break, and the chicken-egg will seize to exist. And a chicken-egg that seizes to exist in order to create can never be an eternal first cause, for that would be a mere contradiction. However a chicken may lay chicken-eggs by the dozen, so to speak, without seizing to be. After laying a chicken-egg a chicken does not exist any less than before. So to summarize; a chicken-egg can never be an eternal first cause of a chicken while a chicken can be an eternal first cause of a chicken-egg. And thus our conclusion can be made up. To the question 'which was first, the chicken or the chicken-egg', the answer is; 'the chicken'.

  • The American Standard Old Testament, (software), Version 1.0, Ages Software, Albany, 1996.