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I heard the world’s stupidest question again yesterday in a TV show I just happened to click through on my way to Steven Colbert. Someone said, “What came first the chicken or the egg?” It was being said with the arrogant tone of a gotcha question as if it’s impossible to answer. But for anyone with a minuscule perception of modern scientific knowledge, it is either an idiot or fool who would ask that question as anything other than irony, or sarcasm, or blatant comic hypocrisy. And yet … there it was on national TV. If this is typical of TV wisdom it is no wonder that we elect politicians with little contact with reality.

If you were watching a given chicken being born today, it would obviously be coming from an egg, and if you had been watching where that egg came from it would obviously have come from a female chicken. And the speaker assumes that that hen chicken came from an egg, which it probably did. And so on for perhaps a thousand repeated cycles, but at a million repeats the bird from which the egg came, if you could see it, would probably not be called a chicken because it would be different enough to look more like some other bird.

If we were to pursue this egg from bird cycle back through a hundred million cycles we would be observing something like an Archaeopteryx , which is a bird-like fossil on display in the library of the Biology building at the University of California, Berkeley. It has more characteristics of a dinosaur than of a bird. Follow that train of eggs back and you will find lizards, and a while earlier the egg will be that of a Tiktaalik, a fish that is just transitioning out of the water.

All of this chain of ancestors of today’s chickens were born from eggs, and they weren’t chickens.

 

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