10 Enigmas That Defy Explanation Explained – Part 1

Today my fiance, Michael Meadon, sent me a link to a list of “10 more enigmas that defy explanation”. This is a list of ten things which might seem strange, miraculous and inexplicable at first, but which prove, after a little research, to be suspiciously easy to find an explanation for, if you just hold aside the curtains of credulity for a moment and ask some serious questions. I’m going to address as many of these claims as I can, here goes!

  1. Ice Woman, 1981

The claim is that a 19 year old woman, Jean Hilliard, survived having her entire body frozen solid after spending six hours passed out drunk in a heap of snow after a night on the town with her friends. The explanation given is that it was a Miracle brought about by the fervent prayers of the young woman’s parents.

First step; verify the information by trying to find the earliest, reliable report of the incident. Well, after much searching, the most reliable original source I could find was…. The Weekly World News.

Ok, I also found a brief article on the NYTIMES, but they didn’t put any more effort into it than the WWN. What we have here is clearly a case of severe hypothermia. And as miraculous as Jean’s tale sounds, it really isn’t all that unusual. Hypothermia is the medical term used to describe a mammal body with a core temperature of less than 35 deg. C (about 95 deg. F). Ms Hilliard’s reported temperature of below 88 deg. F puts her firmly in the range of stage 3, severe, hypothermia.

The following extract is from Accidental severe hypothermia, by Moss, J, soured from PubMed;

Severe hypothermia occurs when body temperature falls below 28 degrees C. The patient may be unconscious, with such severely depressed vital signs that he appears to be dead.

Moss recommends that all patients who present with severe hypothermia should be treated with cardiopulmanory resuscitation (CPR) and rewarming because;

a reliable determination of death is nearly impossible without the restoration of body temperature.

That means that no matter how cold someone may appear to be, hospital staff have to rewarm them before they are able to tell if the patient is dead. We are not talking about a chunk of frozen meat in your freezer, we are talking about a living body. The human body is remarkable, it is actually able to withstand such prolonged exposure to extreme cold, and with relatively minor side effects. This may be because the low temperature helps to mitigate the damaging effects of lack of blood flow and oxygen to the cells. The cold also considerably lowers a person’s metabolism which makes it possible for the brain to survive a much longer period of oxygen deprivation than a warm body.

I did find one newspaper article, printed in the Ocala Star on 11 January, 1981 which is actually the only piece of decent reporting on this event (until now, of course), here it is (click the image to see it bigger);

Thank you Doctor Iseke.

There is one other point that I would like to settle in the case of Jean Hilliard; the inference that prayer saved her life. It the earlier reports, the prayers of her parents are mentioned as an aside, just enough to give the reader the impression that maybe there was more than human physiology at play here. But in more recent reports one is literally beaten over the head with it. Like all good tales, this one has been amplified by the internet into a full-blown MIRACLE, and the facts are smudged, significantly.

What was, in 1981, Hilliard’s parents praying at her bedside, has snowballed out of control and become, according to Guideposts magazine;

Mrs. Erickson hurried to her office and made a phone call to the prayer chain chairman at the Baptist church where her husband is pastor. The prayer chain was set in motion.

The prayer chain was lengthening. Mrs. Erickson called the pastors of the Lutheran, Catholic, Methodist and Bethel Assembly churches in Fosston. They, in turn, called the chairmen of their prayer chain groups, who passed the word along.

During the first hours that the prayer chain was underway, my legs and feet, instead of getting darker as Dr. Sather expected, started to lighten and regain their natural color. One after another, the doctors and nurses filed in to marvel at the pinkish tinge appearing at the line of demarcation where the darkness started on my upper thighs—the place where Dr. Sather said he thought they might have to amputate.

The prayer chain spread to the nearby towns of Crookston and Bemidji, and into Grand Forks, North Dakota. Soon hundreds, then thousands of people were aware that a young woman had been brought in to the Fosston hospital frozen solid and was in desperate need of God’s miraculous healing.

Yeah, ok. I don’t have to mention that prayers have been PROVEN NOT TO WORK for healing of this nature, do I? You should read that article, it’s good. Here is a small excerpt;

Praying for the health of strangers who have undergone heart surgery has no effect, according to the largest scientific study ever commissioned to calculate the healing power of prayer.

In fact, patients who know they are being prayed for suffer a noticeably higher rate of complications, according to the study, which monitored the recovery of 1,800 patients after heart bypass surgery in the US.

P.S. – A diagram doesn’t make it science;

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18 responses to “10 Enigmas That Defy Explanation Explained – Part 1

  1. Fact is usually someone that is exposed to those conditions usually dont survive. In her case she did now if her friends and family want to believe prayer was the thing that saved her. Then let it be. One thing is to state the facts for myth or non myth. But u went above and beyond saying the facts to basing ur personal opinion. And it shows where ur personal opinion of prayer and miracle to be false….something you strongly believe in(just as much as they probably believe in prayer). So wheather ur right or wrong about this story, that no longer matters. Its garbage thats based on personal opinion.

  2. This happened before I was even born and is still being argued about today, if nothing else I say thats a miracle lol. Angela you like anyone else has a right to tell us how it is in your own words and even that of others you quote so well…so for that i for one thank you!

  3. Growing up in the same town, Fosston, MN as Jean Hilliard, I can assure you she was NOT drunk & passed out. It was a scary event in our small town…we all had her & her family on our minds, and yes–the prayer chain was started up by Rosie Erickson, a local pastor’s wife. Please don’t slander Jean by quoting “she was passed out drunk.” Get your facts straight.

  4. I know this is super old, but this came up while I was fact checking a friend’s claim. If you’re interested, there’s a very slightly earlier article in the Montreal Gazette: http://tinyurl.com/8m5m6nv

    It’s unlikely and strange, but the human body is far better at staying alive than people give it credit for.

  5. You really went that out of your way to write about this not being a miracle?? Who cares? If it made her family feel better to think that prayer saved their loved one, why do you find it so necessary to stomp on that belief? And it appeared to me from reading the article, that the point of the story was a woman frozen nearly solid survived…not that she necessarily survived due to the power of prayer.

    • You should read http://whatstheharm.net/, that might shed some light on why it is not a good idea to allow people to cling to superstitious beliefs such as the healing “power” of prayer (which does not exist and leads to death).

      • Let me start off by saying– I read the article ’10 more enigmas that defy explanation’ before i read your article. I thought Jean’s story was fascinating, so I Googled her name and found your article on a page called ‘Skeptic detective’. Naturally, I figured I’d be reading an article about how she wasn’t nearly as frozen as the story “fabricated” her to be. Imagine my surprise when I actually read that her family’s prayer didn’t save her, her body naturally healed itself (oh yeah- and the completely imaginary part about her being passed out drunk!?!) This woman was rushed to a HOSPITAL, where doctors and nurses worked on her. There is a very short sentence in her story that states, “Jean’s family stood around her and prayed, hoping for a miracle”. That’s it. Nothing further on prayer….am I correct? Is there actually a “real” version of this story somewhere else that says she was never taken to a hospital and that her family believed so intently on the power of prayer that they really took her upstairs into the bathroom and threw her in a tub of warm water, pulled her from the tub, covered her in blankets and prayed over her, hoping she would come back to life and refusing any and all types of medical intervention? If so, let me know. Until I see that story with your article directly addressing that version, then I again go back to my previous statement…who cares?? This woman was treated at a hospital, where her family prayed over her, just like 90% of the rest of families in this world would do. Your article is pointless.

      • The point of my article is that the story of Jean Hilliard has been blown out of all proportion, from a woman being lucky, and receiving medical attention which saved her life to stories about entire churches preying for her and that being what saved her.

        Specifically, please see this sentence again:

        “What was, in 1981, Hilliard’s parents praying at her bedside, has snowballed out of control and become, according to Guideposts magazine;” where I link to the Guideposts article, and provide a short excerpt.

        Especially this paragraph:

        “The prayer chain spread to the nearby towns of Crookston and Bemidji, and into Grand Forks, North Dakota. Soon hundreds, then thousands of people were aware that a young woman had been brought in to the Fosston hospital frozen solid and was in desperate need of God’s miraculous healing.”

        That shit is entirely made up. Prayer didn’t save her. Medicine did.

        We seem to be on pretty much the same page here.

        • I am a christian and I think miracle stories should be highly scrutinized. If God indeed represents TRUTH, False miracle stories and fictional testimonies of healing harm not benefit Christianity.

  6. Who are you? Get your facts straight. The woman did not PASS OUT DRUNK in a snowbank. Her car went off the icy road, and she made the way to her neighbor’s house for help, where she collapsed 15 ft. in front of his door. you “expose lies and myths” for what they are? Don’t write about things you don’t know about. You’re only exposing the lies that you are telling.

  7. Wow I can’t believe you would even say that… you couldn’t have just told about the story no… you had to push your religious ideas on everyone else… thats just wrong and no matter what you say God can do whatever he wants. Its not for you to say, got it?

    • I don’t just repeat stories, I expose lies and myths for what they are.
      As for foisting religious ideas on other people, I would say that you are as guilty as I am.

    • Oh wow, a Christian (I assume) who complains that ‘you had to push your religious ideas on everyone else’. This really is the pot calling the kettle black.

  8. Well, I was doubting the validity of the image, but they have percentages dammit, how can I doubt percentages??

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